November 17, 2017
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Author: Ian Beck Beckism.com
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iConquer

Quick and dirty: if you don't like Risk, there really isn't much point in downloading this game. If you do, or even if you think you might under the right circumstances, you need to download this, if not buy it. Do it. Do it now.

Download the demo here.


The actual review:

There's been Risk for computers for ages; it's just one of those no-brainers. Of course some geeky programmer is going to make a Risk computer game, because Risk represents the sum total of their social life when they were young. But as far as I know there aren't many Risk computer games out there with style, versatility, and just plain old sexy OS X looks and integration.

In point of fact, the only Risk game I know of that fits this description is Kavasoft's iConquer. And boy does it ever fit the bill.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I really love iConquer. I can't deny this, but I do posit that it is because it is a truly excellent game, not because I was a geeky programmer whose only social outlet was Risk. Well, okay, maybe a little bit of both. Whatever.

Point is, there's lots to love about iConquer. First off is how it looks. Kavasoft obviously understands Aqua, because they nailed it. This program just looks like it belongs, from the icon that sits so prettily in the dock to the preference panels and icons at the top of the map to the website, iConquer absolutely screams "I am made for MAC!" My PC using friends mocked me a bit for this, right up until they started playing the game. And then they were hooked until 4 A.M.

The gameplay of Risk doesn't really need to be explained (I hope), but this is something that Kavasoft handled very well. There are many different variations on Risk gameplay, but the preference pane in iConquer captures many of them. You can customize many parts of the game, from how many times you attack to the number system used to show how many armies are available for placement (I personally use Japanese Kanji; way too much fun). Because the gameplay is so customizable, and the options for rules diverse enough to encompass several variations that exist from person to person, the gameplay is great. Can anyone say attention to detail?

For example, it is possible to right click, and have a contextual menu pop up that can control placing variable numbers of troops, how many times to attack, and so on and so forth. Additionally, holding down option or shift can change what a click does, making the game very easy to manipulate to the best strategic advantage.

The bots that are included with the game are reasonably intelligent, but are fairly defeatable (or impossible, depending on how many anti-humans there are). The game as a single player game is a good way to waste some time.

What really makes it shine, however, are the networkable options. Whether you prefer hotseat or Rendevous, iConquer has it all. Even the ability to use iChat to grab some people to play with you is built in. I doubt this aspect of the game could get much better. For those of you who still need Risk as a social outlet, iConquer should provide you with just what you need. No more tedious dice rolls for you!

But these things aren't really what sold the game to me. What did it for me was the maps. iConquer comes with a set of a few different default maps, but with the click of a button you have access to downloadable maps (and potentially plugins for new A.I.'s and such), and it's very, very simple to download and install said maps. Not all of them are great, of course; the maps are made largely by people other than Kavasoft (although Kavasoft does have a few of their own as well), but just the fact that this expandability exists and is used makes a very good argument for shelling out the money necessary to register.

Why the rating: Unfortunately, I am unable to really think up many cons for this game. The demo only allows you to play it ten times before it forces you to buy it or trash it, but this isn't really that big an issue, and allows you a nice amount of time to experiment with the options available for the game. It just doesn't seem right to end this review on such an uniformly positive note, but I'm afraid that's how it's going to be. Since I can't find an issue with this game, I am forced to give it an 8. Admittedly not all people like Risk, however, which means that although this game really clicked for me it wouldn't necessarily be worth it for everyone. That said, I still think most people should download the demo (available here) and give it a shot. Whether alone or with friends, iConquer is a lot of fun.

Edit: although this is a great game with a very good entertainment-to-cost ratio, it can't be argued that this is just a reproduction of Risk. Wonderfully implemented, of course, but not terribly unique. I'd still strongly advise that folks give this one a try if you like Risk, though. I've never regretted registering.

Posted on May 27, 2004 at 5:19 pm
Blades of Avernum: The Game

Quick and dirty: despite low-level graphics and average sounds, this game stands out for excellent gameplay, good stories and writing, and the longevity of having scenarios created by the masses. If it has half as many quality scenarios as its predecessor, Blades of Exile, then it will be well worth the money spent registering it.

Download the demo here.


Actual review:

Any Mac RPG gamer worth his salt has played a game created by Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software. If you are an RPG lover and have not played any Spiderweb Software games, then it is your civic duty to go download one of his demos (might I suggest Geneforge 2, any Avernum game, or the subject of this review Blades of Avernum). Jeff Vogel is the shareware RPG maker. Period.

Blades of Avernum (BoA or Blades from here on out) is basically a remake of an earlier game, Blades of Exile. Many elements of gameplay have been improved, including the graphics, sounds, and basic gameplay.

BoA isn't flashy. It doesn't have the graphical appeal of Neverwinter Nights or even the original Baldur's Gate. If your friends walk by and see you playing it (particularly if they are the PC snobs that mine are) they will likely scoff. Basically, the graphics just aren't all that good (particularly compared to the Geneforge games which came out before BoA). But graphics are not the reason that people play this game. They are merely a nice method to get to the story underneath. That being said, the graphics are not bad. If you don't focus on their faults, then you will be very happy with them, because they do work in the context of the game. Particularly considering that this is a shareware title with some serious strengths (to be addressed), the graphics are not a big con.

The story is one of the reasons that Blades is a game well worth paying for. BoA allows you to create a party of up to four characters, save it, and then go through four scenarios using it. Because the scenarios are relatively short, this lets you really develop your characters across the game, which is definitely a plus since it is all about role playing. The stories in the scenarios are well written, and the adventures well balanced. All four are worth the time it takes to play them.

But this is not really the reason that you should run out and download/register Blades. The reason that this is such a good game is that it comes with a scenario editing tool, allowing everyday people to make their own scenarios. Although there are only two scenarios available at the time of this review (you can download them here), judging by the huge number of scenarios that were made for Blades of Exile. This game will likely last for quite a while, and if you are interested in making your own RPG, then BoA gives you a ready-made and excellent system to build off of (as long as you are willing to learn the scripting and other portions of using the editor).

One thing that can be annoying about the game engine is that it is basically turn-based. NPC's and monsters do not move on their own; they move when the character moves (this is different in combat, which is unabashedly turn-based). This can be slightly annoying (particularly in view of the Geneforge games, which have moved away from this), but you get used to it, and it isn't that much of a problem after you have played the game for a while. Initially, though, it may seem slightly strange. The strengths of the gameplay and skills system easily balance this out, however, and make the occasional annoyance of having to wander in and out of a doorway to get an NPC to move out of the way a minor irk.

You may have noticed that this review isn't so much a discussion of the specific aspects of BoA as it is a general explanation of its highs and lows. The main reason for this is that Blades is very easy to download and try for yourself (just go to this page). That's one of the beauties of shareware.

Additionally, I have not really covered the editor portion of Blades because I haven't used it much yet. Look for this to come in a later review; also watch for reviews of any scenarios that seem like they stand out.

Overall, Blades is a very worthwhile game for anyone who likes RPG's. The skills system of the Avernum games, having been hammered out since the Exile games, is excellent, the plots are compelling, and the overall look and feel of the game is very satisfactory. As a caveat, this probably isn't the game for the hardcore shooter gamer who mainly plays Unreal 2004. RPG's in general are a totally different genre, and Blades is very much an RPG. As shareware and RPG's go, however, this is a fabulous game.

Why the rating: I give this an eight because it is an excellent game with a probable huge amount of longevity, but does not have some of the perks of Vogel's other software (such as the superior graphics and game engine of the Geneforge games). Even so, different people will like this game different amounts. If you are at all intrigued by the sound of it, please download the demo. It will likely be worth your time.

Edit: I stand by this rating. It's probably the most objective one out of the reviews that I did before overhauling the rating system.

Posted on May 24, 2004 at 11:41 am
Hollow Ground

Quick and dirty: very fun, sometimes addictively so, multiple players on one computer, decent graphics, compelling ambience, randomized gameplay elements, top-down perspective works surprisingly well. Cons: very bloody and dark, some counter-intuitive levels, character control is somewhat lacking.

Download the demo here.


The actual review:

This is a game that can be incredibly fun, yet isn't for everyone. Made by Aescapia, Hollow Ground is a top down arcade-style shooter, in which the point is to proceed through levels of a zombie infested bunker and save humanity. Not exactly a stellar plot, per se, but that's how gaming goes.

What this game does have is ambience. The graphics are very impressive compared to many shareware games, and although they certainly aren't as professional as they could be if this were a commercial game, they satisfied my appetite for pixel goodness. The top down perspective works surprisingly well, and is implemented quite nicely. If someone had just told me about the perspective and such, I would have been doubtful about it's effectiveness, but playing the game shows that it works rather nicely. Admittedly, the relatively small number of unique monsters attacking you can sometimes get a little old, but since the monsters get increasingly difficult and have several incarnations each it remains fun.

An interesting aspect of this game is the team play. There are four characters available for you to use, with their respective strengths and weaknesses, and you are allowed to switch characters between levels. As you progress your health is consistently drained by the environment (although you can get more health through health packs), so sometimes switching to another character is the only way to go. Overall, the characters are well balanced, although there are some aspects in which they could be more evenly matched.

Just having four characters isn't enough, however. The greatest bit about this game, in my opinion, is that you can play it solo or with a teammate on the same computer. I love online gaming as much as the next person, but sometimes I just want to sit down at my computer with a friend and destroy some enemies. This game lets you do just that, and playing with a friend is definitely more fun that going it solo. The dynamics of having two characters with their different strengths and weaknesses makes for interesting gameplay, as does the sharing of the credits that allow you to buy powerups.

There's a certain random element to the game, in that as you proceed down through the bunker that serves as the game's setting, the game chooses randomly from a pool of levels based on how deep you have gone. Additionally, after defeating a level you have a chance to buy powerups and goodies with the "credits" that you gathered going through the level. This adds a somewhat strategic element to the game that is very welcome, and the powerups can help no end, particularly in the more difficult levels.

This game does have its weaknesses, however. The most obvious is that it is very dark, very bloody, and even with the ability to turn off the blood and bodies not particularly suited for everyone. This is definitely a game to try before you buy (and they fortunately have a demo which gives a good sense of what the game is like). Some of the levels are not quite as easy to figure out, as well. In particular I remember one level full of transporters that randomly sent you places, and trying to find the exit was horrible. I finally stumbled across it, but it was sheer luck, since both the exit's location and where the transporters dropped you was random. Despite some of these lemon levels, most were designed very well. To make it even better, you can design your own levels with their free level editor (as long as you own a registered copy of the game), or download levels designed by others on Aescapia's website.

I love the two player aspect of the game, but my one peeve with it was that both characters are confined to the same screen. This means that at times you might have monsters coming from two directions, but each character can only go so far away from the other one to fight them. Also, some characters are slower than others, and if a fast and a slow character are traveling an empty hall with each other, the faster often has to wait at the edge of the screen for the slower to catch up. This is largely annoying. A split screen might compromise some of the better aspects of the game, but it would be nice to have it as an option at least, since being stuck at the edge of the screen trying to save your partner's life is no fun.

The only other issue I had was the aiming. For some reason you can move in virtually any direction, but can only aim in eight (left, right, up down, and 45 degree diagonals). The inability to sweep your fire across an area is sometimes incredibly annoying (or, even worse, deadly). I imagine that it was too difficult to program, but I regret that this is so. Its inclusion would make the game even better.

Why the rating: Overall, this is a very worthwhile game. I only rate it a five because of its violence and the small annoyances that can build up, but I highly advise downloading the demo and buying it if you like it. Hollow Ground looks to be Aescapia's first game, and if they make games as good or better than this then they are a company well worth supporting. And as an additional plus, the game only costs $19, which is a great price for this type and quality of game, most of which usually run $25 or so.

Edit: It is worth noting that this game deserves a score of 7, but has received a 5 because of it's excessive violence (and other not-appealing-to-everyone things), and because in some ways it still does need polish. On the other hand, it's worth noting that there is now a level editor out (greatly expanding the replayability), and the developer is consistently working on making this game more polished. If you don't mind violence, and enjoy action games, you should give Hollow Ground a look-see.

Posted on May 18, 2004 at 2:54 pm
Shareware and more

Ah, shareware. That category of games that are sometimes great, sometimes good, and sometimes things that you wonder why anyone would spend money on them. A group of games that represents what the littler people can do. And a group of games that rarely gets a review because, let's face it, the only people profiting off of them are the game's creators (if anyone is profiting), and reseller sites just don't really see the need to push for games that make them no money. Sigh.

I am sad that this is the case, but I think that perhaps with the advent of the IMG Blog service, I might be able to do my small part. Every once in a while I'll try to post a review of a shareware title that I have found and loved, and hopefully help to fill a gap that greatly needs filling.

For those of you who don't like to read an entire review, try just checking out the area at the top marked "Quick and dirty." This should give you a basic one or two sentence summary of the points I arrived at in the course of the review.

Posted on May 18, 2004 at 2:22 pm
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