Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 Year-End Steam Games

And now for something completely different: a rundown of the games I got for cheap this Steam holiday sale. I suppose this would have made more sense right after I got them and they were still on sale...they'll probably get discounted again.

Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World (2013)

I've realized I'm a big fan of games that offer you lots of choices—think of it as room to innovate and play more creatively. Few games embody this ideal better than the latest iteration of Sid Meier's turn-based masterpiece, Civilization. I highly recommend the base game and the first expansion God and Kings; Brave New World offers less dystopia than the names suggests, but a similar expansion and improvement of the game's features to G&K.

As the above screenshot shows, there are new playable civilizations, further adding to the near-comprehensive selection Civ V offers. In my first game I tried playing as Poland, which gets beefed-up cavalry (Winged Hussars!) and a free social policy at the start of each new era (Solidarity!). Also pictured is Venice, which cannot build new cities but can turn city-states (like La Venta and my former ally Panama City) into puppets. Other selections I didn't try include Assyria (which plunders other civilizations' technologies), Brazil (which focuses on its golden ages/Carnivals), and the formerly-missing series long-timers the Zulu.

But the main improvements Brave New World makes are three new mechanics. First, caravans and cargo ships can now be built and used to create trade routes, either within your civilization (to give a city a boost to food or production) or internationally (to share in riches, science, religion, and more). I ended up really appreciating this mechanics, which could have needlessly complicated the game but was instead well done (and quite helpful). Just protect your trade routes from pillaging barbarians or enemy civs.

Second, the cultural victory has been revamped. No longer does it merely involve making a (invariably small) cultural powerhouse civilization and then coasting to a utopian victory in isolation from the res of the world. The cultural victory is now achieved through tourism: collecting great works (either created by great artists, musicians, and writers or dug up by archaeologists) draws other civs' attention to your culture. Once your cumulative tourism output to each other civilization exceeds their own culture, you achieve cultural superiority and win. Granted, this seems a bit unrealistic since at least in my experience America wins other cultures over more with its  TV shows, internet phenomena, and decadent lifestyle more than with its fine arts, but it is still a much more exciting way to win.

Finally, the United Nations has been expanded into the World Congress, which begins once someone develops the printing press and discovers every other civilization. It does eventually hold votes for world leader to allow the diplomatic victory, but before this players can vote on a variety of resolutions like passing a tax on standing armies, embargoing a troublesome civilization, banning nuclear weapons, and much more. Influence with city-states gives more votes just as it did with the diplomatic victory, and overall it gives a very interesting and well-executed way to interact with your neighbors.

The cultural policy system has also been revamped now that it no longer controls the diplomatic victory, with two new policy trees (aesthetics and exploration) added and the three systems corresponding to forms of twentieth-century government have been split off into a larger and more interesting ideology system. Overall Brave New World is a richly rewarding series of additions to Civilization V that don't really take anything away. Definitely worth a look for Civ V players.

SimCity 4 (2003)

I also found a game from ten years earlier that similarly risks overwhelming players with options. For those who similarly missed out on it, SimCity 4, like its predecessors, puts you in the shoes of the mayor of a city of sims, which you are responsible for developing. It's a very detailed city simulation; you are responsible for zoning, electricity, traffic management, fiscal management, education, health, and the pollution your disgusting smelting plants put out, among others.

After getting to a fairly large city of 50,000 Sims, I can personally attest to how brilliantly addictive this game is even ten years later. After you get the hang of it (the tutorials help somewhat), it manages to always give you plenty to do without truly overwhelming you. Your advisers alert you to urgent needs your city faces (like a heavily congested road, imminent power outage, or health crisis) with convenient pop-up messages, and you get a wealth of charts and map overlays to help you plan your next development.

For my first real city, I set a goal of keeping a balanced budget and trying to free myself from cars and dirty energy as much as possible. I created a city with bustling residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, added blocks of offices and manufacturing plants, watched as my Sims got wealthier and wealthier, and finally quit as I was building my subway system and saving for a solar power plant because I realized it was 8:00 and I hadn't eaten dinner. Highly recommend this game.

Sequence (2011)

My roommate introduced me to this title which I can only describe as a rhythm RPG. You collect items, level up, and fight monsters, but the core battle system is heavily inspired by DDR. You hit arrows to the beat of some fairly nice (though out-of-place) techno songs to block enemy attacks, cast spells, and regenerate mana. This is the core of the gameplay and it is quite fun and fast-paced; if you have a XBox 360 Guitar hero controller like me, you can even plug it in and use it to play (sorry, I don't think you can use a DDR pad, nor would you want to). A typical battle consists of rapidly queuing up and casting attack and defense spells, blocking as many enemy attacks as you can between spells, and regenerating mana when you get a chance, all of which necessitate rapidly switching between the three different note boards. Unfortunately, this is pretty much all the game consists of and it's set in the context of a bit of a tedious grindfest; it feels a bit more like a proof of concept than a fully-featured game. Still worth it for the right price.

Divekick (2013)

Do you, like me,find fighting games bewildering and difficult to learn? Then look no further than Divekick, the two-button fighter game in which the only move is divekicking and all hits are KOs! Fight in a variey of exotic places with increasingly zany characters! No, seriously, besides being a parody of fighting games, Divekick is also a surprisingly good game, though the polar opposite of the aforementioned games that offer tons of options. Each character has his/her own dive height and kick angle, with some having the ability to adjust their attack style mid-battle. It's especially rewarding in versus mode, where the challenge of kicking the opponent without getting kicked yourself leads to some crazy twitch battles and mind games.

Fallout: New Vegas

...I'm going to hold off on this one until I have more time (and have played Fallout 3, which i also have on Steam).

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