Tag Archives: Strategy

Fire Emblem Awakening

In a year that’s already showing signs of being a vintage one for gaming, at least compared to the disappointments of 2012, the rush for GOTY titles is going to be fierce. We’ve already had two prime candidates in BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, which are probably going to clean up in December unless GTA V ends up being something special, but now that we’re past 2013’s halfway point, neither is looking like being my number one.

Fire Emblem Awakening

For the first time in years, it’s a Nintendo game that’s foremost in my thoughts. And for the first time ever, it’s a strategy RPG.

Deciding what it is that Fire Emblem Awakening does so much better than other examples of its genre, which have historically failed to excite me, is difficult. It makes great use of the 3DS hardware, for one, making subtle but pretty use of 3D and taking advantage of system features like StreetPass, while ditching the more annoying gimmicks. It seems Intelligent Systems has worked out that gyro controls break the 3DS’s banner feature before Nintendo. It’s also controlled almost entirely with the buttons, using the touchscreen mainly for information. Thank God.

It’s clearly been put together with great thought. The translation work from 8-4 is witty and full of character, from the support conversations to the quips that accompany critical hits – Frederick’s badass “Pick a god and pray!” is my favourite. The Japanese voices are there for those who prefer their European fantasy setting to have an Asian language and not match up with the translated text. There’s depth to be found in every aspect, from which characters you pair up to how you move them up and down through the classes in an attempt to create an army of supermen.

I came late to this one thanks to my 3DS packing in when I was barely 40 minutes into the campaign, but since my system returns – eight weeks later, but that’s another story – I’ve been hammering this like nothing else. It’s kept me off the new Mario & Luigi and Animal Crossing, and it’s meant my ongoing playthrough of the 50-hour Grandia has taken not the expected couple of weeks but rather two months and counting. It makes a mockery of the RPG collection that I deliberately expanded to cover the lean summer until the next generation begins that my gaming time has been monopolised so willingly by a strategy game in a series that I haven’t afforded much attention until now.

Of course, the people don’t have feet, but we can forgive it that.

Best of 2012 #4: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy UnknownHard to believe that a year ago we didn’t even know this game existed. On this day in 2011 the only XCOM revival on the agenda was the FPS version, which I think looks fairly interesting but has become a whipping boy for this generation’s ill-advised attempts to reboot cult PC classics for the Call of Duty generation.

This was pure fan service, though. Seriously, if you’d asked hardcore XCOM fans – is there any other kind? – what they’d like from a modern take on the franchise, I can’t imagine the result being far from what Firaxis delivered.

Praise must be lavished for how it achieved this while making a game that’s still enjoyable and eminently accessible for newbies like me. I dabbled with the original UFO when I first got Boxer installed – that app deserves some kind of award for making DOSBox usable to humans – and found it absolutely impenetrable and, while I have no doubt that there’s a superb game in there, I suspect it’s something you had to be there in 1994 to really appreciate.

By designing it to modern standards, introducing mechanics gradually so that the player’s skills grow with experience, this Enemy Unknown is accessible without massively dumbing down the core strategy or toning down the unforgiving difficulty. It should go down as an example to both gamers and developers – to the former as proof that the buzzword ‘accessibility’ isn’t necessarily the kiss of death for challenging gameplay that it admittedly often is, and to the latter as a blueprint for how to do it.

It didn’t do COD numbers, but it looks as if 2K had realistic expectations and is happy with the commercial performance. That bodes well.

Best of 2012 #10: FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster Than LightWhatever you might think about it, Kickstarter was arguably the biggest thing to happen to gaming in 2012. The big guns are moving in and seemingly doing their best to ensure that it’s a short-lived revolution, but for a while there publishing seemed democratised as interesting concepts that wouldn’t have had a hope at finding a traditional publisher enjoyed millions in funding. Adventure capitalism, I’m going to call it.

Thanks to some laughably optimistic schedules, few of the promised Kickstarter-funded games are here yet, and I hope that my best of 2013 will be filled with the wealth of point-and-click adventures and old-school RPGs that coaxed money from my PayPal account. One made it, though, and it was good.

FTL has become my favourite skiving game. It’s frequently running in a window behind a few browsers and Word documents, the way it can be paused indefinitely and still allow you to dish out commands perfect for a few stolen moments here and there. I’ve had crews named after friends and family; coworkers; the crews of the Enterprise, Serenity, the Millennium Falcon, the Pillar of Autumn; sports teams. Swear words too. They’ve all died horrible deaths, at the hands of the enemy or a solar flare, and the most successful are remembered, but the grief passes and I come back for more as soon as I come up with another interesting naming system.

The ability to keep playing without any real time commitment has a way of keeping games in my rotation for months, and so it has proven here. While FTL will be ineligible for my Best of 2013 list, then, that’s not to say it won’t remain a regular on my computers until then. Fingers crossed that it won’t be the only appearance of a crowdfunded project in one of these lists either.

Silliest name since DmC: Devil May Cry, mind.

G1 Transformers + Advance Wars = Win

I’m surprised by how completely this slipped under my radar, but I’ve recently been enjoying Transformers G1: Awakening for the iPhone. With it being only the second Transformers game of reasonable quality – this is the first – and the first featuring the only arm of the franchise worth bothering with, I couldn’t say no for £1.79.

Its form should be obvious from looking at the above screenshot, because it’s pretty much Advance Wars. Most of the mechanics are identical, and it’s only that your units can transform into vehicles to further their movement allowance, the downside being that you’re defenceless in this form – makes sense for a VW Beetle, but not so much for a fighter jet – that really differentiates it at all. Fangasms will be had over the 3D models on the battle screens, there’s a bit of Transformers storyline in there, and there are ‘Showdowns’ that make use of characters traits, like a single Autobot desperately powering up before Trypticon reaches him, but there’s still not much to separate Optimus Prime and an Advance Wars tank.

Who cares, though? I wanted a good Transformers game and now I’ve got one, and it cost me less than today’s lunch did. Awesome.