Posts Tagged‘narrative’

That Dragon, Cancer: A Memorial.

Games have been rapidly maturing as a medium, going from a distraction that was only for kids to the canvas upon which many artists now create their wares. As the medium has matured it has taken on the attributes of the others that preceded it, meaning games have been used for things beyond simple entertainment. More recently I’ve begun to see more games that are a kind of therapy, not for the user but for the game developer themselves. That Dragon, Cancer (the first title from Numinous Games) is a deeply personal journey for the developer, one that surely resonates for many, represented in a game that deals with many issues that come from battling this terrible disease.

That Dragon Cancer Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

That Dragon, Cancer follows the true story of Joel Green who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when he was only one year old. You’ll take on many forms throughout the journey although primarily you’ll be put in the shoes of Ryan Green, the father. Throughout the 2 hour journey you’ll walk alongside the Green family as they deal with the incredibly difficult and trying experience that is childhood cancer. What you make of the story will be as personal as the story itself as I’ve yet to read an impression that was identical to any other.

Visually That Dragon, Cancer is striking with its low poly art coupled with bright pastel colours and lighting. The minimal aesthetic is purposefully designed to have you focusing on the key elements that are on screen at any particular time (like the chemo bag in the screenshot below). Whilst it’s not exactly an unique style it is well executed, running flawlessly on even mediocre hardware. Things do seem to come unstuck a bit when the 2D and 3D elements are mixed together however I get the feeling that’s part of the developer’s intentions.

That Dragon Cancer Review Screenshot Wallpaper What Life Lies Beyond

Mechanically That Dragon, Cancer feels like an exploration with the game ebbing and weaving through various different styles of games over its short duration. Each of them has been crafted for a particular part of the narrative and for the most part they fit, however their implementation can be somewhat lacking in parts. Since this is a narrative first game however that doesn’t matter too much as they’re not designed to be blockers to progressing the story. Overall the mechanics were an ample backdrop to the main story of the game which is really the only reason you’d be playing this in the first place.

As to the story I’m in two minds. So often I was caught up in Joel’s tale, his stories echoing with my own experiences with my dad who’s currently battling cancer. However after a while the muddled progression of the story lost me, making me wonder just what exactly was going on. That coupled with the fact that I’m not exactly the religious type meant that the latter parts of the story, which are very faith heavy, meant that it began to grate on me heavily. However as a chronicle of Joel’s and the Green family’s life it is more than apt.

That Dragon Cancer Review Screenshot Wallpaper Reunited Again

That Dragon, Cancer is an extremely personal journey of one family’s battle against cancer and the challenges that it brings. As a game it is simple, favouring minimal looks and mechanics over anything else that might distract from the story. It most certainly achieves its vision of being a memorial to Joel’s life, capturing his personality and the effect he had the people he interacted with. The telling of that story though can be somewhat muddled and, if you’re not the praying type, may rub you the wrong way towards the end. Still if you or someone you know is facing the same challenges as this game describes then it’s definitely worth playing, if just to know that you’re not alone in your struggles

Rating: 7.0/10

That Dragon, Cancer is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 2 hours.

Bioware’s Mea Culpa: The Next Dragon Age.

It’s been 2 years since I reviewed Mass Effect 3 and whilst the burning need I once had to spew forth vitriol has long subsided there’s still a part of me that can’t let go just how badly they handled the way the game ended. I’ve been told several times over that the subsequent DLCs made significant inroads to improving the situation however, for me, the damage was done and I felt it was better to put the series to rest in my mind. Overall it was still a wonderful game experience, one I do not regret playing at all, and it was my fervent hope that Bioware (and the game developer community at large) took the criticism to heart and would do everything to avoid such a situation again.

Turns out, they just might.

Dragon Age InquisitionI managed to get into the Bioware panel at PAX Australia last year and it was interesting to see what the panelists, most of whom were writers and producers for the Mass Effect series, had to say for themselves. It was clear that the room was much of the same mind as I was regarding the ending, much to the chagrin of the person who was asking the question, and it was somewhat disappointing to hear them write off the reaction as mostly “you can’t please everybody”. It seemed then that the community’s desire for Bioware to take the criticism in stride had been met with deaf ears even if the DLC response had been somewhat positive. However recent news, whilst not been a direct apology from Bioware, might be their way of admitting a mea culpa on this part by allowing the player to heavily influence their next title’s ending.

News comes through today that Dragon Age: Inquisition will heavily incorporate the player’s choices into the ending. Interestingly the span of choices isn’t simply from a couple of distinct endings it will in fact include minor tweaks dependent on your choices in the game (and previous ones too), major changes depending on choices made within the game (of which there are 40 or so) and a handful of completely unique endings. If memory serves me Dragon Age wasn’t exactly the heavily player driven narrative like Mass Effect was, although the heavy variation in the origin stories was amazing, so the inclusion of so many different factors does seem like a reaction to the community’s reception of Mass Effect 3.

This was the kind of variation that players were expecting for Mass Effect 3. So much of the game was predicated on choices that you made, many of which had lasting consequences that shaped the world to be uniquely your own. To have all that choice boiled down to a modifier on the RGB spectrum felt like all those choices were essentially meaningless, stripping any feeling of agency you may have built up through each of the titles. With Dragon Age: Inquisition Bioware might be on the right path to restoring some of the community’s faith in them delivering a player sculpted narrative, one that feels unique to them. Whilst I, as always, try to avoid the hype for things like this news of this nature does make me excited for what Bioware has in store.

 

The Stanley Parable: The Fourth Wall Shattered.

In today’s games market there seems to be something of an arms race going on, one whereby every developer attempts to distinguish themselves from the crowd through unique game mechanics or structure. Original ideas are then quickly copied, modified or parodied and many eventually find their way into mainstream titles due to the amount of success they find. However for a game like The Stanley Parable I get the feeling we won’t be seeing much of it’s ideas flow onto other games, not because they’re bad, more because they just wouldn’t make sense anywhere else. This nonsensical nature is the driving force behind The Stanley Parable and it’s probably one of the most odd experiences I’ve ever had.

The Stanley Parable Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Stanley was an ordinary man working for an ordinary company. He loved his job, spending day after day in front of his computer, watching the screen and pressing the buttons when he was instructed to. However one day the screen goes blank and after staring at the screen for what seemed like forever Stanley decided he’d better find out what was going on. All of his co-workers were gone though leaving Stanley alone to roam the office, searching for what had happened to them all. Curiously though all the while a voice played inside his head, seemingly giving him a running commentary or what was going on. Should he do as the voice says or is this just the beginnings of his descent into madness?

The Stanley Parable started originally started out as a mod for the Source engine and thus the graphics and art style have that distinct Half Life-y feel about them. They’re decidedly simple and the vast majority of the world is non-interactive which is done primarily to shift your focus onto the storytelling and decision making aspects of The Stanley Parable. It’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect from indie first person explorers so I don’t necessarily count it as a negative but I am something of an eye candy otaku so graphics are always a big thing to me. To be fair the setting of an office is pretty hard to make visually appealing though.

The Stanley Parable Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Adventure Line

From a gameplay perspective The Stanley Parable is best described as a first person exploration game although applying that label to it feels like its not doing the title enough justice. Really it’s more of an experimental title that uses exploration as a mechanic to explore various ideals from some of the current gaming trends to larger questions of free will. The entirety of it is narrated by a charming British voice (courtesy of Kevan Brighting) which tells you which path to take. You can do this of course and the story that evolves is quite an interesting one, but it’s far more likely that curiosity will get the better of you and that’s where things start to get interesting.

You see The Stanley Parable is a game that relies on you attempting to break it in any way possible, from disobeying the narrator to attempting to do things that would appear to be not intended by the developer. The results of these adventures can range from the mundane, where you just see another part of the world on your way to another, to the weird or down right inexplicable. The most priceless thing about it though is how the narrator reacts to your decision to  disobey him as sometimes he will just respond with mild annoyance and other times with outright maliciousness.

The Stanley Parable Review Screenshot Wallpaper Outside

The story then starts to revolve around a weird cacophony of interactions, sometimes between Stanley and the narrator and at other times between you and the narrator with Stanley just acting as a vessel between you. If you’re not a fan of the fourth wall being broken down then The Stanley Parable will likely irritate you as there are many moments when the narrator will address you directly and a lot of commentary comes from the idea that you, an unknown entity, is in control of the character in the game. It can seem a little trite at times but the ideas and criticisms that the narrator goes through are quite through provoking, especially upon reflection.

I’d love to dive into more detail about how the various bits and pieces of the game plays out but to do so would ultimately ruin it for you. The way in which various endings are unlocked, how some of the mechanics work and how the narrator reacts to you are all part of the larger narrative to explore themes that are much larger than the game itself. It’s not a particularly long game and most of the endings are easily uncovered by simply being slightly curious about the environment so this is one of those titles that you just have to experience for yourself, rather than have a reviewer explain it to you.

The Stanley Parable Review Screenshot Wallpaper Welcome to Heaven

The Stanley Parable is a curiosity, one that is so far away from any other game experience that it begs to be played  by those who are seeking novelty in an increasingly homogeneous medium. It’s somewhat unfortunate that my review can best be summed up as “You need to play this and I can’t explain why” as I’d love to dive into a critique about its many aspects but to do so would take away the reasons as to why it is so enjoyable. It may be a short experience but it’s refined to its core, enabling the player to focus on the points that really matters and to get immersed in the strange and wonderful ways The Stanley Parable plays on your expectations.

Rating: 9.25/10

The Stanley Parable is available on PC right now for $15. Total game time was approximately 2.5 hours with 60% of the achievements unlocked.

Gone Home: Words Seem Like Such Crude Tools.

This is the part of my game reviews where I usually wax philosophical about the genre, developer or some other aspect of the game I’m about to review. I’m not going to do that with this review, instead I’m going to state quite clearly that this review is only for those who have played the game. The reason behind this is simple, whilst I could do my usual spoiler-free affair I feel like I couldn’t spend more than a paragraph talking about it before I inadvertently walked in spoiler territory. So before you go any further I’d urge you to hope on steam, buy Gone Home and immerse yourself in it for the next couple hours. Then when you’re done come back here, and we’ll talk.

SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THE POST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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The setting of Gone Home is one that will be very familiar to any Australian. It’s something of a coming of age ritual for residents of my home country to leave it for a year after finishing college to go abroad and see the world. For me that instantly set the tone for the game, pulling up memories of seeing friends off and then, usually a long time later, seeing them come back with so many stories to tell. It’s also twinged with a slight feeling of loss as I never did that, choosing instead to go straight into university, and it instantly felt like I’d been pulled back to those times. I was a young adult once again.

The atmosphere that Gone Home sets up initially honestly had me a little worried. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the horror genre, consistently rating anything in that area lower, and whilst the recommendations I had received to play Gone Home couldn’t have been more exuberant the opening scenes did lead me to believe that I was, at some point, going to be spooked by something or walk in on some horrific scene that had befallen the occupants of this house. Still with none of it forthcoming I began to stumble my way through the house and this is where my usual drawing conclusions based on the evidence at hand seems to have led me astray, something I give the writers a lot of credit for.

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In terms of lay out I was really quite impressed with the way Gone Home guides you through the environment. Now after I had rummaged through all the nearby cupboards I headed straight for the answering machine (which did nothing to allay my fears that I was walking into a horror scene) and then proceeded to continue exploring from there. I’m not sure how my experience with Gone Home would changed if I had decided to go upstairs first as it feels like much of the base narrative is set up in those first few rooms on the bottom floor. Indeed that’s where the beginnings of your father’s narrative begin and where you start to learn that Sam has been struggling at school due to her being the girl from the psycho house.

I think that’s what hooked me into Sam’s story initially as the experiences she describes in her notes, specifically the ones about isolation, really hit home. After primary school I was constantly bullied, from the moment I got on the bus to the second I got home, and so I instantly had this rapport with Sam’s character as I knew what it was like to be on the outside. It was made all the more poignant by the blooming unrequited romance with Lonnie which drudged up even more memories of my time in school.

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This was when my overacting imagination started to lead me to conclusions that I desperately hoped weren’t true. You see after being in a similar position myself I knew what the potential outcomes where for this story and the most likely one chilled me to my bones. I remember one of the journal entries saying something to the effect of “I can’t live without you” which, given the circumstances that followed it, instantly led me to believe that Sam had committed suicide. I was panicked, I grabbed the attic key and moved myself as fast as I could to where it was, those glaring red lights feeling like an omen of epic proportions, indicating that someone had gone up but had never come back down again.

You can then imagine my relief as instead of finding a body up there I found the notebook, the one which had been playing in retrospect throughout the whole game. I’ve heard that a lot of people think that this is a hollywood ending, and it is in a way, however for me it’s much more of a bitter sweet moment. Sure I was extraordinarily happy that Sam and Lonnie had decided to follow their hearts rather than let the world tear them apart however I’m also someone who can still vividly remember the naivety of youth and the challenges that pair will face are only just beginning.

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I think my favorite aspect of gone home is how the narrative starts off dark, which pushes you towards thinking it is going to be some kind of horror/ghost story, but the more you read and discover the brighter it becomes. You learn in the beginning that your father is a writer who has unfortunately hit on rough times but later on its revealed that his first book had been republished and, due to that success, he had written another novel. Your parents relationship seemed to be on the rocks although their absence in Gone Home appears to be because they’re celebrating their anniversary. They may be on a couple’s counselling retreat however, but that at least shows they’re willing to work on it.

I did wonder for a while whether or not the ghost/uncle sub-plot was necessary for the overarching narrative as it really is an aside to everything else in Gone Home. It did help to generate some tension at the start as you couldn’t be quite sure which direction the story was heading in however once you’re invested enough in Sam and Lonnie that sub-plot instantly becomes secondary. Now I admit that that was probably the writer’s intent all along and therefore credit is due to them because of it but, I don’t know maybe it’s just my aversion to the horror genre that is driving this feeling I have.

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Gone Home is a beautifully written interactive story. It touches on so many issues that at least one of them will resonate with you and from there you’ll be dragged down into Sam’s world, echoing her every emotion. I have to give the writers credit for showing me one potential story path which I eagerly concluded was the most likely and then, at the last moment, they upended my expectations with a reveal that could not have been better. If you’re someone that favors narrative over game play then you really can’t go past Gone Home as it is one of the most well written games I’ve come across in a long time.

Rating: 9.25/10

Gone Home is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total game time was just on 2 hours.

Kairo: Silence, Simplicity, Sorrow.

I have to admit that I’m developing a soft spot for these indie exploration games. It started out as a relationship of convenience, my dedication to one review per week can sometimes see me scrambling for time and this particular genre of games usually doesn’t last much longer than a couple of hours. However over time I’ve come to appreciate their simplicity and the narratives that they create, whether through traditional means or through more abstract methods. Kairo by Lupus Studios is an abstract puzzler/exploration game that tells the tale of one possible future, and what might be done to save it.

Kairo Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

 

Without little more than a title sequence you’re dropped into a strange, clinical world. Off in the distance you can see a building but there appears to be a large, insurmountable gap separating you from it. Tentatively you step forward and find that it isn’t a gap at all and you’re able to cross over to the mysterious structure. Once inside it appears to be a lot larger than it was from the outside and there are rooms heading off in every directly. Curiously you enter one only to find yourself confronted with all manner of puzzles, each of them building upon one another, seemingly towards a greater purpose that never quite reveals itself.

Kairo has a distinctly desolate feel to it with most of the lighting being of a single colour that varies from room to room. It also makes heavy use of the film grain effect to give a little more texture to the otherwise flat environment which isn’t a particularly bad thing and there is an option to turn it off should you find it bothersome. The simplicity is very deliberate  however as it ensures that key game elements stand out and, in the case of story elements, shifts control of the narrative over to you. I’ll admit to initially feeling like this was minimal effort design but the further I got into it the more I realised that each of the visual elements was very deliberate, even more so than I gave it credit for.

Kairo Screenshot Wallpaper The Lighthouse

The core game of Kairo is that of a puzzler with each of the rooms using a different mechanic or a twist on a previous one so that even the similar puzzles won’t have the same solution. Most of them are fairly easy to work out, usually being based off tried and true mechanics that have been done in countless other games, however quite a few of them require quite a bit of abstract thinking. Indeed should you not know a lot of the common ideas in science and mathematics it’s quite likely that a lot of the puzzles will simply frustrate you since there’s really no way to guess the solution.

One such puzzle I could think of consisted of two dials with a central spinner. The dials were controlled by your X/Y position on a plate and each of the wheels contained 8 symbols on them and the central spinner displayed 2 symbols on it. Now any intrepid puzzle solver would look at that and think that you just needed to match the symbols up and, indeed, that’s the answer to the first part of the puzzle. However after that simply matching them doesn’t work but you’re quite likely to stumble over a solution just by chance (at least I did for the second one). The final one actually requires you to know π to a set number of digits (rounded up, as well) which, if you were like me, you won’t figure out on your own because you thought it was a pattern matching problem, not a numbers related one. I admit this might just be me getting stuck in a particular mindset but when you’re dealing in things that are this abstract I feel it might be better to include a couple more visual clues to help you along.

Kairo Screenshot Wallpaper Block Thinger

People who’ve played this game will be quick to point out that Kairo does in fact include a hint system that you can access at any time through the options menu. Indeed when I said you wouldn’t be able to figure it out on your own this was what I was referring to as after spending far too long being frustrated by the seeming lack of coherency in the puzzle that was the first place I went to. The hint system is a great inclusion as it helps those of us who just aren’t in the same head space as the developer and just don’t get what certain puzzles were trying to accomplish. I endeavoured to keep my use of the system to a minimum however as there’s nothing more satisfying than working something out on your own.

The lack of any kind of tutorial however does mean that there are some aspects of the game that will be hidden from you unless you go looking for them. In many of the levels in Kairo there are runes hidden away in places that are usually quite difficult to get to and unless you’re the kind of person to explore every section of a level fully you probably won’t know they’re there. Indeed I didn’t know they existed until near the end of the second section when I was nearly 2/3rds of the way through Kairo. So whilst I can appreciate a game that goes for the ultimate in simplicity a little hand holding wouldn’t go astray, at least so I didn’t find out that I was missing a relatively large part of the game without even knowing it.

Kairo Screenshot Wallpaper Dome

Probably my biggest criticism, and this should say a lot about the game overall, are the sections that aren’t required for you to progress further. They’re included for narrative purposes, usually giving you some insight into Kairo’s larger purpose, however they either do not contain a puzzle to solve or they have one which is non-critical (although do provide some really good bits of story if you should complete them). Whilst looking at the hints will reveal whether or not you’re in one of these rooms I would’ve been a lot happier if there was some visual indication, just so I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time looking for a puzzle that didn’t exist.

As for the story I will have to be honest and say that I wasn’t completely sure what was going on throughout most of the game. There are references to mathematics, biology and general science all over the place but apart from a couple key points (like the control room) I wasn’t really sure what was going on. After I was intrigued by the possibility of a secret ending, which isn’t so secret since there’s an achievement for it, I found many good plot summaries that detailed Kairo’s purpose. Reflecting on my time with Kairo it then became clear that all the clues were there and I simply missed a couple key interlinks that would have revealed everything to me. So should you be looking to play this game I’ll advise you to explore as much as humanly possible as the tale of Kairo is one of tragic beginnings that ends with hopeful redemption.

Kairo Screenshot Wallpaper The Console

Kairo is a standout title that utilizes its fanatical simplicity to convey a message that will only reveal itself through careful examination. Whilst this dedication to stripping away all extraneous elements does mean that you might find Kairo wanting in some aspects as long as you know this going in you will likely appreciate it far more than if you approach it like a traditional game. It’s not for everyone, indeed unless you enjoy building your own narrative I’d probably steer clear, but Kairo will reward dedicated players who give it the careful attention it deserves.

Rating: 8.5/10

Kairo is available on PC right now for $8.00. Total play time was 3.2 hours with 27% of the achievements unlocked.

Endless Space: The Galaxy Is Yours, Should You Want It.

I’m no stranger to turn based strategy games but I can’t say that they’re my favourite genre. Whilst I, like many of my generation, grew up on titles like Civilization, Alpha Centauri and even more esoteric titles Warlords I can’t say that I’ve sought any of the more recent instalments that some of those games have. Long time readers will know that I’m much more partial to real time strategy, preferring the intense encounters that last at most an hour or so rather than the calculating, often multiple hour long games that turn based strategies tend towards. Still I’m a sucker for anything space related and when Endless Space came on sale recently I felt compelled to give it the once over.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen600px

Endless Space takes place in the distant future of 3000AD where you take control of one of 9 species (or even one of your own should you choose) competing with others in order to colonize the galaxy. Depending on your race your motivation for expansion can range from simply wanting to tend to these worlds and see them flourish to conquering everything that stands in your way, ruling over it with an iron fist. Realistically the story is left up to you to create as the process of expansion, diplomacy and war will build your own unique story within the Endless Space world.

Graphically Endless Space is somewhat simplistic but vibrant enough so that you don’t get bored with it. Most of the planets look pretty much identical except for when they have some kind of anomaly on them and the ships differ between each race but they all have their own distinct style about them. The music was also quite good with the general background tracks having invoking this feeling of wonder as you click through your planets and line up tasks on your quest to conquer the galaxy. Overall it’s not bad, just very simple in comparison to many other space based games that have been available recently.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Game Selection600px

There’s no campaign to speak of in Endless Space, rather you’re given a whole bunch of options to create a game world which you can play in. You get control over a pretty wide range of parameters including things like galaxy type and size, number of opponents and the speed/difficulty of the game. You also get your choice of race, from a total of 9 options, but if you’re so inclined you can also create your own race with its own set of benefits/disadvantages. This can be quite fun if you want to try out playing in a particular way as the races that are best designed for colonization might not be the best for war (and vice versa).

The galaxy is then procedurally generated meaning that no 2 game worlds will be exactly the same (unless you use the galaxy seed number in order to recreate it). You’re then placed on your home system, typically a system that has a full set of planets, and given a scout ship and a colony ship to explore the universe. Depending on where you got placed this can mean exploring several planets before hitting a blockade of some description (typically a worm hole that you need to research some technology in order to cross) or you could be trapped with only a few measly systems to look at. It’s sometimes worth restarting the game if you find yourself in a not-so-great position as you’ll struggle to overcome that initial disadvantage as I found out several times over.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Planets in a System600px

There’s many different types of worlds in Endless Space ranging in size from tiny to giant and encompassing all the major types that we know (and have theorized) to exist. You’ll only be able to colonize a couple types when you first begin but as you research more technologies you’ll be able to colonize more and more of them. They all have their own advantages/disadvantages so there’s a lot of strategy in colonizing certain ones first and then leaving the others until later. This is because depending on the planet it will have one of the resources (called FIDS: Food, Industry, Dust, Science) that it produces more than others and choosing the right one can be the difference between an effective colony and one that takes dozens of turns to start working.

This is probably my main gripe with Endless Space as whilst the resources are explained a bit in the tutorial menus that pop up it’s pretty easy to forget what does what and end up in a position where you can’t seem to get ahead, no matter how hard you try. Food for example is what dictates how fast your populations increase but there’s no direct way of seeing how it affects it (you can just see total food and when your population will increase and by how much). After reading a couple strategy guides it was clear that there’s a definite progression to how you should focus your resources (it’s food for pop, then industry and then science/dust depending on your play style) but the tutorials don’t really make that particularly clear. The main issue is just how many different things there are to do in Endless Space and the tutorials come so thick and fast at you initially that its hard to take it in.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Ship Creation600px

Ship design is one aspect that I felt unnecessary at first as I was able to get away with the default ship designs without too much hassle but its actually one of the more satisfying aspects of Endless Space. One of the research trees is dedicated to improving your ships (whilst another, which is for colonization, has the ship hulls in it) with various weapons, shields and augmentations to make them more effective in combat. Reading some strategies online suggests that the best thing to do is to make ships specialize in a particular role as this is more effective, especially when you’re behind in technology, but I found that my FACE OWNER (pictured above) was pretty capable of eliminating most targets without too much hassle. This is probably because I had a major technological advantage at this point so your mileage will certainly vary in this regard.

The combat you engage with said ships isn’t particularly great either taking the form of you simply clicking the “auto” button and waiting for the result or flipping over into manual in order to increase your chances of winning. To be honest since you get an upfront meter of how likely you are to succeed there’s not much incentive to engage when you’re not at an advantage. If you do decide to go manual there’s a few things you can do to tip it in your favour, like using abilities or playing cards (much like Master of Orion I’m told) but you’re never going to be able to pull off a major victory unless you’re less than about 20% different from your opponent.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Battle600px

You can avoid conflict almost completely if you instead choose the diplomatic path and ply your opponents with gifts and open borders. I found this path to be pretty one sided as I was never able to figure out how to make deals with them that were favourable for me and not them which is something the AI does constantly. I can remember after one engagement I was offered peace but only if I offered them additional things as well even though I had military and production superiority. Of course the next course of action was to deny it and simply blockade them until it improved, which it did, but I would’ve much preferred to simply tip the deal in my favour rather than having to dedicate way too many resources to forcing a better deal out of them.

Again I think this is because Endless Space is pretty comprehensive in the game mechanics it employs and whilst the tutorial gives you some insight into how they work it’s not the best guide. Thankfully there’s quite a few sites dedicated to strategies and explaining the mechanics a bit better and after reading a few guides I was satisfied that I understood the game better and was able play for hundreds of turns without getting steamrolled by an AI. This is when the game came into its own as the last 4 hours or so I spent with Endless Space were really enthralling, mostly because of the narrative I built up in my head.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Automatons Loading Screen600px

I was attempting to play as a colonizer, a peace race of Amoebas who would spend their time running from system to system building up a peaceful empire and leaving my opponents to their own devices. It didn’t take long for one of them to take a dislike to me, probably because I accidentally sent a ship to one of their systems, and I spent much of the initial game keeping them at bay whilst tending to a peace agreement with the other. For a long time all was good and my once fierce opponent decided to not pursue me any more, leaving me to my peaceful empire building. However my expansionary prowess did not go unnoticed and I soon found myself at full scale war.

My race had not many ships but the industry I had built up was phenomenal and it was time to put it to use. My scientists were retasked to weapons research almost instantly outstripping my rivals in terms of fire power. My biggest industry systems were put on ship production duty being able to pump out a massive warship every turn that was capable of decimating entire enemy fleets without taking a scratch. My border systems were reinforced ensuring that no one would be able to invade them without giving me ample time to react. The result was a devastating show of force and after one system was invaded the enemy begged for peace and I gave it to them.

Endless Space Screenshot Wallpaper Victory 600px

However the other empire had become nervous about my new found presence and began breaking deals with me. They became suspicious of my activities and not too long later declared open war. They won many battles against me, using their superior fleet size to their advantage, but yet again my empire dedicated itself fully to war and not too long later I pushed them out of my boundaries. I then began a full fledged invasion of their territory, laying waste to fleet after fleet and capture half a dozen systems before they crawled to me with an offer of peace. I declined and continued my rampage, furious that the people I had done nothing to antagonize would declare war against me. In the end I accepted their peace offering of 2 systems and eventually won by constructing the required wonder.

Endless Space is a game that rewards you the longer you play it, taking you from humble beginnings on a single planet to a galactic civilization that is a mighty force to be reckoned with. There’s a steep learning curve, one that could be a lot less steep with some more work on the tutorials, but once you’re over that hump its incredibly satisfying. The narrative I built in my head of a peaceful race that is not to be trifled with was a great one and it was without a lick of dialogue or a single cutscene. If turn based strategy is your thing or you enjoy games that reward methodical, calculating play then Endless Space is right up your alley. Just be sure to set aside your weekend for it – you’re going to need it.

Rating: 8.5/10

Endless Space is available on PC and OSX right now for $29.99. Game was played on PC with around 10.5 hours of total play time with only a single win at 220ish turns.