SO, Thailand is a pretty crazy place. After landing in Don Muang airport, David and I were briefly stopped, along with every other white male on the flight. The policemen were looking for one Thomas Atkinson (clearly a pseudonym) and after showing our passports we were courteously let on our way. Outside of the airport we met Tom who helped us carry our bags and haggle for a cab to our hostel. The price ended up being some 100baht (about $3.50 AUD)
The roads in Thailand are insane, a frenetic free-for-all of Tuk Tuks, Scooters and Cars filling every square foot of road in no particular order. I say foot here instead of meter because it gives a more accurate impression of the space involved. When the cab started to drive faster than 100kmph I reached for my seatbelt, only to find there wasn’t one there. Somehow though we arrived alive and subsequently I haven’t seen a single crash or accident on the roads. Thai have some innate ability for this type of driving but it seems totally alien to me. Our hostel was located down Soi (denoting a side-street) 38 Sukhumvit Rd. Sukhumvit is an absolute hive of activity. Every day, food stalls, markets and businesses are erected on the street under the shade of the Sky Train, a concrete monstrosity of public transport that dominates the landscape. Famished as we were from our long flight we sat down in a market and were promptly presented with six different menus from six different vendors, which they pushed around the table in a Tetris like fashion, vying for the our attention. The humidity of that first night absolutely killed Dave and me; we were sweating so much, in fact, that when we were offered ice for our glass of beer we gladly accepted (despite warnings to the contrary, my bowels haven’t exploded yet, a good sign)
After dinner we caught the Sky Train a few stops to a popular area further down Sukhmvit to check out the bars. ‘Bar’ however is quite a loose term in Bangkok with some venues being little more than a few plastic chairs on the sidewalk next to a vendor with a coolbox, while some, presumably in place for quite a while have ornate wall fixtures laden with delicious drinks, some exotic, some familiar. Particularly delicious was Leo beer, which went for about 60baht (one dollar) and the buckets of margarita, which went for 300baht (ten bucks) Needless to say, we got pretty smashed and had a great time though being poked and prodded by the working girls got a little bit tiresome. After a raucous night of drinking we staggered back to our hostel, and knowing that we weren’t able to drink the tapwater, but too ruined to go and find bottled water, collapsed into our beds, unprepared for the vicious dehydration fuelled hangover that would persist much of the next day.
Not to say that the next day wasn’t fantastic though. After finding a ripper place to eat (I, un-adventurously ordered the American Breakfast) we met with Tom’s friend, Gon, at Pho, site of the amazing lying Bhudda and proceeded to get drenched by a monsoonal downpour which was somewhat mitigated by my fashionable 100 baht Minnie mouse umbrella (which gave up on life sometime later in the afternoon)
We then took a completely sodden boat ride over the river to view the Wat of Rama II, a really amazing structure that had a sign out the front prohibiting bootie-shorts or miniskirts.
Finally we went out to dinner in Bangkok’s Chinatown in a restaurant that served a variety of seafood (including shark fin which nobody in our party ate) I opted for some fried chicken and rice being not much of a seafood fan. After a cabride that Gon was able to negotiate for us at a reasonable price we went back to the hostel and relaxed, perhaps for the first time since we had arrived. It was to be a formidable trainride the next day, as we’d decided to leave Bangkok to the relative tranquillity of the northern city of Chaing Mai renowned for it’s party scene and awesome landscapes. The trainride was epic, more than twelve hours of some of the noisiest train travel I’ve ever experienced. A derailing some weeks previously on the same track was slightly disconcerting but there was scattered evidence of repairs all along the route and as it turns out we arrived in Chaing Mai safely. The cabins are spacious and far more comfortable than plane travel, and the ability to take life into your own hands and have a cigarette on the bucking walkway between carriages is awesome. Not to mention the beautiful scenery as soon as the train had cleared the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, jungles, which I’ve never seen before are awesome. Particularly when punctuated by the sometimes gravity defying mountainous rocks that dot the lush landscape. I had a quick conversation (with Tom translating) with the train’s janitor. Where I come from is flat and brown, I said, not mountainous and green like here, it’s beautiful! He knew the word, and as I gestured to the fog capped jungle peaks that the train was hurtling by he looked me in my eyes and gave a warm smile. People here are awesome.
Now we’re in Kiki’s guesthouse in Chaing Mai a really spacious, comfortable and welcoming place set in the heart of the old city. After Bangkok, the more laidback vibe is really welcome. In fact, this bed is pretty comfortable, I think I’ll have a nap.
Regular readers might have noticed a slight obsession with the Civilization series of games, so you can imagine how excited I was for the release of Civ5’s second expansion pack, Brave New World which dropped in Australia last night.
Perhaps ‘excited’ isn’t the best description of how I felt leading up to Brave New World’s release; it was more like trepidation. My mates and I had reached a point where our games of Civ had become painfully predictable. Egypt and Russia would battle for early production and more often than not, start a chain of obscene wonder-spam which could double or treble the scores of players with less lucky start rolls. Civilization for us had become a battle for the most production hammers and the game was starting to feel rather empty. This was coupled with my frustration at the piecemeal release of DLC Civilizations like Korea, that not only had to be purchased by the player who chose to lead them, but by your opponents as well. So while I was excited for some new DLC for my favorite game, I was also worried that something in the implementation was going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Would trade unbalance the game even more? Could they actually make culture worth a damn?
Then I started a game.
Firstly, Brave New World has cut wonder-spamming Civs down to size with a new system that makes social policy trees prerequisites for certain wonders. Aside from just balancing the game, social policy wonders have the effect of encouraging development along leader specific lines, instead of an inexorable grind for hammers. Subsequently all the civilizations and their leaders feel more distinct, more characterful and vibrant than before. Additionally the victory system has been largely overhauled with a new diplomatic and culture victory. Diplomatic victories are perhaps the most exciting, a certain number of votes at a UN round table meeting can secure you immediate victory, but you’ll have to curry favor with the city states in order for it to happen. It’s great to see city states becoming a friend and valued ally for a change instead of just free workers or a juicy target. Even more excitingly though is the other element introduced with diplomacy, namely proposals. Any player is able to make a proposal to the UN to determine global policies. For example, if you have an annoying opponent with a lot of wine, you might propose to the UN to make wine illegal! Otherwise you might try to establish your religion as the world religion via political means, or perhaps just embargo your foes completely (if you can get the votes!) There’s a hell of a lot to like here, if you were a fan of some of the older Sid Meier games (Alpha Centuri springs to mind), then the system here is undoubtedly going to please you.
Next though is the new cultural victory which introduces the concept of tourism. Tourism essentially acts as offensive culture and has devastating implications for players in the game. A high ratio of your tourism to another player’s culture can destroy a player’s happiness, bringing expansionist but culturally bereft civilizations to their knees. Gain a certain ratio of dominance over a number of players simultaneously for victory.
The other major addition here has been the trade system. Players are now able to produce caravans and cargo ships to ferry aid in the form of food or hammers to friendly cities or trade with other civs, yielding impressive profits. It’s a great dynamic that allows for some quite daring play which is great fun to be a part of. There are some awesome nuances to the system too, a trade route with another player will yield you an amount of gold, but will also reward the other player with a fraction. Additionally if you create a trade route with a civ that has tech that you don’t, you’ll receive a small science bonus. You can even spread religion through trade routes, making the system a potent offensive weapon of sorts.
Gah, basically everything that’s been done here is great. Brave New World is a great damn game. Even when one of my friends crashed and had to rejoin the game we discovered that the multiplayer loading system has been overhauled. The game simply displays ‘game is paused, player joining’ and lets you at least look around your empire instead of brutally crashing you into a loading screen. Everything has been tightened here and seemingly not just for the sake of charging the player another $45 but because it make the game better. Brave New World just feels like it’s come from a place that loves it.
If you own a copy of Civ 5 or are a fan of the series, this is a no-brainer. There’s more here to love than ever before and there’s no better time to hop back in than now. Even if you’re not a seasoned strategy nut, give it a try, Civilization is a behemoth of the genre, and for good reason.
The final verdict; Civilization 5 Brave New World gets five nuclear-bomb-riding-Ghandis out of five.
In an unreleased podcast, my offsider, popculturereference and I had a huge rant regarding simultaneous turns in Civ5. Coming from a turn-based background, having to furiously click and move units to safety at the start a shared turn with your opponent induces rage of truly epic proportions. Then, like a shot from the blue, a pre expansion update included a few new multiplayer options, hybrid and sequential turns.
PRAISE BE, we thought. The hybrid mode lets players take their non-warring turns simultaneously but then reverts to a turn-based format when players finally go to war. It was the exact same idea that we had posited in our rant several months earlier. It was as if Sid Meier himself had descended from on high and plucked the idea from our minds.
It’s just a pity our idea was so shit.
I can just imagine the people in the Firaxis offices now. “We brought those people out of the wilderness” they would say “-we gave them back their lives. Don’t they remember how long games of Civ used to take?”
We had surely forgotten.
No matter how frustrating the simultaneous warring turns had been before, having to wait at least double the amount of time for a new turn in Civ 5 is game-breakingly frustrating. To make matters worse, we had forgotten all of our coping mechanisms. At first we just tried to sit there and patiently wait for the other players to finish their turns. Then we tried conversation, but all these attempts were just hollow gestures of denial. We were fucking bored, and when Hughberticus brought out his DS and started playing Pokemon, I knew something was really, really wrong.
The truth is, you never know what you have until it’s gone. The ability to finish a game of Civ in just a few sessions is something that we had come to take for granted. Even having your aircraft carrier, loaded with nukes, taken out by a submarine after you’ve moved all your units is nothing compared to the forgotten frustration of waiting for your damn turn.
Maybe it’s time to take a break from Civ. Maybe it’s time to go out into the world and see those wonders that we so covet in game. Perhaps that’s what Sid Meier was trying to say, that if you want to live life then you have to do your turns simultaneously.
Well that’s it, I quit Civ forever, there’s nothing left for me here.
God damn it.
There is grandeur in this view of life
Basked in weed dank throes of streetlight.
Confused needs, envoys and treaties
Dotted round the night like fireflies.
Enemies or friends are just
A lottery, formed of cosmic dust.
We’ll meet again in different forms
In future as well as the past.
Don’t lament on things unkind
On windswept tundra you will find
The universe is unknowing love
Abstracted from us by our minds.
And if by chance you give your thanks
For these celestial, grandiose pranks,
Think of me as I think of you
Nestled in our entangled banks.
It’s really hard to do a review of Tripwire Interactive’s Rising Storm. Mainly because at any point that I could be writing the review, I could instead be playing the damn game. That being said, Rising Storm is a standalone conversion of Tripwire’s Red Orchestra 2 and puts players in the shoes of soldiers on either side of WWII’s Pacific campaign. The WWIIFPS genre has been left by the wayside in the last few years with Medal of Honor a distant memory and Call of Duty well and truly advanced to the modern age. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that there was no new ground left to cover in WWII, but this is where you’d be wrong. Tripwire haven’t just succeeded in revisiting the WWII genre, but has revolutionized it with some clever gameplay mechanics and a clearly visible passion for the source material. The result is the most compelling FPS experience in recent memory and something that eclipses all the glitz and glamour of triple-A titles (I’m looking at you, Battlefield 4) with nothing more than a little courage and faith in their playerbase.
Rising Storm bills itself as an asymmetrical team based shooter. The American weaponry totally eclipses the power, accuracy and rate of fire of the Japanese armory. Instead, balance is achieved through clever level design and a ticket based re-spawn system that should be familiar to most FPS players. For the Japanese to achieve victory, communication is key. Luckily a smartly integrated voice chat system allows such cooperation without the aid of Teamspeak or other third party apps. Japanese players are able to bayonet charge en masse with the “banzai” ability which suppresses an enemy’s ability to aim (representing the terror of being charged by a horde of screaming Japanese soldiers) relative to distance and the amount of Japanese players simultaneously activating that ability. The mechanic is genius because it not only helps to close the power gap between the American and Japanese weaponry, but encourages gameplay that mirrors the Japanese swarm tactics of the Pacific campaign. A player may choose to be any number of roles on both of the teams, including commanders, (with the ability to launch varied artillery strikes) squad leaders (who act as mobile spawn-points) and the squad members themselves. A linchpin of the authenticity here is that there are only a certain amount of specialized weapons available. For example an American squad may only have (for example) one team leader, one flamethrower, one machine gunner and two automatic riflemen, with the other squaddies carrying standard infantry rifles. This may immediately seem off putting to some players, but the results are fantastic. Instead of an entire team being composed of snipers, the role system means that players act according to the weapons they’re equipped with and require cooperation with other specialized player classes to achieve their objectives. For example, machine gunners are best suited to cover advancing riflemen and assault troops, flamethrowers aught to advance safely behind infantry to assist clearing out fortifications et cetera.
The game runs beautifully and there are a whole host of system options so you can optimize your performance to your rig. The game itself looks gorgeous, with cratered beacheads, deep jungles and small townships that seem so authentic you need to swat away the mosquitoes. The sound design is also top notch, gun enthusiasts will love the satisfying clanks and bangs of all the weaponry and battlefields feel very much alive with characters yelling for ammo, support or screaming in agony. Tripwire have outdone themselves in creating a vivid brutal hellscape that won’t force you to buy a new PC just to experience it.
There’s honestly a lot to love here with Rising Storm. In an era of shooters obsessed with ‘player choice’ (aka, dicking around with sniper classes) and accessibility (being virtually immune to bullets) the strict hierarchical structure of the classes and brutal realism have created something really special. It forces players to become a small part of something more, rather than a one man army, and in doing so creates real feelings of solidarity and team-mindedness with your fellow soldiers. I was a big fan of Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, and I’m pleased that Rising Storm has only added to the immersive, realistic gameplay that I came to love with that title. There are some moments, like defending against an American assault as a Japanese commander, watching my comrades fall around me, wildly shooting my sidearm while calling in a suicidal artillery strike on the same position, that will stay with me for a long time.
Tripwire should be bloody proud of the job they’ve done here. Rising Storm forces you to think, adapt and cooperate in a way that, while encompassing a steep learning curve, has an absurdly gratifying payoff. Where its FPS contemporaries have aimed for top-shelf-big-dollar accessibility, Rising Storm never makes you feel like it’s talking down to you, something I feel is losing it’s place in an increasingly ‘casual’ gaming market. Oh, and did I mention it’s selling for an insanely modest twenty bucks on steam?
If you like FPS or WWII then you really owe it to yourself to check out Rising Storm. There’s honestly so much to love here and we as gamers need to send a message to developers to think smarter, not necessarily bigger and shinier. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and take this hill. BANZAI!
The short version; Rising Storm gets 4.5 Browning Automatic Rifles out of 5.
A not-so-long review about a galaxy far, far away.
I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Well, a fan of the original trilogy anyway. So you can understand how excited I was to play a tabletop miniatures game revolving around the iconic space-battles of the original three movies. To be honest, it’s about damn time we gamers got to hop back into the cockpits of our favorite starfighters. The last X-Wing title for PC, X-Wing Alliance is approaching its 15th birthday. 2003’s Rogue Squadron and 2006’s Empire at War did little but whet our appetites for a fully fledged X-Wing adventure.
So that brings us back to the present day and Fantasy Flight’s epically awesome X-Wing Miniatures Game. To attribute the game’s success exclusively to fan fervor would belittle the fantastic job that Fantasy Flight have done here. At once accessible, but with the potential for incredible strategic depth, X-Wing has something to offer to new and old Star Wars fans alike. I also expect that the title will introduce a lot of new people to the joys of tabletop war gaming. It’s quicker, easier and more seductive than ever before.
So what’s so great about X-Wing specifically? Well for one thing you’re not going to have to pawn your organs on the international black market just to afford a starting force *cough, Games Workshop, cough.* Nor are you going to have to spend countless hours assembling and painting the miniatures. Everything that comes in the starter set (which I picked up for about $60AUD from a local game-store [buy local, people]) is ready to be used within minutes. You’ll get one X-Wing model, two Tie Fighter models, a rule book and all the assorted dice, bits and pieces that you’ll need. Fantasy Flight have also put a comprehensive video tutorial on Youtube for all of you audio/visual learners out there.
So how does the game play? Extremely well! After choosing your allegiance (handy hint, always be yourself, unless you can be Imperial, then always play Imperial) your ships, pilots and loadouts it’s time to deploy your forces and get straight into the action. A typical game of X-Wing is composed of a number of turns broken up into two distinct phases; the movement and action phase followed by the shooting or combat phase. Among other statistics, each pilot has an initiative value which represents a pilot’s skill and reflexes. At the start of the turn, players secretly choose what movements their pilots will perform by selecting an option from ship specific dials included in the box. In ascending pilot skill order, the dials are uncovered one-by-one and the ships perform the designated moves.
In the subsequent shooting phase, pilots fire in descending initiative order; an eloquent system representing a skilled pilot’s ability to react to their opponent’s movements while firing first. Damage is resolved by rolling a number of attack or defense dice equal to the attack or defense value displayed on the pilot’s profile. If the number of ‘hit’ results outnumbers the amount of ‘evade’ results, the ship suffers damage. There are a number of other factors that come into play too like shields, critical hits, focus actions, evades, boosts, barrel rolls and special weapons (photon torpedoes, anyone?) but you’ll just have to play the game yourself to learn more!
The models themselves are excellent, the paint-jobs are immaculate and the detail on most of the models is incredible. The Fantasy Flight team were given unrestricted access to the original models produced by Lucasfilm for the movies. And it shows. The game feels authentically Star Wars; much more so than the newest trilogy of films. It’s a delight to realize my childhood dream of crushing Rebel scum with Lord Vader, flanked by a couple of Tie Fighters (which are better ships than any Rebel fighters; flame on, see my reasoning in this review’s sister article.) By no means is X-Wing limited to Ties and X-Wings; the full roster of Rebel and Imperial ships are here (X, Y, A, B wings, Tie Fighters, Tie Advanced and Tie Interceptors) as well as a host of special ships and characters (Bobba Fett’s Slave I and Solo’s Millennium Falcon being the notable inclusions.) These additional releases are aptly billed as ‘expansion packs’ and include multiple pilots (do you prefer Han and Chewie or Lando and Nien Nunb?) as well as general upgrade cards that are compatible with the rest of your fleet.
If you call yourself a Star Wars fan or enjoy the thrill of tabletop games you owe it to yourself to check out X-Wing.
The short version; Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game gets a score of five dysfunctional father-son relationships out of five. The force is strong with this one.