Review: Subnautica

I have been watching this game for 2-3 years.  I watched JackSepticEye and NeebsGaming playing through the beta/early access versions.  I held off buying until it went live (ok, I got it like 2 days early, so technically I was an early access supporter…)

TL;DR: 5/5 review.

This game is NOT 100% perfect.  I had a few glitches, but since January I’ve played through the game 2.33 times. I am going to play through again ’cause I am determined to do a hardmode play through (one death, arg…); and I am not usually the person who does that.  But damnit, I am going to with this game!

So what draws me so strongly to this game? Well, I will be the first person to say I love survival games.  If you look at my steam hours played; Ark, Terraria, Starbound, Subnautica, Banished… survival & resource management. On my wishlist is games like “Surviving Mars”; “Y lands”; “Oxygen Not Included”; and “Eco” (though I’m waiting on that last one with more trepidation than some of the others).  Still, as far as survival goes – Subnautica is one of the better games I’ve played.  Although food and water are sometimes annoying, they rarely so demanding that it dominates game play (Banished is driven by food needs).  Oxygen (you know, ’cause you’re swimming a lot) is more difficult to manage and adds a great element of difficulty in general.

The story is definitely where this game shines.  Like diamonds in the sky shiny.  You spend a few days “surviving” and getting to know your controls and needs.  Then stuff starts to happen.  I’m not sure how the game determines it’s time to trigger specific events, but as they begin to play out the player is drawn to the mystery that is the core of this game.  I can’t talk much about the story because I do not want to give away spoilers.  You should play it if you want to see the story.

Difficulty progression is also something that these developers did an excellent job of.  In the beginning there aren’t a lot of super-dangerous creatures around you.  They are things you can avoid just by paying attention.  And that level stays pretty consistent throughout the game.  Through the entire game dangers can be avoided by just paying attention; listening to the environment and everything dangerous yells it’s location pretty regularly.  There isn’t a traditional weapon; all you have to “kill” things is a knife -and that’s the most lethal item in your arsenal.  So you have to  pay attention to the environment and keep alert for dangers – always.  Even after I had every upgrade available; avoidance was my most effective survival tool.

And none of this is touching on the graphics (which is where 90% of my glitches occurred) or the sounds & music.  Music isn’t constant, it has triggers and there were a few times where the music started and I started squirming in my seat “Oh, I hate when that music starts… but I have to keep going.”  It is one of the few games where I just play the game.  Much of my gaming I also like to watch YouTube or Netflix or something on our Plex (I’m very slowly working my way through Stargate SG-1).  Not with Subnautica.  I need those environmental triggers too much and want to be entirely immersed.

I give this a 5/5 because this is a: unless you refuse to ever play a video game or don’t have a computer – you should play this game; If you can bear survival games – you should play this game; If you like a good story with a mystery that you need to solve – you should play this game; When you need to immerse yourself into a fantasy world – you should play this game.

Seriously, even if survival isn’t your normal genre of gaming.  If you like RPGs or adventure or GTA or shooters.  Play this game; it’s worth it.

Review: Planet Explorers (video game)

I started this game in early access. And Re-started when it was released. So I haven’t finished it. I’ll argue that I don’t have to hit 100% to write up a in-play review of the game! Especially because this has been a fun game from the start. Oh, it isn’t perfect, but for anyone who enjoyed Mass Effect – you will probably enjoy this game too!

Pros:

Ok, so I love building games and this game puts building into a position of pride and joy. The tools have some learning curve, but both the building-building AND the vehicle building is a ton of fun. (Did I mention you get to design vehicles – cars, boats and planes/helicopters!!!) Any sandbox/simulation game could take notes and build from PE to have an awesome builders experience.

Story is another element I have enjoyed (so far).  It is a tad predictable, but nothing that makes me roll my eyes so much it hurts.  And the improvements they made from the early access are so far really nice, I am looking forward to a 100% play-through. The characters are pretty good, maybe not as much personality as possible, but there are a LOT of them. I also like that although there is a “main plot” there are so many cool side-stories I probably spent 10 hours this past week just chasing down a couple of quests that aren’t in the main line – because I want those NPCs to like me! (and one that I thought was main line and didn’t realize it was a side quest because it sounded so important! Damn cheating NPC making a good appeal like that!)

Cons:

The game isn’t perfect. It crashed my video card driver once (game and youtube froze and when it reset YouTube told me the vid card driver had crashed & I needed to reload the page…) and the game itself crashed once when I was teleporting, but the auto-save had registered so I lost zero progress.

Battle/Fighting/Balance is sometimes frustrating.  There are “boss” creatures in each area which can be awful to battle (ARE awful) and the slide of moving from weapon-to-weapon is not always clear.  This is one of those places where I have no idea what the game designers intended, I’ve been muddling my way through but I have spent a ton on resurrection syringes and I am obsessed with collecting every plant for health potions as I move through the areas of the game.  I wish it was a little clearer how I am supposed to be progressing through the weapons’ tree(s).  AM I supposed to be dropping turrets all the time to fight these bigger baddies or am I supposed to be able to use my hand-to-hand weapons?

Graphics are good but not perfect.  There have been a few times where characters did some weird glitchy moves – like the other night when I teleported into camp and one my NPC followers/helpers face-planted in the ground and was trying to walk face-in-the-dirt. She was hilarious and sad looking at the same time.  When I teleported out (no idea what would have happened if I had kept running instead of teleporting) she corrected.

Backstory: so many NPC’s have great back stories – parents and family and …. I would have loved to build out my character with some things like that too.  And why do I have to be from Earth? Why can’t I be a Martian?  (I do assume I’m from Earth, but the Martians don’t hate me as much so… maybe not?)

Conclusion:

If you enjoy Mass Effect and Minecraft, I think you will absolutely enjoy Planet Explorers. It might not change the genre, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. Don’t be afraid to go to the steam forums if you get stuck on something that you think maybe should be obviously (you want me to find what – where do I get that?) and be creative – this game has building as part and parcel to the story. I mean, you are there to build a colony!

I will be watching Pathea (the publisher) because they did a great job on this first game.  I hope they learn from its imperfections and next time it will be an even better game (which could be genre-defining IMO).

Review: Timber and Stone

Timber and Stone (Game)

I don’t know exactly how I found the Kickstarter for Timber & Stone, but I decided to back them. I got to be part of the Alpha testing group, so I got the game before most – back when it was seriously buggy. Since then, I’ve continued to follow the development of the game with enjoyment. When the latest version came out at the end of January, I downloaded it with glee.

Premise: A group of settlers has come to a strange land and tries to make a home. This is a dangerous land, full of monsters and dangers. You are the guiding force helping them. Build. Fight. Survive.

In case you can’t already tell, I enjoy this game. Oh, it drives me bananas. I get sooo frustrated. I might play for six hours and then suddenly get totally swamped by a goblin raid and lose everyone. I might play for less than hour and everyone starves. It’s usually my own fault. The challenge is what makes it fun, and the creator Robert has consistently replied to feedback to dial up and down the difficulty – trying to find a perfect medium. When this latest version (1.6.3) came to the Alpha group, I feel like he might have found it. When I screw up, people die. When I manage correctly, they survive.

Anyone who enjoys real-time-strategy and/or building can enjoy this game. For me, who loves these two genres above pretty much everything, this game encompasses everything I love to see. I design. I build. I fight. I grieve when I fail my people. Someday I hope to plunder as well.

Even in a beta status – this is one of my favorite games. It has come so far – I can’t wait to see where he continues to take this game.

If you are a gamer who likes RTS, you absolutely should go to Steam’s Greenlight and get this game!

Review: Sims 4

I have been a Sims fan since my brother bought me Sims 1.  This new game idea, taking SimCity and zooming into the individual lives.  Maxis did some cool things in Sims 1, and when Sims 2 came out they had taken some of the best, strongest and fan-favorite themes and grew the series.  They kept stretching the bounds of the game through Sims 2, really straining the engine completely. Sims 3 required a new engine because they made it open world.  Yeah, at first it was a little bare, but I was ok to have them add (most) of what they sold in Expansion Packs.  It really allowed you to customize your game – don’t like magic, ok you can avoid the supernatural stuff (more easily).

I like the idea of customizing games and when EA put out a survey talking about whether to keep using Expansion Packs or some kind of subscription -get-what-you-want-from-a-store… I was intrigued they might actually try something new and different.

The first time I saw an actual play-through on Sims 4 I was horrified. Loading screens.  Sims 3 had some loading, but I could play hours – days – without them if I was careful. I hate loading screens. With a passion.  And they sure better be worth it.

So this weekend Origin offered 48 hours of Sims 4 game time.  I downloaded the game on laptop and sat down to play.  I’m going to try to talk generalities – my problems with the game – and only use specifics as examples.  So, long intro over: here is my review of the game.

Engine: 1/5

Specifically, this is running the game – not game play (I’ll address that a little later).  The Sims 3 was a huge leap in engine technology (open world) but had some issues that plagued the game throughout its life. Sims 4 is not only NOT open world, they didn’t add anything to replace that concept easily. I will grant them a 1 because I played Sims 4 on my laptop (granted, a nice laptop I can game on – I play Guild Wars regularly on it) and it only locked up once. They say they wanted to improve the game, make it more accessible to people without big gaming rigs – but they didn’t improve the good stuff they had. They stripped it down so it’s more like Sims 2!  Load screens. UGH.

Character creation: 3/5

I almost gave this a 4 because I do like the new interface (dragging around instead of sliders). but they took out Create A Style (CAS)!! I’m stuck with the colors EA thinks I should play with instead of the palate.  And this is something I know has been in the game since Sims 2- so now we’re talking go back to a Sims 1 game play style!

Building: 3/5

Again, this almost got a 4 because they really did do some much-requested improvements.  I was able to take a set of shelves and “stack” them along the wall instead of everything being the same height.  Rooms are quick and easy to build and edit. But without CAS, my creativity kept hitting some walls (no pun intended) and I’d go “well, I guess I can settle for X” instead of being able to make it perfect.  The lots are very limited and I don’t feel like I have a good handle on what the whole world looks like – what you see in the “neighborhood” map and what’s actually on/around that lot…. there is a lot of disconnect so finding the perfect view and the perfect setting for my sims – impossible.

Simulation: 4/5

This is the big area of improvement, as any long-time player could guess (you know, it’s all the previews ever showed us….).  I don’t think the emotions are THAT huge a jump… but I can see some slight improvement.  And I will grant the developers that multi-tasking was long overdue.  Being able to watch tv, eat and have a conversation… note-worthy improvement. That being said, the traits are really the same, achievements are the same.

I was hoping for traits to be more like traits in Sims 3 Pets – wherein when a pet chooses to use a trait more, they get “stronger” in that trait and they can be “trained” to change traits.  Since there is no in-game-non-cheating method to change traits in Sims 4 – once you set the personality it’s locked. Which means when my woman sim started falling in love with a man with “hates children” trait… the only recourse was to break up with him. He had no chance of changing his attitude and having kids with my sim (until I cheated, but that didn’t seem to have 100% effectiveness).

Overall, Sims 4 is as big a disappointment when I sat down for a “play through” as I expected from the demos, previews, etc.  I was allowed 48 hours to play.  After 10 (between Fri night and Sat morning) I went and loaded up Guild Wars instead to take advantage of double XP weekend.  This morning I went ahead and uninstalled Sims 4. With the first expansion pack due out in a few months, there is no way I want to spend money on this game.