Games I’ve been playing this week (Episode 2)

Still working my way through the Humble Indie Bundle.  Yippee!

Crayon Physics Deluxe (PC, Mac, Linux, $20)

I think I may have waited too long to play this game.  The idea is to get the little red ball to the star by building a crayon contraption of sorts.  It’s a physics game of the finest rank, and spawned all sorts of spin offs (spins off?) and straight up ripoffs.

Once upon a time, I had a little homebrew game on my DS that was essentially a sandbox version of this with no rules or goals.  I made a number of bizarre things, including a car that rolled into a self closing garage, and a series of dominoes that ended up knocking a mannequin looking guy into a pit of spikes.

I think because of that, plus the overall childish feel of this game, I’m having a really hard time getting into finishing the levels.  The game encourages finding an elegant, single piece solution, but also an “Awesome” solution that involves extraneous pieces, overly complex  mechanisms, and impractical paths. In my mind, this amounts to finishing every level twice, because I’m a completionist like that.  Which is less than fun.  I guess what I’m saying is that this game would have been better without the well defined goals that are in place.

Probably not fair to say, like, 3 years after the fact, but oh well.

Atom Zombie Smasher (PC, Mac, Linux, $15)

Atom Zombie Smasher reminds me a lot of a previous favorite of mine, Defcon.  Where Defcon takes the horrible visions of a global thermonuclear war and abstracts them into a Dr. Strangelove or WarGames-esque vector interface, Atom Zombie Smasher takes a decidedly more modern approach by allowing us to view a zombie war from the safety of a military satellite. 

I’ve only just started this game, but it’s intriguing. Essentially, you must use a rescue chopper to evacuate cities while also defending its citizens (temporarily) from zombies. It’s a little bit tower defense, a little bit Real-Time Strategy, and a whole lot of nail-biting.

This is all played out by tiny purple and yellow and blue dots, representing Zeds (zombies), Citizens, and Scientists respectively.  Choosing who is going to live and who is more than likely going to die is horrible at first, but later becomes less emotionally scarring. Watching a group of terrified citizens (yellow dots) being pursued by a hungry mob of zombies (purple dots) can be extremely tense (or awfully hopeless, if they happen to be running in the opposite direction as the rescue team), but eventually the dots stopped being people and became points, at least in my mind.

This game encapsulates everything I like about zombie games, but does it with very little in the way of gore.  It’s an interesting statement on how ingrained the zombie thing is in our minds; we don’t even need to see the gore anymore, we can imply and imagine it. It also manages to mentally turn people into resources to be won or lost, though I’m not sure that was intended.  It definitely makes me feel like a bastard, though.

I could write a lot more, but I won’t for right now.  Suffice to say, this is a pretty damned good game, and runs great on my tiny netbook, so go buy it now.

Fable 3 (Xbox 360)

Not to continue a trend of hating on big games that came out a while ago…but I’m going to hate on a big game that came out a while ago.

So yeah.  Fable 3.  I’m playing through it again on and off with my wife, and I’m reminded why I liked this game, and why I did not like this game.

I’m torn, honestly.  Fable 2 was great fun, but the co-op was horrid.  Awful.  Argument-causing.  When I heard Fable 3 was going to have massively improved co-op, I actually pre-ordered it.  This is rare for me, as I am astonishingly cheap.

And it does have much better co-op.  Fantastic even.

However, the rest of the game is much like how I envision it would be to wade through a knee-deep pile of custard for 8 hours.  While it offers mild resistance and a certain amount of sweetness, it gets old real fast, and leaves me with a stomach-ache. Miles of custard await without any texture or resistance to speak of.

Fable 2 had a few points going for it: Interesting and memorable geography, engaging combat, neat spells, and overall a pretty high level of interaction.  Fable 3 does away with most of that and replaces it with a “walk forward and hit some buttons until we give you the option of being a saint or a total, horrible douchey bastard. Repeat.”

Combat is serviceable, but hardly what I would call difficult, and with very few options to make it interesting.  Gone are the days of dashing behind a Balverine in the blink of an eye and hitting him with a hammer in the head, then casting a fireball spell to fry somebody across the screen.  Here are the days (weeks, years) of shooting stuff repeatedly until it dies, hitting stuff repeatedly until it dies, or blowing up a magical nuclear bomb and killing everything in sight.

Gone are the highly visible changes to your demeanor and attitude depending on your (admittedly farcical) moral actions.  Here are the slow, minor, useless changes to some things, maybe, in a vague-ish kind of way.  Evil is reduced to a red glow on your weapon, good to a blue one.  Your actions determine whether Albion is…clean or dirty?  That’s about it.

And I’m not even going to talk about the king section of the game, and how it equates morality with cash.

So yeah, it’s not terrible.  Maybe I’m asking a lot for a game of this stature to have an interesting art direction with great gameplay and a compelling story, but I’d prefer even just one of those. Walking the middle of the line for all of those gives me a game that tastes a lot like oatmeal: bland and unremarkable.  And gloopy.

Boy, that’s two food comparisons in one mini-review.  I must be hungry.

Well, that’s all for this week.  Let me know what you’re playing, I always love to hear other player stories


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