Steppe to it: Wargame Red Dragon is out

Wrong!

The open steppe. Fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, shrapnel in your hair.

Message begins. Urgent: Wargame: Red Dragon is out on Steam. Price: $39.99. Message ends.

So what are you waiting for? It said urgent! Oh okay, here’s some background. Red Dragon is the latest game in Eugen Systems’ acclaimed Wargame series, which has quickly become the standard bearer for modern RTS combat. The action takes place in a central Asian theater during the latter half of the Cold War. This time Nixon’s going to China with troops at his back.

The whole series is marketed in a really misleading way, i.e. as mindless military porn. The trailers are all over-the-shoulder action shots filled with missiles and explosions, but you won’t play from that perspective unless the mission’s almost done and you’re just mopping up. Most of the time you’ll be an eye in the sky, deploying units, directing their advance and calling in air support as needed. It’s a proper cerebral sim replete with historical detail, but still quite accessible by wargaming standards. (I learned the basics in about an hour.)

It’s also got a strategic campaign layer with a map and provinces, like a modern-day version of Total War. The economic and political aspects are minimal, but your strategic-level plans are still important to what transpires on the battlefield. I suggest a quick scroll through the devblog to see some of the game’s systems.

And now that you’ve read my disclaimer, it’s safe to view the trailer below. My, my, what an engine.

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Out Now: Battle Academy, Eterium, Jane Jensen’s Moebius and more

I'll take "Phil's Google Search history" for $200, Alex.

Anagrams for Operation Overlord include: A Reviled Porno Root; Overrated Oil Porno; Roadie Revolt Porno.

First out the gates tonight is the Steam release of 2010′s Battle Academy, which until now had been available only in its excellent iOS incarnation or through Matrix/Slitherine directly. It’s a turn-based WW2 tactics game that straddles the gap between hardcore and casual. The game’s $20.09 for the next week, and given Slitherine Group’s views on sales I’d say that’s as good a price as you’ll ever see.

Slitherine says a bunch of expansion content is scheduled to hit a week from today: “the Battle Academy Mega Pack, which includes 6 expansions containing over 100 new units, 75 new scenarios and 6 full campaigns.” That’ll bring the Steam version to parity with the one available on the publisher’s store. If you already own the PC/Mac version, you can punch in your serial number for a free Steam key here; and if you own the expansions, you’ll be able to do the same when they hit Steam.

After the jump, a surprising space sim, an unsurprising adventure dud, and many more assorted curios.

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Ex nihilo: Chaos Reborn is funded with little time to spare

The greatest generals prefer the 75-82% chance seen here.

“A general is a man who takes chances. Mostly he takes a fifty-fifty chance; if he happens to win three times in succession he is considered a great general.” –Enrico Fermi

Entropy will just have to wait: as I type these words Julian Gollop’s Chaos Reborn has just crossed the finish line of its $180,000 Kickstarter campaign. It was a pretty close shave with just 34 hours to spare, but I was always confident this one would pull through. I just can’t entertain the notion of a universe so hostile as to deny us a game such as this.

Chaos Reborn is a brisk tactical combat game that focuses on smart positioning, spellcasting and deception. Each spell you cast tips the cosmic scales toward either order or chaos, which can affect how future spells behave. Summon spells always have a chance to fail unless you fake them and summon an illusion. Illusions are just as dangerous as real monsters but are easily dispelled, so the contest comes down to whether your opponent is the sort of wizard who’d bluff–or who’d call you out on a bluff of your own.

If you want to contribute (thereby shifting the universe toward order) you’ve still got one more day to hop aboard. The $20 tier is the sweet spot: that gets you the final game plus access to the alpha and beta versions. For the next 34 hours you can even fire up a multiplayer prototype right in your browser window for a glimpse into the short life of a dueling wizard. The prototype is substantively identical to the version Owen previewed last fall.

So you’ve got a game from one of the most celebrated developers ever, plus my and Owen’s praise, a multiplayer demo, and fresh assurances that it will indeed see the light of day. If you still need convincing, the Chaos Reborn Kickstarter pitch video is below. (Also: call the undertaker over and tell him to adjust the temp on your fridge.)

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With Civilization Beyond Earth, Firaxis must look backward as well as forward

They mostly come at night. Mostly.

Maybe we could build a fire, sing a couple of songs, huh?

Over the weekend Firaxis announced to much acclaim the next entry in the Civilization series. Set not on Earth but on an alien world, it’s much closer in tone to an Alpha Centauri 2 than a Civilization 6. However you cast it, Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth is by its very existence the most important strategy game in years.

In previews with PC Gamer and Gamespot, Firaxis reps strive to emphasize differences from Alpha Centauri. They mention new features like satellites, a non-linear tech tree, and an affinity system that represents your faction’s values. As lead producer Dennis Shirk told Gamespot, “We think a lot of the comparisons between this game and Alpha Centauri will be left behind as people see all the things that are coming into play that makes this a completely new experience.”

Thus the early PR push is all about marketing Civilization Beyond Earth as its own game not beholden to its 15-year-old predecessor. But in the words of Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “it is in reaching to our beginnings that we begin to learn who we truly are.”

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Review: Broken Age: Act 1

There's a "hot mom" joke here somewhere underneath the existential terror.

There’s a “hot mom” joke here somewhere underneath the existential terror.

The first act of Double Fine’s point-and-click Broken Age opens with images of two people worlds apart—seemingly literally. On the left we see Vella, a teenaged girl propped up against a tree in a pastoral landscape. In contrast, on the right, we have Shay, a similarly-aged boy in a similar position set against a completely dissimilar environment—Shay is on a spaceship. Over the course of this first installment players will come to learn that Vella and Shay live parallel lives. Surroundings aside, each is burdened with the expectation of greatness, though that expectation manifests itself in different ways.

The stakes are this: Vella is a human sacrifice to a town-demolishing god-beast, and Shay—for all his conveniences and luxuries—is essentially held prisoner by the infantilizing, over-protective AI of the ship he travels on. Unsurprisingly, these circumstances don’t sit well with either character, and by the end of Broken Age: Act I the two will have switched places somewhat in trying to avoid their respective ordained paths. The question left open is whether their individual rebellions are freeing in any real sense, or if they simply exchange one burden for another.

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Shifting sands: Firefly seeks redemption with Stronghold Crusader 2

Sure, we'll just raise the portcullis no prob.

Ah, is it too late to switch sides? I sense a conversion coming on.

You’ll find here on RDBK we haven’t much patience for tower-defense. That’s partly due to the genre’s intrinsic flaws: limited, repetitive gameplay and trial-and-error mission design. But it’s also due to our long memories. Despite much self-abuse, we still remember how good full-fledged castle-defense RTSs can be. In the first years of the millennium, when the word lanes only cropped up in the odd bowling game, Firefly Studios’ Stronghold and Stronghold Crusader showed us defense done right.

However Firefly struggled–and continues to struggle–with the leap from 2D to 3D. Stronghold 2 was a comparatively dilute experience, and Stronghold 3 was like Stronghold 2 spilled out, sopped up, and wrung back into a glass. It had limited features, poor AI and design so shoddy you couldn’t tell where the bad ideas ended and the bugs began. An overwhelming majority of Steam users, 86%, gave it thumbs down.

Now the studio’s prepping a summer launch for Stronghold Crusader 2, and as you might expect fans are wary. The devs posted a massive FAQ to address at least some concerns. To wit:

  • There will be a skirmish mode; i.e. there will not not be a skirmish mode as in Stronghold 3.
  • The “strongwall” option from Crusader 1 is back. If you enable it, only siege weaponry can demolish walls. No more troops hacking into stone with swords.
  • Wall construction will be tile-based like in the first Stronghold Crusader, not free-form as in Stronghold 3. (That sounds like a regression, but it’s for the best.)
  • A level editor, Steam integration, extra-large maps, and post-release DLC are all confirmed.

You can sense that Firefly wants to sell this as a sequel to Stronghold Crusader, not to Stronghold 3. Similar promises were made before Stronghold 3′s release, though, so I’d advise against preordering.

There’s a new trailer below focusing on Saladin, the undoer of Richard the Lionheart–both of whom turn up in the game.

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Out Now: Warlock 2, Half Minute Hero, The Journeyman Project and more

That sickly orange-green, I know it well.

Like a Bourbon Street gutter after Mardi Gras.

From Heroes of Might and Magic to Age of Wonders to King’s Bounty, nearly all fantasy strategy games take their cues from Microprose’s Master of Magic. They mix exploration, town and army management with zoomed-in tactical combat. They all feature exotic races, schools of magic, and customizable heroes. And of course they all make excellent drinking games. (Sip whenever a spell is cast, a creature stack dies, or you gain a level; chug when you win or lose a battle or a town.)

Warlock 2: The Exiled may make a good drinking game in its own right, but it hews more closely to Civilization than to Master of Magic. It’s the Paradox-published sequel to a fairly well received game from 2012–now what was its name? It wasn’t “Warlock 2,” I’m sure of that. Gimme a minute, it’ll come to me. Anyway, the sequel is out now for $29.99 on Steam.

More releases after the jump.

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Florida man metes out own brand of justice in Hotline Miami 2 trailer

The voice on the other end said, can I speak to Ben?

As Aaron Neville crooned, “Wrong number, I’m sorry, goodbye.”

You’d better have the front office hold your calls: there’s a trailer out for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. It boasts of new weapons, gruesome finishing moves, and enough blood to make Tarantino blush. The sequel to Dennaton Games’ 2012 hit is due out in the third quarter of this year, which means the marketing push is right on cue.

Hotline Miami may be violent, but don’t get the wrong idea about it. Sure, it’s morally reprehensible, an affront to society, warped, deranged, perverse. Call it what you will. Just don’t call it an action game.

Although it involves guns (boy does it ever) and requires quick thinking and expert timing, it’s really more a puzzle game than anything. You have to study floor plans, memorize guard patrol patterns, and carefully plot your every move lest you end up decorating Tony Montana’s floor. Each level is a new nut to crack, which is filled with heads to crack, which are filled in turn with crack-cocaine. You might say it’s cracks all the way down.

One point of interest about the trailer is that it shows how much hasn’t changed since the first game. The sequel reuses much of the same art, seems to run on the same engine, and involves scenarios akin to those that came before. See what I mean below.

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