Saturday, 23 March 2013

NEWS: Saturday Roundup

Now that I'm writing daily news stories for The Escapist, I've decided to collate all of the articles I post during the week right here on Steve's Game Blog! Here's this week's stories:
Story of the week:

Bonus content:
Okay guys, that's it from me for this week! Be sure to subscribe to my twitter for up-to-date news and blog updates, my youtube channel for gaming videos, and check back here every Saturday for a roundup of my Escapist news pieces!

Friday, 22 March 2013

REVIEW: Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)

Hey guys. I'm proud to show you my first, paid review for the Escapist magazine. This is the first of hopefully many reviews, stay tuned for more:

Review: Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

Be sure to subscribe to my twitter for up-to-date news and blog updates, my youtube channel for gaming videos, and check back here every Saturday for a roundup of my Escapist news pieces!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

REVIEW: SimCity (PC)

It's time to talk about SimCity. I won’t bore you with the details of the launch day catastrophe. You know it sucked, I know it sucked, even EA knows it sucked. It’s very slowly getting better at an unacceptably slow rate. People compare it to Diablo III’s launch, but that’s not fair to Blizzard. I was actually able to play Diablo III on launch day, and its servers got better within a day. SimCity has been much worse.

But, let’s move on from that, because there are many, many more problems with this game once you can actually log on to the servers. Some people might say that I should wait, and review the game once EA actually get everything running smoothly. I say, no. The game is available for purchase now. People deserve to know right now if the game is worth a purchase or not. I've given EA almost a week to sort things out, and the problems that I have don’t look like they will have any solutions in the short term. The game must be reviewed in its current state, because it is being sold in its current state.

So I’d like to start off by saying what this game did right. At its core, the game is an enjoyable and incredibly addictive experience. EA have taken a lot of the elements of previous SimCities and improved upon us to give us one of the most detailed city sims yet. One of the most impressive things is that every citizen is simulated. If it says your city has 50,000 residents, there will be 50,000 little dudes running around, going to work, shopping at stores, visiting neighbors  It’s very impressive, especially when you zoom down to neighborhood level and can see a living, breathing city.

Utilities have been streamlined to travel through roads, road placement and planning is easier than ever with the new curved roads and road guide tool and city specializations give you choices as to what kind of city you want to make. The game looks absolutely beautiful. The art and animation in this game is amazing, especially when you crank up the graphics to full. It is incredibly fun for about the first half an hour while you are oogling the graphics and the detail. Then your city runs out of space.

Cities are tiny. There’s no two ways about it. 90% of my frustrations with the game stem from this. I don’t have enough room to make new buildings. I don’t have enough room to expand existing buildings. I don’t have enough room to zone more residential, more industrial, more landfill. I want to build a passenger port but there’s no room. I have to demolish existing buildings manually to see if it will fit, and sometimes it won’t, meaning I won’t have my port and I’ll have lost the building I demolished (there is no "undo" function). These problems are supposed to be solved by regional play: having your friends build commuter cities full of residents that travel to your industry cities, or specialize in utilities and send you firetrucks, power, and water. Except that it's completely broken.

Mass transit is a nightmare. For starters, transit between cities is handled completely on EA’s servers. If you lose connection with them, even for a second, guess what? You get no commuters for the entire month. That means no workers for your factory, and no tourists for your casinos. I've had more than one city get run into the ground because of this. But when you can miraculously maintain a stable connection to EA’s servers, commuting still only seems to work "sometimes."

In one region, my friend and I both built several industrial cities. He then tried to make a residential-only city, with the hopes of supplying our cities with workers. It didn't work. The residents of his new city flat out refused to commute, opting instead to sit in their homes whining about not having jobs. He eventually caved and built some industry in his city.

When they do actually commute, the traffic is so unbearable that it’s almost not worth the hassle. Despite having train stations, ports, buses, streetcars, high-density roads and a flipping airport, there is constantly a miles-long traffic jam leading in to my city. Following individual sims often tells hilarious tales of people taking several days to commute to and from work. In the city, cars will drive around in circles, busses will drive to random bus stops instead of travelling in a line, and streetcars will go back and forth between the two closest stops. Sims will also always take the shortest route – even if it means taking a dirt road over a super highway. This makes cities built on trade a nightmare – you can’t make any money if all your trucks are stuck in traffic. It of course also has a negative effect on emergency services.

Unlike real life, ambulances, fire trucks and police cars will politely wait in traffic and stop at stop lights while en-route to an emergency. If you have five fire trucks in a city, they will all go to the closest fire, and none of them will move to the next fire until the first one has been put out. Despite optimizing my grid over and over I never could have a positive effect on traffic in some of my cities. I understand that the game is meant to be about tweaking to efficiency, but as it stands, it’s just not fun.

Sharing of utilities between cities is also bafflingly broken. Cities will just ‘stop’ sending power or water for seemingly no reason. Emergency services sent to neighboring cities only earn a pittance, and just contribute to the massive region-wide traffic jams.

Region wide research, such as unlocking new buildings at a town hall or university, can take several hours to sync across a region, if at all. About the only thing that works properly with region play is gifting money – and even that can take quite a while to sync, even when it is being sent between two cities that you own!

Almost all of these problems (barring the tiny-city size) are a result of the always-on DRM of the game. Yes, I’m calling it DRM, because that’s what it is. It certainly is not a feature, as it negatively impacts my game rather than positively. SimCity is a game that should be offline, or at least have the choice of being offline. All of these fantastic online region features are great (in theory), but dammit, let me choose them. If I want to play SimCity on a long plane ride, or when my internet goes down, or just by myself because I want to meticulously craft my own region, then I should be able to. Don’t force me onto your servers. Being constantly connected offers nothing to SimCity, especially considering the huge drawbacks. It was instated as an anti-piracy method and anyone who tries to argue otherwise is just kidding themselves.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun put it perfectly: SimCity is is inherently broken, lets not let this go. The game is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with forcing always-online onto games. Don’t buy this game. If you have already bought it, make your voice heard for EA. We can’t let this go. Letting this go gives EA licence to keep pulling this shit. At the very least, if you absolutely must buy an EA title in the future - don't buy it at launch. Buy it two weeks afterwards. Those first two weeks are so crucially important to sales, that if enough people hold off, it will make their marketing team take notice.

As well as exposing pretty much every flaw with always-on DRM, this game also exposes a major flaw in the current way the majority of outlets review videogames. I’m talking about the review “score” as a concept – summing up the experience of a videogame with a single number. Videogames, unlike books or movies, are a constantly changing, subjective experience that simply cannot be quantified with a number. Case in point: Polygon’s review of SimCity.

Polygon originally gave the game a 9.5. This review was based on an incredibly closed review copy that was only able to be played at an EA site, and was in no-way reflective of the actual retail game. Most respectable news outlets opted to hold their SimCity reviews until they got a hold of the game, but Polygon, in an attempt to be “first,” published anyway. The score was then downgraded to an 8, and finally a 4, due to server issues. Where does this end? Should a score be altered every time there is a patch for the game? Should it be lowered every time the servers go down?

Metacritic has a long-standing policy to never change the initial score offered by an outlet. Why the hell should we even bother with scores, if the ambiguous entity in charge of collating them won’t even bother to keep track of them? Review scores add nothing to a game review. Their sole purpose is for publishers to show to their marketing team and say "lookit! We got a 7 from IGN!" This review, along with all reviews you will read here on Stevesgameblog will never have a number. I trust you enough to read my review, my thoughts and opinions, and decide for yourself if the game I am reviewing is for you. All I will offer is a very general buy or don’t buy rating, based on my experience with the game. This one is most definitely a “don’t buy.”

Verdict: Don’t buy

Saturday, 9 March 2013

NEWS: Saturday Roundup

Now that I'm writing daily news stories for The Escapist, I've decided to collate all of the articles I post during the week right here on Steve's Game Blog! Here's this week's stories:
Story of the week:

Okay guys, that's it from me for this week! Be sure to subscribe to my twitter for up-to-date news and blog updates, my youtube channel for gaming videos, and check back here every Saturday for a roundup of my Escapist news pieces!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

REVIEW: SimCity (PC)

I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Verdict: Don't Buy

(A proper review will come when I can actually play the game)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

GUIDE: Natural Selection 2 - Alien Commander Guide

To say that Natural Selection 2 has a steep learning curve is a gross understatement. In this world of hand-holding video games that will nudge you in the right direction if you even think about venturing off path, Natural Selection 2 throws you into the deep end of a diving pool with a cement block tied to your shoes.

Today I’d like to jump right in to one of the most overwhelming features of the game: commanding, and more specifically, a feature that is new even to Natural Selection veterans: Alien commanding. A role previously occupied by gorges, Unknown Worlds have decided to even the playing field this time around and allow Alien players to experience the RTS/FPS experience of a live commander that was previously exclusive to marines.

As a new player, the Aliens themselves, with the melee focused hit-and-run tactics, are daunting enough, let alone the concept of commanding the damn things. This guide is by no means an exhaustive list of legitimate strategies, but rather, a guide designed for players eager to try out the system. Simply put, it’ll probably stop your team from raging at you. Probably.
Playing as the Aliens can be pretty daunting for new players
Just like in my Marine commander guide, your first lesson is to buy a microphone. I'm not saying you can't be an effective commander without one, but having one is a huge advantage.

The Alien commander role is both very similar and distinctly different from the Marine commander role. Let's start by looking at the most major distinction  The Alien commander can kind of do his own thing. While the Marine commander relies on his marines to build and repair structures and powernodes, the Alien commander can drop cysts and structures at his own leisure. The role is actually a lot less stressful than the Marine commander, because you don't have a team full of dudes yelling at you to "DROP THE RT IN COMPUTER LABS!" and so I actually recommended that novice commanders try out the Alien commander before the Marine commander.


So now that you've jumped into the hive, you'll find yourself with around 50 starting resources. Your first order of business is to build cysts leading to the nearest two resource towers. A couple of notes on efficiency here: press 'A' in the main build menu to drop cysts without having to manually click them. Also, cysts take a small amount of time to 'spread', so once you've built up to the first tower, instead of sitting around waiting for the cyst to spread so you can drop an RT, built a couple more cysts in the other direction. If your team is asserting dominance of an area, it may be worthwhile to expand to a third resource node, but otherwise, two is fine for now.
Hotkey-building your cysts with the 'A' key saves you a lot of time
Next, you'll want to research an upgrade at your main hive. I have seen the benefits of shade first. I have seen the benefits of crag first. But, I'm going to recommend a shift hive for your first hive for the same reason I recommend  fast phase gates for Marines: It's the most versatile. Celerity and adrenaline are incredibly useful for the Skulk, Gorge and Lerk, the main three early-game life forms. Shifts themselves are also extremely versatile - allowing you to quickly and easily supply an area with re-enforcements, as well as help your Gorges to build new hives by giving them almost endless energy. Once the research is complete, build a spur and get celerity. It should help your Skulks assert some early game dominance.
Shift is the most versatile hive, in my opinion.
Now that your first hive upgrade is complete, it's time to look for your second hive. By now, your teammates should have scouted where the main marine base is. What you will want to do is find the hive location that is closest to your main hive, but furthest away from the Marine base. Build cysts up to the hive, drop a shift, and then drop the hive. Urge a member of your team to go Gorge and heal the hive - it will make it build a lot quicker. A lot of people will tell you "don't bother cysting up to the hive, it's just wasted res as the hive generates infestation when completed." I don't like this argument for several reasons. 1.) You can't get the res node in the area until the hive is finished being completed. 2.) You can't but a shift down to help a Gorge build the hive and also re-enforce it if it's attacked.


If you've played your cards right, by this point you should have four or five resource towers, two hives, and the celerity upgrade. This is when your build order deviates depending on your team's performance. Do you have a resource tower that is continually being taken down? Consider putting a whip or shift there to help defend it. Are your Gorges begging you for adrenaline? Build a spur and upgrade it to an adrenaline spur. Otherwise, upgrade your second hive to a crag hive. I feel that at mid game, when the shotguns start to come out, the crag is infinitely more useful than a shade. Even if you go shade first, I would probably recommended crag as your second hive.

Now that you have two hives, you can start researching ability upgrades for your team. You can research them by clicking on a hive (in this case, click on your first hive, as your second hive is already busy upgrading to a crag hive) and selecting lifeform evolutions  Leap is a pretty safe bet for your first upgrade, although if you have some pretty gung-ho Gorges, you might consider bile bomb (either way, you should get bile bomb shortly after leap).
Leap is a pretty solid choice for your first ability upgrade
Once your crag hive is upgraded, drop a shell and upgrade it to carapace. Skulks with celerity and carapace are nothing to scoff at, and when you start getting lerks and fades it will be even better. Drop crags in strategic locations, such as behind your hives and resource towers to help defend them. At this stage, you can start making "forward positions" - drop a shift, a crag, and a whip in an area close to a Marine base to help your team siege it.

At this point, you'll want to look for a third hive. On the smaller maps which only have four possible locations, this can be quite difficult, as it means you'd have to have a pretty big map dominance. On larger maps, encourage your team to try and secure a third hive location. If you can't get it, it's not too big a deal, but it does help if you can. By the late mid-game stage, fades will start to come out. If they are good and they specifically request it, get blink. Also consider getting regeneration by building another shell and upgrading it to a regeneration shell. Similarly, if your lerks are kicking ass, get them spores.
Drifters are a cheap way to help support your troops - they can reveal units in an area and spawn an enzyme cloud.


Once you have secured your third hive location, or failing that, once the Onoses start coming out, you've hit the late game stage. If you got the third hive, upgrade it to a shade hive and get silence and cloak for your team. You should also research stomp for your Onoses if you can spare the res. Umbra, xenocide and vortex are very, very situational abilities, and you should only really research them if you are swimming in res. If you couldn't secure it, work on getting some of the remaining abilities that you didn't get before. Defend your bases by dropping crags, shifts, whips and shades. If the enemy is using grenade launchers, try to have a whip in pretty much every location you have a base - whips can fling grenades back at their owners.
Whips can be upgraded with the bombard ability, increasing their rather short default range.
When you have three hives, you can drop Onos eggs. Click on a egg and select "Onos egg." A teammate can then evolve to an Onos for free. At the late game stage, Gorges are incredibly vital to winning the game, as they heal your Onoses and bile bomb structures. However, many players don't like, or want to, play Gorge in the late game (everyone wants to be the hero Onos). Fortunately, you can force them into it! Build eggs at a shift, and upgrade the eggs to Gorge eggs. When the next players spawn, they will spawn as a Gorge instead of a Skulk!


Aliens have considerably less siege options than Marines. Just like how the Alien commander is a lot more "hands off" than the Marine commander, he also has to rely on his team a lot more to finish off the enemy team. The best you can do is build forward positions close to the enemy's base, and encourage your team to rush in all together. You can send in drifters and use their enzyme cloud to help, but that's about it. Whips can move but are pretty inefficient at taking down a base. You pretty much have to upgrade them with the bile bomb ability, make some cysts within range of the base (and hope the Marines don't kill them instantly), and then move the whips up and have them bombard the base.
Players and structures can only be affected by 3 healing sources, so any more than 3 crags in an area is just a waste.
Try to hold as many tech locations as possible. Marines need at least two command chairs to build jetpacks and exosuits, so if you can corner them in to a single chair, you can drastically cut their offensive power.

Keep this up and you should eventually be able to starve them out. Thanks for reading guys, and try to remember, Natural Selection 2 is a very fluid game. Every match you play is different, and strategies that worked in some matches may completely fail in others. This guide is meant only as a basis - feel free to try out new ideas and strategies as you become a more confident commander.

Liked this guide? Check out my other Natural Selection 2 guides:
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Sunday, 3 March 2013