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Ninja Gaiden (NES)

By PCGamer77 on November 22nd, 2019

Centurion: Defender of Rome (DOS)

Centurion: Pretender to the Throne?

The Good
Centurion: Defender of Rome has a prestigious pedigree, being a close spiritual descendant of the classic Cinemaware titles of the late 1980s. In particular, it tries very hard to be a Roman Defender of the Crown. In some ways, it actually succeeds.

The game concept itself is awesome, as there is a wealth of both real and fictional (AKA “Hollywood”) Roman history for the designers to draw upon. Even if you don’t think you know anything about the Roman Empire, you probably do – even if it is just the vague references and images you inevitably pick up on from reading books and watching movies and television. As you would expect from a Cinemaware-style game, the graphics are splendid, particularly in the “splash” screens that set the scene for the game’s big events.

Diplomatic encounters inject quite a bit of personality into Centurion, in addition to providing a non-military path to victory over your enemies. Sometimes this “personality” is quite literal; your pulse can’t help but quicken a bit when you first encounter the legendary Cleopatra herself!

The tactical battles are amusing and manageable at the lower difficulty levels. As for the bigger picture, the grand strategy involved can be rather interesting and challenging. Care to play Roman Risk, anyone? I also enjoyed the gladiator combat once I got the hang of it and figured out its function in the game (which makes sense but isn’t all that obvious if you just play the game without studying the instructions first).



The Bad
I had some fun playing Centurion, but I have to admit to being disappointed with it in the final analysis. The good intentions are there, but the designers just didn’t come through with the level of quality I expected.

The PC-speaker sounds/music are not just bad, they are downright intolerable. The legion listings have no information on commanding generals, even though managing your generals is (or should be) a key to your success. Land battles are highly unrealistic; there is no variation of terrain, no missile warfare, etc. It is very tedious and awkward to direct individual units in battle, which would not be a problem except for the fact that you absolutely MUST micromanage your troops at higher difficulty levels to have even a prayer of winning.

The naval element is not properly balanced, as sea battles are generally unnecessary, and not an efficient path to conquest anyway. Navies are way more expensive than armies, and not as much fun, so you’ll probably end up conquering the Mediterranean by traveling exclusively overland. Not exactly true to Roman history, is it?

As for the chariot racing, it simply isn’t fun. Races are long, dull, and difficult; the control scheme frankly feels broken. Good thing chariot races aren't required to finish the game! Also, even though I enjoyed the gladiator matches, they don't seem to be necessary for finishing the game, as the masses can be appeased in other ways. Dueling in the arena can be a welcome respite from the rest of Centurion, but that’s about all its good for.

The Bottom Line
Some aspects of Centurion are entertaining, but the game as a whole is ultimately more "bread and circuses" than substance. It's ok, but it's no Defender of the Crown.

By PCGamer77 on June 13th, 2019

Civilization: Call to Power (Windows)

By PCGamer77 on April 5th, 2016

1942 (NES)

Who knew WWII in the Pacific was so much like Xevious?

The Good
Lots and lots of action, albeit mostly of the mindless, frantic, button-mashing sort that we've all come to expect from the shoot’em-up genre. The NES port runs pretty smoothly, without much in the way of flicker or slowdown. The color palette is limited, but you will fly over some nice green island landscapes (was 1940s Midway known for its championship golf courses?) in addition to long stretches of the deep blue Pacific Ocean.

The WWII-historical theme is a nice deviation from the bazillion other shoot’em-ups set in outer space and/or a sci-fi universe (Galaga, Xevious, etc.).



The Bad
For starters, the soundtrack for this game is an absolute abomination. Sound effects are practically nonexistent, even though a historical, war-themed game like 1942 cries out for a barrage of big, juicy explosion noises. As for the incessant beeps that seem to substitute for a musical theme, well…consider them a slap in the face. Imagine a symphony orchestra of telegraphs, playing musical compositions consisting entirely of morse code. Silence would have been preferable to this.

As for the actual gameplay, it is somewhat enjoyable—but only in short spurts, and as long as you don't really think about it too much. The WWII-fighter theme is a double-edged sword; it's inherently appealing and sets 1942 apart from the rest of the shooter crowd, but it also forces the designers to make a jarringly unrealistic game. There are just too many enemy planes thrown at you here—and they are dumber than rocks, to boot! It can also be very difficult to see the little green planes, since they have a way of blending into those grassy land backgrounds. Yet another example of poor design masquerading as “challenge.”

Eventually you’ll die because you can’t sustain interest in what’s happening onscreen. There is no variety in the missions you're conducting here. It's pretty much always a matter of taking off from your aircraft carrier (on autopilot, controlled by the CPU, of course) and then shooting down as many dumb enemies as possible.

Powerups are underwhelming, and your “special ability” to do a backwards roll is worse than worthless, since you invariably end up in just as bad a position as where you started. There are only a handful of different enemy types, and they repeat the same flight patterns over and over and over. Oh, and Capcom even included that arcade staple, the "boss" enemy. Never mind that it’s wildly inappropriate in this context. The huge end-of-level bomber that shoots clusters of bombs at you—from its rear!—is more hilarious than intimidating.

I’ll give Capcom this much credit: at least the sequel, 1943, was much better. Curious retrogamers should also check out Broderbund’s old PC classic, Wings of Fury, to see this concept done right.

The Bottom Line
Sometimes mislabeled as a “classic,” 1942 is mildly entertaining for brief periods of time, but nothing more. If you're completely sold on shoot’em-ups, you might like 1942. If the genre hasn't appealed to you yet, 1942 is not the game that will change your mind.

By PCGamer77 on April 3rd, 2016

Golden Axe (Genesis)

By PCGamer77 on June 7th, 2015

Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold (DOS)

James Bond meets Flash Gordon in a bargain bin near you.

The Good
Generally good use of the Wolfenstein 3D engine, with a few minor enhancements. The manual is full of lovingly-drawn comic book art and backstory, suggesting that the producers of this game truly appreciate the old-fashioned action hero genre.

The Bad
The plot/setting is kind of silly, yet not at all humorous--so don't expect an Austin Powers-style romp. There really isn't much here that wasn't done in Wolfenstein 3D, so this game lacks the impact of that classic.



The Bottom Line
Although not terrible, this game is really only worth buying if you need to play every FPS out there.

By PCGamer77 on June 5th, 2015

Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs (Genesis)

By PCGamer77 on June 29th, 2014

God of War (PlayStation 2)

By PCGamer77 on June 6th, 2014

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES)

By PCGamer77 on February 16th, 2014

SimCity Classic (Windows)

By PCGamer77 on February 9th, 2014

Ys: The Vanished Omens (DOS)

There just isn't any good reason to play this game.

The Good
Charming in that Japanese anime sort of way.

The Bad
Ys has all of the bad things about Japanese console RPGs, with almost none of the good. Graphics are weak even by the PC standards of the day. Combat is excessively simple (bump into your opponent!) and extremely monotonous. The plot is ok, but nothing that special. There really isn't anything in Ys that isn't done much better by countless other Japanese-style RPGs.

The Bottom Line
I would only recommend this game to very small children or other people who enjoy lots of repetition.

By PCGamer77 on February 25th, 2013

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Nintendo 64)

The Force is strong with this one…for the first level.

The Good
The best thing about Shadows of the Empire (SOTE) is that it is set in the “Star Wars” universe. Familiar characters and locations, like Han Solo and the ice planet of Hoth, help tie the new Shadows storyline in with the original trilogy. And, of course, SOTE would not be a real Star Wars game if it did not include the famous Star Wars sound effects and musical themes. Both are here, and they are delightful as always.

SOTE reels you in immediately by throwing you right into the midst of the spectacular Hoth battle scene we saw near the beginning of “The Empire Strikes Back.” As if it weren’t cool enough that you get to blast AT-STs and AT-ATs with your snowspeeder’s guns, you also get the chance to launch your tow cable and trip up those big bad Imperial Walkers, just like they did in the movie! It’s one of those things you have to see and do before you can understand how thrilling it really is – for Star Wars fans, anyway.

The Bad
The main problem with SOTE is that the game peaks with the very first level. Once you get past the Hoth battle, the action consists of nothing but average first/third person shooter stuff, with some arcade-like space battle sequences thrown in for good measure. It’s a classic bait-and-switch, and big disappointment.

While the Nintendo 64 has plenty of good FPS titles, SOTE is sadly not one of them. Our hero, Dash Rendar, plods along slowly and clumsily when you move the analog stick. The stick is a pain to use, too. It’s too bad they didn’t implement the control scheme from Turok, which feels much smoother and more intuitive. Dash doesn’t get many different kinds of weapons to play with, either. I love the old Star Wars laser blasters as much as anybody, but surely we deserve something more for our money here.

It’s bad enough that the post-Hoth sequences aren’t that much fun, but I’ll just add that they don’t seem all that important, either. Once you’ve stopped recreating that big scene from “Empire,” there just isn’t enough to motivate the player to push through it. If you are really interested in the Shadows story, then I recommend you read the book. As for the music, well, you could always buy the soundtrack…

The Bottom Line
Really fun for the first level, and then mediocre the rest of the way, SOTE was more about clever marketing than brilliant game design. Still, it’s probably worth playing once just for the Hoth battle.

By PCGamer77 on February 25th, 2013

Command & Conquer: Red Alert (Windows)

Fool me once, shame on you…

The Good
Red Alert (RA) is an undeniably stylish game, just like its predecessor. I kinda like the alternate history approach the designers took in crafting the storyline. It’s still a little too B-movie sci-fi for my taste, but a step in the right direction, nonetheless. After all, you do get to kill Commies. “Better dead than Red!”

The graphics are significantly improved from C&C, at least in the Windows 95 version of RA. The units are still pretty small, and the overall look of the game isn’t as impressive as that of Warcraft 1 & 2, but it was an improvement. The enemy AI is not brilliant by any means, but it’s persistent, and it can throw you for a loop once in a while. Frankly, I’ve seen much worse. Westwood also included a solo skirmish mode this time around, which definitely adds to RA’s replay value. Why didn’t they think of that before?

I liked the slick packaging and the shiny, thorough instruction manual. They both fooled me into thinking RA was going to be a fun game to play.


The Bad
Let’s face it: Red Alert is still a C&C game, which means it’s a big, cheesy, buggy mess. Surely all of the critics who said RA was even better than Warcraft II were joking.

RA is at least as unbalanced as the original C&C, perhaps even more so. While I appreciate the thought behind making the two sides distinct, the game is spoiled by the fact that the Soviets clearly have the better units. The Allies are inferior in ground and air forces, and while they have the superior naval forces, that won’t do you much good unless you are playing on a water-based map. Whichever side you choose, the unit variety is strictly for appearance’s sake. For example, I can’t see why a Soviet player would produce anything but the heaviest tanks. And thus the infamous RTS “tank rush” phenomenon was born, I suppose.

Units continue to be woefully unresponsive to orders. Or else they just respond so stupidly as to be beyond belief. If there is an unnecessarily long and circuitous route for your units to take to get from Point A to Point B, you can rest assured that they will find it! It’s also still a challenge just to select your units and get the selection to stick for very long. Maps and missions continue to be too puzzle-like for an alleged “strategy” game. It’s the same hair-pullingly maddening design as before, just slightly upgraded, tweaked and repackaged as a brand new game. Why didn’t the professional reviewers mention any of this stuff when RA came out?

The Bottom Line
If you liked C&C, you’ll probably like Red Alert even more. If you’re like me, though, you won’t care for either one.

By PCGamer77 on February 25th, 2013

Full Count Baseball (PC Booter)

By PCGamer77 on May 6th, 2012

Stonekeep (DOS)

Released over 10 years past its time.

The Good
I could say "nothing," but I am a generous soul, so I will find some nice things to say. The stereo sound is quite good, almost immersive at times. I didn't really experience any technical problems or bugs. I actually got a laugh out of the introductory video sequence. Finally, Stonekeep does make you appreciate just about every other RPG by comparison.

The Bad
Everything else. This game was in development for 5 years, and it shows. The graphics are cheesy and dated. Your character stutters around in increments rather than smoothly, so you don't get the feeling of really being there like you might in a game like Daggerfall. The main problem isn't programming or design, though, but the game's very concept. A novel was included with the original game, which sounds like a nice bonus until you realize that it isn't a bonus. That's because there isn't any story to speak of in the game itself; you're in the keep, you hack up enemies, the end. There is not only no story, but also no real role-playing, no adventure, and not very much action. So what do you have? A terribly disappointing dungeon hack.

The Bottom Line
It's hard to believe this game was developed by the people who gave us classics like The Bard's Tale and Wasteland. Stonekeep pales even in comparison to those games that came a full decade earlier.

By PCGamer77 on April 12th, 2012

Return of the Phantom (DOS)

An enjoyable if unspectacular adventure game.

The Good
Good sound/music/voice acting. The graphics are well done; the significant amount of walking you have to do (and watch onscreen) is actually a pleasure, since the movement animation is so smooth and realistic. The plot is not outstanding, but it does have an interesting - and quite modern - twist to it courtesy of author Raymond Benson. Good use of humor to lighten things up now and then. Fans of traditional adventures by Sierra and LucasArts will find this game pleasantly familiar in look and feel.

The Bad
Not really all that challenging or mysterious, and there is a positively god-awful maze puzzle you must complete near the game's end in order to win.

The Bottom Line
Those who want a short adventure that draws on classic mystery fiction in general or Phantom lore in particular need look no further than this game.

By PCGamer77 on November 23rd, 2011

Sid Meier's Civilization IV (Windows)

They broke Civilization!

The Good
There is a nice introductory cinematic, although that’s probably not why you bought this game.

More importantly, there is a thick spiral-bound paper manual that should come standard with every PC game of this type. There is also a solid tutorial, narrated by Sid Meier himself, to help you get started.

Personally, I had no performance issues in running the game. I also have a newer computer, so that really just means the game is running as it should be. Multiplayer is included from the start this time, which is nice I guess, although I don’t really think multiplayer is what turn-based strategy gamers are most concerned with anyway.

Finally, I appreciate the inclusion of built-in updater. If we are going to be forced to download numerous patches to make our PC games playable, the least these companies can do is make it easier for us!



The Bad
I find it hard to express in mere words how much I feel let down by Civ 4, but I will try anyway.

In his design notes to Civ 2, Brian Reynolds talked about the trepidation he felt in tackling the sequel to the best game ever. He knew that it was already a fantastic game, and that it mainly needed tweaking at the margins. You know: more stuff, more user configurability, and so forth—but for godsakes, no major changes should be made that would break the game. Soren Johnson and the other Firaxians who worked on Civ 4 must not have read Brian’s notes, because they obviously shared none of that reverence for the classic Civ. Not a single opportunity to make changes to the design, big or small, has been missed. You’d hope that they would have at least made sure that most changes were for the better, but alas, that isn’t the case.

Previous Civ installments have had nice musical soundtracks. This game repeats a lot of the old ones, although it adds an incredibly annoying “world music” theme to the title screen. The first of many changes that is not an improvement...

The manual seems disorganized, as if the author kept getting ahead of himself and then returning to where he left off. As the game originally shipped, the Civilopedia was poorly laid out (they may have fixed this some in the updates, I’m not really sure). Since the manual and official strategy guide both leave a lot to be desired, the lack of user-friendliness in the Civilopedia was definitely NOT a good thing.

The game interface is frankly a mess. In order to make the graphics stand out, they have reduced the buttons to tiniest icons possible. The result is that they are all both hard to see and click on. You can mouse over them to get a description in words, but more text would have been helpful.

Graphically, I find the game to be thoroughly unappealing. The charming 2D graphics of past installments have been replaced by some very ugly, blocky 3D character models. Units are now represented as groups rather than single individuals, which adds absolutely nothing to gameplay—except maybe for some confusion as to how many units you’ve really got. Seeing stuff is generally hard in this game. You need to zoom in on units and cities to make your moves, but you also need to zoom out to get the bigger picture of your empire. I’ve spent a lot of my time with Civ 4 zooming in and out instead of actually playing. Yuck.

As for the substance, all of the elegance and simplicity of the original design has been jettisoned in favor of new stuff that may or may not add anything to the game. We used to have Improvements and Wonders; now we have Great Wonders, Small Wonders, Projects, Buildings, and Tile Improvements (phew!). Now this is a lot to absorb and keep track of, but it could still be worth it is the stuff was really compelling or added a lot to the old gameplay. In my humble opinion, nothing that’s new here adds to the depth of the game enough to justify its inclusion.

This thought keeps popping up in my head regardless of the game element. Civics? Yes, it sounds cool to be able to build your own government types, and it’s actually one of the better changes they made to the game. Still, I don’t think it really adds much. The same goes for religion. It’s a neat idea on paper, but it seems mainly to add “stuff” to the game without changing the underlying dynamic much at all. It’s really not too different from Culture. At least they didn’t break the game with these changes.

The military dimension, on the other hand, has been reduced to total crap. The old system of offensive and defensive unit values worked fine, but they scrapped it in favor of what appears to be a simpler system of just one unit value. However, you discover that there is not just one unit value, but a unit value modified by a plethora of other values! I’ve spent a long time studying the new system, and I honestly still don’t get it. It’s a complicated mess of counters, rule exceptions, and special abilities. A simple rock-paper-scissors dynamic (a la the archers-knights-barbarians of Ancient Art of War) might have been ok, but this system is just over the top.

And don’t get me started on the unit promotions system that adds even more confusion to the mix. Units that earn experience are now eligible for promotions, which work sort of like another tech tree, except that it only applies to individual units. (Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to collect military experience and distribute upgrades on a global basis?). So now you have to micromanage the development of your individual units in addition to your cities. Deeper? Maybe. Realistic? Hell no. Fun? I think not! It also stinks that they removed some of the better civ-specific units like the Man-O-War and F-15 Strike Eagle and replaced them with less interesting units.

At bottom, the whole game lacks a sense of artistic quality or historical seriousness. Everything has been made “cooler” at the expense of smarts, beauty, and authenticity. The wretched influence of real-time strategy gaming is very apparent here. It’s in 3D, you zoom the camera, the little men run around and do things, ahistorical units are included simply because they are supposedly fun to play around with (axemen, macemen, grenadiers, etc.). The content value is also significantly lower here than in Civ 2 and Civ 3. A lot of the legitimately good stuff from those games is simply missing here. I’m assuming this is so they can dribble out two or three commercial expansions over the next few years filled with content that could easily have been included in the original game. As it stands, I don’t see why you’d want to buy or play an incomplete Civ 4 when Civ’s 1-3 are finished products that are already widely available—at a much lower price.

The Bottom Line
I bought Civ 2 and Civ 3 on pure faith in Sid Meier, and I was not disappointed. Civ 4, however, is the biggest letdown I’ve ever had as a gamer. It seems to be unbalanced, underdeveloped, and just plain uninspired. Clearly the franchise needs to be given a rest. I doubt that even the inevitable two or three expansion packs can save it.

By PCGamer77 on November 23rd, 2011

Shadowgate (NES)

Kill me once, then kill me twice, then kill me once again.

The Good
The graphics and music/sound in Shadowgate are of very high quality, given the limitations of the NES. Unlike Microsoft Windows Help, the built-in hint system here is actually helpful (but only sometimes).

As for the substance of the game, I have to admit that some of the writing is pretty clever, and even funny at times. This is a non-action, slow-paced game, which is quite unusual for an old console title. My guess is that mostly oldschool PC gamers will like Shadowgate, but oldschool console gamers looking for something different than the typical arcade fare may also enjoy it.

The Bad
Shadowgate is remarkable for its sheer existentialism. Traditional adventure games either try to amuse the player, or frighten him with death; Shadowgate actually tries to amuse the player with death! If your sense of humor tends strongly to the dark and ironic side, then some of the text in this game will probably strike you as downright hilarious.

This is one of the strengths of the game, but it’s also a weakness. You have to die CONSTANTLY, even if you are playing pretty smart, which can be extremely frustrating. If those witty little post-mortem messages don’t do it for you, then you are going to get tired of this game really fast.

In fact, “frustration” would be this game’s middle name, if it only had one. Some of the clues given by the game are rather unhelpful, and occasionally they can even be downright misleading. Puzzle solutions are generally only logical when viewed after-the-fact. You see, there is one and only one solution to every problem, so it’s all about getting into the heads of the designers, and not about logical thinking. I mainly got through Shadowgate through sheer trial-and-error, which has a way of sucking all the fun out of a game.

If there was more substance to this game, then the “puzzle” aspect wouldn’t be that big of a problem. But there is practically no story here whatsoever! It’s really just a bunch of puzzles loosely tied together in a sequence. To top things off, the game isn’t even user-friendly. Torch management is a royal pain, especially since you have no idea how many there are in total in the castle. The menu system feels very clunky, too. It’s enough to make you welcome death with a smile. I guess that’s appropriate, since that seems to be the underlying message of the game, anyway…

The Bottom Line
If you want a challenging puzzle-adventure for your NES, this is a good place to start. Watch what you wish for, though. Shadowgate may give you more old-fashioned, point-and-click frustration than you bargained for.

=======
STINGER
=======
“As you go down the trap door, you realize you took a big step. The fall is quite fatal."

By PCGamer77 on November 23rd, 2011

Ikari Warriors (NES)

The revolution will occur in slow motion!

The Good
Some of the more frequent criticisms of Ikari Warriors strike me as too harsh. The graphics are often knocked for being blocky and a little garish (blues, greens, and even gasp pinks, all thrown together in a rather tacky mess). True enough, but this is a first-generation NES title after all. Besides, a little unrealistic color variation makes the levels seem less monotonous as you plow through them.

The music and sounds are a little weak, but not bad. Sure, it’ll make you want to hit the mute button and listen to your stereo, but the same thing could be said about 90% of the other 8-bit games out there.

Conceptually, this game really ought to work. It’s just enough of an evolution of the Commando template to stand on its own. It adds 360-degree movement and firing (including grenades) capability, limited ammunition, playable vehicles (tanks, choppers), and—perhaps most importantly—a two-player cooperative mode. These additions combine to create a rather different experience from Commando. It suggests a slower, more thoughtful breed of shooter that rewards patience and conservatism over adrenaline and quick reflexes.



The Bad
The cold, hard truth, though, is that Ikari Warriors is still a bad game. Why? Because it is simply far, FAR too difficult. And I don’t mean “difficult” in the way all 1980s arcade games were difficult. I mean pull-your-hair-out, stomp-your-feet, maddeningly difficult. This is one of the hardest games I’ve ever encountered, period.

You only start out with two lives, and one hit kills (even counting friendly fire!). This wouldn’t be so bad if you had the usual advantages that shooters give the human player: faster speed, greater firing range, unlimited ammo, etc. Alas, in Ikari Warriors, the swarms upon swarms of CPU enemies are given all of these advantages instead.

Yes, you can hop into tanks and helicopters to help even the odds, but that just gets at the problem here—it merely keeps you in the game. Usually an arcade game will give you a superweapon so you’ll have a few brief moments of unbridled power over your enemies, allowing you to rip everything onscreen to shreds until you return to normal status. Not so in Ikari Warriors. Tanks simply allow the player to compete on an even footing with the computer. Which means that losing your tank almost guarantees your game is over, so you might as well go ahead and hit the reset button.

It’s a crying shame that Ikari Warriors is so woefully unbalanced. If this were a movie, you'd want Arnold Schwarzeneggar to be your warrior hero. Instead, you're stuck with his dumpy little "twin," Danny Devito. The movement of your soldier is so slow and cumbersome, it destroys whatever considerable appeal this game might have had to shooter fans.



The Bottom Line
Ikari Warriors might be the most unnecessarily bad game I have ever played. It is unquestionably influential, but that doesn’t make it worth playing.

By PCGamer77 on November 23rd, 2011

Ascendancy (DOS)

Fun at first, but ultimately unsatisfying.

The Good
Graphically beautiful, with a nice tech tree and plenty of interesting structures to build on and around your planets. The galaxy is modeled in three dimensions, which (as far as this reviewer knows) was a first in this genre. There are a lot of races to choose from, and the game itself can be customized extensively, so in theory you could play it forever.

The Bad
Politics and diplomacy are minimal, and ship design and combat are extremely lacking -- basically, the bigger the ship the better, so there aren't really any interesting tradeoffs to make. The three dimensional galaxy helps cover up the weak AI opponent, since the jumpgate system forces you to move through bottlenecks and generally limits you to frontal assaults. The races are many, but they just don't have a whole lot of personality when compared to those in Master of Orion.

The Bottom Line
There are good things about Ascendancy, but too many bad things along with them. I recommend that you resist the temptation to pick up this game, and stick to MOO and MOO2 instead.

By PCGamer77 on November 23rd, 2011

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty (DOS)

Perhaps the single most overrated strategy game EVER.

The Good
Dune II gets more undeserved praise than any other game ever released. This naturally leads us to ask: Why is it so overrated? The answer is complicated, but I think we can figure it out.

The Bad
GRAPHICS/SOUND -- Allegedly this game was groundbreaking in the visual department at the time, but I do not see it personally. I admit that I did not first play Dune II until many years after its release, but I have played many strategy games of roughly the same time period and see nothing special about Dune II. I must conclude that anyone praising the blocky little graphics of this game bases their evaluation on tech specs rather than actual artistic merit.

As for sound, it was so moving and impressive that I have absolutely no memory of it whatsoever.

GAMEPLAY -- But hey, visuals aren't what really matter, so long as the thing PLAYS great. Well guess what? Dune II doesn't. It's a simple action game with minor strategy elements thrown in, period. Seriously, if this is considered to be a strategy title, then Galaga and Defender must have been groundbreaking RTS games as well. I won't even comment on the laughable AI.

Dune II would have been a forgivable offense had its underlying concept not caught on like bubonic plague in the 90s. Alas, we got a massive flood of similar games that exchange depth and real strategic/tactical thinking for fast-paced action and brain dead mouse-clicking. A few of these titles (Warcraft II, Age of Empires) were good, but these were exceptions and not the rule.

I must conclude that those who praise the gameplay are low in skill and/or self-esteem when it comes to strategy gaming. Why else would you indulge in this simplistic arcade action and then call yourself a strategist?

The Bottom Line
Dune II has all the strategic depth and graphic splendor of an Atari 2600 game, with none of the fun.

By PCGamer77 on November 21st, 2011

Betrayal at Krondor (DOS)

A Feist-ian bargain.

The Good
Set in fantasy novelist Raymond Feist’s world of Midkemia, Betrayal at Krondor (BaK) received great acclaim from the press. The game attempts to blend together storytelling, puzzles, and roleplaying into a cohesive whole.

Sales of the game were slow upon its initial release, but then picked up when the game was released on the then-new CDROM format. The game’s use of digitized photos of “actors” for the characters’ faces was innovative (if a bit cheesy) and even influential, given that Might and Magic VI would use the same technique a few years later. The musical score is appropriately sweeping and adds to the whole RPG-meets-Renaissance Fair atmosphere.



The Bad
Unfortunately, the graphic novel aspect of the game conflicts with the role-playing element, and thus the whole thing never quite comes together in a satisfying way. You get to control characters in combat and equip them as you go along, but this has a considerable downside: there is no such thing as starting out with a character of your own creation, nor do you have any idea which characters you will be using in future chapters. You may work extremely hard to bulk up Gorath, only to find out that he isn’t going to be a part of the story for a while, so you should have been working on boosting Owyn’s stats and inventory instead.

This game takes a long time to complete (easily over 50 hours, perhaps 100 or more if you explore everywhere and complete all of the quests), but very little of the time spent seems to be taken up by actual gameplay. Traveling outdoors is very tedious, and only by shelling out a pretty sizable chunk of your hard-earned cash can you use the jumpgates (found in temples) to move around the game world more quickly. Supposedly you can move around to the various areas in any order you want, but in reality the designers have made sure that you cannot do so. This would let the individual get too far off course from the storyline, so you are either blocked off by contrived plot devices (“Milord, this road is not passable until the snows have melted!”) or killed immediately by overwhelmingly powerful foes.

Losing even one member of your party in combat invariably means death to all, since you will almost certainly need to escape, but escape is only allowed when all members of your party are conscious (the need to keep characters in the story means no one is expendable) AND the way is not “blocked” by opponents. I say “blocked” in quotes, since I have not noticed the enemy ever doing anything in particular to achieve this tactic. Perhaps it is calculated by the CPU but not represented onscreen.

It is to Feist’s credit that Midkemia is interesting enough that some will want to plow through BaK to the end. It’s really just a blend of Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons, and a bunch of other fantasy and science fiction conventions, although I suppose it’s fairly cohesive and believable as these things go.

The Bottom Line
Betrayal at Krondor is a failure as a coherent game, since its adventure/story portions ruin the fun of the role-playing/combat portions, and vice versa. I can only attribute this game’s sales success to its clever use of the CDROM format, the dearth of other CRPG’s on the market at the time, and to the prestige of its nominal author Raymond Feist. Feist has wisely turned the core of the Krondor story into an old-fashioned paperback novel, Krondor: The Betrayal. Gamers and Feist fans alike are advised to pass the CDROM up and give the book a go instead.

By PCGamer77 on November 21st, 2011

Command & Conquer (DOS)

I HATE this game!

The Good
The videos were pretty well done, I guess, even if they were horribly cheesy. Also, the plot actually seems a lot better now than it did in 1995. Replace the fictional terrorist Kane with the all-too-real Osama bin Laden, and the whole thing starts sounding chillingly familiar.

The game doesn't format your hard drive when you install it, although it does take up valuable disk space that would be much better spent on just about anything else. C&C also makes most other games (even of the astoundingly overrated RTS genre) look good.

Finally, I suspect this game satisfies some primal urge, deep within the darkest part of our souls, to buy crap games and then lie to other people about how cool they are.



The Bad
Let me count the ways! Is there any way this game could have sold as many units as it did had it not been for the technological explosion of the mid-1990s? NO! Too many people obviously bought this as their very first computer game. Otherwise, it would not have been hailed as brilliant, nor would it have passed muster as a strategy title. This game was simply another Myst, only it somehow managed to get respect from magazine reviewers and hard-core gamers. Before you flame me, allow me to try to explain where I'm coming from here…

Sid Meier's Civilization is an example of a great strategy game. I'm not just referring to the fact that it's incredibly deep, a work of art; I'm referring to the fact that you need to put some thought into it, even at the lower difficulty levels, if you want to be a successful Civ player. Now, my very first exposure to C&C revealed why it could never, ever be in the same class as Civ. A computerless guy in my college dorm asked if he could install C&C on my new PC and play it; naturally, I said "sure," wanting to be nice to the fellow but also harboring an ulterior motive: I wanted a sneak peek at this game that had such a buzz around it. Well, he installed it, and what ensued was positively horrifying. Yes, it was cheesy, with the videos and all, but at least it was kind of slick. (I suppose it's like the difference between low-budget and high-budget porno flicks -- although I certainly haven't watched enough porn to say for sure.) But then the game started. My friend proceeded to use the mouse, clicking on things on the screen more or less at random. "I dunno what I'm doin' here," he said, and he was obviously telling the truth. And bizarrely, unforgettable, maddeningly…he was doing REALLY WELL! Yes, that's right, no thought, no previous gaming experience, nothing required but a Pentium with a CDROM drive, and you too can be a master strategist!

I picked up C&C when it hit bargain bins a couple years later in the hope that I was mistaken in my hunch that it was a bad game. I played it and disliked it. A few years later, I got it back out and reinstalled it, thinking that my greater maturity, and the perspective of the post-StarCraft and Age of Empires II-era, would enable me to see what seemingly everyone else saw in this game. Nope. I'm pretty sure that if I reinstalled it and played it today, it would still suck.

It was a big mistake for us to label C&C a "real-time strategy" (RTS) game in the first place. First, it doesn’t really seem to be in real time, but accelerated time. In some ways, C&C's roots are in the video arcades. That opening beach-landing sequence wants to be reminiscent of D-Day, but it really reminds me instead of 8-bit era action games like Commando and Guerrilla War. The difference being that I loved those two games, because they didn't pretend to be anything but shoot'em-ups. Not so with C&C. Second, this game doesn't involve strategy in the traditional PC wargame sense; if anything, it's more of a puzzle game (an incredibly annoying one, at that). It's much more like Lemmings (minus the charm) than Civilization, so "strategy" was just the wrong word to use. In fact, C&C was the perfect game for the 1990s—the decade of declining standards. Strategy was still for wargamers and chess players in the 1980s. Thanks to C&C, even a drug-dealing juvenile delinquent who made straight D's since junior high could consider himself a master of strategic thinking.

And don’t get me started on how buggy and broken the game feels. You’ll grow old waiting for your units to actually start responding to your orders. Sorry if I seem bitter. Did I mention that I really hate this game?

Just for the record, I don't hate all RTS games. Warcraft and Warcraft II are undeniably charming and addictive, if not particularly substantive. I could make other exceptions. C&C just stands out as a tremendously disappointing game that influenced way too many of the shoddy titles that followed it.



The Bottom Line
An arcade-puzzle game that came along at just the right time, unfortunately. Future historians will no doubt look back on C&C and ask of our gaming generation: "What were they thinking?"

By PCGamer77 on November 21st, 2011

Beneath a Steel Sky (DOS)

By PCGamer77 on October 26th, 2011

Vandal Hearts (PlayStation)

By PCGamer77 on March 27th, 2011

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