It reminds me quite a bit of Master Reboot, the previous game by the same developer, and I was given a review copy for this one. The overarching theme seems very similar, although I felt like it isn't explained as clearly in this game. If I hadn't played Master Reboot I would have been pretty confused about what was going on.

The levels are also quite a bit more expansive, which makes for some neat environments, but at the same time they seemed a bit empty. I think it needed a few more collectables or interactive details scattered around to flesh it out.

The puzzles themselves weren't particularly complex or difficult, but figuring out what the actual puzzle wants you to solve can often be quite challenging. I had the same comment about the previous game, but here it felt even more intrusive since the puzzles and interaction were so simple.

So while I enjoyed the previous game, and I liked the creativity of the environments in this one, I also felt like it was lacking a little bit of the cohesiveness and polish that create an engaging experience. There was also an issue with the cutscenes being rather low res and blurry compared to the rest of the game, which was a bit jarring.

Synopsis:While the environments were more expansive than Master Reboot, I felt like the story was less cohesive. As a result the journey felt a bit scattered.

This one is for Parallax, the game you guys voted for the most during the Steam sale. It's a puzzle game, somewhat similar to Portal, but more linear since you're dealing with a pre-selected set of portals, buttons, and paths. At the same time it's more convoluted, because you actually have two dimensions to puzzle your way through on each level - going through a portal takes you to the opposite dimension.

It's a bit like chess, because you may have a limited set of buttons and portals to choose from at any given time, but you have to think three steps ahead - how are your actions going to effect the locations of the other portals and buttons? Pushing one button may rotate an entire section of the floor into a completely different position. And of course trying to beat each level in the lowest number of moves adds a bit more difficulty as well.

The mechanics are fairly simple, and a few levels into the game you're seeing all the elements that exist. They do add lasers and the ability to walk on the ceiling later in the game, but these don't really change the gameplay in any significant way - they just make the world more visually convoluted.

That was the hardest part for me - surveying the entire world and keeping both dimensions in my head to solve the puzzle. There isn't any way to get a bird's eye view, so you spend a while wandering around each level, discovering which buttons rotate different portals or floors, and trying to wrap your head around all of it. It doesn't have any story, but if you're looking for an abstract three-dimensional world to puzzle your way through, then you may want to check this one out.

Synopsis:An abstract world with two dimensions that will bend your mind trying to keep track of the switches that move portals or even the level itself.

Runestone Keeper [Steam store page]

This is a neat take on the typical dungeon-crawler formula, combining it with a heavy strategy element. You don't have an actual body, but you do have a health bar on the right-hand side. As you click dungeon tiles to reveal them you risk stepping on traps and injuring yourself, as well as running into enemies. Many enemies only damage you back when you attack them, but there are higher level ones that will deal damage every turn. Depending on the location of these enemies you may have to fight your way over to them, taking damage as you reveal tiles until you reach and can click on them.

The real strategy comes from the abilities of the enemies themselves. Some have abilities that are incredibly dangerous, others can actually help you avoid the dangerous ones. For instance, there's a tank type that passes double the damage done to it onto one of the other enemies. Another type reveals extra tiles every turn that you don't kill it - potentially exposing you to a lot of enemies very quickly.

Additionally you level up as you kill enemies, so you can't just blitz the exit for each level, but lingering too long is likely to cost you a lot of your very valuable health points - so even deciding when to leave a level is a balancing act. Exploring extra squares potentially also reveals utility items, shrines, and extra health - and the utility items in particular are crucial to your survival. Some exits are also locked, forcing you to figure out which enemy is holding the key, and kill it before moving on.

The game itself does revolve around repeated plays though, it isn't purely skill. So any gold you earn on a run can be spent at the shop before your next excursion to raise a variety of different stats, or even unlock new characters. Other characters are unlocked by reaching certain levels in the dungeon on specific game-modes. Normally I don't like this sort of balance, but the gameplay and complexity kept me engaged and didn't feel like I was just playing repeatedly to farm gold and level up.

Synopsis:A nice strategic twist on the dungeon-crawler genre, with a good variety of enemies and items to keep you interested while leveling your character.

Plague Inc: Evolved [Steam store page]
This game recently came out of Early Access after two years in development, but in my opinion it's still sort of a novelty item. The core gameplay is just a direct rip of the flash game Pandemic 2, with prettier graphics, along with most of the flaws of the original game.

Basically you're trying to infect and kill the entire world with your disease - but if it starts gaining too much attention countries will start locking down their borders, ports, and airports. If an island country does this in the base game there's no chance you'll win, since you have no way to spread there aside from air and sea travel. This doesn't really encourage much experimentation or fast gameplay, since getting discovered too early basically loses the game for you.

Some of the other disease types offer solutions to this, but they aren't really offered to the player in a logical order that would keep you interested. Each disease is unlocked by beating the previous, and most of the first set use the exact same tech tree with minor variations that don't impact actual gameplay aside from slowing down the speed. Fungal was especially brutally slow.

This definitely does not improve an already slow game about waiting for disease to spread, and popping occasional bubbles for extra points. I guess these bubbles are supposed to keep you interested, but I would have preferred just to be able to fast forward without having to micromanage them.

Several of the diseases with more interactive and strategic mechanics were pretty fun for a playthrough or two - for example the parasite let you hijack planes and fly them directly at a target country to infect it - solving the island problem I mentioned earlier.

There are also some fun variations with different themes - like a Santa version where you're spreading holiday cheer, and infectious vectors are things like Christmas Presents. I just wish the overall game wasn't so unlockable based so you could play the interesting diseases and modifiers, without dealing with the boring, bad, or exceptionally slow ones.

There's also a game mode where you have to actually fight a global CDC-type AI, making certain countries where they set up strongholds much harder to infect, etc. This adds more of a gameplay feel, although since your direct abilities - even things like zombie hordes - aren't very effective it can still be a bit frustrating. All the interesting abilities eat up your upgrade points, and these don't come in at a very satisfying pace in any game type.

Usually the upgrade points come in slow at the start, then you get flooded as the infection explodes and grabs all the new countries, tapering off again once most people are infected. A typical RTS-type resource model where the rate grows over time would probably be a lot more satisfying - tapering off into a useless drip feed of points isn't much fun.

There's also a multiplayer versus mode where you can battle a friend on the same map, messing with their disease and upgrade trees in addition to doing your own as normal. Whoever survives the longest is the winner, rather than having to take over the entire world.

So if you can grab it cheap on a sale it might be worth a look - but I doubt it will keep most people engaged for a significant amount of time. Sad to see for a game that's been under development for so long - really needs to be rearranged and polished to be a smooth and fun experience for new players.

Synopsis:Heavily based off the 'Pandemic 2' flash game, with added unlockables that really ruin the flow and make it feel like more of a toy than a polished game

As far as Rogue-lites go, I enjoyed the combat in this one a lot more than FTL because it felt a bit more interactive. More skill based survival than just a random battle simulator where you're heavily at the whim of fate.

You can't flee or strategically scope out battles, which was one of my big complaints about FTL too - but the mechanics do give you a good shot of winning, even against superior foes. In fact almost any enemies, even the basic ones, can soak a ton of damage - so you have to use the battlefield to your advantage.

Your convoy starts out with a main vehicle, which just drives itself infinitely in a straight line (and if it's destroyed then you lose), and two smaller assist vehicles that you can command to move around and target specific enemies. Mostly this involves shooting them, but you also have the ability to ram them and cause damage. Some upgrades enhance this damage, or make your ramming-vehicle take no damage, but often the basic ability alone is enough if you combine it with the terrain.

The map warns you with flashing red skulls which lanes have upcoming cliffs or canyons, and you position your vehicles so the enemies can't move out of the path of danger, or even ram them straight into its path if they aren't already in the proper lane. Using this tactic takes them out far more quickly than pinging away with your pitiful starting weapons.

The main vehicle in your convoy also has slots for upgrades, much like the smaller vehicles - except that the main vehicle can only equip super-weapons. Things like EMP bursts that disable enemy shields and guns temporarily - or giant lasers that do a ton of damage but have long cooldowns. Unfortunately these aren't very effective on their own, since the cooldowns are so long.

That was one of my main complaints - if you lose both of your smaller vehicles there aren't many opportunities to buy more, even if you have the money to afford them. Certain towns have them in the marketplace, but these are very few and far between - as are other random locations like the casino that may provide one. In other words - there's a 95% chance you'd die before getting to a place where you could buy another secondary vehicle.

Since the main vehicle is so weak even with super-weapons equipped, you'll only survive two or three enemy encounters, if you survive any at all. Having super-weapons at all isn't guaranteed, and if you don't have any offensive abilities then you just have to sit there and wait to die. That's a real drag, especially when you aren't in a bad spot resource -wise.

So in the end, I think there should be an ability to pay scrap at the end of a battle, or in the next town, to salvage your vehicles that have been destroyed. Because as long as you have offensive abilities this has quite a bit of potential, but without them it's pretty frustrating. Having towns be a bit closer might help too, although it's pretty satisfying getting the necessary fuel to keep going through combat wins. If there was a way to camp and repair your caravan while on the road, the massive distances and fuel costs between important objectives wouldn't be a problem at all.

(use the "minus" control in the bottom right of this gif, if you want to play it slower and read the quest text)

Right now it's not quite polished enough that I'd recommend it because of those issues, even though I enjoyed the combat and the Oregon-trail style non-combat encounters were fairly engaging. The solution may be to grind out a bunch of random encounters right around a starting town for a while, though that doesn't sound quite as fun.

Synopsis:I like the combat better than FTL, but the lack of local/mobile repair and almost total dependence on destroyable secondary vehicles mars it a bit.

Warhammer Quest [Steam store page]
The base game isn't really complete - it only includes 4 base classes and 3 Dungeon types. You have to buy the Deluxe edition for twice the price to get all the classes and scenarios - or unlock any of the 8 missing ones individually for $3 each.

Seriously sounds like a joke you'd find in DLC Quest.

Nevertheless, I gave it a shot with the choices available in the base game, playing for 9 hours total. The text story before and after dungeons is actually pretty well written and atmospheric, but the gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired.

One of the biggest annoyances was that the movement is always turn based, regardless of whether you're in combat. Your entire party has to be moved one at a time down long empty hallways, rather than just moving them all at once with no restrictions until enemies are encountered.

When you're moving them you also have to be sure not to reveal a new room until all your heroes are close to the entrance - otherwise you'll have a bunch of characters stuck two or three moves behind, worthless for the start of the battle. There's also a chance that you'll just be randomly ambushed as you're moving your characters, and the placement of these new enemies isn't at all logical. It can be frustrating at times - but I guess it's so that you don't linger in the hallways waiting for your magic to recharge.

It really needs a limit though - I've had it happen multiple times in a row, immediately after I just finished dispatching the previous ambush. Eventually I just had to push forward down the hallway without regrouping and hope that the next revealed section wasn't a room with lots of enemies, ready to pounce on my unprepared party.

Once you get out of a dungeon you can head to town to visit a shop or a few other locations, but the towns also have some annoying random events that can rob you of money before you even have a chance to spend it, if you're unlucky. Just clicking to visit the shop is a risk, which is stupid. The random events (or paying gold at the town shrine) can also add temporary buffs or injuries that last for a certain number of dungeons.

Town is also where you switch out classes if you have more than the 4 base characters, but the location you'll probably use most is the training grounds - paying gold to level up your characters after they have enough XP. They don't really give you enough gold, so it takes an hour or more to even get your first ability, and a few hours until your party actually starts feeling useful and unique.

Before this the game is pretty repetitive, movement and simple hack and slash mostly. The new abilities add passive skills that give you extra chances to dodge or hit multiple enemies in one turn, and eventually new active skills as well.

Missed attacks can still be incredibly frustrating though, even at higher levels - and certain encounters are really brokenly difficult. ("Da Cursed Toof" anyone?) This would be less of a problem, except that even on normal any class that dies during a dungeon gets absolutely no XP, even if you complete it.

So while I enjoyed the writing, the gameplay itself is incredibly flawed and makes this game average at best or frustrating at worst. Although it isn't as strategic, I'd recommend playing Hand Of Fate instead if you want similar vibe without all the frustration.

Synopsis:Pretty good writing, but the DLC-filled gameplay is a disappointment - from repeated missed attacks, to leveling being a huge gold sink for no reason.

Note: this is a repost of an older text-older review, I thought a few gifs would spice it up.

Highlands is a light strategy game that revolves around capturing tiles using very simple turn-based battles. I've seen a few people compare it to the board game Risk, and strategy wise that describes the depth pretty well.

The battles are why I have very mixed feelings about the game - they do require some strategy, but it's a pretty repetitive process. Because all of the damage from the enemy is inflicted on a single unit, you just want to select the one with the lowest health capable of surviving the attack.

This damage is determined by a dice roll each turn of the battle, but as long as the unit you select to tank that turn has more health than the maximum roll, it's guaranteed to survive. Then next turn you select another unit to tank, using the same process.

This preserves higher-health units for future battles - since the only real danger is running into a battle where you can't soak up the first one or two powerful enemy attacks. As the enemy loses health their damage is reduced as well, and it really isn't a fair fight since you often kill multiple enemies per turn - and the most you'll ever lose per turn is your one tank unit - even if it only had 1 health left.

Occasionally the enemy also gets special tank units that can absorb all your damage for a single turn, but once the 2-3 tanks are dead the rest of their army is exposed and often dies in a single turn. You will take more damage when this happens though, since destroying a tank doesn't reduce the overall enemy attack power much - so you'll end up taking a few really big hits if they have a lot of tanks to kill.

Later in the game you get some items to improve attack and defense, as well as some special abilities that give you a random chance of pre-attacking - but the basic strategy remains the same.

The overworld is fairly simple as well, and mostly revolves around a fog of war that hides the massive number of enemy units. These also have a weak AI that tends to keep them in check so you don't get overwhelmed. For instance - if they own a tile that has zero guys, and it's the only path to your tiles, they will not move through that empty tile. They also won't attack a tile that has a higher attack power than the enemy squad. This includes multiple squads, they don't add their power together - so if your squad of 70 power is sitting next to 3 squads of 60 power each, they still won't attack.

There are some other abilities on the overworld like fortifying tiles and building outposts for resources, but you don't really have to use these much - it's mostly just move, fight, and wait a turn or two to heal once your squad gets dangerously low health.

So although it's not a bad game and kept me entertained for a few hours, I didn't feel compelled to play the other half of the levels - even though the writing was actually pretty good.

Synopsis:About as strategically deep as Risk, though the low number of units doesn't allow for any grand strategy. Battles are too simplistic and repetitive.