Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Star Quest 2: United Galaxies Preview

Towards the end of 1995, a small start-up video game developer named Virtual Adventures produced the space combat title Star Quest I in the 27th century. The game was self-published, entirely developed off the own backs of the team and sold directly too. The title garnered them quite a level of fame with hardcore PC gamers and led to the company signing a one-game publishing deal with Infogrames. Despite releasing another game named Stellar Mercenaries in 1997, Star Quest 2 was the game that Virtual Adventures really wanted to make.

So in 1998, production began on the sequel - which had ambitious plans to expand the game from a simple 3D space shooter, into a complex real-time strategy and space combat hybrid. They even had a full demo produced and running by 1999, but a lack of funding and no publishing deal unfortunately meant that the game had to be put into an indefinite hold - and sadly Virtual Adventures moved away from directly developing games and into the consultancy arena.

But as well all now know, the PC gaming environment has changed dramatically, and with crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter, small developers and individuals can now showcase their ideas and products directly to the fans that would be buying their games. This has led to Virtual Adventures finally being able to revive their hybrid game idea and Star Quest 2 has once again had new life breathed into it.

The main selling point of the title is that not only will it be a fully-realised real-time strategy game, where warring alien races from across the galaxy compete to conquer worlds, but also a direct combat game. Players will be able to build their armies and manage resources, directing battles from above as a Commander, but then also jump into the shoes of a ground troop or space pilot and get down and dirty in the action of a dogfight.

Part of the story behind the title is that the warring factions have tried to develop new ways of fighting, and new technology, in order to gain an edge over their enemies. This has led the most advanced races to eschew normal manned space ships and turrets, and to have entire armies of robotic drones and computer-controlled ships, all directed by one Commander in the Mothership. This has meant that as much as the actual battles themselves being important, the capturing of resources and manufacturing of technology has become just as important. Those who control the production and supply of war crafts, control the war.

So the foundations for a strong army in Star Quest 2 are built upon resource management and planning. This if, of course, very much in the mould of many popular real-time strategy titles. In Command & Conquer, for example, armies always relied on the successful harvesting of Tiberium, and here is no different. But what is different is how to fight when the player actually decides to go into war - which is very much their own path to choose, with the choice left to the player of what Solar Systems to explore and what strategy to employ to conquer each of them.

When you enter the battlefield as it were, you begin with an overview of the conflict, and take on the role of a Fleet Commander. Here you can mobilise units and give out orders - strategising and maneuvering your troops. This is very much as you would expect from an RTS. The game gets really different however when you realise that after sending out troops, you can then warp directly into the cockpit of one of the many warships at your disposal (ranging from four up to twenty-five, depending on the mission), or into a gunner who is trying to shoot down enemy ships from his gun emplacement.

You can actually get down onto the battlefield yourself and influence the direction of the battle, rather than simply sending out your troops and waiting to see how well they fare. This is an added dimension to the RTS formula, and lets gamers have a lot more input and say into how a battle will play out. No longer will you have to curse poor AI for not flying your ships well enough, as you can fly them yourself. And if you think your gunner isn't accurate enough, you can become him and show everyone how it should be done.

The game isn't only battles either. There are a variety of ground-based missions to take on, such as scavenging for resources and even racing against enemies and friends, to see who has the fastest fleet. Add to that the fact that there will be online multiplayer modes - which are very much focused on co-operative play, where one user could be a commander and others be ground troops - and there is a lot that will excite fans of the genre in Star Quest 2.

The game may not boast the stunning visuals of a Starcraft title, or the big-name actors that have peppered recent Command & Conquer games, but Star Quest 2 is looking to produce a new breed of real-time strategy game, where hands-on action is placed at the forefront. Not only that, but player choice is placed on a pedestal and gamers will really be able to carve out their own specific experience, based on their playing style and preferences. It may have taken almost a decade and a half to see the light of day, but Star Quest 2 still has plenty of fresh ideas.

If you wish to support the Star Quest 2 Kickstarter please click hereOn their official Kickstarter appeal page, the developers have posted both a video of the original demo from 1999, and some new and exciting footage from the updated version of the game. These videos can be found below:

New footage:

1999 Demo footage:

Friday, 6 December 2013

Scribblenauts Unlimited Review

When the first Scribblenauts title launched in 2009, it caused a stir in the gaming industry as it was unlike anything else on the market. The premise of the game was simple – the gamer was presented with a series of short levels, each of which are made up of relatively straightforward puzzles. The twist was that in order to solve those puzzles, you couldn’t just use items you found in-game, you had to create them yourself. Armed with your Nintendo DS stylus and a notepad in-game, you could write the name of an object which would then be created for you to use on-screen.
For instance, there might be a cat stuck up a tree – but how do you get it down? You could write the word “ladder”, and a ladder would appear for you to climb and save the cat. Or you might prefer to write “axe”, and cut down the tree. Further still, a jetpack would help you reach the cat even quicker. There were huge possibilities, although the game could only understand fairly simple objects and names. The concept evolved with Super Scribblenauts and a later Remix version, which added many more words to the in-game library, as well as the ability to add tags and adjectives to the words. Now you could use your stylus to create a blue house, or an angry Emu, for example.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Zoo Tycoon Review

It may not be the most glamorous title, but Zoo Tycoon is one of the few platform-exclusive games available on either next-generation console at launch. The game does itself no favours by appearing on the surface to be a strange hybrid between Frontier’s previous Xbox effort, Kinectimals, and another Children’s Kinect title, Kinect Disneyland Adventures. These comparisons certainly won’t endear Zoo Tycoon to many hardcore gamers or long-standing fans of the series, but this isn’t simply a motion-controlled kids game.
The story goes that Frontier were working on a new version of your common or garden Zoo Tycoon several years ago, making use of some ultra-realistic animal models. It was then that Microsoft asked them to put that on hold in order to work on Kinectimals, using their already-built animals and animations for the Kinect game. Years later, Frontier finally had the chance to build the game that they wanted, combining elements of their original vision and the interactivity of Kinectimals.