Democracy 3: The ultimate political strategy game is now in beta with pre-orders!

Think you have what it takes to become a political powerhouse?  Can you resonate enough with the general public and the values they hold?  Can you create a booming economy, or risk driving it into the ground?  Will you secure another term in office by retaining the majority of votes in the next election?  Keeping the population happy is far easier said than done, especially when so many people are clearly divided in their views.  Well, you’ll certainly have to try if you want to hold your prestigious position as President or Prime Minister in Positech Games latest entry in their political strategy / simulation series of games.  Welcome to Democracy 3!

I don’t think anyone could argue just how brilliant the above trailer looks.  It captures the spirit of modern democracy while displaying what makes Democracy 3 the game such an interesting, diverse, and unique strategy / simulation.  Democracy 3 looks like it has all of the rich features and deep strategy that made predecessors in the series so increasingly popular over the years.  More importantly though, the gameplay in Democracy 3 has been revamped with even more choices and decision making, and far more in-depth statistics that show just how effective or ineffective you’ve been during your reign as political leader.  There is a level of complexity to understanding these statistics and how each decision you make can have both positive and adverse affects.

What also sets the game apart from other strategy / sims of it’s kind is that it can be played by the casual or avid gamer, and hardcore strategists alike.  Democracy 3 has an extremely polished look to it as is.  Right now the game appears to be well-balanced but is still being refined, tweaked, and updated during the current beta.  With Positech Game’s awesome track record of fine-tuning, tweaking, and listening to player feedback and implementing new features, I have no doubt that Democracy 3 will be the only political strategy game of it’s kind, and the only one worth playing, for many years to come.  Head over to the Democracy 3 official website where you can learn more and also pre-order the game.

Democracy 3 is currently in ‘beta’ which means there may be some bugs or some balance issues. If you pre-order the game now you get to play this beta build of the game right away.  Buyers of the game get download links to PC, Mac and Linux builds of the game.  Everyone who pre-orders Democracy 3 will get a steam key which allows you to activate the game on steam when it is released.

Particulars alpha version – You think you’ve got it tough? Try living in a hadron collider!

Developed by Australian based indie game studio, SeeThrough Studios, Particulars is a fascinating and intriguing mixture of both particle-based puzzle game and narrative story.  It’s actually a science based videogame, but don’t the wrong idea, it’s filled with wholesome arcade-style gameplay and physics-based fun!

“Particulars is a unique combination of arcade action and puzzle gameplay, set in the mysterious world of subatomic particles. You take control of a single quark as you navigate the fundamental forces of physics. Other particles push and pull at you, leaving you on the brink of losing control and being dragged towards annihilation.

The narrative tells the tale of a young scientist, Alison, who feels like she has lost control of her own life. Transported to the subatomic level, Alison journeys through the dark mysteries of particle physics, trying to find some kind of clarity in a world she finds overwhelming.”

After spending a bit of time playing through the alpha version I was able to get into the early story which is broken up into comic-like cutscenes and shows Allison beginning her journey in subatomic space.   Through your control and Allison’s mind, you’ll manipulate a single quark which you must use to attract, repel, combine, or destroy quarks in order to collect particles and reach your goal.  The goals and how you reach them are different from one level to the next as well.  Maneuvering your quark through subatomic space requires that you interact with the other quarks or try to avoid them completely.  As you make progress through the levels you’ll also unlock deeper insight into Allison, but also her life as seen by those around her.

I found the mixture of narrative and arcade style physics gameplay a little strange at first.  As I completed new levels though, I also became more and more engrossed and curious about Allison the person, while also wanting to see what sort of challenges each new levels had in store for me.  In the end it all seemed to flow together, almost as if listening to or reading a good story and playing a fun videogame at the same time, which is basically what you’re doing.  There aren’t any games that I can immediately compare it to off the top of my head, and although it looks almost like a twin-stick shooter (which it’s not!), it also seems a bit like Osmos (which it isn’t!).  The gameplay itself is quite charming and unique while the narrative is interesting enough that Allison feels like she could be based on a real person.

Although the game is still in it’s alpha stage of development you can play it right now by signing up for our Alpha Funding program. For just $5 you will get access to the current build of the game, plus all future updates, up-to-and-including the final release!  Learn more by checking out the Particulars official website.  You can also vote for it through Steam Greenlight.  Particulars is currently in development for PC, Mac and Linux, and is set for release in Q4 2013, with tablet versions to follow.

Cognition adventure series finale coming Sept. 19 for PC / Mac (also coming to Steam and GOG)

Fans of the Cognition series, developed by Phoenix Online Studios, have been anxiously awaiting the fourth and final installment of the paranormal point-and-click thrillers.  Players will once again take control of FBI agent Erica Reed who, it  just so happens, has a secret psychic gift.  Erica is able to track down killers using her sixth sense that reveal flashes of the past, allowing her to piece together how the crimes had unfolded.

WARNING: Trailer contains spoilers!  Watch at your own risk!

The 4-episode Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller has been releasing quarterly since October 2012. Partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, the series was developed by a passionate indie team with help from veteran adventure game designer Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight, Gray Matter), who consulted on the story. Cognition‘s long-awaited Steam release follows a 10-month Greenlight effort that amassed more than 25k votes from the gaming community.

If you’re craving a bit of modern murder mystery rolled into an eerie point-and-click adventure, then now would be the perfect time to embark on a journey into this dark series of thrillers.  You can purchase the Cognition episodes individually for $9.99 or save a bit of money and purchase the entire season pass for only $29.99.  Head over to the Cognition Website for more detailed info and where you’ll also find a playable demo of Cognition – Episode 1: The Hangman.

SteamWorld Dig (3DS) – Review

SteamWorld Dig

developed by Image & Form

Let me start this review with it’s conclusion.  I think what we have here is proof that Nintendo needs to be more receptive to, and provide easier access for, indie developers and small game studios.  SteamWorld Dig is easily the best downloadable only game you’ll find for the 3DS on Nintendo’s eShop.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who owns the handheld console, and I’d go so far as to say that SteamWorld Dig gives the most bang for the buck, and then some.  This is a platformer that is so slick that it even looks like it could have been developed by one of Nintendo’s own 1st party studios.  Honestly, I think the people in charge at the big ‘N’ need to take note and realize the potential of creating less hurdles for budding indie developers and small game studios who have a much lower financial budget, but more than make up for it in creative energy, drive, and passion.

Story:
The story begins with our protagonist, Rusty, a lone mining steambot, arriving in a somewhat desolate mining town called Tumbleton.  The few steambots that still inhabit the town have all but given up hope until you arrive.  Rusty’s uncle, Joe, was also a mining steambot, who had unfortunately died within the mines beneath town.  It appears that his uncle has left Rusty a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, and perhaps find out exactly what he was searching for and whether or not he found it.  With help from a colorful cast of local residents, Rusty delves into the dark mines below Tumbleton, hoping to find riches, unlock the truth behind his uncle’s untimely death, and uncover a few ancient secrets along the way.

Gameplay:
SteamWorld Dig is a great little platformer.  It’s played in the style of a Metroidvania meets 2D Minecraft, Spelunky HD, and even a hint of Wrecking Crew.  There are certain aspects of the gameplay that feel a bit like Terraria on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, but make no mistake, SteamWorld Dig is very much it’s own unique and charming game.  Players will excavate and explore dark and dank mines in this colorful world, while collecting all of the minerals, items, and powered-up artifacts that will be necessary in order to progress and access newer, deeper areas within the mine.  Digging and creating your own pathways and tunnels through the mines becomes highly addictive very quickly.  Finding items that grant new abilities such as speed dashing and high jumping enhance the game further by allowing you to explore every nook and cranny of the mines in even greater depth and detail, while also allowing you to solve some of the challenging but fun platform puzzles along the way.

As mentioned above, Rusty is able to dig his own pathways through the dirt and rocks in the mines.  At first, all he has is his trusty pickaxe and basic torchlight.  The pickaxe is suitable for digging through most dirt and some minerals.  Mining minerals and then selling them back in town is important because it’s the only way that players can earn gold.  Gold is used to buy and upgrade new items, and collecting minerals and converting them is also the only way to improve the town, it’s resources, and what the local vendors have to offer.  As the town levels up, it allows for new items to be stocked and further upgraded at these local vendors.  You also need a light source while digging and scavenging in the depths below Tumbleton and that’s where the torch comes in.  Luckily, as you increase the town’s resources, you’ll also be able to buy lamps and other upgraded light sources that last a lot longer than the basic torch does.

The minerals scattered throughout the mine have various shapes and colors, and with these differences in appearance also come a difference in value.  You’ll spend a large portion of your game digging tunnels, mining for minerals, and then heading back to town so you can sell off these minerals in order to expand the town and buy new items.  It’s a part of the game that could have easily become repetitive and boring, but instead I found myself completely charmed and immersed while enjoying the exploration and discovery within SteamWorld Dig.  The digging does come with a little bit of grinding, but it is a lot of fun and definitely becomes addictive, without feeling like a chore.  There’s a sense of wonder as you loot the mine and locate new excavation sites that contain power-ups, artifacts, and other hidden secrets including the odd puzzle or problem for you to solve..

Buying newer items and upgrading existing ones become extremely important as you progress through the game.  Items such as increased pouch space will allow you to carry more minerals, which is important because you start off with a very limited amount of inventory slots.  You’ll also be able to upgrade your pickaxe so that you can dig through dirt faster and eventually, you can level it level it up, allowing you to dig through tougher rocks and minerals.  You’ll also need that all-important light source while you’re digging.  In the beginning you start with a torch that has limited use and a low time-limit, but as you level up the town you’ll be able to purchase better light sources and even lamps which can be planted at the locations of your choice throughout the mine.

Occasionally you’ll stumble upon useful artifacts such as the nifty steam boots that collect water and utilize steam, giving your jumps a huge boost in height.  You’ll also find a steam powered drill that you can use to excavate even further into the depths of the mine.  There’s a bit of strategy involved when using specific items, because some of them have a limited amount of uses and run out, but you can usually replenish them quickly and easily, and much like your other items, once the town has evolved, you’ll be able to purchase upgrades that allow you to use the items for more extended periods of time.  SteamWorld Dig is feature rich and you’ll find a lot of useful items that will grant you access to all of the hard-to-reach areas as you dig deeper and deeper into the mine, all while discovering a few hidden secrets along the way.

When not exploring the mines beneath Tumbleton, you’ll find yourself spending the rest of your time in town, speaking to the locals and gathering information about the mine, discussing your uncle, his motives, and his discoveries.  The town itself acts as a hub of sorts and also as your save game point.  Every time you come back to town the game saves, keeping all of your goods and progress recorded until you return once more from your next trip below.  As the town begins to thrive and grow you’ll also find newer technologies and other useful gizmos such as teleporters, which allow Rusty to fast travel from deep within the mine right back to the town hub.

Mining is all well and good, but as you dig deeper you’ll also encounter a number of different unfriendly bots and creatures.  Some of these enemies remain docile until you get too close while others will chase you down until you either dig a trap for them or finish them off with one of your many tools.  The combat becomes pretty intense the further you get into the mine and while it’s not very overly challenging at first, you do need to pay close attention to your surroundings as you delve deeper into the mines, being mindful of falling rocks, explosives, and other hazards.  When you die the game isn’t truly over, but you are instantly teleported back to town and you lose half of your wealth while all of the minerals you were carrying remain at the last position you were in when you died.

I have to say that SteamWorld Dig controls extremely well.  Think of your favorite Super Mario title, whatever it is, that’s how well SteamWorld Dig controls.  You can use the D-Pad or Analog stick for movement while each of the face buttons correspond to jumping, swinging the pick axe, or using special items, while the shoulder buttons allow you to change between those special items.  The controls are extremely tight and responsive.  This is exactly how a Metroidvania style platformer, with it’s exploration and backtracking, should feel.

Graphics and Sound:The graphics in SteamWorld Dig are colorful, stylized, and pleasing all-around.  The characters and enemies add the variety needed to explore a game of this type that involves a lot of backtracking.  Thankfully, the background artwork is also very nicely painted, while the lighting, colors, and some of the minor details, all change as you dig yourself deeper into the mine and it’s many chambers.  The last important aspect graphics-wise, is that it both looks and plays great in 2D and 3D.

The audio very good as well, with great sound fx, particularly when chipping away at rocks and minerals with your pickaxe.  The music is reminiscent of an old wild west movie and it certainly delivers with it’s atmospheric setting and the mood of the game.  SteamWorld Dig has extremely high production values that rival many of the AAA games available on the 3DS, or any other handheld for that matter.  I think that says quite a bit considering it was developed by a smaller game studio.

Conclusion:
Gamers who love exploring their games, finding every secret, and getting as much out of their games as possible, will find themselves easily squeezing 8 – 10 hours out of SteamWorld Dig.  The game definitely deserves that kind of time and attention.  It’s clear that Form & Image have put a lot of time and effort into making SteamWorld Dig.  Considering how affordable the game is at only $8.99 US, and that it has more play value than your average full-retail 3DS game release, you’d be foolish not to treat yourself to SteamWorld Dig and it’s excellent gameplay!

Next time you turn on your 3DS, do yourself a favor, head to the eShop and pick up SteamWorld Dig right away.  You won’t find a better game for the price.  It’s that good, and, it’s the kind of game that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages!

[   9   /   10   ]

The Humble Weekly Sale: Arcen Games brings with it a plethora of gameplay!

What do you get when Arcen Games is the featured Humble Weekly Bundle?  You get 6 full games and a ton of DLC content for those games, that’s what!  Not the kind of indie game studio to be caught resting on their laurels, Arcen Games has put together it’s entire indie game library for this bundle.  The games inside span quite a few genres including Strategy, Puzzle, Action / Adventure / RPG, Survival, and even a God-Sim.

In this bundle you’ll get the awesome AI War: Fleet Command, a game which I reviewed some time ago, and you’ll receive all 5 of the DLC packs that go with it.  You’ll also get to explore the procedurally generated worlds of side-scrolling action / rpg A Valley WIthout Wind 1 & 2, and the slick looking mind-bender of a puzzle game, Tidalis.  All for the low price of Pay What You Want.  Beat the average however, and you’ll also get your hands on Arcen Games latest titles, the survival horror sim Shattered Haven, and their most recent release, the God-Sim style game, Skyward Collapse and it’s brand new Japanese themed expansion pack, Nihon No Mura.

As with most Humble Bundle offerings, the Arcen Bundle includes multi-platform versions of their games for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  Each title comes with a DRM free download and even a set of Steam keys.  Head over to the Humble Weekly Sale and pick up these games while you have the chance.

Avadon 2: The Corruption set for release this Fall

Haven’t had enough turn-based, classically inspired, fantasy Role-Playing gameplay over the past few months?  Not to worry, Spiderweb Software has got you covered with a sequel to their latest RPG saga titled Avadon 2: The Corruption.  Much like the first Avadon game, players get to become an agent of Avadon, upholding the law and bringing justice to those who would dare challenge it’s might.  However, a new power has risen to defy Avadon and all it stands for.  Will you fight for Avadon and defeat it’s many enemies?  Or will you join them and put an end to Avadon’s power once and for all?

Similar to previous Spiderweb Software RPG’s, the Avadon series allows players to make choices that will affect the direction and ultimately the outcome of the story.  The classic RPG experience is still intact, but Avadon, more than any other series released by Spiderweb Software, captures the essence of classic top-down 2D Role-Playing Games such as Baldur’s Gate and The Temple of Elemental Evil, mixed with the epic, vast world feeling, and carefully weaved story and decision making found in the Dragon Age games.  It’s a fantastic combination of both style and substance that keeps RPG gamers coming back for each new iteration released.  While not the most impressive of games graphically, Avadon, as with all Spiderweb Software games, is more about the delivery of it’s carefully crafted story, and the numerous choices that players can make to influence it along the way.

Avadon 2: The Corruption Features:

  • Epic fantasy role-playing adventure in an enormous and unique world.
  • Five different character classes, with dozens of unique spells and abilities.
  • Uncover the fascinating histories of Avadon and the many lands of Lynaeus.
  • Many different endings. Will you be loyal to Avadon or switch sides and bring it down? The choice is yours!
  • Dozens of side quests, dungeons, and secrets to discover.
  • Hundreds of magical items to find. Use powerful crystals to make your artifacts even more powerful.
  • Huge adventure with lots of replay value. Experience with Avadon: The Black Fortress is entirely unnecessary to enjoy Avadon 2.

Avadon 2: The Corruption is set to release this Fall, hopefully early November if everything pans out.   It will initially be available on Windows, Mac, and iPad.  Watch the recently released trailer, get pumped up by it’s epic music, and then head over to the Spiderweb Software website where you can learn more about Avadon 2: The Corruption and it’s epic new story and gameplay.