enfrdeitptrues

Simulation

  • AL・FINE (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    AL・FINE
    Developed by: Crimson rabbit
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: November 11, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    A few years ago we reviewed and enjoyed Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale which is a game based on running a store to pay off a debt.  AL・FINE borrows many gameplay elements from Recettear, but differs by focusing more on running the store than looting dungeons.  Dungeon exploration is still an option, but it’s reserved for adventurers that you hire out and collect their loot three days later.

    The story begins with a boy named Louis whose parents have been away for a couple of years.  In their absence he literally runs into a sprite named Alice who demands that he repairs her expensive orb that was broken in the ordeal.  Since Louis can’t afford to repair her orb he’s forced to re-open his parent's store to earn money.  The store is named AL・FINE.

    The merchant’s guild helps store owners know their rankings and provides renovation services to allow for store customization and expansion.  The bigger the store the more in dues you’ll owe every ten days.  The game’s simple interface makes it easy to know how long you have until your dues are owed, so be sure not to go overboard when purchasing inventory that day!

    AL・FINE
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute shop simulation game that has interesting characters
    Weak Points: Totally copies off of Recettear but isn’t as good; fixed resolution that did not go full screen properly with multiple monitors
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol references and drunkenness; some of the females flaunt their “assets” to increase sales; language (d*mn)

    Besides the merchant’s guild, there are other places to visit including a church, a bar, the town square, the market, or the adventurer’s guild.  The days are split into three segments (morning, afternoon, night) and many of the places are available for just the morning and the afternoon.  Whenever you leave your store to buy items or to gather information, time will pass and it will subtract from your ability to sell items and make a profit. 

    After the store closes for the day you can head to the bar and talk with the leader of the merchant’s guild to gather information on the other store owners. Perhaps you can learn from some of their tricks to make your store the highest ranked of them all!  If your store does well, other merchants will take notice and will challenge you to a competition to see who will earn more profits in a given time.  

    My first challenger was a very well-endowed female store owner who ran a shop called the “Milky Pod.”  Her bust size was the brunt of many jokes, but she knew how to use her “assets” to earn sales.  She kicked my butt the first time and I got a Steam achievement for losing to her.

    Since your goal is to make money it’s important to understand the concept of buying low when there’s little demand and selling high when there is.  At the end of each day you’ll get graded on your store’s performance.  On the normal difficulty I typically received a C.  

    There are different types of goods you can carry including food items which sell well, but spoil after a few days.  Weapons and armor don’t go bad, but they fluctuate in demand.  Merchandise is a safe bet, but they garner the least amount of interest.

    AL・FINE
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Customers come into your store hoping to find specific items and if they don’t they’ll leave with a storm cloud over their head.  Content customers will have a heart or a music note thought bubble.  The weather determines how many customers will be stopping in your store.  It’s best to do your shopping or information gathering in stormy weather. Waiting for sales can be a bit boring; thankfully you can speed up time in the game’s interface.

    While the game’s interface is generally easy to use, I did experience a couple of glitches.  This game ran windowed by default and when I tried to make it go full-screen on my multi-monitor set-up, it stretched over both monitors and was unplayable.  It seemed to run fine in the windowed mode though.

    The anime style graphics are cute and the characters are very expressive throughout the game’s dialogue.  Louis is a pushover that does pretty much whatever his friends tell him to while Alice speaks her mind and upsets rival store owners in the process.  The quirky characters have a lot of personality and are likeable.  

    The sound effects and background music are fitting and pleasant to listen to.  Sadly, there isn’t any voice acting to speak of.

    Overall, this is a cute simulation game that could be used as a fun way to teach the basics of economics.  I had fun running the store, but I enjoyed the dungeon exploration that Recettear offered to break up the monotony.  Both games are worth considering if you catch them on a Steam sale.  If you’re limited to picking just one game, I recommend sticking with Recettear.

  • American VR Coasters (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    American VR Coasters
    Developed By: Funny Twins
    Publisher: Funny Twins
    Release Date: July 7, 2017
    Available On: Windows (SteamVR compatible headset required)
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $5.99

    Thank you Funny Twins for sending us this game to review!

    What is one of the first things that comes to mind when the idea of Virtual Reality (VR) flits through your imagination? Virtual roller coasters, of course! And honestly, there are quite a few on Steam, as this is a pretty common idea. American VR Coasters is a decent attempt for a low price, if you are looking for something to scare your friends with.

    Here, we have the choice of four different roller coasters to choose from, which last about three to five minutes each. They move pretty fast, and each have some gimmick to make them unique. There is the city one, another wrapped around the statue of liberty, another loosely based on a popular coaster, and one that literally takes you to the clouds.

    American VR Coasters
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It's a roller coaster; looks and sounds decent; fun novelty to show your friends once or twice
    Weak Points: Chances of motion sickness are very high
    Moral Warnings:None!

    As expected of a VR game, it takes place in first person, and it is highly recommended that you sit down before playing. Controls are not necessary, and you can't leave the level early without quitting the game entirely. Loading times are much longer than I expected. The coasters are all of the 'impossible in real life' variety, and do not show any structure; they are just tracks floating in the air.

    The graphics get the job done, though I did see occasional frame rate issues on my NVIDIA GTX 1070. The first time I tried this, the sound didn't work; it was much more enjoyable once we got that sorted out. The music is pretty good, and the screams fit right in most of the time, though sometimes one would happen on a flat section that seemed out of place.

    American VR Coasters
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The experience is neat for the first few minutes, but I would not recommend more than one or two rides in one sitting. I sat through all four, and my stomach was complaining about it quite a bit, as motion sickness is likely an eventuality for most people who do something like this.

    The coaster has four cars in it, with yours and two others filled. The girls in the seats wear really strange looking short shorts, but I don't think it's worth docking a point over. They occasionally move their arms up or cover their face, but are mostly otherwise static.

    American VR Coasters is one of those silly VR experiences that everyone new to VR asks about to try just once. It's a 'hey, do you have a coaster simulator? That might be cool' type of thing. This one fits the bill, though I can't say that it is better or worse than the other ones on Steam. It might be worth a look on sale, though I suspect after you play it once and show it to your friends, you won't be doing it again.

  • Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
    Published and Developed by Thom Robertson
    Released: Sept 16, 2013
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Reviewed on Windows PC, Android Tablet
    Available on: Windows PC, iOS, Android
    Genre: Simulator
    Number of Players: 2+

    Artemis is, for all intents and purposes, the Star Trek simulator Trekkies have been waiting for.  Of course it doesn't reference Star Trek in any way, and is not licensed by Paramount, but one could be forgiven for thinking it was intended to be Star Trek specific.  It is a multiplayer game, intended for six players but can be played with fewer.  Each player has his or her own computer and takes a specific position on the bridge of the starship.  There is a Captain, Weapons Officer, Helmsman, Science Officer, Engineer and Communications Officer.  Each position has its own display, controls and options with the exception being the Captain.  The Captain gets only a viewer and must act by giving orders to the various crew members.

    The game can be played on a LAN or, if the players know how, it can be configured to run over a distributed network so your various crewmembers could be anywhere in the world.  To do this, you will need some kind of voice chat client, as none is built into the game.  In our testing, we used Google Hangout.  While it is possible for a single player to play in a sort of practice mode, it is still necessary to connect to a separate machine running Artemis in order to do this.  PCs and Android devices can be joined together in the same game session.

    The game is played best with six players, although it is possible for some to pull double duty if there aren't six people available.  Of course the more tasks one takes on the more difficult it is to keep up and the game is extremely difficult when played with only two players.  Three players can get by if the various bridge positions are distributed wisely.  For example, the Communications Officer doesn't have much to do during battle, so that position is easily merged with some other position like Weapons, which only has tasks to perform when in a combat engagement.

    There is no story per se, in that the ship is essentially placed in a sandbox representing a contested region of space.  Communications from various ships, starbases and merchants can trigger missions but all of it is at the Captain's discretion.  In some scenarios, there are hostile ships on the other side of a nearby Neutral Zone, and straying into that Zone will trigger a war.  Of course, even if the players do not stray into the Neutral Zone, the enemy will eventually...

    Anyone who is a fan of Star Trek is going to know exactly how to play this game.  The controls are simple and intuitive.  There is an online help guide, but it will be largely unecessary to those who are fluent in Trek, or even speculative science fiction in general.  When starting the game, a variety of starship classes are available to choose from, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.  The ship can even be renamed, so if you want to command a starship called Enterprise, have at it.

    The controls can be a bit awkward.  Clicking the mouse to steer the ship feels clunky and there's no way to smoothly move the ship except the joystick, which has its own issues.  There is no in-game mechanism for configuring the joystick buttons but an .ini file can be edited to achieve that customization.  A touch screen interface works here as well as the mouse, so if the player's screen has that capability it is a useful option.  In our tests, the Weapons Officer used an Android tablet touch screen as her interface and preferred it to using a mouse.  As the helmsman, the joystick was more of a nuisance than an actual help because the player still needs to use the mouse to use the various controls on the display.  

    Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good variety of actvities for each player, gameplay is faithful to the speculative sci-fi genre
    Weak Points: Graphics issues, occasional stability problems
    Moral Warnings: The game is a space combat simulator, so things are going to get blown up

    The Captain:

    The Captain has no direct control over anything.  All of the Captain's wishes are implemented by the appropriate crewmember.  This is where that Trek fluency comes in handy.  The Captain will issue orders such as "Set a course for station DS3, Warp 2" or "Engineering, transfer all energy to the warp drive!  Helm!  Get us out of here, maximum warp!"  

    The Helm:

    The Helmsman essentially steers the ship, navigates the map and can control the captain's display.  Speed can be set using either sublight or warp engines, controlled separately.  The display is a simple wireframe top-down view of the ship and nearby features (like asteroids, mines, other ships and starbases) which has four levels of zoom.  It is the helmsman who initiates docking with space stations and can also control ship's deflector shields. (Although we typically left that responsibility to the Weapons Officer)

    The Weapons Officer:

    It is the responsibility of the Weapons Officer to target enemy ships, fire weapons, bring the ship to Red Alert, and manage shields.  Weapon systems include beam weapons and a variety of torpedoes, such as EMP and nuclear.  As ammunition is expended, it can be replenished at starbases in exchange for missions being performed, or as ordered by the Captain.  Certain weapons can also be sacrificed to provide a quick boost to the ship's energy reserve in an emergency.

    The Engineer:

    The Engineer manages how much of the ship's energy reserve is routed to the various systems like the engines, shields and weapons.  There isn't enough to power everything fully, so resource management is key.  As always, priorities are set by the Captain but the Engineer makes it work.  The Engineer also assigns damage control teams to react to damage the ship takes in battle.

    The Communications Officer:

    It is the job of the Communications Officer to make requests of other ships and space stations, to taunt enemies, to inform starbases that the ship is coming to dock, and to request supplies.

    The Science Officer:

    The Science Officer can scan other map features to determine what they are.  Enemy ships can be identified and further scans can reveal enemy ships' shield frequencies, allowing the weapons officer to fine tune the beam weapons to penetrate better.  The Science Officer can also scan to determine how severely damaged other ships are.

    Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 3/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The game's graphics are reasonable if a bit crude, with the most intensive graphics showing on the external view of the ship.  All control panels display wireframe graphics.  Some graphics issues were noticed on the Windows PC version, with the external view cutting out entirely at times.  This didn't crash the game and it was still possible to return to the normal control panel.  The sound effects are also a bit crude and basic, but adequate to the task.

    There were some difficulties initially getting all the computers to connect to each other over the distributed network, although these were resolved in time.  The game is generally stable although it did crash a few times during testing.  This all happened on one particular machine however, so it may not have been the game's fault but rather an issue with that particular computer.  (It was an HP Pavillion G7 laptop with integrated graphics.)    

    The game is a space combat simulator, so things are going to get blown up.  While the action can be intense, the violence isn't really.  Mostly what's being shot at are enemy starships, so there's no visible blood, dead bodies, etc.  An occasional life form living in space may find its way into the players crosshairs, but it isn't a requirement to win the scenario.  Because the game is completely sandbox in nature, there is nothing stopping the players from ignoring orders, breaking peace treaties or attacking friendly vessels.  The game neither encourages nor discourages this during gameplay, but a level is only successfully completed when all enemy threats are destroyed.  The game itself contains no coarse language, although that certainly won't stop the players from using it.  There's also no occult or sexuality of any kind in this game, unless you regard aliens as occult.

    In short, if you let your kids watch Star Trek, this game is no problem at all.

    The game itself is still a bit rough around the edges but is a very impressive accomplishment for one developer.  The real fun in Artemis is in the interaction between the players, and the feeling of at last commanding a starship for those fans of Trek and other speculative science fiction media.  Artemis is the base, and the players find the fun.  It really does feel like being in an episode of Star Trek.  The following exchange actually took place in one of our test games (I played as the Helm.):

    "Captain, forward shields are down!  Aft shields collapsing!"

    "Helm!  Get us out of here!  Maximum Warp!"

    "Warp Drive not responding, Captain!"

    "Engineering, get damage control teams on the warp drive immediately!"

    "Aye sir!"

    Believe it or not, we survived that battle...

  • Bounty Train (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Bounty Train
    Developed by: Corbie Games
    Published by: Daedalic Entertainment
    Released: May 16, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X
    Genre: Simulation, role-playing game
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, Daedalic Entertainment, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    November 7, 1860

    I have been locked up in the prison in Boston for smuggling weapons into the city. But at least they have given me paper and ink so I can write about my experiences. My name is Walter Reed, and I have a story to tell about a dangerous game called “Bounty Train.”

    Having inherited shares of my father's railroad company, I came from England to Portland, Maine. After speaking with my father's attorney, I learned that there is another man who owns shares of the company as well. He intends to construct a trans-continental railroad through Indian territory – a move that could cost thousands of lives. However, if I can find my siblings and other shareholders, I may be able to gain a majority ownership of the company and prevent this from happening.

    But it may not be easy. I'll have to maintain and upgrade my train. I need to purchase commodities and trade with other cities – as well as get a better handle over what goods are prohibited within some locations! I'll have to transport passengers and cargo in order to improve my reputation with different cities. I'll have to work with different factions, such as the Union and the Confederacy. They don't seem to like each other very much, and if the newspapers are correct, war will break out between them very soon. Bandits lurk along the railways, so I have to hire guards and crew members. I will have to juggle all this while trying to gain a majority interest in the company. Or perhaps I can forge my own empire by purchasing land and investing my money in banks. There is a wealth of options for me to explore, once I get out of here.

    Bounty Train
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good graphics and music; interesting premise; historic elements help with educational aspects; adjustable difficulty
    Weak Points: Some wonky AI issues; difficulty starting up
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco references; violence; some language

    I have to admit, the scenery is spectacular. Things are so lively in the countryside, or even at the stations. People wander about and speak. The ever-present music is lovely as well, and provides wonderful atmosphere. It is a good thing I am literate, though – there aren't any voices in the game, and everyone communicates through text boxes, including myself.

    At times, though, it is difficult to get things off the ground. Sometimes when I want to get this game started, all I see is blackness. I have to force myself to quit – sometimes several times. It can take a few efforts in order to get going. Perhaps it's because the mysterious box I use runs on apples or something. I've heard that some people use these other machines with windows on them, so I don't know if they have the same issues. Maybe it's because of the electric motors in these small boxes. Give me steam power any day.

    Speaking of steam, I've also heard that those who use the steam engines can gain special titles called achievements. Most of these are difficult to obtain, though. For example, one of them would require me to obtain one million dollars! Can you imagine having that much money? I'd be able to buy my own state with that much wealth! Maybe I can do something with these trading cards that showed up in my pocket, too.

    Bounty Train
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The difficulty in the game can be adjusted, which is a nice improvement from the first time I tried the Bounty Train. Even better – different aspects of the game can be individually adjusted. Instead of sticking with “easy mode,” like I did, you can go for a more action-packed game by adjusting the lever to account for more bandit attacks. Or to make more money, adjust that slider to the left. You can customize this Bounty Train to fit your own playstyle. But hey – I'd prefer if you took it easy on me, you know? Once I die, it's game over for everyone. Like a good book, though, you can save your progress in different chapters, or slots. I think that might have something to do with apples, too. Or windows. This kind of thing is a bit beyond my understanding.

    Riding the rails in Bounty Train is cleaner than you may expect. Although you will see the occasional person take the Lord's name in vain, people generally keep their language clean. Seeing it all as text boxes allows me to see their grammatical errors, though. I did see one person try to swear, but used the wrong form of “dammed.” If he was a bandit, I'd be tempted to gun him down just for improper grammar. But when someone dies, they simply fall over. I'm glad I didn't see more details of poor Pedro's death. I do hope that he had died before my caboose exploded – what a terrible way to go. And expensive, too – I had to replace the caboose and hire another guard.

    In general, those who want to see what America is like in my boots may also be interested in boarding the Bounty Train. It can be a fun way to learn about history, as well as an intriguing strategy game to play. Just watch out for bandits. Oh, and you may want to look into getting a smuggling compartment for your cargo cars. That'll be my first purchase once I leave the Boston jail, I'll tell you that much.

  • Bus Simulator 16 (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Bus Simulator 16
    Developed by: stillalive studios
    Published by: Astragon Entertainment
    Release date: March 2, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to 32 online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Astragon Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    I’ll admit that I never dreamt of being a bus driver. After playing this game I realize that I probably wouldn’t be a very good one.   My sadistic streak kicked in pretty hard when playing the tutorial.  I had too much fun running red lights, ramming into cars, sign posts, and even pedestrians.  Those crazy enough to enter the bus complained about my driving, calling it bad, unsatisfying and told me to mind what I was doing.  They screamed a bit too.  The lucky ones were the people that I left stranded at the bus stop on purpose.  

    I’m usually not into tutorials, but I had a lot of fun with this one.  Sadly, the real game isn’t very forgiving and will stop your route if you get into a bad accident or hit a pedestrian.  Running red lights gets you fined too.  Each accident, vehicular or otherwise, costs you money to pay the insurance deductible.  

    The focus of the game is to run a profitable bus company.  You’ll be in charge of buying and maintaining buses, setting up routes, and hiring drivers.   Each newly created bus route has to be test driven by you before handing it off to an underling to maintain.  Job applicants vary in experience and the more qualified they are, the more you have to pay them.  As drivers level up, they will get an automatic pay increase.

    When you complete your first set of objectives, you’ll get a brand new bus paid for by the city.  Other unlocked rewards include different bus models, paint colors, and advertising banners.  There are various Steam achievements and you can earn one for buying your first bendy bus.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unintentionally funny when you’re a bad driver and/or a jerk; good sound effect
    Weak Points: Confusing controls; performance issues
    Moral Warnings: Passengers may be drunk 

    As your bus company prospers new city districts will become available to set up bus routes.    How long or short you want to make the routes is up to you (I preferred shorter routes in fear of getting into an accident and losing a lot of progress).  Having routes interconnect is helpful for your paying customers.    

    The ticket prices are cheaper for students and senior citizens.  Those who don’t have pre-paid tickets will have to buy them directly from you.  They seldom have exact change so you’ll have to brush up on your arithmetic skills.  One drunken passenger asked for a ticket to the moon and I turned him away.

    Passengers have different personalities and some of them are more demanding than others.  You may be asked to change the bus temperature or radio station if you have music playing.  Some passengers are in wheelchairs and need to have a ramp lowered for them to embark on the bus.  I couldn’t find a control to do this and it may have to be done manually like unjamming stuck bus doors.  These situations take up precious time that’s needed to make it to the next bus stop on time.  

    I usually used the mouse and keyboard for playing this game but there is support for game pads and gaming wheels.  Our Logitech MOMO was detected but there were no preset configurations for it.  Mapping buttons is possible, but there are a lot to choose from.  There’s a bit of a learning curve involved in driving a bus and managing all of the controls for it.

    Bus Simulator 16
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    There are some shortcuts available like the quick start and quick exit routines that bypass leaving and entering the bus depot on your shift.  Unfortunately, driving the bus is mandatory for setting up new routes.  As you have more employees and buses, you’ll hopefully be turning a profit before long.

    The graphics are decent and there’s a fair amount of variety in passengers.  The cars on the roads don’t look like they’re manned though.  There’s plenty of variety in weather conditions ranging from sunny days to cloudy or rainy ones.  I did run into some slowdowns and game stuttering, but the developers recently released a beta version that runs much better. 

    When it comes to sound effects and background noise this game does a great job.  Between the bus sound effects and passenger banter, I felt like I was really on a bus.  The voice acting is decent though I think the passengers would say much ruder things in real life with my bad driving.

    Though Bus Simulator 16 isn’t rated by the ESRB, it is a family friendly game that can be played by or around younger audiences.  The bus controls are complex and take some getting used to though.  

    While there is plenty to do by yourself, there is even more to do online.  Bus Simulator 16 supports up to thirty-two people to play along with online.  If you trust them, you can let your friends help you drive and manage your bus company.    There are global Leaderboards that have my name firmly on the bottom.  Also, you can share and grab various mods from the Steam Workshop.

    All in all, Bus Simulator 16 is a decent game with an overly forgiving tutorial level.  I wish the rest of the game wasn’t as structured so I could have more fun annoying people.  If you’ve ever wanted to see what driving a bus would be like, I’d recommend keeping an eye out for this game!

     

  • Construction Simulator 2015 (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Construction Simulator 2015 
    Developed by: weltenbauer. Software Entwicklung
    Published by: astragon Software, GmbH
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Up to four players online
    ESRB Rating: Everyone|
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you astragon Software for sending us this game to review!

    There are simulator games for almost everything these days.  What I don't understand are the work related ones.  Why come home from working all day to play games that are "virtual" work?  I don't get it.  Can somebody please explain this to me?

    Construction Simulator 2015 aims to give you an authentic construction experience by letting you control fifteen different machines by name brands including Liebherr, Still, and MAN.   You'll get to drive around flatbed trucks, deposit tippers, forklifts, and excavators.  

    When you first launch the game you get to choose your character.  As a female gamer I was disappointed to see no option for a female construction worker.  There's a several part tutorial mission to get used to running errands and familiarizing yourself with the different vehicle types and their controls.

    The controls are surprisingly complex.  So much so that this game will be hard to grasp for younger boys that wish to emulate Bob the Builder.  When using the excavator you have to individually control each wheel.  If you're using the keyboard that means using the WASD keys and the arrow keys.  Fortunately, there is partial controller support and my wired Xbox 360 controller worked just fine.  Other controllers may not be supported.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cloud saves and multiplayer support
    Weak Points: Buggy and boring gameplay; complex controls
    Moral Warnings: The game is family friendly, but there is no swear filter in place for online game play

    After learning how to make a vehicle move, the next step is mastering how to operate it.   Some vehicles have multiple modes with separate controls for each (naturally).  I'm not sure what you need more of to master this game, practice or patience.  Interacting with objects is quite challenging and unfortunately, buggy.  

    Graphically this game is decent, but some of the object interactions are not natural and the physics system is a bit wonky at times.  People don't seem to care or mind if you run them over or bump into other cars  on your way to pick up or drop off building materials.  

    There will be plenty of errand/fetch quests and the suggested route will be highlighted on the circular map on the lower left hand side of the screen.  On my way to pick up materials for a job my 10,000 pound deposit tipper truck was rear ended by a little sedan.  Naturally, it was my truck that was tipped over and glitched out the remainder of my mission.  Thankfully you can restart at check points or cancel jobs as you see fit.  

     

    Construction Simulator 2015
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 46%
    Gameplay - 7/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In fact, there is a Steam achievement for canceling the tutorial.  I find it humorous that there are steam achievements for playing for various lengths of time.  I earned the one hour achievement, but have no plans on picking  up this game to go for the five or ten hour achievements.  I just don't find this game fun whatsoever.

    But for those that do enjoy it, there are over two hundred missions including jobs to build swimming pools, schools, and sports arenas.  After the tutorial is either completed or skipped, you can join or create multiplayer sessions where jobs can be finished as a team with up to four players. The couple of times I looked, the US region had an open server to join while Europe had quite a few ready to join.  I guess there's a demand for construction simulators across the pond.  

    While Construction Simulator 2015 is family friendly, like any online capable game there is a possibility for naughty language online.  I didn't notice a swear filter in place when naming the multiplayer session.  

    There is no voice acting in this game whatsoever.  All of the dialogue is text driven.  If the complex controls don't discourage getting this game for younger children, make sure they can at least read the dialogue so they can have a chance of understanding what to do in this game.  Even though I could read, I still didn't know what I was doing half of the time!  For what it's worth, sound effects were present and did the job nicely.

    Construction Simulator is available on Steam for $29.99.  The reviews are mixed and many people complain about the multiplayer lag and various bugs.  The reviews on Amazon are even harsher and several of the users are demanding their money back.  If this game still piques your interest, I'd wait for a sale before buying it.

     

  • Cooking Mama Sweet Shop (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Cooking Mama Sweet Shop
    Developed by: Office Create
    Published by: Rising Star Games
    Release Date: May 18, 2017
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to four players
    ESRB Rating: Everyone, Alcohol reference
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Rising Star Games for sending us this game to review!

    Cooking Mama is back and this time she’s specializing in sweets! If she keeps her customers happy, especially a particularly wealthy lady, Mama can open up several stores worldwide. At first, there are only a handful of recipes, but for each completed one, another becomes available until all sixty of them are unlocked. Each recipe has several steps/mini-games to complete and they all require different skills and techniques to master. Depending on how well you do, your creations will get either a gold, silver, or a bronze medal. Even one mistake will bring you down to a silver. Thankfully, you can redo your recipes or practice them to hone your baking skills.

    With over one-hundred and sixty mini-games there is plenty of variety in the recipes. While I didn’t mind most of the mini-games, there are some really annoying ones. In real life, I don’t like playing refrigerator Tetris to fit everything into it; is there anyone out there that does? At least in real life, I have more than a minute or so to get everything sorted. And yes, I have had an otherwise perfect recipe dropped down to a silver because Mama’s fridge was disorganized. Another annoying set of mini-games are the ones where Mama is carrying a tray over to the oven or the fridge. This sounds simple enough but Mama must have been sneaking some swigs of cooking wine when I wasn't looking because she is pretty unsteady and keeping the tray level takes a lot of effort. Many of the mini-games are carried over from previous titles and I was surprised to see that Mama still has the blender that requires you to tap the lid back into place every few seconds. Why hasn’t she replaced it? Surely if she can open up several stores worldwide, she should be able to splurge and buy herself a new blender, right?

    Cooking Mama Sweet Shop
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Classic gameplay that gets kids interested in cooking/baking
    Weak Points: Other than the sugary recipes, not much has changed in this title; some confusing/annoying mini-games; multiplayer requires everyone to own the game (no download play); cannot rearrange store shelves
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol is used in some recipes

    There are lots of mouth watering recipes and you’ll get to help Mama make lots of goodies including caramel apples, churros, cream puffs, crepes, donuts, pancakes, macaroons, and plenty more. If you’re hungry and have a sweet tooth, it’s probably best to hold off on playing this game until you’ve eaten. I do like how this series gets my kids interested in baking/cooking though.

    Despite getting flour and batter on Mama’s face, she doesn’t lose her cool. Some of the recipes are generous with mistakes and let you correct them without penalty as long as the task is completed in time. Other mini-games grant you a couple of mistakes, or none at all. The interface can be a little confusing at times and I had to show my kids how to apply decorations. There are some recipes that I didn’t understand a task or two on and was dropped down to a silver as a result.

    If you own multiple copies of the game, up to four players can compete against each other in a cook-off. Since I only had one copy of this game and there's no download play option, I couldn’t test out this feature. My kids all enjoyed playing this game in single-player mode though. Even my son completed a few recipes despite that game being “girly”.

    Cooking Mama Sweet Shop
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Once recipes are completed, you can place them in your storefront and sell them. Unfortunately, you cannot rearrange your store, but once you start to run out of space, your shop will automatically expand to accommodate more tables. Money earned from selling items can be spent on various customizations including new store décor, customized aprons and cooking utensils for Mama. The AI for the customers is pretty basic as they walk around awkwardly until they find a random item to purchase. It can be rather painful watching them fumble around and waiting for them to make up their mind. I think they’ve been drinking some of Mama’s cooking wine too!

    When Mama has stores opening up around the world, she can partake in various challenges which typically include assembly line tasks. Other challenges rely on your memory to place as many fast food orders as quickly and accurately as possible. If you manage to earn a medal, you’ll be rewarded with an unlockable item to enhance your kitchen or storefront with.

    There is plenty to do in Cooking Mama Sweet Shop. If you enjoyed the previous entries then you’ll find much of the same content in this one. The same sound effects and Mama’s heavy accent are still present in this game. If you’re looking something different and exciting in this series, you’ll have to search elsewhere. The asking price of $30 is reasonable and if you have friends to play against, it’ll be fun to see who can make tastier treats.

  • Craft Keep VR (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

    Craft Keep VR
    Developed by: Arvydas Žemaitis
    Published by: Excalibur Games
    Release date: April 21, 2017
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Excalibur Games for sending us this game to review!

    While I have never fantasized about being a blacksmith, I must admit that Craft Keep makes it fun. In this VR game you get to craft made-to-order swords, arrows, pickaxes, and potions. Because you also brew potions and enchant weapons, you’re a bit of an alchemist too. There are seven chapters with different dilemmas that you get to solve by equipping the warriors and letting them handle the dangerous stuff.

    You start off with some gold which can be used to buy flasks and herbs for mixing potions or hilts and handles for weapons. In one level you have to mine your own ore, but most of them allow you to order it. Since all of the jobs are timed, it’s nice to know that orders arrive instantly after you click the order button on the clipboard. Sometimes an item has to be unlocked by completing another job before you can have it available for purchase.

    Your work area has a storage chest where your orders are deposited. This chest is where you have to put your reward money to have it credited to your wallet. Be careful as some items can fly out of this chest as you’re shuffling them around trying to grab a specific thing. I have lost significant progress due to items rolling out of my reach. Thankfully, story advancing requests keep coming by in case you lose or accidentally use an important item. There are also plenty of random jobs that can help you earn money needed to buy components.

    Craft Keep VR
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Brewing potions and crafting weapons is fun in VR
    Weak Points: The Rift version requires room setup to be completed using the Oculus software and Steam; it’s easy to get disoriented in and outside of this game; attaching blades/axes is a little cumbersome; some objects fall out of range and are inaccessible; level breaking glitches
    Moral Warnings: Language (hell, *ss); alcohol and drunkenness; rune magic and necromancy

    If you don’t have the necessary components or don’t feel like taking on a job, you can decline it without penalty. However, if you accept a job and don’t complete it due to running out of time or by not having the required parts, you’ll lose some gold. You have a limited amount of time before you can accept or reject a job before the customer gives up and walks away. One time a customer got stuck leaving my work area and I had to restart that chapter from the beginning.

    Sadly, customers are not the only ones getting disoriented in this game. I really got myself turned around and managed to twist up my Oculus Rift cable quite a bit. If your play space doesn’t meet Steam’s VR requirements, you can configure it to standing only and get around via teleporting. With all of the teleporting I did, I got rather disoriented after leaving the game. For several minutes after exiting the game my brain was expecting me to be somewhere else every time I blinked! Thankfully, I didn’t experience any motion sickness while in the game.

    Configuring Craft Keep for the Rift takes a little more effort than the Vive because you have to calibrate both the Rift and Steam VR programs. Even though I have enough room for Oculus’s room scale, Steam needed more space. When I first launched the game, I only had the Rift calibrated and everything was too high for me to reach and the tutorial was difficult to navigate through. Once properly calibrated, the game functioned much better with the exception of a few glitches.

    Craft Keep VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 75%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Some of the alchemy recipes are not clear and you’ll have to rely on customer instructions or your memory when they stop telling you. Attaching the blades to their hilts takes a couple of tries and is not very intuitive. When pouring molten metal into the mold you’re left with the pouring canister which you can’t do much with. The mold has spots for four of them, but you’re often required to make more than four in a chapter. Without any other alternatives, I found myself throwing them in random directions to keep my work area clean.

    Later on in the game, you’ll be asked to etch runes into blades and to enchant them. One of the common enemies is a necromancer who you help warriors defeat by providing them with weapons. You’ll also be asked to brew poisonous concoctions. I was disappointed by the language (hell, *ss) in this game.

    The main campaign can be completed in a couple of hours. There is an endless mode and a firing range if you want to shoot human shaped targets with a crossbow or gun. If you don’t mind the bloodless violence, magic use, and language, Craft Keep is a fun VR title worth picking up. Just make sure you have plenty of room to enjoy it without getting tangled up.

  • Detached (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

    Detached
    Developed by: Anshar Studios
    Published by: Anshar Studios
    Release date: May 18, 2017
    Available on: Windows (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, OSVR)
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single/Multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99

    Thank you Anshar Studios for providing us with a review code for this game!

    Everything done in space is more complicated and there is no such thing as an easy job. In Detatched you play as an astronaut who gets stranded during a routine re-supply job. Since you’re flipped off by an astronaut floating away, the parting seems to be intentional. In order to find out why you were separated from your crew, you’ll have to fix your space station first.

    Your initial goals are to repair the communication relay, reactor chamber, power relay, power inverter, and the emergency bay to activate the escape pod. All of these objectives have to be completed before you run out of oxygen or fuel for using your thrusters. Floating through space are refills of oxygen and fuel. If you’re big on Steam achievements there are forty of them and there are ones available for collecting all of the canisters or ignoring them altogether. There are multiple chapters and there is a Steam achievement for completing the entire game in less than an hour.

    Detached
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and challenging concept; well polished audio and visuals
    Weak Points: Motion sickness likely given the zero gravity environment and sudden movements; not many people playing online; short single player campaign
    Moral Warnings: Many ways to die; language (d*mn, b*stard, getting flipped off)

    The single-player campaign has two difficulty settings (arcade & astronaut) with the arcade mode offering simpler controls. The tutorial goes over the controls, which are pretty easy to grasp. What does take some getting used to is the movement which can be sudden and disorienting. The first time I played this game I made the mistake of doing it while standing and it didn’t take long for me to get motion sickness. I did much better playing it seated though it still made me a bit woozy after a while. Shaded peripheral vision is in place to help combat motion sickness, but that may not be enough for some people. If other VR titles have given you motion sickness I would recommend giving this game a pass.

    If you’re blessed with an iron stomach, there is a lot to like in this game. The space exploration is very immersive and fun. With the oxygen and fuel levels dwindling there is always a sense of urgency and you don’t have much time to explore for fun. Besides running out of oxygen or fuel, there are plenty of other ways to die in this game. I have collided one too many times with asteroids and other objects floating around in space. There are suit repair stations, but they are sparse and not helpful when you make contact with an object at high speeds. Using the gravitational boosters is fun, but you have to be careful.

    Multiplayer mode is promising, but I didn’t see anyone online to play against. Your objectives in multiplayer are to secure a package, call a dropship, and deliver the package to it. All of this has to be done quickly and without getting killed. To deal with enemies you’re equipped with a missile launcher and a shield that can break glass or grant temporary immunity. A speed boost is also at your disposal, but will require recharging after using it.

    Detached
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The visuals are great in this title and it utilizes the Unreal 4 engine nicely. The background music and sound effects are top notch as well. The fully orchestrated score is composed by Mikołaj Stroiński who arranged music for The Witcher 3 and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

    Morally speaking this game has a couple of flaws. There is some language and inappropriate hand gestures. Deaths are possible though bloodless.

    In the end, Detached is a fun ride for those who are immune to the nausea inducing sudden movements. Sadly, I was only able to enjoy this game in short bursts. Since the single player campaign isn’t that long and there’s not much of an online presence, I can’t recommend paying full price for this title. If you have friends to play against its worth picking up for a great multiplayer VR experience.

  • EVERSPACE (PC/HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    EVERSPACE 
    Developer: ROCKFISH Games
    Published by: ROCKFISH Games
    Release Date: May 25, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One.
    Genre: space simulation shooter.
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you ROCKFISH games for the review code.

    Today's game is a mixed bag of tasty goodies and pennies in your Halloween bag. For everything this game did that made me clap my hands in excitement, it also made me go “awww” in disappointment. This game is a real fifty-fifty for me, so let's fly right into the 6 Degrees Of Freedom space shooter EVERSPACE.
     
    EVERSPACE puts you in the role of a pilot with no memory, only a goal to go forward; the story of the game is told in flashbacks and NPC interactions. You'll learn more about the pilot as you move forward. You'll be met with waves of enemies in each location to fight against as well as ruined ships and meteors to explore. You'll mine gathering points as well as taking useful materials from defeated enemy ships. Materials you gather can be used to craft new equipment and upgrades as you progress. If you die in a run, money you earned can be spent to upgrade your ship's stats or to buy a new ship. Keep in mind if you die, you'll have to start at the beginning with only the upgrades you purchased; upgrades are the only things that carry over to new playthroughs.

    EVERSPACE
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Keyboard controls are excellent and the ship controls like a dream. The game is challenging but fair. 
    Weak Points: You'll lose part of the control on a gamepad. The variation in enemies and activities is low. Vr controls are at least slightly improved from a normal gamepad.
    Moral Warnings: Exploding ships are the only moral problem this game may have.

    The controls are amazing for this sort of game; the ship can move in each and every direction at every angle fluidly. Barrel rolls, 360 degree strafing and hovering around obstacles or exploring meteors are easy with these controls. However, controller support is rather bare bones. I tried to play with an Xbox controller. The flight feels a bit awkward on a controller. It reminded me of those old Star Wars ship flight games. You'll have a better time with keyboard and mouse just like the Steam page recommends.
     
    The environment and entire game world keeps you immersed: you'll find yourself relaxed as you try to survive the endless waves of enemies and explore the vastness of space. Sadly some of that relaxed state comes from the repetitive nature of the game. A quick note for readers: for me personally, I don't always mind repetitive games. Many of my favorite games are Rogue-lites and games with a purposeful repetitive design such as Monster Hunter. While some people may want me to dock points on EVERSPACE for its repetitive nature, I can't. However what I will dock the game for is variation. The game's enemies have no unique aspects as you progress. While there are factions in this game, aside from names you're just avoiding lasers and missiles. Variation also lacks in ship customization. While you have one of three options you can purchase with in game currency, the ships only vary in the upgrades you can get.

    EVERSPACE
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    On the one hand, your available upgrades are the usual standard fare in Rogue-lite games: critical hit chances, new equipment slots or things like that. However the game is balanced in a way where you can beat the entire game without a single upgrade. This game rewards skill first, and any strategy you come up with will be that of a pilot improving their own skills, not “hey what upgrade am I going to buy when I die?” For the hardy gamer you can access a hardcore mode for additional challenge after you beat the game the first time. This game also supports VR experiences.

    So a quick note for readers, I did have a short time with the VR mode of this game. Not only was the time short but this is my first VR experience. The camera moved smoothly with my head, I had no lag or jarring motions that would cause motion sickness. The controls for the game were smooth like the keyboard controls.
     
    Exploding ships are the only real problem you'll have with morality. You won't have issues in the way of dialogue or visuals.
     
    While it felt like a game that could have been perfect, EVERSPACE is still worth a purchase. It may not appeal to everyone but it's designed to teach everyone how to soar through space. Even if you have to avoid lasers at every turn.

  • Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition
    Developed by: Giants Software
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release Date: October 13, 2014
    Available on: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Up to sixteen online
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Uber Strategist for sending us a review code and a loaner Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System!

    To be perfectly honest I’ve never had much of a desire to become a farmer.  Though I must admit that raising chickens for a steady egg supply would be nice.  Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition lets you raise chickens, sheep, and cows.  If you’re not into animal husbandry, there’s plenty of other tasks such as growing and harvesting grains and vegetables, cutting grass or trees down.  With realistic day and weather cycles there is not much time to get everything done.  Fortunately, you can hire competent help if you have enough funds.

    Your starting finances depend on the level of difficulty you choose.  There’s easy, normal, and hard.  In easy you’ll have more starting capital, earn more money for completed tasks, and get cheaper labor. The normal difficulty is recommended and is the most balanced.  If you’re experienced with the Farming Simulator series and are looking for a challenge, then the hard mode will not disappoint!  In the hard mode you start off in debt and hiring help is more expensive.  To make matters even worse, completed missions pay less money.

    There are three different locations in the single-player campaign.  The default location, Bjorholm in Scandinavia, has a tour mode to teach you the basics of farming.  The other two locations Westbridge Hills in USA and Sosnovka in Russia assume you already know what you’re doing.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Plenty of equipment to purchase and use; lots of tasks to complete yourself or delegate to paid workers; active online play to farm with others across the world
    Weak Points: Never enough time in the day to get everything done!
    Moral Warnings: None!

    If you’re new to the game, there’s plenty of tutorials and guides to help you in your goal to be the number one supplier of natural goods.  The tutorials will teach you how to plow, harvest, spray, cultivate, bale, transport, chop corn, and feed livestock.   If you’ve forgotten anything you can walk to a phone booth and access the helpline for tips and instructions.

    There’s plenty of work to be done and if you’re looking for some paying jobs, be sure to check the job boards.  Pay attention to the deadline before accepting the work though!  There is no such thing as a quick job.  The fields are large and preparing them for crops and harvesting takes quite a while.  Especially as you buy more land.  Fortunately, you’re able to delegate some of the tasks to hired workers.  

    When undertaking tasks by yourself there’s much to take into consideration.  You have to have the right tools for the job and they are all available for purchase with many official brands being represented.  Once you have all the necessary equipment, it’s time to put it to use!  When plowing the fields, you have to add a weight to the tractor, then attach and lower the plow to begin the time consuming process.  Just like real life, this can take minutes to hours to accomplish depending on how much land is in your possession.  I wish there was an option to listen to music while driving the vehicles.  If I was doing this in real life, I’d at least be listening to an mp3 player to make the task more enjoyable!  There isn’t any voice acting, but the sound effects for the machines and animals are spot on.

    Other than music, the controls you can use for this game can enhance your experience as well.  Farming Simulator 15 Gold Edition supports keyboard, gamepad, and the Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System.  I was sent the Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System to evaluate and this kit certainly adds to the realism of the game.  

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Once I enabled steering wheel support in the game, the controls worked flawlessly and the numbered buttons each had a function that the game automatically recognized and prompted me for as needed.   Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System is sold in two bundles.  The pedals and steering wheel with ten buttons and two analog sticks sells for $150.  If you want the complete experience with the wheel, pedals and vehicle side panel with nearly thirty buttons, it will set you back $300.  

    The complete package was fun to play with and made driving the tractor more realistic.  I liked the steering knob for easier steering and the auto return spring mechanism.  The scroll wheel on the side panel providing cruise control was helpful too.  My only disappointment with the side panel is that many of the buttons look like switches but they do not toggle.  Some functional switches would have been nice, especially for a device with a $150 price tag.

    Using the steering wheel and pedals for other games is possible.  We configured the steering wheel and pedals for Dirt Rally and after increasing the sensitivity for both the wheel and pedals it worked really well.  While it doesn’t have the same feel or design of racing wheels, it'll get the job done.  There is no force feedback support so if you want to feel your collisions in a racing game, you're better off with a racing steering wheel.

    Before parting with $300 on a Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System, make sure you enjoy Farming Simulator 15.  There’s plenty to do between the single-player scenarios and the ability to join up to sixteen players around the world to cooperatively manage a virtual farm.  Most of the online game servers are based in Europe and they are still quite active which is good for a game that has been out for over a year.

    Farming Simulator 15 brings a lot to the table and is very realistic when it comes to the look and feel of operating heavy machinery and managing time/assets wisely to turn a profit.  This is definitely a good tool to utilize and learn from for anyone considering a career in agriculture.  Even though this game isn’t my cup of tea, it does make me respect farmers even more for all the work that they do.  

  • Final Goalie: Football simulator (PC/HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    Final Goalie: Football simulator
    Developed By: Ivanovich Games
    Publisher: Ivanovich Games
    Release Date: November 18, 2016
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive or Oculus & Touch required)
    Genre: Sports simulation
    Number of Players: 1 (or 2 with a mobile phone)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you Ivanovich Games for sending us this game to review!

    If you are like me, and were always picked last for pretty much any sport in gym class, you may have never had an opportunity to play as the all-important goalie. Or, perhaps you are also like me and have no friends who like to play soccer (sorry, rest of the world!  We have another sport we call football), so that opportunity is also not looking good.  Fortunately, through the modern wonders of Virtual Reality (VR), even you and I have a chance to see what it's like to be at the center of attention - as a goalie.

    You see, Final Goalie: Football simulator has you defending against what appear to be professional soccer players from around the world, who are kicking balls at you that move in nearly unrealistic ways.  It's your job to deflect as many of them as possible, using only your hands/gloves, which represent your Vive or Touch controllers.  You generally pursue a high score, either locally among friends or online, as your score is compared against the rest of the world.  You can also catch the ball for a small score boost.

    Final Goalie: Football simulator
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice graphics; great use of motion controllers; simple but very fun
    Weak Points: You must block with your hands; no headbutts or virtual body to help out; your walls or ceiling might suffer
    Moral Warnings: None! (Though catching a bomb is bad)

    There are four game modes total, and three main single player ones.  First there is a simulation game.  You must play this first.  Here, you do what is on the tin – play goalie against soccer players.  There are generally several players on screen where the ball can start from, and they kick it at you.  The balls can fly straight at you, towards the goal in a crazy arc, or what I find the most difficult, low and to the side at high speed.  I very rarely block those.

    The stadium you are in looks and sounds really nice.  The grassy terrain looks great and believable, even if it doesn't render each blade of grass.  The stands sound great, with an announcer detailing each kick, and the crowd reaction is nice.  The production values are great, with the exception of the loading screens, where it just goes blank.  Thankfully, SteamVR recently added informative messages when games do this, so it no longer looks like the game crashed for a moment.

    The other major game mode is arcade mode.  In this mode, there are cannons rather than sports professionals, and they shoot all kinds of things at you.  There is the common soccer ball, as well as tennis balls, beach balls, bombs, and various other things.  There are also power-ups that pop up, and if you throw a ball you caught at them, they activate, and all kinds of things can happen.  Everything from changing your size, the speeds of objects, or even defensive walls can show up.  Of course, catching the bomb is bad – you instantly lose.  Normally, you lose when three balls enter the goal.

    Final Goalie: Football simulator
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Story mode is a simple variation that adds challenges to both simulation and arcade.  There is a room (with teleport to move) that has various challenges lined up on each side.  There are rooms for simulation, and another set of rooms for arcade.  There are a whole lot of challenges; I'm not sure how many.  But I suspect it would keep any would-be goalie quite busy.  There is also a multiplayer mode, where a friend with a mobile app can lay out the kicks coming your way, while you attempt to defend them.  I was not able to test this.

    I found Final Goalie: Football simulator very simple but quite enjoyable.  It seems to require a fairly large play space, though you can thankfully adjust how big you are, as well as add motion compensation so you don't have to reach as far as it looks (somewhat like giving you larger arms).  If you can't clear space past the range of the goalposts, be warned that jumping, diving, and eventual banging and injury will quickly commence.  It's very easy to forget about that thing on the ceiling or unexpected wall or furniture when you are trying to keep that score up.  Playing this game prompted me to move my Vive to the living room until a silicone rubber cover for it arrived, with the intention of avoiding even more dings on my ceiling...

    And yes, it's a blast, and was a big hit when I showed it to friends.  Highly recommended!  

  • Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers
    Developed By: Chris Chau
    Published By: CIRCLE Ent.
    Released: March, 9, 2017
    Available On: 3DS and Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Strategy, simulation
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: Single Player Only
    Price: $5.99 on eShop

    Thank you Circle Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    Chores: they are often called hard, laborious, or boring. Few people even remotely like doing them, but regardless of one's attitude, everyone knows chores are fundamental to a functioning society. So how is it that games like Sims, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or Story of Seasons made activities like farming, weeding, and errands fun? Frankly, it's because they remove the 'work' part, leaving only the satisfaction of a completed job. No one doubts these simulation games' success, so now Chris Chau, CEO of Circle Entertainment, decided to lead his team with their approach to this curious genre. Theirs is a little ditty known as Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers.

    With a name like Frontier Days, what needs explaining? Lead your band of pioneers to settle in an untamed wilderness. Well, I wouldn't call it 'wild' per se, due to the hordes of sheep everywhere. (Because of all the feral creatures I can list, woolly quadrupeds that go 'baa' isn't one of them.) Anyway, there's no real story here to drive the game. Survive and thrive is the motto. This means you're responsible to make sure the pantries are well stocked, your buildings are protected, and there's enough money for all your expenses. Pretty straightforward. There's still a catch though. Your goal hinges on the clock. Each in-game year cycle takes about ten minutes in real time, and within that short span you've got to gather enough food and money for a Harvest Festival. Your men must be fed, and your taxes are due by then. If you go bankrupt two years in a row, it's game over. This quite the intelligent setup if you ask me. One thing most simulation games overlook is that colonizing no-man's land doesn't mean you're cut off from societal norms. To my genuine surprise, Frontier Days does understand that.

    As you can see, grub and wealth are above all else. How much you need will depend on the number of buildings and people you have. More buildings mean more taxes. More men means more bread. However, that also means having a bigger workforce and better money-making options, so I guess you must accept the good with the bad. Over time, your town can be upgraded. You start with a rustic village and can eventually transform it into a proper city. This unlocks more efficient means of income and lets you hire more recruits. However, it will also increase your tax rates. Again, gain a little lose a little. Same goes for your population. I should also mention that if you don't get enough food for everyone, your savings will be used to compensate. So there's that too.

    Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute; Good Mechanics; Great Possible Learning Tool
    Weak Points: Flawed Upgrade System; Lacks True Difficulty; Needs More Soundtracks
    Moral Warnings: None

    Frontier Days is very easy to pick up and play. For one thing, you're provided a chart on the top screen to help keep track of your resources. What's better is that it can also calculate what's needed to build your next establishment and how many more materials you'll need to finish it, which is quite nifty. For active play, the circle pad directs the camera, but Frontier Days' controls are mostly 'touch' based. Choosing the tree to cut, the field to farm, or the grass plot to stand on is as easy as a couple taps. Just select the pioneer, then the place/task, and watch them go - inch by inch. Okay, okay. So they're not Olympic track runners, but personally I'm not gonna complain about their slowpoke legs. Jobs really do cost resources and time, so simulating the gradualness of it makes sense in context. As I've said earlier, you've only got so long between festivals. The waiting mechanic provides an uncomplicated yet deep strategic system. You must weigh out what's necessary, who's available, how long it will take, and if you have what's needed to complete the task. Organize and prioritize.

    So that's it right? Shoot some sheep. Plant some wheat. Sell materials. Upgrade to bigger and better things. Instant success. Well, hold your horses. This game is smart enough to know real life isn't easy street. Frontier Days simulates this truth with their invention card mechanic. These random pop up stir ups are here to help or hurt your agenda. They drop in, and crops may fail. Earthquakes could damage your buildings, or you might land a surplus of pre-cut planks. Sometimes these conditions even last a whole year's cycle like a plague (literally). A card's effects happen in an instant, but there are some cards that you yourself can activate to meet your needs at anytime. The way I see it, the creators were wise to come up with these shakeups. This easy game would have been predictably boring, otherwise. Well done, Circle Entertainment. Well done.

    However, there is one major gameplay flaw that kinda messed with my experience. In order to upgrade houses, businesses, or the town as a whole, you have to have certain resources plus rare diamonds and/or emeralds. Emeralds you can buy at the marketplace, albeit if you've built one. Diamonds on the other hand are earned by upgrading town hall. Why is this a problem? Sometimes the item in question is something you hadn't had before. This could mean needing to upgrade other establishments, just so you can create said item. What Frontier Days doesn't do is label their icons, barring me from knowing what I'm even trying to get. As a result, I'm left shooting in the dark, using up my limited diamond supply, hoping I'm investing properly. Because if I don't, I'll run out of diamonds, which means I can't upgrade the town. In other words, not at all. It's for that very reason I couldn't reach the city age in time for this review. If it just specified what their icons represented, offered an easy to find manual, or at least allowed a second way to acquire diamonds, I wouldn't have this problem - this one annoying problem. But I do.

    Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    If you're deadline panic prone, there are options to ease your phobia. Easy Mode renders misfortunes into trifles, and Tutorial Mode will even grant you perks like a free kitchen. I didn't even have to bother with helpful invention cards for either of these modes. Plus, there's Free Mode, which completely throws out 'Game Overs', so you can be free to do willy nilly without consequence. As for you hardcore survivalists, I'm sorry, but you got the short end of the stick. Hard Mode isn't that big of a challenge. Just hang on to those invention cards, and you're good. Super Hard Mode, where the sheep and boar attack your houses every other year, isn't that harrowing either if you know what you're doing. The game's trials just doesn't pull the stops to test you. If anything, the stricter demands make progression take longer, which hurts the game's pacing. It is a bit of a shame when difficulty equals boredom.

    For presentation, the terrain you're taming isn't exotic or all that unique. It honestly reminded me of RollerCoaster Tycoon's empty starting lots. It's bare and flat, which is technically appropriate for its build-a-town structure. However, the random generated layouts still managed to look the same, despite rearranging the trees, rocks and rivers. I've only mentioned two animals so far so yeah. There's low show for the animal kingdom. Now, there are some decorative options for your village to help spruce up, but it doesn't liven things up much. As for your men, everyone's a carbon copy of his neighbor. They do look like tiny cute dolls though. Come to think of it, 'cute' sums up the visuals nicely. They're plain but adorable and does its job. I also didn't find any glitches other than a few misplaced animal sprites and a few frame rate drops. As for the music, it's for the most part lighthearted and welcoming. Problem is, it's repetitious. I can only hear the same guitar riffs so many times. I won't say it's unpleasant, but a bit more variety would have been appreciated.

    Morality-wise, Frontier Days is as clean as it gets. I did hear that you can establish a church down the road, which sounds nice. I just don't know if it's supposed to be decorative or serves a function. Still, I can't imagine this game doing anything unsavory. There's next to no dialogue to go crude with nor suggestive theming. It's just you. You're the leader in the sky and captain of this ship. The only 'bad' that happens here is what you bring yourself.

    My memories of Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers are relaxed ones. It's as harsh as a featherbed. Thus, it's very welcoming to gamers and non-gamers alike. In all honesty, this game can't compete with simulation kings like Animal Crossing or Minecraft, but it humbly offers its own insight that turned out to be more realistic than its bigger cousins. This to me amounts to a promising idea that hadn't fully matured. It has its oversights, but Frontier Days's approach might be worth checking out. I also don't think Christians have anything to fear here. It might even be a great learning tool for kids on leadership. As of right now, Circle Entertainment has re-released Frontier Days on Nintendo Switch. I may not know the differences between the two versions, but I do know this: The developers did find a yet to be polished gem. I'm sure the newer rendition will be better, but to the 3DS' credit, it has little to be ashamed of.

  • Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers (Android)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers
    Developed by: Natsume, Daredevil Development
    Published by: Rising Star Games
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Release date: May 18, 2017
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you Rising Star Games for sending us this game to review!

    The farming simulation Harvest Moon series has been around for twenty years. A majority of these games consist of a lot of chores with the option to date and eventually get married if you can raise enough money to do so. Although the idea of farming chores doesn’t sound fun, it surprisingly is - though it does require a lot dedication and patience.

    Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers is a great way to get youngsters into the series with the simplified chores and visual interface that does not require reading skills. There is only one field to tend to and the crops can be intermixed without worry of seasons or lack of watering to kill them off. The seeds are dropped into an available square and the watering bucket needs to be dragged over the prompt for all of the thirsty plants. I like how you can water and fertilize multiple plants at once. The trowel is used for harvesting everything be it cabbage, corn, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, strawberries, and turnips.

    Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A cute farming game that’s easy to learn and does not require reading skills
    Weak Points: With the endless demand of items and no reward, this game may get stale for some; the interface takes some getting used to
    Moral Warnings: None!

    While there is no way to win this game, there is an endless demand for items that your farm produces. Customers will walk up to your farm and you’ll have to fill up a basket with the items they desire. If you hand them a basket with the incorrect items, they will frown and give it back to you. There is no time limit to meeting their demands so that helps.

    Besides growing fruits and vegetables, you’ll be expected to collect eggs, milk cows, and shear sheep for yarn. The tutorial teaches you how to do all of this along with cleaning horses. Since the tutorial went to the hen house on the left hand side of the screen, I didn’t notice the one on the right hand side at first.

    The menu bar on top of the screen has the chore icons which need to be dragged to the proper place to begin the desired process. For example, if you want to milk your cow you have drag the bucket over to the cow. Extracting milk requires you to bring the bucket underneath the udders and to tap on them to get the milk out of them. Once the bucket is filled up, you have to dump the milk into a metal container and repeat the process until it is full. Once a chore is completed you’ll see a thumbs up symbol and will have multiple products in your store as a result. When shearing your sheep you’ll get three different colors of yarn as a result. I often got multiple requests for the same color and had to repeat the shearing process several times in a row to accommodate them.

    Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The visuals are colorful and easy on the eyes. There’s not a whole lot of variety in the customers and you will see duplicates as your storefront has five of them waiting to be served. The sound effects and background music are charming and work well with this title.

    Unlike other Harvest Moon games, Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers is not rated by the ESRB. Have no fear though as this title is perfectly clean and safe for kids of all ages to play. As an adult I found it charming and fun to play in short spurts.

    Since there is no end goal, older kids may get bored of this game. By then they may have an interest in the regular Harvest Moon games which are worth checking out. Until then, Harvest Moon: Lil’ Farmers is great for budding farmers.

  • Industry Giants 2 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Industry Giants 2
    Developed By: Fancy Bytes, Reactor
    Published By: United Independent Entertainment
    Released: April 14, 2015
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Simulation, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: Single player with LAN support
    MSRP: $9.99

    Thank you United Independent Entertainment for sending a copy of this game to review.

    Industry Giants 2 is a simulator game ripped straight out of the '90s. It originally came out in 2002 and this is the Steam port I'm reviewing. You choose an industry and control the supply chain from raw materials to retail stores. You move through time in the 20th century and have to manage weather, city growth, and technological advances. There are several campaigns to advance through with specific goals as well as an endless mode where you choose how you want to play. 

    There is no escaping the fact that this game originally came out in 2002. With that in mind the graphics are exactly what you'd expect. It has the classic "high" resolution intro video and then in-game it has Sim City 3000 style buildings and landscapes. All the colors in the game are muted, from the landscapes to the cities; there's also not a lot of variety in the buildings. I couldn't tell you what any of the buildings in the cities are for, except ones I built. The sound effects are entirely too loud. My only solution to this problem was to turn the sound FX slider to just above mute and keep the music slider at medium. However with this setting I'm forced to listen to the fairly repetitive, low quality synth music. More egregious is that the sound effects and music do not pause if you pause the game. More than once I found myself being startled by an errant bird call or a jackhammer. The worst part is that whenever a new technological advancement becomes available it plays a short video where the volume is super loud. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I was crunching numbers on expanding my farming system and a fog horn sounded, announcing the arrival of bigger cargo ships. 

    Industry Giants 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: In-depth supply chain management; tons of available maps for endless mode
    Weak Points: Very few city management features; sound effects can be jarring; lack of online multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: Encourages greed

    I enjoyed the campaigns; there's a good variety of objectives that really force you to examine the most efficient way to build your empire. The title suggests it's a business simulator, but the features are limited almost entirely to the supply chain and transportation. If you're looking for a Business Tycoon type experience you'll be disappointed. The game does give you more than enough information to manage your supply chain. There are tables, charts, and graphs for all aspects of your burgeoning industry. Players will likely spend most of their time in endless mode. Instead of getting a specific goal and date range, like in the campaigns, you select a map, start at the year 1900 and build out however you want. There are a ton of maps in endless mode so you could easily lose 100s of hours here if you want. 

    The controls felt dated and took some getting used to. You're told to scroll around the map by moving the mouse to the sides of the screen, but I had issues scrolling to the right because my 2nd monitor would cause the mouse to leave the game. Later I found that using the arrow keys was more consistent. There were some features that weren't explained well or at all in the tutorial. For instance the game doesn't tell you that you can slow down and speed up time with use of the "+" and "-" keys. It mentions the vehicles window, but doesn't tell you that you can manage all your vehicles from there. Using that window is so much easier than scrolling around and clicking each individual vehicle, which the tutorial instructs you to do.

    Industry Giants 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    No feature is more dated than the multiplayer. The game offers skirmish mode, LAN play and "internet game". The skirmish mode works fine and is pretty fun. Here you can play against up to 3 other AI players. I only played a couple games, but having another competing industry adds a nice dynamic. The local multiplayer does function, but I haven't tested it myself, although I've read forums posts and seen a video that it works. The "internet game" option uses GameSpy. I have heard about this service, but not for a long time. So I found a place to download GameSpy. I installed it, but when I went to make an account I got a 404 error. It turns out GameSpy was shut down in 2014, so "internet game" is useless. 

    If you have any nostalgia for 90s tycoon games then you'll enjoy Industry Giants 2. The game doesn't boast a ton of features, but what it does offer is done well. Players who are inexperienced with these types of games may be thrown off by the dated graphics and controls. The game is appropriate for all ages. The only moral quandaries I found is that the game does encourage greedy behaviors, such as a mission where you are essentially a banana republic dictator. There are tons of different missions to choose from and paths to take in endless mode giving the game a huge amount of replayability. 

     

  • M4 Tank Brigade (Preview) (PC)

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    Game Info:

    M4 Tank Brigade
    Developed By: iEntertainment Network
    Published By: iEntertainment Network
    Released: August 17, 2015 (Still in Early Access)
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh
    Genre: Military Simulation, Action
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: Single player and online multiplayer
    MSRP: $14.99

    Thank you iEntertainment Network for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    M4 Tank Brigade is a World War II tank combat simulator. You control the tactical side by moving and positioning your units on the map. You can also switch to first person and manually drive a tank around. Additionally at your disposal are air strikes and artillery barrages that you can call forth from the map. The game allows you to play as both Axis and Allied forces through various campaigns and locales. There's also an online mode where you can play in campaigns with and against other people; there's also a leaderboard. M4 Tank Brigade is currently in Early Access and available on Steam.

    The first thing I noticed about this game is the insanely in-depth options menu. I was most blown away by the sound options. It seems like there's a slider for every individual sound in the game. There are also more control settings then I think I've ever seen in a video game before. I only used keyboard and mouse, and I didn't have any control issues. For all these options they also have a brief explanation of every setting, which is something I wish more games did. 

    M4 Tank Brigade
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid tactical tank combat; easy-to-use map; numerous game settings
    Weak Points: Graphics are ugly; sounds are poor quality; campaign is repetitive; the game has been completely abandoned by the developer
    Moral Warnings: Tank warfare violence; able to play as Nazi forces

    It's a shame the actual graphics and sounds are of such poor quality. All the models have a minimal polygon count, the textures are extremely low resolution, and the ground textures look stretched. There's very little in the way of color in this game. They put a lot of effort into making tons of historically accurate vehicles, but they all look ugly. There are very few buildings with collision, yet the tanks are programmed (poorly) to drive around them. So you end up watching your tanks zigzagging through a small town while clipping through every other building. The sound quality isn't much better: nearly every sound effect has a crackling sound and there's no music worth mentioning. The only voice acting exists in the tutorial, and it is laughably terrible. 

    The crux of the gameplay is in the tactical map.The tactical map shows the entire battlefield including the units you control as well as any enemy units you are in line of sight with. From this map you can control all the tanks in your unit and position them as you see fit. It updates in real time as you move your troops around and enemies come in sight. Besides using the map, you can individually drive and shoot with any tank you want. The gameplay is overall solid but not nearly as strategic as the game suggests. Most of the time I simply took the high ground and was able to defeat the enemy tanks, even on the hardest difficulty. The campaign, while lengthy, offers very little diversity of missions. Your only objectives are to assault or defend a circular portion of the map.

    All the game's features are explained in the tutorial but it is surprisingly hard to find. When you start the game there's an option for New User Interface and Classic Interface with New User Interface set as default. Swapping between the two options appears to do nothing. So I left it on New User Interface, and went into the Campaign; there I stumbled through the first few missions. It was only later when I decided to investigate Classic Interface again that I discovered what it does. When Classic is selected, the Campaign list will display the tutorial at the top. When New User Interface is selected the tutorial is hidden from the campaign. I have no idea why this feature was implemented this way; it seems completely backwards. I would recommend playing the tutorial before doing other missions because it does explain the controls and features fairly well. Do know that it also suffers from extremely cheesy voice acting. 

    M4 Tank Brigade
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 3/10
    Sound - 2/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    There is an online option for this game. In fact, on the Steam page, it implies that eventually, after enough features are added, the online would cost money. Don't worry though, I don't see that ever happening. I logged into the online mode and was initially surprised by the activity. At the time of writing this review, there are seven other people online, which is both surprising and extremely sad. There are currently three battles available, an "Easy Target Practice" and two timed campaigns. I was able to join only one of the campaigns, but never ran into another person. 

    This game is still in Early Access and I don't think that will ever change. It was brought onto Steam in August, 2015 and the last updated is from November, 2015. I'm going to make the bold assertion that this game has been abandoned. In fact the first two posts on the Steam discussion page for this game both ask about updates and wonder if the game has been abandoned. I checked out iEntertainment Network's website and social media pages, and it looks like they have completely moved on from this game. All their posts are about newer titles. As a result, I simply cannot recommend an abandoned game, even to those who love its particular genre. Games like this are why Steam Early Access has such a bad reputation.

    This is the kind of niche game I would usually recommend to fans of the genre. Sure the graphics and sounds are bad but the gameplay is decent, and there's a lot of content to go through. The only moral warnings are the tank-on-tank violence and the ability to pick Nazi forces. There's no story though, and you can exclusively play allied forces if you want. With that said,  because the developer promised future updates and completely abandoned the game I cannot recommend this to anyone. Steam Early Access has gotten a terrible reputation for being a wasteland of garbage, and this game is one of many reasons why.

  • Motorsport Manager (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Motorsport Manager
    Developed by: Playsport Games
    Published by: Sega (PC)
    Release Date: November 9, 2016 (Windows) November 23, 2016 (Linux)
    Available on: iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows PC, Linux PC
    Genre: Simulator
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E
    Price: $34.99 
    (Humble Store Link)

    Do you enjoy the feel of ripping down the racetrack in a pack of aggressive drivers at 180 miles per hour?  Do you love the thrill of dueling for first place?  Have you loved race car driving games since you were a small child?  If so, then this game isn't for you.  On the other hand, if you like making strategic decisions during a race, like which tires to put on the car at the next pit stop or how much to tweak the suspension based on driver feedback, then this is your game.  Motorsport Manager is a management simulator where the player takes on the role of manager of an international Formula One racing team.

    There are two main modes of gameplay.  The first is where all the racing team management happens.  This is where the player manages personnel, car maintenance and upgrades, corporate sponsors and racing league politics.  I must admit a lot of the things a team manager deals with in this game is stuff that had never occurred to me.  You start off choosing an International racing team to manage, each with a different amount of starting money and prestige.  As the manager, you decide which corporate sponsors to sign contracts with based on the base amount of money, length of the contract and bonuses for good performance in the race.  You have to scout out new team members to replace under-performing members of your team and that doesn't just include drivers.  It also includes the mechanic for each car and the technical team leader.  You not only have to consider the various skills of the prospective new hire but also the chemistry between teammates.  A driver who gets along well with the mechanic will get bonuses during the race.  Mind you, when you send an offer of employment to a prospective new hire they may or may not accept it based on their own expectations and how much in demand they may be.

    On top of that, you manage the cars themselves, directing your technical team to upgrade components which, depending on exactly how it's done, may risk being caught in a racing rules violation.  As if that weren't enough to keep track of, the driver of each car is going to have an opinion about the upgrades you put on the car.  Keeping the drivers happy is important!  

    Still not enough to keep track of?  Not to worry.  You manage the physical facilities the racing team uses as its headquarters and build new buildings or upgrade old ones as needed.  Of course, these things take vast amounts of money so your team had better have good contracts with your sponsors!  The game has a simulated social media feed giving you a sense of public opinion about your team and its performance, and of course there's always the team owner's happiness to consider, or your job security may be at risk...

    Motorsport Manager
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Plenty to do, highly detailed 
    Weak Points: The cars are the centerpiece of racing, but we don't get to see them race up close
    Moral Warnings: Mild Language

    There's even a section for racing league politics.  A new rule is proposed to make a change to one of the race tracks.  Do you vote for or against?  Maybe you abstain for now so you have greater voting power later.  The choice is yours, and based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team.  If your drivers are strong in the low speed, tight turns then a change to a track that adds a new curve might be to your benefit.  Not so much if your cars perform poorly at low speeds, however. 

    The second mode is race mode, where the player assumes real-time control of the racing team on race day.  The team fields two cars in each race, and each is managed separately.  This is where the player decides what kinds of tires to put on each car during each pit stop, maintenance to be performed on the cars and the strategies the driver should use.  It starts with practice laps, which are optional but well worth doing to fine tune the car's mechanical settings.  Based on driver feedback, you can adjust things like the angle of the front and rear wings, the stiffness of the suspension and transmission gearing.  If the driver complains that the car handles poorly at high speeds you can make adjustments to correct it to his or her preferences.  The two cars are tuned separately, because each driver has a different set of preferences and skills. 

    Then, there's the qualifier and the race.  There's one last opportunity to tune the car and choose the tires before the race begins, and there's plenty to do.  As the manager, you keep an eye on the weather so you can make choices about tires in upcoming pit stops.  Even if the weather is dry, do you use soft tires which last longer but aren't quite as fast, or do you push the car's speed with even softer tires for the extra speed, knowing they won't last as long?  How much fuel do you add in the pit?  Do you want to make any repairs to the car while it's there?  Every decision you make affects how long the car is in the pit stop.  Push the pit crew too hard and they might make a mistake, costing even more time.  

    It isn't just the pit crew that can be pushed too hard.  If your driver is told to drive aggressively, the car will take more severe wear and tear requiring more pit stop time.  Should the driver be more conservative to save fuel, or would you rather have them push hard for a few laps to try to gain a lead?  Should the driver be aggressive and take risks to get ahead during the slower turns, knowing this will wear down the tires and suspension faster, or should they hang back a bit and outlast the cars in front of them that may need to pit soon?  All of this and you're making decisions for two cars in the race, not just one.  This is a racing team, and you can have the cars help each other as well.  

    The game is controlled entirely with menus and buttons.  Since the player doesn't actually drive the cars the only input device needed is the mouse.  During the race the player can control the camera to allow the track to be seen from multiple angles.  There's also a zoom feature but the difference between fully zoomed in and fully zoomed out isn't much at all.  Even when zoomed in to the maximum, details of the cars still aren't visible, and when zoomed out to the maximum amount the entire track isn't visible.  It just feels like a feature that's only there because people expect it to be, but isn't really that useful.  

    Races can be long.  Very long.  Time can be sped up if things are happening too slowly (which is a strange problem in a racing game) but even at max speed the race is going to take at least a half hour or so.  That's fine with me, since I wouldn't set it much faster than that even if I could because there's plenty to do and keep track of.  With the physical condition of two cars, watching the weather and making real time decisions about how aggressive the drivers should be, it's hard to be idle. 

    This game has no multiplayer mode, which is a shame because the potential is there to let players pit their championship racing teams against each other.

    Motorsport Manager
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics in the management section consist mostly of menus, which are clear and easy to read.  There's also a distinctly technical feel to them which I liked.  In race mode, the actual track and the cars are visible.  Buildings are rendered as 3D objects in the world.  The cars are also 3D objects but are only visible from a distance. Again, even when zoomed in as much as possible it's difficult to see details on the cars at all, and the only thing to distinguish the cars from each other is the body color.  I suppose the 3D buildings are gobbling so much of the GPU's power that to zoom in very close to the cars would really hurt the frame rate, but I feel like it would have been worth it to trade off a little more of the environment to get a better view of the focus of the game: The cars.  Maybe I'm a little more disappointed by this than I ought to be, but I got into this game in the first place because the little boy in me just loves to watch F1 cars zoom around a racetrack up close.

    I did like that as the race progresses, the track looks less and less clean as the cars leave rubber on the track from the tires.  I also like that when it rains,  the view is slightly distorted as if rain drops were hitting the "camera lens."  It's very subtle so that it's still easy to see what's happening, but it looks great.  These effects add a good bit of realism to the experience.

    The sound effects are adequate if not particularly memorable.  Get used to the sound of race car engines, as that's really the centerpiece.  I'm not completely sure but I think the sound does change somewhat as the engines sustain wear and tear during a race, but it's subtle and may just be my imagination.  When drivers send radio messages from the track it sounds like a generic static garbled message.  It's not meant to be understood.  Instead the text is displayed on screen when the driver speaks.  I can understand why they did it; unless the developers got a ton of voice actors to provide a wide variety of voices, every driver would just sound the same anyway and this approach seems to be a reasonable compromise.  Still, it makes the game feel like it has less production value.

    The game didn't have any crashes or issues on my HP gaming laptop with Windows 7. The frame rate was somewhat low during races and my graphics card isn't very old.  The only big drain I can see would be from the 3D environment, unless the 3D models of the cars are far more detailed than it seems.  Load times are decent and the audio remained smooth throughout.

    This game is free from moral issues for the most part, though a player can have the chief designer modify the car in such a way as to potentially break the racing league rules. Radio messages from drivers (displayed as text) sometimes contain mild profanity when they're frustrated during a race, but nothing one wouldn't hear on regular broadcast television.  It's refreshing to play a game where nobody's getting killed.  Cars do occasionally crash, but I have yet to see a fatal one.

    I like this game a lot.  It's very detailed, so I think it'll be a lot more fun after I get over the learning curve and start to really feel like I know what I'm doing, and I'm eager to get there.  I highly recommend it for any die hard fan of racing as a sport, but not for those who like more action oriented racing games.

     

  • Ocean Rift (Oculus Rift)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ocean Rift
    Developed By: Llyr ap Cenydd
    Published By: Picselica
    Release Date: April 1, 2016
    Available on: Gear VR, Oculus Rift (reviewed)
    Genre: Casual
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Version reviewed: 1.04
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Llyr ap Cenydd for sending us a review code!

    Ocean Rift was first released for the Gear VR in November of 2015.  It’s a casual sea exploration game where you can visit twelve different habitats of exotic and extinct sea creatures.     If you ever wanted to swim with dolphins, orca whales, manatees, or sea lions, you’ll probably enjoy this game.  Nothing can compare to swimming with them in real life, but this is a close second since you don’t have to worry about safety or oxygen levels.

    The Gear VR has a built in touch pad for controls so the control scheme is pretty simple on the Oculus version.  There is support for both the Oculus remote and the Xbox One controller. Unfortunately, I had trouble maneuvering the game’s menu with the controller so I primarily used the remote.   The controller has more features when it comes to interacting with the animals, but I never was able to do much with them no matter how many times I pressed the B interact button.  The developer has shared video footage of the game with touch controls and I look forward to it!

    Ocean Rift
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Virtually swim with exotic and extinct creatures
    Weak Points: Not much interaction with the animals; some of the water is too cloudy to locate creatures  
    Moral Warnings: None!

    Some of the habitats have hoops, rings, and dead fish for the animals to interact with, but throughout my adventures I felt like nothing more than an observer.   The environments for the most part look great with the sunken ships, columns, and statues on the sea floor.  However, the prehistoric habitat for the pliosaurus is very murky and it took me a few tries before I was able to actually find it.    I was able to find other living creatures like squids and giant snails.     

    The most unique habitat is the deep sea one which is dark and illuminated by glowing jelly fish.  You can bump into them as much as you like since there is no penalty or pain in doing so.  The great white shark habitat has you in a diving cage and some small fish will swim in there to keep you company while the shark swims by and bumps into it.  I tried handing off my Rift to my kids in this level and it didn’t seem to faze them at all.  Some people may get a jump out of it though. 

    Ocean Rift
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Other animals you can swim with include hump back whales, reef sharks, sea turtles, and sea snakes.  The swimming motions are fluid and the creatures all look realistic.  Many of the animals can go up to the surface for air, but it’s not allowed for the player.

    You can bump into some of the animals and doing so shows mixed results.  Sometimes it looked natural and other times I was able to see inside of the models.  When swimming into a manatee I saw their eyeballs floating inside of it.  

    Ocean Rift is safe for marine animal lovers of all ages.  There’s a fair amount of environments to explore, but the $10 price tag seems a bit steep for an application that quickly loses its appeal.  While it looks and runs nice, without animal interaction it’s not much more than a virtual reality screen saver.  The website has some links to demos worth checking out.   If you love the notion of swimming with dolphins, sea lions, and manatees then this title is worth considering when it goes on sale. 

  • Oh Sir! The Insult Simulator (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Oh Sir! The Insult Simulator
    Developed by: Vile Monarch
    Published by: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
    Release date: October 25, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac, Linux
    Number of players: Up to two
    Genre: Simulation
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $1.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Vile Monarch for providing us with a review code!

    While it’s not to everyone’s liking, many people do enjoy British humor.  One shining example is the classic film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.   That movie is a cult classic that has been quoted for decades. Not surprisingly, many of the popular phrases from that film made it into this $1.99 game. 

    In Oh Sir! The Insult Simulator your goal is to win an argument by piecing together insults from a common pool of words and phrases.  You can only pick one word/phrase at a time and have fifteen seconds to do so.  Besides the common pool of words, you have two unique ones that you can swap out once per round by taking a sip of tea.   When your insult is as good as you can get it you’ll have to press the “!” button to finish.  Once both combatants are done they’ll say their insults and points will be deducted from their health accordingly.  The first to lose all of their health, loses.

     
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A silly game that lets you insult your computer, friends and complete strangers
    Weak Points: You can get trapped with no valid phrases to select
    Moral Warnings: References to sex, farts, inbreeding, and the words b*stard and  arse are used; you can insult "God" who looks and sounds like Morgan Freeman

     

    There have been times where both health bars have been depleted in the same round.  In the case of an impasse, the game turns into a sudden death mode where the next insult will settle it.  To get the most points per insult there are several factors to take into consideration.  Each of the six characters has a sensitive subject; be sure to talk about it every chance you get.  For example, some characters may be sensitive to their appearance/sense of style, their age/death, family, or technology. 

    Each argument has a silly scenario and environment to go along with it and if you use that in your argument, you’ll be awarded more points.  Last but not least are combos.  If you insult their mother, father, son, or auntie, keep doing it in the next round for a combo bonus.

    Oh Sir! The Insult Simulator
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    More scenarios and characters are available if you play through the offline tournament mode.  The last challenge lets you insult God (who looks and sounds like Morgan Freeman), and if you win you’ll get to find out the meaning of life.  While it’s fun to throw insults at your computer, the real fun is insulting your friends or complete strangers online or via couch co-op.  Who wouldn’t want to tell someone “Your mother farted on your cousin’s car and I have proof!” I have found plenty of people to hurl insults at online and this game keeps track of the number of times you win, lose, or run away from a battle.  Your performance will be ranked accordingly.

    While insulting your computer and people is fun, there are some moral issues to mention.  Many of the insults revolve around alcohol, inbreeding, steaming romps, and insulting people’s intelligence.  You can insult your opponent, their clothes, spouse, children, auntie, and even their math teacher.  Monty Python fans will appreciate the hamster, elderberries, and farting in general direction options.  Of course throwing in communists, Nazis, the pope, and the royal family guarantees some chuckles too.  Unfortunately, some words like arse and b*stard are seen occasionally.

    At the time of this review, finding players to spar against online didn’t take very long.  Hopefully the attractive price and silly concept keep players interested for a while yet.  If nobody is available online, you can still play couch co-op or spar against the computer.  My kids enjoyed watching me play this game and got some good laughs out of it.  If it wasn’t for the language and sexual references I’d highly recommend it.

     

  • Pizza Express (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pizza Express
    Developed by: Onni Interactive
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: June 25, 2015
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    Are you tired of eating crappy pizza?  Do you have an awesome idea for a delicious pizza?  Do you want to run your own pizzeria?  If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ll probably enjoy Pizza Express.  In this retro themed 2D game you get to help your friend Gastone open up a pizza restaurant.  While his bank pays out a good interest rate every ten days, there is no credit.  In other words, if you go bankrupt, the game is over and you’ll have to try again.

    In the beginning there are a handful of pizza recipes to choose from and some of them don’t even use cheese!  While eating cheese-free pizza is unorthodox, it does make the dairy intolerant customers happy.  At first there are not many ingredients to work with in regards to designing your pizzas, but as you progress in the thirty-day story campaign you’ll unlock them.  There are one-hundred and sixty Steam achievements and many of them are based on how many pizzas you make and how many calories you have delivered. 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun game with silly characters and dialogue; Steam cloud saves
    Weak Points: Distracting retro graphics and music
    Moral Warnings: Some name calling and casual use of the word hell

    Making the pizzas is pretty straightforward and mostly involves dragging and dropping the proper ingredients into place.  If you hover over the ordered item, it will display the icons for the necessary ingredients.  Due to the pixilated graphics design, it’s not very obvious what the ingredients actually are.  When a pizza is completed you simply left click on it to send it to the oven or right click on it to scrap it if you messed up.  Speed and accuracy are key to higher grades for the works and the restaurant itself.  

    Since your goal is to be a successful pizzeria, you must be profitable and recognizable.  Throughout the story you’ll be visited by several food critics and inspectors.  If you can make them happy your restaurant will be off to a good start.  Be sure to implement their feedback about menu choices and food quality.

    Not only are you responsible for making the pizzas, you’re also in charge of all aspects of running this restaurant.  You’ll be handling the operating hours, décor, food vendors, and marketing.  There are good and bad forms of marketing.  Some of the cheaper methods like spamming people’s e-mail may get the word out, but not in a good way.

    Pizza Express
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Like many restaurants there are busy and slow periods of time.    While it’s slow you can speed up the clock by pressing the 1-4 number keys.  As you’re making pizzas you’ll have to watch your inventory count and right click on items to re-stock them.  There’s a limit of three deliveries at a time so be sure to pace yourself accordingly.  The cost and arrival time of the deliveries depends on which vendor you are using.  The faster service has a higher cost.  

    If you just like making pizzas, there are endurance and arcade modes to try.  The story mode is fun and has some silly characters and scenarios.  There are various scandals and choices that you make that alter your relationships with various people in the game.  There is some name calling and casual use of the word hell.

    While I can appreciate some retro themed games, some titles like this one can overdo it.  I think better graphics would have made this game easier to use.  The chiptune music is catchy at times and has gotten stuck in my head.  I enjoyed some of the electronica styled tracks more than others.

    In the end, Pizza Express is a cute game that is intentionally rough around the edges.  The gameplay is solid and enjoyable and I highly recommend it for those who really like pizza or restaurant manager type games.     

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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