enfrdeitptrues

Simulation

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Ship Simulator Extremes
    Developed by: Vstep
    Published by: Paradox Interactive
    Release Date: August 27th, 2010
    Version reviewed: 1.22
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Simulator
    ESRB Rating: E
    Retail Price: $39.95

    System requirements
    • Operating system: Windows XP (Min. service pack 2), Windows Vista or Windows 7. 32 and 64 bits OS supported.
    • Processor: 3 Ghz P4 Intel or AMD equivalent processor
    • Memory: 2GB (Windows XP) or 3GB (Vista or Windows 7)
    • Hard disk space: 3.5 GB
    • Video: Geforce 8800GT or ATI Radeon 4850 with 256MB ram (At least Shader model 3.0)
    • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible.
    • Drive: 4x PC DVD-ROM
    • DirectX®: version 9.0c
    • Broadband Internet connection required for Multiplayer

    Thank you GamersGate for giving us this game to review.

    Ship Simulator Extremes is a follow up to Ship Simulator 2006 and 2008. I haven\'t played the previous two games so I can\'t compare them. This game offers three campaign modes: Green Peace, Tourist Tales and the Core missions. A recently released patch added a tutorial mission.  The Green Peace and the Tourist Tale missions are easier than the Core ones, so start with those. (When you select a mission you’ll see the difficulty rating in the description.) Free roam and multiplayer modes are available too. Unfortunately, I didn\'t find anyone to sail with online.

    I first started with the Green Peace missions; I wanted to see what they’re all about. The ship used in those missions is called the Rainbow Warrior. The engine does 300rpm and it’s extremely slow….but it’s much faster than the cruise ship you get to captain in the tourist tales campaign. If you like action packed or fast paced games, this game is not for you.  In fact, it\'s not even that hard core of a simulation game. The controls are pretty straight forward and the main challenge is docking and undocking the ship.

    Highlights:

     

    Strengths: It has boats!

    Weaknesses: Unless you’re controlling a speedboat, the boats move very slowly. The graphics lack detailed textures.

    Moral Warnings: No issues here.  In fact, it may uplift your faith as you pray for a mission to be over.

     

    You’re responsible for mooring (tying rope) and docking your ship at specific docks; not just any dock will do. The spots you have to get in and out of are pretty tight and these ships don’t have the turning radius of a car. Your ship can get damaged by being hit, docking/undocking, or being in too shallow of water. If your ship is severely damaged it will lean and gradually sink and if there’s minor damage it will slow the ship down…which is horrible since it’s slow enough to start with. It’s best to save early and often, and to use multiple saves!

    The missions typically take anywhere from a half hour to an hour to complete. The world is pretty open ended and if you’re going the wrong way, there’s nothing to stop you; no prompts to turn around. I wasted an hour of my life going in the wrong direction.  There’s a guidance system on the upper right hand side…use it! The objectives are labeled with a green star but if the destination is out of range, you’re out of luck.  There’s no world map or a way to zoom out far enough to see everything.

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

     

    Game Score: 56%

    Game Play: 8/20

    Graphics: 6/10

    Sound: 6/10

    Stability: 4/5

    Controls/Interface: 4/5

    Moral Score: 100%

    Violence: 10/10

    Language: 10/10

    Sexual References: 10/10

    Occult Supernatural: 10/10

    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    The Greenpeace missions consisted of gathering intel and catching ships in the act of dumping oil or nuclear waste in the sea. Another mission has you stopping an illegal transport of Indonesian trees. After the first mission I got to see a nice documentary video that tells a little bit about Green Peace, which was cool. The rest of the missions I played rewarded me with a post card; I was a bit disappointed to say the least.

    Triggers are used to advance to the next part of a mission. Sometimes these triggers fast forward you to the action which is nice. Unfortunately, the triggers don’t always work. There are other glitches like seeing though ships if you view them from an unexpected angle. The first time I used a water canon I saw streams of black triangles; updating my video drivers resolved that issue.

     

    Graphically this game is unimpressive. The water effects are decent and the ship models look realistic. On the other hand, the land and buildings along the shore look plain and dull. Occasionally you’ll pass another ship in the water but you don’t see much movement or signs of life. The ship interior looks okay, there’s lots of equipment and buttons that you can’t interact with.  The steering and movement is all handled by the arrow keys. You have to keep holding the up arrow button down in order to move.  I wish there was a cruise control feature. Some missions require that you take a picture using the camera view. Any pictures you take will be saved on your system.

    The sound in this game consists of the ship\'s engine, the horn, or birds flying by. Patch 1.22 added radio chatter, I\'m not sure what language it\'s in or if it\'s intentionally unclear. Since the missions are long and boring, some background music would have made a nice touch.

    From an appropriateness perspective, Ship Simulator Extremes is perfectly clean and safe for the whole family to play. The main question is who the target audience for this game is. True naval enthusiasts will find this game not complex enough and casual gamers will find it too boring and dull. Fortunately, there’s a demo available to try before parting with $40.

     

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shopping Tycoon
    Developed by: DreamSoftGames
    Published by: DreamSoftGames
    Release date: September 12, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you DreamSoftGames for sending us this game to review!

    I live close to a huge shopping mall that always baffled me as to why both ends of it are not interconnected. It’s only one level too. If you ever had the inkling to redesign or create your own shopping mall from scratch, than Shopping Tycoon is right up your alley!

    Upon launching the game, you get to choose from one of three difficulty settings and the difference is how much cash you start with. There’s a brief tutorial that will show you the basics to get up and running. Most of your direction will come from responding to customer complaints.

    Some of the essentials that customers need are restrooms, places to sit, items to buy, cashiers to pay, and food to eat.  Though there are enough items to get you started, many brands and merchandise become available as you level up.  In the beginning, you can’t take credit cards and some customers will complain about not being able to use them.   

    Shopping Tycoon
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Not too hard to rack up Steam achievements; fun for a short while 
    Weak Points: Some issues are not clear on how to resolve them; the issues notifications screen does not display existing issues at times
    Moral Warnings: Thieves will rob from your stores

    The building starts off with one floor and a single parking garage level. You can add to both of them, but it’s not cheap. To alleviate parking space requirements, you can contract taxi drivers and make deals with public transportation services like subways and buses.

    Mall staff is another expense. To reduce theft you’ll need to hire security officers who can patrol a set perimeter. Cleaning services are also required if you want to have clean toilets and get rid of floor debris like poop and banana peels. Merchandise needs an attendant to stock and replenish inventory. I’m glad that the re-ordering is automated. Floor salespeople can also tend to the customers and keep them happy.

    There are special events and visitors. Every Friday is Black Friday and you’re encouraged to lower your prices to increase sales. By doing so you’ll gain levels faster. Every few days investors will visit and make sure that their brand is getting enough retail space in your mall. Special guests like Donald Trump will visit. While Donald was checking out my mall, he kept mentioning that he wanted a wall. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any for sale.

    Shopping Tycoon has forty Steam achievements and I was able to unlock 58% of them in three hours. Sadly, after unlocking a majority of the merchandise and remaining profitable, I don’t see much reason to keep playing unless I want to get more achievements for playing three, seven, or fifteen days. I also didn’t see much point in building eighteen levels if all the merchandise can fit in six.

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

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 97%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Since upgrading to a 43” desktop monitor, it’s pretty easy to see if games are 4K ready or not and this title is definitely not. Even though the images were stretched, the game was still quite playable. For the most part, the interface is easy to navigate, but some of the issues/complaints are not easily solved. Getting the temperature set properly on each floor takes some finessing between having enough lighting and air conditioner vents in place. To make matters worse, halfway through my game the notifications page was blank despite there being issues to resolve. Another glitch I’ve found is that the employees can get stuck sometimes. Graphically this game is simple, but it gets the job done. Though the employees all look the same, there’s a good variety of customers.

    The voice acting is minimal and the customers say some simple phrases. The background music is typical of songs playing in shopping malls; dull and boring.

    No moral issues come to mind with this title. If you have a security guard, you can prevent theft in your mall. Unfortunately stealing is a part of the retail business and best if prevented.

    Shopping Tycoon is inexpensive at $9.99 full price. An even better deal is picking up all of the developer’s titles for only four dollars more in a Steam sale. Because I felt like I’ve seen everything this game has to offer in a few hours, I recommend holding off for a sale before picking this one up.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Software Inc.
    Developed By: Coredumpling
    Published By: Coredumpling
    Released: May 1, 2015
    Available On: PC, Linux, MacOS
    Genre: Tycoon, Simulation, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $13.99

    Software Inc. is an in-depth business tycoon game about developing software. You start your own business in the bustling new age of 1980, with only one employee: yourself. You rent out a small space or buy a plot of land and get to work to reshape the industry. Work your way up the software ladder until you become a billion-dollar titan!

    Despite only being in alpha, Software Inc. is one of the best tycoon games I've played, and it scratches my tech itch perfectly. You start off as I've mentioned above, with only a small loan, some rented land and one employee. Software Inc. has a skill system; what this means is that in order to develop one piece of software you need multiple types of workers and abilities.

    There are 5 fields you can find for employees: coders, designers, artists, marketers, and leaders. Some employees can be skilled in multiple fields, however they always have one field they're better in. There are also specializations; these are 2D, 3D, audio, networks, algorithms and systems. This can sound complicated, and at the start, it is. But allow me to explain how it works. Say you want to make a 2D image editor. You're going to need designers to create the rough idea, then you'll need coders to help program it and artists to help make it appealing to use. Plus this is a 2D editor, so your employees must be specialized in 2D. Afterwards you'll need marketers to help promote the product, so the excitement for it doesn't die down to ensure maximum sales.

    Software Inc.
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting and complex gameplay; Good art style that performs excellently; Fun soundtrack; Great replayability
    Weak Points: Difficult to learn in the beginning; Somewhat complicated UI
    Moral Warnings: None

    At its core, this is what Software Inc. is all about. However there are many other things you need to make sure it runs just right. Software Inc. employs an interesting effectiveness system for employees. You must make sure that they're being provided with human essentials. This means that whatever your prospective business is, you must include essential things like toilets, food, light and temperature management. If the toilets aren't clean, if there's no food, if your rooms are dimly lit, if they're too cold or hot, then your employees won't be satisfied. The lower their satisfaction, the slower their work will be. If it goes low enough for long enough, they may even quit. There are other factors for effectiveness like happiness, lowering their salary, having rooms that are too noisy, or not getting them enough time to interact with the rest of your employees. You can overwork employees, forcing them to work too many hours or putting them on too many projects at once. One method I haven't used in my 50 hours of playtime is crunch, which puts your employees into overdrive at the cost of exhausting them afterwards with a recovery that's longer the more time you spend in crunch.

    This is only scraping the surface of what's required to keep a successful business. When you finally make a product, you're going to need to get it to people. There are two ways to get a product to your customers: physically, or digitally. If you choose to go physical you have two options. You can print your own copies of your software, although this is a lengthy process. You have to purchase printers first, then purchase pallets in order to store the printed copies, and after that hire couriers to transport the prints to stores. Each printed copy costs $0.20 or $0.15, depending on which printer you purchase. If you choose to go digital, you must first set up some servers. Each server is costly, hot and incredibly noisy. As such, you usually have to dedicate an entire room or section to servers. Each server you add raises your electricity and internet bill, usually to where I can't make my money back on them. You can attempt to do things like selling the product of other companies, however this also increases the bill so it's not really self-sustainable.

    Software Inc.
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    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

    Software Inc. uses a simplistic 3D art style, and I love it. The design is pleasing to the eyes and makes the world look like clay. In contrast however, the UI system is a bit confusing. I would not say it's overly complicated, as every menu has its purpose, however it takes a while to learn and get used to. Granted, once you learn what each menu does and get used to it, everything starts to make a lot more sense. One thing I would like to commend the developer for is a great selection of graphical options. While this game isn't necessarily high-end, the ability to turn down or fine tune settings to get great frame rates without a loss of quality on my budget laptop or PC was nice. Software Inc. also has a very simple yet fun soundtrack; no matter how much I play this game the uplifting and happy soundtrack always makes me enjoy it that much more. There's also no moral issues present in Software Inc. You can't work employees to death, cheat your customers or destroy businesses. Although it is possible for employees to die if they're older.

    Although there are many more cool mechanics and features in Software Inc. I could talk about, I think I should let this game speak for itself. If you enjoy tycoon games and love tech development, this is the game for you. It's a lot of fun, and has a ton of replayability. While it might be difficult to learn in the beginning, it rewards those who want to learn its unique and deep mechanics.

    - Remington

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Spintires: Mudrunner
    Developed by: Saber Interactive
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Released: October 31, 2017
    Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Cargo hauler simulator
    ESRB: E for everyone
    Number of players: 1 - 4
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Interactive for sending us a review copy of the game.

    Note: This review is based on the PS4 Pro version and might not look, sound, and perform the same on other consoles and PC.

    When I first saw the launch trailer of this game I knew that I wanted to play it. I had several friends on my PS4 who were getting it and I didn't want to be left out. This game is slow and relaxing and that is the type of game I enjoy to play after a long day. The original version of this game, Spintires, has sold over a million copies and the developer decided to give the game a full upgrade and re-release on PC and bring it to consoles. One of my friends had put in many hours on the original and told me that this was the type of game I would fully enjoy. He definitely was correct; I've had a wonderful time playing this and look forward to playing it for a long time to come.

    Spintires: Mudrunner is the type of game that you think you might not be able to get into until you get into one of the 19 vehicles in the game and start driving down the dirt (or paved) road and come across a patch of mud and water that you need to get through to get to your objective. Sometimes you can get through easily and sometimes you need to be patient and figure out how to solve this predicament you find yourself in. One option is to try to back up slowly and touch on the gas pedal to get your tires spinning backwards to slowly create traction and pull back. Another option is to put your vehicle in 4 wheel drive and hope that this will help (which can make a difference). Even another option is to use a "winch" and attach it to a tree and use this to help pull your vehicle out of its predicament. If none of this works well then you have no choice but to select another vehicle (you have to unlock them on the map to use) and bring it to the vehicle you have stuck and try to pull it out of the mud using a winch. All of this can be very fun (unless you get frustrated easily) and cause each player a chance to solve these type of situations like a puzzle.

    Spintires: Mudrunner
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Enjoyable and relaxing cargo hauling simulation. Graphics and sound are very well done. Tons of replayability. 
    Weak Points: Some game crashing stability issues. Map controls are very frustrating and need a complete overhaul. Trying to join a friends multiplayer lobby can be a pain.
    Moral Warnings: This game is definitely family friendly

    The game offers several game types: single player, challenges, tutorials, and multiplayer. The single player mode is what you expect, playing on a variety of maps by yourself and at your own pace. Challenges test your skills and teach different mechanics of the game. Based on how well you complete each challenge (9 total) you get a star rating (1 through 3). The tutorials have you complete very simple learning skills so that you can get a very basic feel for the game. Multiplayer allows you to play with up to 3 friends or random players on maps. You have an option to create a public lobby or a friends-only lobby. You even have an option to continue on the last multiplayer map you were on. My friends had some difficulty joining my friends only lobby, but we figured it out (no thanks to the game making it simple).

    The graphics and sound quality are top notch. I loved the sound of the vehicles as they drove across the muddy roads, water, and tree branches. The animals and other ambient sounds of the forest were very well done and surprised me that the developer went to all the trouble to really bring the player into this fictional world. The graphics had a very realistic look to them, with an added softness to it that made each map warm and inviting.

    In regards to stability I had a few issues that caused the game to crash and that took some of my enjoyment away (I still restarted the game and continued). If the developers get the occasional crashing bug fixed soon it will help keep their loyal fan base playing for a long time.

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

    Game Score - 91%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3.5/5
    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 controls for the most part are done well. My main complaint is the controls on the overview map which definitely need to be completely reworked immediately. I had a very hard time trying to select my next objective and just had to wing it. Other than that, the vehicle controls seem to be just pretty good and I was able to control my vehicle just fine.

    This game has no morality issues whatsoever. Everyone in the family can enjoy this game. However, I would recommend that little children enjoy watching this game and not playing because of the constant challenges that occur for the driver of these vehicles. This game requires many problem solving capabilities and patience. If a person who can't problem solve at a high level and also has little patience to figure out each problem that will occur during the course of the game then they might want to try a different type of game. I have friends who I know would get frustrated and just give up because they can't and won't try figure out how to get their vehicle unstuck.

    If you're a patient and good problem solving type of gamer you will thoroughly enjoy this game. Gamers who are into much faster styles of games will quickly become bored of this slow paced game and move on to something else. I have had a blast playing this and enjoy the many challenges this game offers. I appreciate that I can finally play a game that makes me think about each of my actions and causes me to use problem solving to complete different objectives.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Star Trek: Bridge Crew 
    Developed by: Red Storm Entertainment
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: May 30, 2017
    Available on: PSVR, Windows (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Up to four players online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Fantasy violence
    Price: $49.99

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    While I have enjoyed all of the original Star Trek episodes and many of the newer ones, I’m still torn on which captain is my favorite. In Star Trek: Bridge Crew you can align yourself with Kirk or Picard and even take a crack at the famed no-win Kobayashi Maru training scenario. The captain can issue orders to the rest of the crew which can be played by real players online or by AI if you’re playing solo. I found out the hard way that an internet connection is required even in solo play.

    No matter how many Star Trek episodes you have watched it’s still a good idea to go through the tutorial to learn the roles and controls for each job. Here’s a quick breakdown:

    Captain: This is the only position that's required to be played by a human. Besides giving orders, he or she has the ability to issue red alerts and answer incoming hails. If playing alongside an AI crew, the captain can switch roles. No other position can swap roles. The captain has various views of the ship’s status and surroundings.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun game to play with friends or strangers online
    Weak Points: Uplay is required and causes errors when launching the game; internet connection is required even when playing solo missions 
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence; online players may curse

    Tactical: This crewmember is in charge of scanning targets for life signs and weaknesses. Scanning individual attributes takes less time than scanning everything. In most of the missions, every second counts. The same goes for charging and firing phasers and torpedoes. Some of the missions require stealth and your ship is more visible when you have your shields on and torpedoes engaged. If close enough to a target, the tactical crewmember can hack into it and disable their engines and communication systems.

    Helm – The helm is in charge of steering the ship though it doesn’t take damage from hitting the space dock or asteroids. Through my online adventures I learned that the ship turns faster in reverse! When it comes to impulse and warping, the helm must align the ship with its destination coordinates.

    Engineer – In order to warp, raise shields, use the impulse drive, or fire weapons the ship's limited power must be distributed accordingly. It’s the engineer’s responsibility to make sure that everything is running smoothly and efficiently. The engineer also handles the three repair crews to handle repairs in a balanced manner or to prioritize one repair over another.

    Once you have a good understanding of the different roles it’s time to manage your own ship called the Aegis. The original Enterprise is also available if you’re nostalgic. There are five campaign missions which unlock as you progress through them. The campaign missions can be played solo or online. For added variety there are randomized missions as well.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural -7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Many missions will involve beaming up people from disabled ships with hostile units hot on your tail. Can you rescue all of the passengers before their ship gives out? Sadly, you can only beam aboard six people at a time. That’s rather limiting considering that the Kobayashi Maru mission has over 300 people to save in Klingon territory.

    Just like the TV show, ships will fire at you and it’s in your best interest to retaliate. While there is no foul language in the game’s dialogue, my online experience contained quite a bit from my fellow crewmates. The voice acting in the game is well done and the background chatter is a nice touch. My first online match was a pleasant one and the crew was very welcoming despite my inexperience. I chose to be the helm for my maiden online voyage. My crewmates added me to their Uplay friends list which makes matchmaking easier, but it slows down the game’s launching time significantly.

    Every time I launched the game it would give me a Uplay connectivity error after selecting my preferred controller type. After the error and choosing my controller again the game would work fine. Another issue I experienced was the game crashing due to my internet connection issues. This game will not run offline at all. If you have a spotty internet connection you’ll want to reconsider buying this game.

    The asking price of $50 is a bit steep, but I have seen this game on sale for $25 and for that price it’s well worth it. This is a great implementation of VR (despite the funny looking hand animations) and I highly recommend it. The cross platform match making should ensure plenty of people to play with and I found no trouble getting into an online match. If you enjoy Star Trek and VR then this will be a match made in heaven.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Stardew Valley
    Developed by: ConcernedApe
    Published by: Chucklefish
    Released: February 26, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Every once in a while, a game will appear that has a truly groundbreaking innovation. It has an approach or style that can even launch an entire genre. These games often are regarded as a beloved classic, even if future games take the same approach and do it better.

    Stardew Valley is not one of these innovative, original games. However, what it does is take elements of prior successful games and polish them into something truly great. In other words, it takes the best parts of other games and merges them to create a fantastic package. Stardew Valley is a delightful blend of an action game, a farming simulator, and a dating simulator in one memorable, addictive package.

    The story starts with a simple premise: you've inherited a farm property in a rural location known as Stardew Valley, and after working for several years as a corporate grunt, you're eager to take up a new life as a farmer. The property has been abandoned for some time though, so it falls on your shoulders to clear the land and plant some crops. You also are encouraged to get to know the residents of nearby Pelican Town and become part of the community. Shortly after you start the game, you also are given a fishing pole, and a rusty sword if you choose to plunge into the depths of a nearby abandoned mine. 

    The farm is the central part of the game. Clearly inspired by games such as Harvest Moon and Farmville, the player can design the land in whatever fashion they want, dedicating portions of it to certain crops, constructing buildings such as barns and sheds, or planting trees for fruit or syrup. There are a few areas which can't be changed – namely water spaces, the initial farmhouse, and the locations of egress from the property. At the start, the player can choose from six different layouts, each one providing different opportunities to improve different skills, including combat.

    Once the mines open, an opportunity to explore mining and combat is available. The mines consist of several randomly-generated levels, with an elevator allowing access to every five levels, once the player descends that far manually. The creatures get more difficult to fight as you descend, but the treasures become much greater, too. The mines contain several rocks, many of which need to be cleared out in order to navigate the tunnels. Occasionally, the ladder down will be concealed beneath one of these rocks as well. 

    Stardew Valley
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Huge amount of customization; large variety of activities; addictive gameplay; great music; cute graphics; lengthy gameplay
    Weak Points: Fishing minigame can be a bit difficult
    Moral Warnings: Gay marriage is possible; divorce is an option; alcohol references; occult references, including undead monsters to fight; minor language issues (taking the Lord's name in vain); worship of a deity known as "Yoba"; gambling options

    The third major aspect of the game consists of the relationships between you and the residents of Pelican Town. There are more than 40 different NPCs in the game, most of which will communicate with you and accept gifts in order to improve their relationship, which is measured by hearts. Each character has different items that they love or hate, and a birth date. Give the right present on their birthday, and they can quickly become your friend. There are many quests that can improve your relationship with the different villagers. Each of the villagers have different personalities and stories, and Pelican Town has a lively atmosphere which really makes the place feel realistic. Twelve of the villagers – six women and six men – have the status of "single," and by building up enough of a relationship, can lead to marriage. Children can even follow soon afterwards. Interestingly enough, there also is the option to file for divorce, if you want to change your mind later. 

    If that weren't enough, a fishing minigame also is available. You can try and catch fish with the fishing pole you are given early in the game. The minigame is quite challenging at first, though – when a fish bites the line, a vertical gauge appears. You will have to keep the fish within the green bar for a set amount of time in order to catch the fish. At the earliest levels, this is a lot harder than it sounds, since the fish tends to move erratically, and the green bar hard to control. Better rods and more points in the fishing skill make this easier, but practice is essential. 

    This simply scratches the surface of what the game has to offer. There also is a casino for gambling, items to forage in the woods near the farm, recipes for cooking or crafting items, and more. The game provides a ton of different things to do, and it's easy to lose yourself for hours trying to accomplish different tasks or quests. 

    The pixillated style adds to the game's charm, giving it a feel of a game from the '90s. The music also is delightful and catchy, and personally I wouldn't mind purchasing the soundtrack. There is no voice acting in the game, but you can choose to have the text appear in a variety of different languages.

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 77%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Despite its appeal to all ages, there are a few things that parents should know about. For starters, there are some occult elements in the game, with the presence of a wizard and, later in the game, a witch's hut that contains dark shrines. If a player doesn't want to have a child any more, it is possible to "sacrifice" a child to one of these shrines, where it turns into a dove and leaves the household. 

    In addition, there are certain aspects to marriage to consider. The game does allow for same-sex marriages, if so desired. With the ability to divorce, it may even be possible for a player to try and pursue – and marry – all twelve available candidates through one rather long playthrough. However, these concerns can easily be avoided, simply by choosing not to entertain them. 

    Gambling is an option at the casino, once it's unlocked. There is some violence in the combat portion, and the player can end up fighting undead creatures. Fortunately, enemies merely disappear in a puff of smoke or bouncing parts, and immediately vanish afterwards. Some of the villagers also take the Lord's name in vain – which is especially odd considering how the chief deity in the game is an entity called "Yoba." There isn't much about the deity in the game, other than a shrine in the general store and a few mentions by some of the characters or in decorations here and there. 

    Drinking alcohol is a possibility, as is brewing and selling it. A couple of the characters seem to be alcoholics; in the game's defense, one of the friendship/romance paths does involve helping one of the characters kick his addiction. Finally, there tends to be a bit of an anti-corporate vibe – if there is anything resembling a true major enemy in the game, it would be the presence of the local Joja Mart, which seems to be a strawman for a certain chain store based out of Arkansas. Interestingly enough, the player can choose to join Joja Mart, which opens up a variety of different challenges, but makes some of the achievements impossible.

    When it comes to finding perfect games, Stardew Valley comes as close as possible to filling that niche. The praise that the game has received is well-deserved, and serves as a fine example of how fun and popular games don't need to come from a large developer with million dollar budgets. As long as you don't mind the presence of some of the moral aspects – which are, for the most part, easily avoidable – you will discover some real treasure in Stardew Valley, and lose yourself for hours in the adventure.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns
    Developed by: Marvelous
    Published by: Marvelous
    Release date: February 28, 2017
    Available on: Nintendo 2DS/3DS
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Rating pending
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you XSEED for sending us this game to review!

    The Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons franchise has been around for twenty years!  In 2015 I enjoyed playing Story of Seasons on my 3DS and Trio of Towns follows much of the same formula with some welcome additions.  The game begins with you selecting your character’s gender, appearance, and personality type.  Whatever option you choose will have a benefit.  Since I selected animal lover, all of my farm animals and pets started with one affection heart. I opted for a shorthaired gray cat while there are other types, as well as several dog breeds to choose from.

    The story begins with a flashback of your character’s childhood memory of enjoying their time at a petting farm.  It left such an impression that they want to move out and become a farmer when their family has to relocate yet again.  The main character’s father is strongly against the idea, but after a couple weeks of butting heads, he relents and lets you stay with your uncle who is a farmer in West Town.   If you can convince your uncle and dad that you have what it takes to become a farmer, he’ll give you his full support.  Your father will provide you with increasingly harder goals called “Farming Tips“ to strive for and you’ll be rewarded upon their completion.

    Besides the western themed West Town, there are two other villages that will gradually become available as the roads to them get repaired.  Lulucoco is Hawaiian themed while Tsuyukusa is a Japanese-style town.  All three of the villages offer unique products, festivals, and eligible bachelors/bachelorettes.  While this may change in future titles, currently you can only marry characters of the opposite gender.  One of the deities is androgynous and may be married by both genders.  

    Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A surprisingly fun game despite it revolving around doing work and various chores; plenty to do and people to date
    Weak Points: Some of the weeds are hard to see in the weeding jobs; character events can be hard to trigger without the help of a guide
    Moral Warnings: Several god/goddesses that get celebrated during festivals and welcome offerings made to them; references to auras; fairytale magic

    Dating requires winning people over by attending the various festivities/contests, giving gifts, and by simply talking to them.  As they like your character more and more, eligible partners have a flower in their dialogue box that changes color.  Once the friendship levels have been met, a love scene must be triggered in order to move onto the next relationship phase. While I was able to activate several cutscenes on my own, I did need to refer to a guide to move things along further with my bachelor of choice, Wayne.  

    Each character has items that they love, like, and dislike as gift options.  You can earn lots of points by giving them their favorite gift daily, and especially on their birthday.  Winning pet, farm animal, and produce contests help out a bit as well.  The festivals have three different ranks, but you have to win the previous level before entering a higher one.  Once you enter the veteran and expert modes, a mysterious armor-clad guy named Mr. D becomes your rival.  Defeating him is one of the requirements of the “Farming Tips” sent by your father.

    Besides developing relationships with rivals and marriage partners, you’ll have to cultivate partnerships with each of the towns as well.  To increase your town rank you’ll need to ship products to them, complete various side jobs that change daily, and attend their festivities.  Some of the side jobs are basic farming tasks like watering and harvesting crops or milking or brushing farm animals.  Other jobs include chopping wood or pulling weeds.  The weed pulling tasks were tricky at times with the weeds blending in with the background graphics.  Some of those jobs took longer than they needed to be and making the weeds stand out more would have been nice.  

    Occasionally a mystery job would appear and by completing those I unlocked Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad outfits for my character.  Each outfit provides a power-up that’s available while wearing it.  Sometimes foods will give you temporary power-ups as well.  When buying expensive items like home upgrades or wedding rings, be sure to have the money saver power-up activated!

    Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While completing side jobs is nice, most of your money will be earned by raising and selling crops along with animal byproducts. To increase the price and quality of your crops you can put fertilizer on them daily.  Many crops only grow in a specific 31-day season so plan accordingly.  You can convert produce back to seeds so you won't have to start from a half-star rating all over again.  The livestock can also be given treats and better feed that increases their various attributes as well.  As you compete in the veteran and expert contests you’ll have to excel in many categories.

    Despite the focus of completing work and chores, Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns is fun to play.  Daily tasks of watering, fertilizing, milking, brushing, and cleaning up doo-doo aren’t that fun, but seeing your efforts paying off in a contest makes it all worthwhile.  Getting to know the various characters and seeing their backgrounds unfold is rewarding as well.  Some of the characters have heartwarming stories and not all of them are cheerful.  One of the characters is adjusting to raising his son after the death of his wife.  

    Each town has a resident deity that looks over it and appreciates the annual festival recognizing them.  The deities appreciate offerings you bring to them and some of them will give your character blessings and abilities for doing so.  One of the abilities is to become closer to your pet and have them become a “furrmiliar”.   One of the characters often talks about auras and how your produce/byproducts show off yours.  The romance scenes were sweet and I thought it was cute that the kissing scenes were blacked out until the wedding day where you finally got to see the two characters kiss.

    Though the credits roll after getting married, there is still plenty more to do.  For example, once you have the final house expansion, you can raise a child with your spouse.  You can also focus on raising five star crops and establishing an A rating with all of the towns.  There is plenty of replay value in this title and it’s one I highly recommend for those who enjoyed previous Harvest Moon games. 

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Climb
    Developed by: Crytek
    Published by: Crytek
    Release Date: April 28, 2016
    Available on: Oculus Rift
    Genre: Sports
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $49.99

    Thank you Crytek for sending us this game to review!

    I’ve never been rock climbing before so I can’t say how well it’s depicted in The Climb.  This title is only available for Oculus Rift owners and it provides an immersive rock climbing experience. Currently it supports the Xbox One controller, but when the Oculus hand controllers become available, this game will be updated to support them.  I’m looking forward to it!

    Despite the simple controls, this game will challenge your dexterity and puzzle solving with figuring out the fastest route to the top of the mountain.  There are three locations: the Bay, the Grand Canyon, and the Alps. Each location has three difficulties available and a couple of bonus boulder missions.  For each completed level you can earn stars that will unlock new gear to wear or harder to play levels.

    While I didn’t mind hearing the male character yelling “whoo hoo!” after successfully scaling a mountain, I thought a female option would have been nice to hear as well.  You can change the climber’s skin tone, gloves, watch, and bracelet they’re wearing.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great rock climbing experience that will be even better with hand controllers
    Weak Points: Only available on Oculus Home; no female characters
    Moral Warnings: You can fall to your death

    There are two tutorials, one to cover the basics, and the other explains advanced climbing techniques.    When you have both hands on a ledge, you will not lose stamina.  As soon as you move one hand the other will strain and the bracelet color will change from blue to red.  If the stamina depletes on the hand holding the ledge, you’ll lose your grip and fall to your doom.  Keeping your hands well chalked will slightly slow down the stamina depletion rate.   The boulder levels are very challenging and do not allow you to re-chalk your hands.  Another feature that is removed is the ability to use the path feature to show you where you need to go.

    The easy levels don’t have crumbling rocks or ledges with debris that need to be cleared before using them.  Thorny ledges that drain stamina faster are not present either.  Even with those obstacles removed, you will still have challenging environments to work with, including wooden bars that collapse as you use them.  

    Given how realistic the environment is in Virtual Reality, The Climb is probably not suited for those who are afraid of heights, giant insects, or bats.  I liked how sweat appeared to be dripping down the Oculus Rift as my stamina was depleting.  Even though death is likely to be experienced in this game, it’s not bloody and nothing is shown.  You just get to hear the main character scream as they free fall for a couple of seconds.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    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

    Though The Climb is a single-player player experience, you can compare your scores to others via the leaderboards.  You can also climb against another’s ghost if you want to see how they did things differently than yourself.

    Visually, The Climb is a mixed bag.  The rocks and nearby objects look amazingly detailed and realistic.  While the outside world seems to be alive with insects, helicopters, birds, and people moving about, they’re not as meticulous in appearance.  Despite that disappointment, I was still in awe of the fanfare of fireworks, hot air balloons, sky divers, floating lanterns, shooting stars and everything else I saw when I successfully scaled a mountain.  I like the nighttime variety of the hard levels but the Grand Canyon hard level was too challenging for me.  I completed the other two though.

    In the end, The Climb was an exhilarating Virtual Reality experience for me.  I highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a challenging game and are not afraid of heights or bats. The asking price of $50 is a bit steep, but there’s a lot of replay ability with beating your score and  trying to locate the hidden camera and other Easter eggs in all of the levels.  If you find The Climb on sale, I recommend scooping it up.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Escapists 2
    Developed By: Mouldy Toof Studios
    Published By: Team 17
    Released: January 11, 2018
    Available On: macOS, Switch, SteamOS/Linux, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One.
    Genre: Role-Playing, Simulation, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 4 online
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Team 17 for sending us this game to review! 

    Have you ever thought about what it would be like to break out of prison? Well, The Escapists 2 may not be the most accurate or realistic way of breaking out of prison, but it is an enjoyable game. Team 17 has done a wonderful job with this game and there is nothing quite like it currently on the Nintendo Switch. If you have been itching for a simulation game that will let you escape from a variety of prisons, look no further than the Escapists 2.

    The game opens with a flashback of you and a buddy on some beautiful beach, kicking back, discussing how you broke out of your last prison, and are thrown into a tutorial, where the game will teach you the basics of breaking out of jail. As soon as it begins, it ends, with the police busting you and throwing you back into prison. It’s a great way to get acquainted with basic gameplay mechanics.

    You will have multiple prisons to try and break out of, each one increasing in difficulty. They did a great job of mixing them up. There is your typical prison, a train prison, a prison on a boat, etc. There are multiple locations, and each one feels unique and has its own challenges. You will have to exercise patience, timing, and planning; all will be of the utmost importance. You can also customize the look of your character and even the guards to your liking.

    The Escapists 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Breaking out of creative prisons; Great Multiplayer
    Weak Points: Can get bored waiting for the right time; Long load time when booting up
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon Violence; some suggestive dialogue

    Each day will start off the same with roll-call, then to other events like breakfast, lunch, dinner, free time, exercise time, and you will even try to get a job to make money. You can also complete different requests from prisoners, from collecting items, to beating up people, to even sabotaging other inmates. You may have to steal things from prisoners' desks, or even from their bodies when they are knocked out. There is no one way to break out of the different prisons. There are multiple ways and as you complete tasks, and get familiar with everyone’s schedule, opportunities will present themselves.

    You will also be crafting things as you find items; it’s more diverse and complicated than the first game in this series. The combat has been much improved. You can have charged attacks that do more damage and you can block incoming attacks as well. There are also mini games that you can partake in that will increase your strength, intelligence, etc. An example is at the gym, you will get on an exercise machine and must play a mini game to get stronger by hitting the L and R buttons at the right time. This helps break up the gameplay a bit, as each day plays similarly, except in your free time.

    Another new addition is a co-play mode that is enjoyable. If you have a friend online, you can play with them through all the prisons and adds to the fun. Of course, you want to find a way to talk to them, so you can team up on tasks. Otherwise, you can do local Co-Op, which is the best, as you work together in front of the same screen. There is hope for DLC, as the PC version has quite a few more maps and even a map editor that would be amazing on the Switch.

    The Escapists 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - -89%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics retain the feel of the original, though everything looks nicer, and bolder. It is still hilarious at times, as prisoners and other exchanges are usually peppered with humor. I feel there is more diversity in the locations this time around. The controls are great on the Switch and the game runs smoothly. The only issue I encountered was a long initial loading time, but once it gets going, there are almost no more loading screens. Sometimes it can be boring waiting for the perfect time to enact your plan.

    As far as morality goes there is some crude humor every now and then. There are times you are stealing items, and there is violence. You will sometimes have to beat up people, with weapons, though there is no blood, and no one dies. You are just taken to the infirmary.

    The game is a blast to play through and I hope for more maps to come to this Switch version. If the thought of breaking out of prison interests you at all, break out of your house and purchase this game now!

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Universim
    Developed By: Crytivo Games
    Published By: Crytivo Games
    Released: Pre Alpha: September 15, 2015; Alpha: August 2 2016; Steam Release: August 28, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Simulation, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $40
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thanks Crytivo for sending an early copy of the game to review.

    Little g or big G. That’s always the question I have when playing a “god game”. Am I playing as God or am I just some god. The Universim is one such game that brings that debate to my mind. In The Universim, you help guide a fledgling civilization from the days of living in huts made of stones to populating many different planets. Well, that’s the plan at least since the game is still in development.

    In the beginning, you have two nuggets and a randomly generated world to have them fill up. Nuggets will go around and collect resources, build homes, and fulfil their needs all on their own. Your job as their god is to choose what advancements the nuggets will make, build specialty structures, and assign nuggets to tasks. There are many choices when it comes to advancements. You can choose to either research some core advancements such as learning how to fish or hunt, or you can have them advance by learning how to make round cogs or develop power naps. You also have access to some god powers, but they aren’t fully in yet with one category of powers being empty. It is these powers which seem to be your main way of interacting with the nuggets.

    Choosing the proper advancement to research can either make or break a civilization depending on your choices. Each research takes time to complete and during that time your civilization will grow. If you take too long researching little advancements and not doing any technological breakthroughs, you’ll wind up with a civilization that is either way too big and requires too much micromanaging or one that has ran out of resources. My two attempts have all kind of failed since I did not prioritize major technological breakthroughs. That is kind of one complaint I have with how it is set up. It is very easy to get distracted researching the smaller, but really good sounding advancements and not taking any of the big ones. The game does attempt to warn you about this, but it doesn’t really work well. Even when knowing I’m not supposed to be doing that, I still did it. Some just seem like things that should never be passed up. None of this ever ruined my civilization fully; it just ruined my experience with them.

    The Universim
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Really nice art; an interesting world that is similar to ours, but just different enough to be unique; interesting research topics; it has enough foundation to make me want to see more from the game.
    Weak Points: Research just takes time which can really drag out a playthrough; both not enough control and too much control in different areas; it is very easy to do research wrong and reach a state of boring.
    Moral Warnings: Cartoonish violence; some gross-out humor and overuse of the word dam; nuggets must mate and reproduce and sometimes do it outside of marriage; dead bodies persist after death; minor questionable magical-related choices; player takes on the role of a god.

    Currently, I have a love / hate relationship with this game. There are many things here that I like, as well as many planned ideas I look very much forward to seeing, but a lot of stuff currently is missing or needs some more work. For instance, what I mentioned above about me not caring about my civilization anymore, thus not caring to play it anymore, is the fact that you can’t place homes for your nuggets. They will go off on their own and place down homes wherever they like. This can make it frustrating to make a good layout. You are responsible for placing wells and eateries, which are all things nuggets need, but your nuggets might not settle in such a manner that it is easily manageable. You also then have to assign nuggets to work at those locations, but it can be somewhat difficult to find a local nugget to do so.

    Perhaps my favorite feature so far is with the prayer altar. This is a little structure that your nuggets will build that will allow you to receive their prayers in a funny email format including a spam section for prayers asking you to turn your wrath upon their enemy. So far, I’ve only ever gotten two emails from this which is a bit of a letdown. One feature that I didn’t like so much was that you had to build an Archive if you wanted to save and then station somebody there. This is really finicky and can make it take a bit to save your first game. Finally, while the idea behind the research is cool, I found that to be the biggest thing preventing me from wanting to play this game more. All research takes time and it doesn’t appear to be anything you can do to change that. All my civilizations hit the point where all I really had to do was more research, but there was nothing for me to do in-between the research. It got to the point where I’d just select a research topic and then tab out and do something else waiting for it to complete.

    I have to say I think the menus can use some work. Everything looks nice, but there aren’t too many things per page and I’d prefer to just scroll further than sort through different pages to find the right nugget or structure. I’ve also had a few bugs with this game. So far, the biggest was one where I had been playing it for a bit and the game would start to lag whenever I tried to place a structure. I had to restart the game to fix that. I also had my fishing nuggets pilot a boat with it sticking vertically out of the water which was fun to watch. Some of my godly powers I never could seem to get working properly and the telekinesis could be a little finicky to use. Generating a new world also takes a decent bit of time.

    I really liked the art in this game. It is all colorful and simplistic and I love the selection of creatures. Most of them are just regular creatures like bears, foxes, or mammoths, but with lines and symbols all over their body which make them look mystical. The structures also have a nice mystical / magical atmosphere about them. Your nuggets start off looking plain, but with some research and new structures, they start to get different clothes and hairstyles. The music is okay, but nothing rally stood out to me, though that could be due to the amount of time I spent researching.

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

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    From my experience, the game is not too violent. There is some hunting with your nuggets tracking down animals and throwing spears at them. I’ve also had a few nuggets get killed by some wildlife, but I was never able to see this actually happen so I can’t attest to how violent it is. It seems to be pretty rare with it never happening on my second civilization even without building any protective structures. Corpses do persist, but that is used for a graveyard mechanic. I believe I also had a pool of blood once, but that might change depending on how they die. The game does have a lot of references to mating and you even have a god power to make nuggets go and do it. The game just has the nuggets go into a hut, have some heart appear and plays a little bed rocking sound, and then have the parents come out with some baby nuggets. Most nuggets do seem to get married / form some kind of relationship before mating, but I’ve had some just go and mate. I had one nugget whose spouse died pretty early and she’d just have random males come by her house and mate with them. This is a bit unfortunate, but I hope they add in some feature of extra happiness from doing it with your partner and not some random stranger.

    There was also a little bit of vulgarity in the game. Some of the crops that can be planted have some gross out names and some other names that could be offensive to some. They also really used the word dam in a research description about a dam technology that was a bit overdone and was really just them trying to say a bad word. At a certain point, you can build a hospital, but it is manned by a witch doctor which uses herbs to heal. This could be fine with some, but I know I'm used to seeing them associated with dark magic. Finally, perhaps the biggest thing is the fact that this is a god game and I could see that either being offensive or flattering depending on how you look at it. Personally, I found it pretty funny how it made the prayers into an email system with a section for spam. I know I’ve sent some of those over the years.

    While I have said a lot I disliked about the game, it is one I’m looking forward to playing more of; just not this build. It has a lot of promise and some cool ideas for future content, but I just feel like I can’t review it for what it might have and instead have to review it for what it does have. As of right now, I wouldn’t recommend picking the game up unless you just really want to go ahead and play it and give some feedback. The game is supposed to be officially launching on Steam near the end of August and I’d recommend checking it out there since I’d expect it to have more content added in by then. Overall, I’m happy to have this game and am greatly looking forward to getting more content to mess with and will totally do another review of it when that happens.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tracks - The Train Set Game
    Developed By: Whoop Group
    Published By: Excalibur Games
    Released: Sep 28, 2017 (Early Access)
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Simulation
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Excalibur Games for sending us a review code!

    Sometimes, I like to believe that the new generation is missing out — or maybe that’s just my jaded and cynical brain trying to convince my heart otherwise. I happened to grow up right in-between that point where the technology of today was in its infancy and when people still relied on pastimes such as kickball and hide-and-seek to get through the day instead of watching YouTube videos for hours. One of my favorite pastimes was playing with wooden toys, particularly train sets. Tracks – The Train Set Game is an attempt to relive those simpler days of childhood, and possibly introducing the children of today the wonders of imagination, even if its approach is rather ironic when you really think about it.

    Tracks, developed by Whoop Group, is a simulation game and it has arguably the most simple premise of any game: build a train set consisting of pieces such as curves, turntables, corkscrews and so much more. After that, you are left to your own on how you want to set it up. Tracks introduces you to a rather detailed tutorial where it goes through the controls and the various mechanics. This tutorial pops up every time you start up the game and begin a project, but of course you can skip the tutorial if you choose to do so. The game modes currently in are Free Play, and Passengers, where you build a set of tracks to pick up passengers and drop them off at designated areas. As of now, the Modern Apartment is the only scenario to play Passengers in, but more areas are to be expected as updates roll around.

    Whatever it is that you decide to build, you are accompanied by the soothing sounds of a piano. There are only a few pieces in the game currently, but it fits oh-so very well. It makes exceptional company as you make your imagination a reality, never getting annoying. You can still choose to toggle the music on or off if you desire. The sound effects such as the light clunks of the train going along the tracks are masterfully woven into the world. It feels so good and natural that it all gently guides you into a sense of relaxation. I could have used Tracks to do things such as catch up on podcasts and videos, but I didn’t want to most of the time.

    Tracks - The Train Set Game
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Full of charm and innocence; huge space to work with and with lots of scenery options
    Weak Points: The cursor when placing tracks or objects when given a bird’s-eye view can be a bit difficult to spot; you can only place objects one at a time
    Moral Warnings: It’s a game about wooden toy trains, obviously the most immoral thing there is

    As you continue to build away, the option to add scenery comes into play. There are so many pieces to add, from buildings (like stores, houses, police stations and many more), nature such as trees and bushes, vehicles like helicopters and cars, even bodies of water and plots of land can come into play. You can also place people around and have choices ranging from businessmen to scuba divers. The graphics are such an immaculate fit for the setting and really give off that toy-like look. Simplicity really works best with Tracks as the design is so on point. The wood when viewed up close contains growth rings and knots. The attention and care to detail is fantastic. Half the time, I found myself not even building train tracks. I would make little towns and settings and be at awe with the moments I could create. One setting I made was a group of people watching the fireworks on a starry night, while the other was a bunch of businessmen gathering around for a meeting.

    Further options such as changing the scenery can be accessed. You have a snow toggle, changing the color of your train (as well as saving the set for future trains), increasing or decreasing fog density and even the type of ground that your setting takes place on. One time, I had the entire area covered in water, while the train traveled by sea to an island. Pressing the Alt key gives the option to place alternative track pieces, as well as the ability to place scenery by height. There is a limit to how high you can place objects, but the limit is really (and I mean really) high! It can be so easy to lose track of time. Fortunately, Tracks gives you a reminder every five minutes the last time you initiated a save. Of course, something like this didn’t stop me from noticing four whole hours had passed when making a scene. There is so much to do, I would be here all day explaining every detail contained.

    It all comes together when you finally make that setting envisioned in your mind and are ready to take a ride around. Pressing the T key will give you a first-person view within the train, and the W or S keys are to speed up and slow down. A and S are to switch lanes if it splits into two, space bar is to make an immediate stop, and the G key is to switch between two other views. Personally, the two sceneries I made were the town that I live in (with a few creative liberties), as well as a somewhat accurate rendition of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Seeing your creation in first-person, as well as from a top-down perspective, really gives off a whole different view of the process for your mind. In the first-person perspective, there exists this little whistle, and you can give it a little pull. I’ve experienced a whole set of emotions and situations in my short life; I’ve seen many things that have made people bawl out that have gotten little reaction from me. But when I pulled that silly whistle on that little toy train, a wealth of emotions awoken in me, and I just started to cry uncontrollably. It might be the nostalgic feelings I have towards wooden toys, but the charm and purity of Tracks speaks to me in a way no other game has. Even simply thinking of the whistle makes me well up with tears.

    Tracks - The Train Set Game
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    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

    A game this pure and innocent shouldn’t exist — and yet it does. In a way, I refused to believe it at first, as I had to find something even a teeny bit morally concerning. I don’t know if this makes me a bad person, but I placed people on the tracks and tried to run them over with the train. Believe it or not, the train simply goes right through them! I failed in my quest to find a moral inefficiency in Tracks; Whoop Group has defeated me in that aspect quite decisively. In the case of CCG, that is a rather good thing to fail in.

    As much as this game invokes so many positive feelings within me, there are a few flaws that I’ve noticed. The cursor can be quite difficult to locate if you zoom the camera out too far. This does make large-scale rearrangement a bit annoying as you have to constantly zoom in and out to locate the cursor. When placing objects, they can only be placed one at a time, with the exception of people (only 20 max at a time). I would really like to see an option in a later update that lets you place multiple objects at once, just so I don’t spend minutes placing trees one by one. This rather short list of complaints are minor at worst and do not take away the overall enjoyment I get from Tracks.

    Tracks – The Train Set Game has been in early access for over a year as of this review, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves trains. If you’re an adult or parent who liked playing with wooden sets as a child (or even now), buy this game. If you have a computer savvy child, buy it for them. Buy it for your friends. Tracks is such a wholesome, virtuous work, that it may just be therapeutic. As long as your mind is creative and imaginative, Tracks can easily last dozens of hours and possibly even hundreds of hours. The developers are constantly at work to make this the best wooden train simulator on the market, with more pieces, more areas, and even other game modes in development. I want to see this game everywhere; for consoles, tablets or phones, and especially in VR. Tracks would be incredible in a virtual reality setting, and I hope they can get to that point in the future. I wish Tracks, Whoop Group, and Excalibur Games great success in bringing this game to the eyes of the public, and their future endeavors.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    TSA Frisky
    Developed by: Out There Entertainment
    Published by: Out There Entertainment
    Release date: May 17, 2018
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Out There Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    If you’ve flown on a (non-private) airplane recently, chances are that you’ve dealt with the Transport Security Administration (TSA). Thanks to them, security and waiting in lines at the airport have increased. Your job as a virtual TSA officer is to verify passports and to remove contraband hidden on passengers and in their luggage.

    You can inspect passengers with the wand or by frisking them with your hands. The wand will make an audible noise when an object is detected and your controller will vibrate if you’re relying on the frisking technique. There is no penalty for frisking people in their private areas, but I have yet to find any objects there as they are usually hidden in their shirtsleeves and pant legs.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny concept and silly gameplay
    Weak Points: Sometimes people won’t move forward to progress the gameplay
    Moral Warnings: There is no penalty for groping people

    Some of the passengers will stand still for you and make it easy to frisk them while others prefer to dance through the process. Occasionally a rainbow passenger will appear and you’ll have to gather the numerous contraband items and reject them before the time runs out. Once a passenger and their luggage is inspected, you can close their suitcase and stamp them for approval. The only other time you need to disapprove somebody is when they show you a forged passport.

    The contraband changes with each level so you should study the handbook on your belt to see which items you’re looking for. Items removed from frisking need to be thrown into a contraband or 'everything else' container. Despite 'everything else' changing frequently, snow globes seem to be considered contraband most of the time. The forbidden items are often silly like whistles, duct tape, cassette tapes, neck pillows and so on. Some contraband items like prescription bottles, wads of cash, switch blades, and computer viruses make sense, but they are often okay unless stated otherwise.

    At the end of the level you’ll be rated by how many perfect screenings were performed and you’ll be awarded a gold, silver, or bronze trophy accordingly. As you make mistakes in the level or take too long to do the frisking, your stress will go up. If you become completely stressed, you’ll have to restart the level.

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

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    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

    I did experience one glitch where I completed a frisking and the next passenger would not step forward. Not only does this cause confusion on my part, but it increases my character’s stress and reduces more score for the level. Sometimes a dropped object that hasn’t been filed will get in the way, but I couldn’t explain some of the other holdups that I experienced in this game.

    The graphics aren’t that detailed but they get the job done. Many of the items packed are rather silly and it was humorous to pull out a ham or a bowling ball pin from a passenger’s outfit. The passengers are rather cartoonish in appearance so I don’t see any sexualization here at all.
    The voice acting is rather limited and your agent repeats the same phrases over and over again. The background music is elevator worthy and not memorable at all.

    Despite the mediocre visuals and audio, TSA Frisky is still worth checking out due to its silliness. It’s bound to draw and entertain those nearby as you’re playing this game. The asking price is a reasonable $14.99 and it’s worth adding to your wishlist if you like goofy games.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Urban Pirate
    Developed by: Baby Duka
    Published by: Baby Duka
    Released: June 17, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Number of Players: Single Player
    Genre: Crime Simulator
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $6.99

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us the review code.

    Urban Pirate is an engrossing crime simulator developed and published by Baby Duka. The main character lives on Sheep Island, a large area inhabited mostly by a large city home to all of the “robbers, murderers, conservatives, and other violent criminals”, as the game puts it (of course, they had to associate conservatives with all these other evildoers). They (the main character) quit their job and moved to a forest in the western part of Sheep Island in order to satisfy their lust to live dangerously.

    Urban Pirate is played through a series of eleven levels, and in each level, the player must survive a certain number of days. As levels are completed, more locations are unlocked in Sheep Island to go each day to commit crime or buy food/drugs. The player must press the space bar to end each day, but they can only survive without food and socialization for a few days. They are only able to do one thing each day, whether they need to socialize at the “Squat” to maintain pristine mental health or shoplift food at the supermarket in order to not starve. There is no option to buy food at the supermarket; the player must shoplift it without getting caught in order to be able to actually consume something when they press E to eat.

    Urban Pirate
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Accurate interpretation of a criminal’s lifestyle
    Weak Points: No multiplayer; graphics are seldom very detailed; WASD is not supported
    Moral Warnings: Use of marijuana; crimes are encouraged if necessary for survival

    Once the level is started, the player will see a map of Sheep Island with all of their currently unlocked locations and an indicator showing where the character is situated; the character starts at their camp, where they start and end each day. The arrow keys allow the player to move their character about the island, fulfilling their needs for physical and mental nourishment.

    If the player is caught shoplifting food, they have to be able to run away from whoever is chasing their character. Otherwise, they will have to pay a fine at the police station with the little amount of money the player does start with and will not be allowed in the store for a few days. Also, upon that happening, it will be harder to get around town, because a police car will patrol the town, and upon the character bumping into it, they will be searched for any illegal or stolen possessions. If the search comes back positive, the character will be in a predicament: they will be fined, jailed, or both.

    The Squat is not always available to socialize in, however. Sometimes the player will find that police cars and ambulances will be surrounding the place, preventing any entrances. This occurrence will delay the renewing of the character’s mental health meter that should take place every couple of days.

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    Another thing that is sometimes required to complete the level is buying marijuana – referred to as weed in the game – from the dealer. Players must press S to smoke it, and doing so makes them hungrier, yet it also boosts their mood by a few points.

    In Urban Pirate, the player must use the arrow keys to move about the island, because WASD is not supported. They can at any time press F1 to access the menu, F2 to open the guide, F3 to view their mission for that level, F4 to turn the music on/off, and F5 to turn fullscreen on/off.

    In this title, moral warnings are a big deal. Shoplifting, smoking weed, and going to prison count as achievements, and for any person with good morals, that alone raises a red flag. Also, in the trailer for Urban Pirate on the Steam store page for it, near the end of the video the main character’s avatar was showcased sticking both of their middle fingers in the air. The fact that this game encourages such delinquent-like behavior leads me to the conclusion that Urban Pirate is not the best game choice for a strong Christian or a young child.

    Otherwise, however, I would recommend this game to a person looking to release their inner delinquent in a manner that does not hurt anyone. It may bring frustration to those who are easily angered by slight inconveniences such as the Squat being blocked by police cars or the character being caught while shoplifting, but other than that, Urban Pirate is a pretty enjoyable game.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Youtubers Life OMG!
    Developed by: U-play Online
    Published by: Raiser Games
    Release date: November 20, 2018
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you U-play Online for sending us this game to review!

    At church I teach junior high kids and many of them are aspiring YouTubers. Sure, there are people that make millions from it, but many of the creators these days are denied revenue due to lacking enough subscribers or 4,000 hours of watch time. Our own channel does not qualify due to the recently instated watch time requirement.

    No matter what size YouTube channel you have, it takes a lot of time and effort to create, edit, and publish successful videos. Youtubers Life doesn’t hold back on the time and dedication required to become the most popular YouTuber in the universe. You start off the game living with your mom and having to balance school, work, and a personal life while trying to upload videos on a regular basis. The types of videos you make depend on your path and as of this review, there are three available: gamer, musician, and chef. More were promised when the game launched in 2016, but there’s no word of them coming as of this review three years later.  If you want to play different paths, you'll need to start a new game for each one.

    In order to keep your character happy, they have to have videos posted, be well rested, fed, and social. Every week or so, you’ll be invited to an event, movie or disco with friends. You’ll often meet people there who will commission you to do videos for them. Each job has a time limit and you’ll have to factor in eight to twelve hours of rendering and uploading the videos. On multiple occasions, I failed to deliver on time due to the fact that the video was still uploading to Youtube. As you move out to bigger and better living quarters, your internet speeds will increase (along with the rent!)

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny plays on company, console, and gaming brands/titles; shows how much work is involved with creating, editing, and posting videos
    Weak Points: More channels were promised but have yet to be delivered several years later from the developer; gameplay gets repetitive; typos; glitches
    Moral Warnings: Your character can date/marry same-sex characters; references to crossdressing; alcohol and drug references; blaspheming in the title

    When you move out of your mom’s house, your character decides to give up school and pursue their dream of being a YouTuber. Instead of exams and classes, you can take focused courses on video editing to hone your skills further. Your computer hardware and recording devices determine the quality of your videos. As you use your computer, it will break on a regular basis so keep some funds available for repairs and upgrades.

    When your YouTube subscriber base grows you can earn revenue from it and get invited to events from industry leaders. If you’re in a pinch for money, you can do side jobs that can take between two and eight hours. Some jobs pay better than others so don’t sell yourself short. Later on in the game, you’ll be able to hire partners to do videos on your behalf. You’ll always get the final say before publishing their videos. The same goes for videos that are created by your character in the automated mode.

    As a gaming YouTuber, I got to choose what type of video to make. Most of the commissions I took were for first impressions or gameplay videos. As long as the computer is available, you can start to record the video. The recording process will give you different prompts and you can select your reaction based on the charisma cards you have unlocked so far. As you level up, you can unlock more cards and character perks. The cards you choose will add to and/or subtract from different video categories. After several prompts, it’s time to wrap up the video and start editing it. During the editing process you can place the segments in the desired order and add some video effects to them. The rendering and uploading time will be determined by the amount of content and effects added. Sometimes there will be a glitch in the editing process and correcting it will severely drain your character's sleep and food gauges. Sometimes a video will be struck down by YouTube and you’ll have to pay a fine, delete it, or if you’re part of a Network, have them fight on your behalf.

    Youtubers Life OMG!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I found company, console, and game names rather humorous in this title. When buying house furniture you can order it online from Idea. One of the games I was sent to review was called Barman Asylum. Along with alcohol references, I saw some game titles that promoted drugs and cross-dressing. Relationships can be pursued with either gender and you can date as many people as you want. When my character got married, the other boyfriend still kept his title/status as such. When you’re in a relationship you can flirt, hug, and kiss your significant other. In a serious relationship you can passionately kiss them (lean back and kiss), but it doesn’t go any further than that.

    Unfortunately, this game has its fair share of glitches too. My unscheduled/impromptu wedding interfered with a press event that I was not able to attend and I got an angry response from Mantendo as a result.

    The graphics are colorful and characters and environments look decent. The camera can be a little difficult to maneuver at events though. I like that there are some arcade-style mini games to play at gaming conventions.

    The voices in in this game is gibberish, but there is plenty of text to read. After a video is published, you can read and moderate the comments. I didn’t notice any foul language, but the ESRB mentions mild language in the rating. I’m not sure what the OMG edition offers other than abbreviated blaspheming.

    In the end, Youtubers Life is cute, but grindy. The tediousness may turn off some aspiring YouTubers; they should play this game beforehand to see if they have the patience and drive needed to succeed. I would recommend holding out for a sale before picking this game up. Hopefully the other channel options promised in Early Access will be added someday.

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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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