The Lost Reviews – Big Pharma

19 10 2016

big-pharma (twice circled - 2015)

You know when you played Theme Hospital (assuming you did, because, you know; why wouldn’t you?), did you ever think to yourself: “I could be doing so much more here, why don’t I leave the life of being a Hospital CEO and go into Pharmaceutical Production?” Well chances are that you thought no such thing as for one; Theme Hospital was a game, not real life or an RPG, and for two; you were really quite content with the game you were playing at the time. If it were the case though that one day while playing Theme Hospital and you actually thought the above statement, well now you can – not in Theme Hospital, but in a game that focuses on the production of Medicine based products.

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Big Pharma (produced by Twice Circled) is a game where you the player are managing director of a pharmaceutical company. You start your company off with a small brightly coloured interior warehouse and a few inventions and ingredients at your disposal to which you can use to create cures for illnesses. All you need to do is put these assets into production and sell sell sell.

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Game play is very simple; in your empty warehouse you need to use one of the holes in the wall to import an ingredient, and then use machines at your disposal to meet certain requirements before either finishing off the ingredient mixture or upgrading it to be a cure for something else. Once that is done, you need to turn the current ingredient into a manufactured cure by putting it through a pill maker, and then transport it to another hole in the wall to name it and sell it. Later options at your disposal include creaming the drugs instead of selling them as pills, and even packing them. The game though is not as easy as it sounds as machines, conveyor belts and equipment take up space (turning it into a mini puzzle game in the process) and you have a limited area, plus in some cases are required to create a catalyst in order for some cures to be upgraded. The game though is not all about Medication Manufacturing, as it’s also a part business and research sim. You will be required to hire explorers and researchers to discover new ingredients and new machinery, while at the same time use their down time to provide you with upgrade points. At the same time however, you need to be concerning yourself with making money too, as production costs can be quite astronomical, and your company is in competition with others.

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Big Pharma is a nicely animated little game. The game graphics are nicely detailed, but not too detailed so can work on most machines without a fuss. The Animation though is superb. It can be quite mesmerizing watching the ingredients progress along the conveyor belts, changing form and colour as machines work on them, and watching the machines work is a nice little added extra, and comes with a form of animation very similar I find to that of Theme Hospital. Watching the water boil in the Dissolver, or seeing ingredients pulped in the Agglomerator, working their way down the production line and being made into either pills or as a cream. It’s really fun to watch and nice little bits like that really help this game to provide a detailed experience.

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The game; all be it relatively fun and still pretty unique, does have its short comings. For one, I like the idea of creating a production line, but the production line does seem to be rather slow, I did not know that Conveyor belts started and stopped every second, I thought they just kept going? It can take a while for the process to complete and when you need money fast, but the conveyors only move at one speed (which is sort of move and stop, move and stop), or the other cases where you are trying to reach a deadline in the game’s objectives mode, it can be very annoying. You can of course speed things up with the mystical speed change options in the bottom left of the screen, but you may as well just keep it up at full speed in that case just to speed up the game and make the conveyors more realistic. The objectives are not bad and it is pretty fun going through each one, just to give you something to do in the game, but with your mind on reaching a certain objective, you may as well ignore everything else in the game, and concentrate on what you need to do rather than what else you could be doing. Then once you have done enough and or have reached your goal, you do have the option of getting a better score than the basic score which is a nice added add-on, but by this point you may as well just speed up the game in places or end the level just to be done with it and do something else.

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Most of the cures you make can be upgraded relatively quickly on, but they require the use of machines you have not unlocked yet, in which case I found myself spending time and money in researching the things I needed each time before sending anything in production, just to be able to give the game the best I could. The other thing though is the Catalysts. The game comes with a very comprehensive tutorial mode which is very descriptive and also very fun, but each time I tried to do a catalyst in the real game, I would not achieve it. Making catalysts is supposed to be hard, but when you are doing everything right, the catalyst still does not make itself, and it can be very annoying, especially as sometimes you need that upgraded cure to move on.

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Big Pharma is one of these Production line games that have begun to make a real appearance in the industry along with other games like Factorio. Making a production line is a good fun idea and when combined with making product to sell turns the game not just into a factory based game but also a resources and economic game, where you need to concentrate on not just making a good product but also turning a profit. I like that idea, and when combined with the games look, idea and animation, it makes a good fit that is at least to begin with a fun game to play. But as the game progresses and its short comings come to light, it becomes a game that I was once excited to play but now don’t really see a future for. Maybe I like my games with a little more realism in its depictions of production, but for its slow speed, but also relatively pointless extras during its objective based gameplay, I feel that this game was once fun, but then just ended.

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GENEPOOL

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The Lost Reviews – oO

15 06 2016

oO4

I don’t know if you have ever seen The Cube on ITV; well if you haven’t, The Cube is a game show presented by Philip Schofield where contestants enter a small plastic/glass cube and have to complete skills based challenges in the hope of winning some cash. The only problem is that all the tasks are really hard (except to this strange faceless woman who is somehow able to complete all the tasks no problem). Most of us probably would never think or consider (or get round to) appearing on a show like that; but I think I have found a video game that works just as well.

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oO is a game about travelling through circles, what this has to do with large Perspex boxes is about to be explained. Basically, you have been put in a large box and have been given the duty of ensuring that a small white dot safely makes it through several circles of different shapes and sizes without getting hurt by either nasty looking spikes or getting crushed between the circles. There’s no real story to this game, it’s a simple puzzle game involving circles, spikes and dots all situated inside a large box with no windows.

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oO is as it comes really. Controls are pretty simple; you can press either the space key or left mouse clicker to cause the transition of the small white dot from inside the circle to outside the circle, and when directly next to a circle into that circle. It’s pretty simple to begin with. All you need to do is get the dot through the circles to the end of the level. There are safe points in the system of circles as you transition from one to another, if your little dot gets destroyed, it goes back to the last safe circle, once you make it to the next safe circle, you don’t need to worry about going back. As the circles continue, it gets harder to transition through them. Some of the circles are smaller than the others and so transitioning between them can create near misses and fatalities. But that’s not all; many of the circles contain spikes. Some of these are static and don’t move, while others can move, disappear, come back, can cause difficult patterns, the lot (well as far as the lot as they possibly can go). Some levels even change and disorientate you as the circles are now jelly like objects. These though are more bonus levels than anything else.

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The game has a nice simple interface as all you are really doing is clicking or tapping. The graphics are nice and simple, a 2D interface of white circles with the occasional vanishing and reappearing red spikes. The background of the big cube is nice and presents a different colour per level. This though I find a little bit wasteful as you are concentrating more on the circles, not just the weird cube in the background sometimes with other floating cubes inside it. I feel like this game could be improved in its look by being on a completely flat background colour. That though is fairly minor an issue as compared to a couple of other things. The levels feel overly too long. It feels and plays like there is no end in sight and you begin to wonder what on earth you are doing. It gets boring in this aspect very quickly. Also the lack of a life system means that your little dot just constantly keeps on dying and dying with no end in-sight. If there was a cut-off point, at least then there may be some replay value for those situations as well as a sense of achievement. Also, the controls are rather fidgety and unresponsive. Imagine the scene; when you have finally figured out your timings, and are ready to get the circle from this one solitary sphere to the next; you click the button, and…..nothing. So you wait for it to come round again, but still nothing. This can continue a lot, and when it finally goes in, your timings have gone completely awry and it quickly dies due to a miss click.

oO is overly long, can quickly get boring and some of its graphics just seem like a waste. On the plus side however; it’s easy to pick up, play and looks nice. While it is a hard game, it is still relatively simple for most people to simply give it a go. It’s the kind of game that you need to really try out to see what you think, but generally it’s alright.

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GENEPOOL





The Lost Reviews – Etherium

15 06 2016

Etherium

When Cavedog Entertainment first released Total Annihilation in 1997, they couldn’t have imagined what kind of impact it was going to make. To this day Total Annihilation is still one of the most beloved and talked about PC games out there, and has since become the lead inspiration for several, ‘spiritual successors’; including games like Supreme Commander, Planetary Annihilation, Meridian: New World; and now…there is another one.

Planetary Annihilation

Etherium is a real-time strategy game heavily inspired by games like Total Annihilation, but also contains the D.N.A. and accessories of other well-known games including Halo Wars. In Etherium, you are one of 3 different factions, racing for control of a super powerful form of fuel known as Etherium. Your job is simple, you need to colonise planets to gain Etherium. There is a major problem however in the form of other empires plus several tribal like factions who want claim of Etherium and eventual control of the universe. To this end, you need to build and grow colonies, create military units to defend yourself with and purge all these power-hungry maniacs unlike you from anywhere where you stake claim to.

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For the most part; Etherium is a ground based real-time strategy game. When you start a match, you begin with one big base. If this one base is destroyed, your game ends and you lose. As the level gets going you will need to claim and defend territories as fast as you can so you can then gather as much Etherium as possible to build your forces and destroy your enemies. Etherium does things differently to a lot of similar RTS games in how you play it. Most games like these include several different forms of resources which need to be independently collected at the same time. In Etherium, there is only one main resource: Etherium. This makes the game rather easy to pick up and play for both experienced and inexperienced gamers of the genre. Another thing Etherium has is no need for Radar. The map is split up into territories; in each of these is something of a node: if you take it, you have full view and control of that territory. This removes the need for Radar which can be quite annoying when you are nearing the end of the level and are still looking for one random tank or builder. As for resource gathering, Etherium appears in only a few territories with in the map. If you have somewhere where you can collect it, it’s collected automatically as soon as a building is built on the resource location. You can increase the speed of collection and gathering by building extensions onto your colonies and any nodes you take over. These extra buildings do specific things once built ranging from Etherium refineries to spaceports. Each one does a different thing but greatly helps you in the need of battle.

Military construction is a lot different too as units are not really built but rather delivered. You basically choose from a side menu what unit you want (ranging from infantry, tanks, planes and titans) and then the unit is delivered to your base. You need to select where you want them delivered to and they can only be delivered to locations with a spaceport next to them. Sending them into battle can then be done the usual way of left clicking on a unit, then right clicking where you want that unit to go. Alternatively you can call in an air drop which will deliver the units directly to where you want them to go. But while your main goal is to rid yourself of the main villain on the map, you will also need to pay attention to one if not several local alien races. They are automatically hostile if you go anywhere near them. There is a way around this however, as you can make peace with them and then call them to your aide. If you don’t do this however, the enemy might and then you will have more than one alien race on your hands. One thing Etherium has though over other RTS games though is the option of a second way of achieving victory. The first way is the above stated way of destroying the enemies’ main base. No need to worry about all other units on the map, destroy that and you win. The other way though is an ingenious way of winning, even if on the ground you are losing. That is to build guns that attack the enemy fleets. These fire automatically once you have enough resources to build them and then it’s a simple matter of waiting until the enemy fleet is destroyed, in which case you win no matter how badly you are losing on the ground. In Etherium’s conquest mode you build fleets then send them to enemy planets, upgrade your forces and unlock new weapons to send into battle. There is no clogging down with huge amounts of story neither, there is some detailed background into the races which is revealed before conquest mode, but as soon as you complete the tutorial, you are just left to your own devices.

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Etherium is a nicely put together game. It features methods of gameplay as yet inexistence in the RTS genre and its ways of controlling the battlefield and winning the map are nice additions too. The game is superbly animated and it’s a lot of fun just watching colonies get built and units delivered. The colonies themselves are nicely detailed too. However the game does have some rather large issues to contend with. While its colonies and structures plus units are nicely animated and built, its units are rather static. What I mean by this is that there is a lack of movement in the heat of battle, they just sort of take on a formation and stay in that formation quite well, but it just doesn’t feel alive or realistic. There is no evasion or moving around to get a much clearer shot. While there is some evidence and advantage of cover, it just seems like the hits from weapons land a bit randomly. While units are nicely thought about and cleverly include units which are better at some things than other units, the lack of life and movement in the heat of battle just doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing. The camera is a bit dodgy too as there just doesn’t appear to be any sort of Zoom functionality, which when everything else comes up 2D in the face means that doing stuff like dropping off units can be rather clumsy. The controls themselves are nicely tuned and the way of building colonies plus the need of building certain units are nice additional features but overall are let down by some of the game’s imperfections.

Galactic Colossus

There is another thing too which gripes me about this game which is a primary unit in games of this kind. That is in the use of large/giant units. In Etherium they are known as titans, extremely big units that could lay waste to the entire map providing no-one else has one. Units like this have been a main stay of the genre since the addition of the Krogoth in Total Annihilation: The Core Contingency and have appeared in other games like Supreme Commander in the form of ‘Experimental Units’. The problem I have with them in Etherium is the need of them. Battles can take long amounts of time depending on how well defended an opponent is. The bigger and stronger plus the advantage of a unit can turn the tide of the battle within a split second, so why should armies feel the need to build something like a Titan if smaller units in theory can do it just as well? Why should Titans even be in this game unless they serve a certain purpose? Why can’t it be that a game like Etherium with its idea of specialized units just be a game with them and only them? No need for a unit that can destroy everything, it’s more about learning the strengths and weaknesses of each unit and find a way to counteract them. Because really the only way to counteract a titan in Etherium…..is to build your own titan.

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Etherium on the whole is a nice little game, one that can easily consider itself equal alongside other ‘so-called’ spiritual successors to Total Annihilation. As for the game itself, it introduces new forms of gameplay as yet unseen, has some nicely crafted in game pieces, animates them really well and doesn’t bog down players in lengthy uninteresting story plots in its conquest mode. On the downside however its graphics and units feel lifeless and static and I think over-does it with the titan units just by including them. There is a lot to like about this game and it is reasonably enjoyable, it’s just held back by clumsy bits and bobs which don’t help it in any way shape or form.

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GENEPOOL





The Lost Reviews – Hook

19 05 2016

HOOK (Rainbow Train - 2005)

I have always loved those puzzles where you had to make a route from one side to another. You know the sort of thing, where you might have to direct a flow of water from the tank to the tap, but there are obstacles in the way; like those hacking puzzles in Bioshock. I just love the technical aspects of such puzzles plus the stress of getting it right first time (plus the fun of getting it wrong…on occasion). Well Hook is sort of like those puzzles, except instead of building a route; you need to completely demolish it.

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Hook is a 2D puzzle game where you have to click on switches, clear routes and send messages, all for the purpose of clearing the entire level of obstacles. Sound confusing, well it is. To play the game all you need is your mouse, and in turn you will be clicking on a black button to send a message to remove some sticks from a big maze of sticks. Some sticks though are blocking others and you will need to remove those ones first to remove the others. Once all the sticks in a level have been removed, the level is complete and you progress onto the next one. It’s sort of a mix between Pick up Sticks, and Kerplunk. As the game progresses, further little bits are added to increase game difficulty, ranging from circles that need turning to connect routes to one another, as well as wireless/Wi-Fi like messages to remote routes not connected to the main puzzle.

In terms of the game’s difficulty, the first few levels are all pretty easy, but by the end they are extremely complex. To begin with you don’t need to worry about making mistakes. Eventually though lives are added. Once all your lives are depleted, you have to start the level all over again. Hook’s graphics are simple yet effective. It’s a white background with dark greyish lines showing the routes and sticks. Nice and simple, but not at all confusing. Great work has been made to make them look nice and crisp and not jittery or block like. It’s a smooth looking game, and the animations are just as smooth. Even little things like sticks overlapping each other, to the sending and receiving of signals are nicely made. Hook does not really have a soundtrack as such; it’s just the sound of blowing wind. It’s like imagining yourself at the O.K. Corral. This lack of music though is nothing too bad, as the lack of sound really does help you to concentrate on what is happening. It’s not exactly peaceful though, as the level of silence and the occasional gust of wind can really increase the tension and frustration, the good kind.

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The only real problem I have with this game is that it’s a bit quick. The first few levels are nice and easy, but it takes a while for the levels to get harder, which is what you want. It’s a puzzle game; it’s meant to be tricky. It’s only really into the second half of all levels that it gets any trickier. These levels take more of your time to play, but the level of difficulty, gameplay, not forgetting the frustration, is what you want in a puzzle game. But as soon as you finally get these levels, the game is nearly over, and once you get the hang of everything, that’s it the game is over. All levels are completed. I have no desire to replay this game either. It was fun; it could just have been longer. The lives system is fun, but a higher level of consequence would have been nice too.

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Hook is an addictive game, and you will find yourself unable to do or think of anything else other than play Hook continuously until you have finished. It lacks achievement though; there is no real reward for playing a game that’s just too easy and too quick. At best, it’s a casual little game to play when you have a lunch break. On the other hand if you have a whole day off; I would suggest playing Borderlands instead, at least there is more to do in Borderlands, and it’s longer.

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GENEPOOL





The Lost Reviews – Timberman

17 05 2016

Timberman 2

A wise man once said “I’m a lumberjack, and I’m okay.” Well after playing this game I can say that I am a lumberjack, but after playing on Multiplayer mode, I don’t know if I’ll be able to say I am okay. Timberman (Digital Melody - 2015)

Timberman is an arcade style, casual flash game for the PC where you play the role of a Lumberjack chopping down trees as quickly as possible without dying. The game has a simple interface and control scheme. You are represented by a lumberjack avatar, and you have an axe. When the game starts, all you need to do is click away furiously to chop down as much tree as possible. You will need to alter which side of the tree you chop down to avoid the large number of killer branches. As the tree falls with each click, branches come down with it, and if a branch falls on you, you die. Controlling which side you chop on is very easy, all you do is change which mouse clicker you are clicking with. You will also need to be aware of a timer above your head counting down the amount of time you have left until your imminent death.

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Personally I prefer to avoid games that are made specifically to look like pixellated arcade games from the pre mid 1980’s; Timberman’s graphics however are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. They are not blurry nor cause any worry for potential photosensitive seizures. They are in fact very nice to look at, plus it makes the game easier to run, which is especially useful on computers not designed for playing heavy games, and easy access multiplayer battles. A neat little feature the game is that when one game is finished, and you decide to play another, the time of day changes. So from a nice autumn day, to a dark night, to a nice summer’s day. Timberman also comes packed with dozens of Timberman characters too. Some of these are beneficial to unlocking others, which is very useful if you are not the most hardcore of lumberjacks. These can range from simple characters like the basic Timberman with a different coloured shirt, to ridiculous characters like Father Christmas, a Bear, a Snowman, Jason Voorhees and Barack Obama.

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At best; single player mode is just a way to hone your tree cutting skills and unlock new characters. It’s Multiplayer mode where this game really comes out to shine. Now if you’re anything like me and play mostly on your laptop, it can be hard to play multiplayer games especially those of big graphically powered games. The number of times I have decided to play Left 4 Dead on Multiplayer, and found my computer and connection so slow that I have had to reposition myself in the hope of getting a stronger signal. Due to Timberman’s increased accessibility though it is so easy to connect and play without any interruptions. Multiplayer takes the form of a battle/race to chop down as much tree as possible without dying. It follows the same gameplay methods as single player, but this time you find yourself lined up with up to 3 other lumberjacks. These battles play over several rounds with scores being taken from each round. Whoever has the highest score after 5 rounds, wins. With winning such battles comes the opportunity to have your skill level and rank increased, so you can show off to the entire world (or at least those who play this game) how good you are at chopping down trees.

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Despite some of its good points however, the game does have a few shortcomings. Single player does not have much longevity to it other than to unlock new skins. This though is relatively minor to a bigger gripe I have. Timberman does not have a Tutorial mode; neither shows any information on how you play it. The first time you play you are at a complete loss to understand how on earth you are supposed to play it. It sort of expects you to know, thinking that the relative simple understanding will be enough. It reminds me of the seaside side-show game Whack-a-Mole. All you get is a mallet and have to hit moles with it. Timberman as a concept runs along similar lines to this, however as you are not actually holding the axe in your real hands, there is no way of knowing how you actually swing it. Then the issue of dying from branches comes up where you learn that the hard way after several games of not looking, thinking you just keep on clicking. The Red bar above your head is self-explanatory, but in your first game you could very easily die without knowing how you do anything. The Soundtrack is pretty cool. It has an early arcade game sound to it which when mixed with the pixellated graphics is a nice added touch. But it’s just endless and can get pretty boring after a while. It’s just a shame there is not any variety in the music compared to the changing of the time of day.

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Timber man is a rather fun game. It’s a nice cool, fun concept. It is an easy game to play (once you know how), the graphics are rather neat and the inclusion of customizable lumberjacks and the ever-changing day and season calendar is a nice little add-on. While it does include some issues such as the repetitive music, lack of a more diverse single player mode and the irritating non-existence of a tutorial mode; Timberman is worth going through some of these issues just to play in multiplayer clashes.

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GENEPOOL (another thing that is missing is the quaint stroll through the wood like there was in Rashomon).








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