Follow-Up to “Crash Course (ep. 27) – Greed Corp”

I didn’t much care for my run through the “Greed Corp” campaign levels, but not because the game isn’t good. I’ve never been much of a turn-based anything kind of guy – I prefer action-adventure RPGs to traditional turn-based, and I’d rather play Command & Conquer over Risk or Axis and Allies. Hell – I’m not really a fan of chess or checkers. So when tasked with completing all 24 of the levels available in story mode, I had to actively force myself to open the game and play through them one or two at a time. I didn’t enjoy the process overall, but I still felt proud of myself whenever I would emerge victorious from a match.

Now that all that griping is out of the way, allow me to say some good things about the game.

I am a huge fan of the tile-destruction mechanic that the whole game is built around. It is beyond satisfying to finish an opponent or take out a large portion of his units with a well-placed cannon shot or by planting a harvester right in the middle of his forces and letting the inevitable resource grind send his hopes plummeting into the mists below. On the flipside of that, it is frustrating and heartbreaking to see the same thing happen to your own troops and outposts, knowing that you’ve been out-maneuvered and that there is no way to save those 16 walkers camped out on a cracked and crumbling hex. As a corollary to the mechanic itself, being able to use harvesters offensively is a pretty cool concept. Several battles were decided when one force would shuttle over a regiment of troops to claim the tallest hex tower in the midst of an enemy island and plant a gold-spewing time bomb. And since there is no “sell” option for buildings and units, the only thing you can do when it happens to you is pray you have enough earth under your feet to self-destruct the harvester without dooming the rest of your surrounding territories.

Another cool game mechanic that came up every so often is claiming the spoils of war from an opposing faction that you’ve just conquered. If you are able to wipe out another team by taking all their land or by destroying them with cannon fire (i.e. they don’t go down in flames because of harvesters), then you get that team’s leftover funds, constructed carriers, and any remaining tiles that they might have had scattered throughout the map. While the ability to do this is only useful in matches with three or four players, being able to do so will pretty much seal your victory (granted that the faction you eliminate through conquest actually has anything left over to transfer).

The story mode is divided up into four separate campaigns – one for each faction (Freemen, Pirates, Cartel, and Empire) and each containing six missions. As you go through the game, there is a bit of a narrative that unfolds as text before and after each mission. These factions don’t have any special units or powers to distinguish them from one another; the only difference is the cosmetic appearance of the units and buildings they use.  I was able to beat most of the missions within one or two attempts, but there were about four levels in the entire game that gave me some serious trouble and had me replaying them over and over and over again. Those stages were usually troublesome because of where my turn fell in the order or the layout and positioning of the stage itself. (And let’s not also forget my ineptitude as a commander and inability to plan more than, like, two moves in advance.) However, even with a few hiccups, I was able to make it through the game in a little over nine hours of play time.

One tactic that helped me beat many stages is more of an exploit of the AI as well as a little bit of luck. On maps where I was pitted against more than one opponent, I would spread out and harvest as much land as possible away from my starting area, leaving about four or five hexes untouched. These harvesters would eventually create an island platform for me to hold my remaining units and structures. I would then let the computer players battle each other while I amassed troops and cannons with ammo. As the computers would tear at each other’s throats, I would weigh in every now and then with some cannon fire to ensure that neither of them got horribly overpowered. Once one faction was erased from the board, I would quickly swoop in at the last minute to claim victory from the remaining opponent. A bit of a cheap trick, but it solved problems quickly. This strategy would probably not work against multiple real players, as they would detect the rising threat and form a temporary alliance to take down the cherry picker.

Two things that I haven’t done are play skirmish matches against bots (which is pretty much like extending the campaign, except on new stages and with the possibility of collecting achievements based on specific win conditions) and playing online against a fellow hooman bean. I don’t see the latter happening for two reasons:

1) This ain’t my jam
2) The player base is essentially nonexistent

This game was originally released in 2010, with an Android adaptation released late in 2013. And in the time since then, I don’t think there have been many (if any) updates, patches, or additional content released by the developers. Since the game has been in this abandoned stagnant stage for such a long time, it’s no wonder that not many people are playing it. However, it simultaneously surprises me that more people aren’t playing it. I mean, the game is pretty well-balanced – most stages are symmetrical in design and starting setup, and the factions have no differing qualities to make one more preferable over another. It’s basically fancy chess. And last I checked, chess is still being played and hasn’t had any updates in a few hundred years.

That being said, there is a very small group (as in fewer than 100 players) named “Greed Corp: Rebirth” that is still dedicated to the game. I don’t know if they have done this (or if it’s possible), but if someone from that community was able to make a level designer, as well as modding the game to allow 2v2 matches and local matches, then I could see this game having a resurgence. Honestly, simply having local multiplayer would make this a fun competitive game to pull out among friends (in the same vein as the Worms series). This game could have a lot of replayability, but the lack of community creation tools and the cost of accessibility is what I think is keeping this game from flourishing.

Also the Steam version of the game is $10 while the mobile app is only $1, and I don’t think there’s any difference between the two! Seriously – local multiplayer.

Anyway, if you wanna give Greed Corp a shot, it is available on multiple platforms. If you like turn-based strategy games, then this should be right in your wheelhouse. And who knows – if enough recommendations go out and enough people jump on board then it may become as popular and competitive as something like chess.

Follow-Up to “Crash Course (ep. 34) – FEZ”

I’m coming to terms with the realization that I’m drifting away from being a “completionist”.

When I was younger (and had more free time to devote to the act), I relished the feeling of glorious accomplishment for fully dismantling a video game. I would leave no room unexplored, no stone unturned, no award unobtained. And still to this day I’ve retained a fragment of that spark to participate in the entire experience that creators lay before me. I want to read every line of dialogue and see every character’s possible actions so I can absorb the whole story without feeling like I’m missing out on something.

Now, however, there are limitations to how far I will venture into that obsessive territory before I go, “I feel like I’m done here.”

My playthrough of “FEZ” saw those limitations manifest, but not strongly enough to keep me from poking around a little bit here and there.

First off, let me say that I really do like this game. I think that the 2D/3D world-shift mechanic is very cool! It was a helluva lot of fun to figure out platforming with the ability to spin the world 90 degrees and have it keep your location relative to the new playable plane. I also love how the game encourages you to try to peel apart its many layers by being so gentle with the player. There’s no real penalty for falling to your death and no enemies or traps (other than the “void space” that can appear at times). Because you never feel rushed or pressured to reach or find something, the game allows you to stop and analyze the layout of the world as you shift the perspective around over and over again before something clicks.

The game also takes its time with introducing new complementary mechanics to the experience bit by bit. Certain areas provide the ability to raise or lower the water level, thereby also raising or lowering floating platforms as well to grant you access to new locations. There are also a few puzzles to solve where you can rotate a portion of the world while leaving the rest inert. In fact (in my opinion) there were not enough of these puzzles in the game. One of the final conundrums that I encountered was a room where the water-level and the isolated-rotation mechanics worked in tandem to shift a floating platform into the correct position and location to allow access to a treasure chest. This puzzle was a blast to figure out! It’s a shame there weren’t more of these world-manipulating enigmas in the game.

What there seemed to be plenty of were these sort of “out-of-game” puzzles. There were multiple rooms with QR codes etched on the walls, as well as a spoken language to translate and a code comprised of strings of tetrominoes. I didn’t spend any time trying to decipher these codes – I was just there to play the game. I understand that in order to complete the game (and to understand what the giant cube and the inhabitants of the ancient city are saying) these steps are necessary, but I didn’t bother with them. If I give the New Game Plus mode a bit of my time then I’ll try to figure things out for myself. (And yes – I know I can just find all this online. Should frustration win out then I’ll at least look up the keys and use them to unlock the rest of the world.)

That is if I continue the game.

While the perspective shift is really cool, and the environments are imaginative and attention-grabbing, I feel that I’m near the end of my “give-a-s**t” rope with this game. There came a point about two-and-a-half or three hours in that the whole “run, jump, climb, collect” basis of the game just kinda’ grew stale. I got annoyed with the unwelcome introduction of the “negative space” nuisance that just made me exit and re-enter the area that I wanted to be in until the missing chunks came back. And even without the void space epidemic, there was a good deal of back-tracking in the game, though the addition of the warp gates scattered throughout the world certainly relieved a modicum of irritation. (I will admit that I very well may have been less than efficient in my exploration, puzzle-solving, and collecting, so this grievance might be self-invented.)

Speaking of collecting, allow me to throw down some statistics for my first run through the game. Once again, this was what I accomplished without using any type of guide or hints, as well as not doing any of the “meta-puzzles”:

Time: 5.5 hours
Completion: 118%
Cubes Collected: 31 regular cubes and 6 bits, as well as 6 anti-cubes
Other: seven maps, two artifacts (Writing and Counting, which I have no idea what their significance or purpose is), and all five warp gates

Oh, by the way – that 118% isn’t something to brag about. I saw less than five hours in that I had over 100% completion and knew something was screwy. I was very confused because I knew full well that I hadn’t come close to collecting or exploring everything in the game. So I decided to search online to see what the maximum percentage was for truly completing the game. The official total is 209.4%, although several players have found there are some glitches that allow certain cubes to be collected multiple times, making their percentages climb even higher. So as you can see, I have quite a ways to go before declaring this game conquered.

All in all, “FEZ” is an enjoyable little game with many different types of puzzles to unravel and shiny items to gather. The rotation mechanic that is the crux of the whole game is very fun to manipulate, and using it to help solve some mysterious quandary or aid in navigating a zone does give one a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. But unless you’re a big fan of Metroidvania-style games, or you’re one who savors the act of untangling riddles and achieving nothing short of total fulfillment in unlockables, I’d suggest you find a friend who already owns it and commit about thirty minutes to it. If you reach the end of that trial period and feel that you’ve gotten all you’re going to get out of playing the game, then you’re probably right and you’ve just saved yourself ten bucks. But if you find yourself hooked – or if you fall into one of the previously mentioned categories – then venture forward into the weird blocky world that awaits you.

Just don’t feel obligated to do everything the game throws at you. As I’ve been finding out lately, it’s okay to just walk away from what’s left if it means that what you’re taking away is a pleasant and memorable experience.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin (ep. 50) – Air Force One

This July, we are looking at a selection of the most red-white-and-blue-touting movies known to mankind. We kick off our salute to saluting things with “Air Force One”, a high-flying thriller with a soundtrack so patriotic it upstages the actors and dialogue.

(Also, it’s quite fitting that we begin this particular block of films with our 50TH REVIEW! YEEE-HAAAW!!)