Wot I Think: Skulls Of The Shogun

Undead ancient Japanese warrior-themed. indie strategy game Skulls of the Shogun has been in development for four million years, and was finally released yesterday for PC, Xbox and Windows tellingbone. Well, only for Windows 8 PCs. Yeah, controversy/insanity. But what about the turn-based strategy at the heart of it? I’ve only gone and played it so I can tell you.

This is all I’m going to say about this:

Skulls of the Shogun’s PC version is only available for Windows 8. Windows 8 is a confused and cynical mess (and anyone who claims otherwise is more than likely predisposed to do so) that PC gamers appear to be rightfully avoiding. It can be made rather less of a mess by installing a third party Start menu replacement for its unwisely smartphone-aping Metro interface and the highly irritating ‘Charms’ system, but of course this negates the major reason to upgrade to it from Windows 7 (there is a minor speed boost too, though I have not found it makes a meaningful difference). So, it does seem likely that Skulls of the Shogun PC may struggle unless it eventually embraces earlier Windowses too. Whether whatever deal the developers may or may not have struck with Microsoft for the Xbox version and attendant promotion makes the PC version’s possible fate worthwhile is not a question I can answer.

OK! That’s my colours flown. From hereon in I’ll talk only of the game.

Skulls of the Shogun is an excellent turn-based strategy game. It is: playful, smart, tactical, funny and brutal. It may be slightly too small, but I’ll get to that later. While it has nothing at all to do with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it’s difficult to not slot them both into the same ‘hey, turn-based strategy is cool now!’ category.

Turn-based strategy is cool now. And I don’t just mean it’s fad of the moment – I mean that what has, sometimes fairly and more often unfairly, for long years been deemed one of gaming’s plainest dishes now seems to sprinkled with all kinds of spices. If XCOM was TBS as action movie, Skulls is TBS as offbeat, cult animation. The concept is a power struggle in the ancient Japanese afterlife, as skeletal samurai battle rival factions and chow down on the skulls of their defeated foes in order to gain health and, if enough craniums are noshed, acquire new powers. In practice, this means a heavily stylised and charming-without-being-trite depiction of Japanese iconography with a distinctly Western flavour and attitude.

Each ‘army’ tends to start off with about five units, and you’ll be lucky if that’s doubled by the end of a level or match. There are very few different types of units: horsemen, swordsmen, archers, a general and then three different flavours of magic-casting priest. I could do with precisely two more, if I’m honest, but I really can’t argue with the range of tactical permutations Skulls manages to weave from the basic materials of ranged attack, tank, scout and wizard.

Again like XCOM, a successful round in Skulls tends to be more about where you leave your units at the end of it than what they do during it. A unit left standing on their own is easy prey to being knocked off a cliff or into thorns, but have another chap or two stood touching him and they form an immovable ‘spirit wall’. (Though the smartest players will ensure no units wind up anywhere near a drop or spikes anyway). This same concept can keep archers safe from return fire if they’re targeting the enemy’s bowmen, or simply to prevent a gaggle of foes from closing in on your most vulnerable or precious unit.

I often felt near-physical pain because I couldn’t move a guy from a spot that almost certainly meant his doom, but the spirit wall concept meant maybe, just maybe, I could move another guy over there to either bail him out or simply act as a meatshield. The wobbling cartoon characters and lack of anything even faintly resembling a hex or square might conceal it (the only thing close to that is a large circle denoting movement range when you have a unit selected), but there’s a strong chess undercurrent to Skulls: subtle differences in unit abilities, and quietly complex counter and blocking tactics at play.

Whatever the size of your army, you’re only allowed to ‘use’ five units per turn, which opens up any number of dilemmas – primarily because often enough that use won’t involve smacking another skeleton with a blade or arrow. Who’s left alone and unprotected because they don’t get a move? Do you spend two actions on having two of your lads take down one enemy? Do you try and make a beeline for the capture points, which generate the ‘rice’ necessary for buying new units or can summon a priest? Do you just try and get your General somewhere safe, as if he dies it’s game over? Do you spend four moves forming a spirit wall around the one unit that’s capturing a crucial point? Or do you chomp on any nearby enemy skulls in order to up your guys’ hit points?

There’s torment in every decision, because the enemy can always see exactly what you’re doing – and with it, what you’re almost certainly trying to achieve in the longer-term. There’s no fog of war or hidden movement here: everything is in plain sight.

This means smiles when you see the enemy doing exactly what you wanted him to do, and outright terror when you realise he can see just as well you can that you’ve left an irreplaceable unit in a deeply silly position. If you’re an idiot, not only do you get punished for it but everyone absolutely knows it.

For all this talk of idiots and punishment though, Skulls is never less than cheerful. Its toony, distinctive presentation and the quickly-learned lesson than every unit is absolutely disposable and very probably will die means you’ll go into most matches prepared for regular casualties and knowing that, hey, it’s all just a bit of a giggle really. So any XCOM comparisons stop here, as the only pain when losing a guy is simply about what holes it creates in your current battleplan, rather than any long-term handicap. Reinforcements can and will be summoned often, and they’ll probably get stabbed or knocked off a cliff too. So it goes.

It’s when the skulls of the fallen get eaten by an enemy that the blood-red mist might fall over your vision. Not only does it feel vaguely insulting (concepts of samurai honor aren’t heavily investigated here, put it that way), a sort of Shogunate teabagging, and not only are you one unit down, but it also gives them a health boost. Indignity heaped upon indignity!

Also, anyone whose head has been eaten can no longer be resurrected by a Fox priest (if you have one, if they’ve eaten three skulls themselves and if you have enough Rice to afford it), so bah, basically. Any unit who manages to devour three skulls gets upgraded to a Demon, which means they can take two actions per turn – or three for Generals. These immediately become the most frightening things on the battlefield, their two (or three) attacks potentially able to kill off one enemy within a turn all by themselves, rather than having to spend a precious move on getting another unit to help out.

The choice of whether to have a wounded unit chow down on skull for an instant HP fix or to try and save that skull for someone else’s who’s already on the road to Demonhood can be a crucial one – especially as, although no unit can eat a skull from one of their own (former) allies, there are certain ways to take them out of play, so you don’t want to leave your enemy’s heads lying around for too long.

A critical thing to know about combat is that in most cases anyone you attack gets an immediate, but lower damage, revenge attack back. So picking fights unwisely could wind up in the death of your guys rather than the enemy’s, or conversely you can trick an opponent into a fight they can’t win. Identifying targets that won’t bite back – there are various causes of this – is often critical to ensuring you’re not fielding a force made up solely of the walking wounded.

I don’t mean to simply list various strategies here – my point is that playing Skulls is almost never a case of ‘just go hit the nearest guy’ or even ‘just go hit the weakest guy.’ You have to factor in what damage they’ll do back, and then what situation your now-wounded unit is left in after the fight. Great, you’ve managed to kill one foe, but your chap now has half his health missing and there are three enemy archers standing right behind that bush. Nice one, genius.

It all looks so little and cheery and simple, but every decision, every cute little helmeted skeleton you wobble across the battlefield and every direction you do that in, matters. Only for a brief, shining, horrible moment before you’re embroiled in the next pleasantly stressful micro-choice, but it matters. So does every decision the enemy makes, because you can see him doing it and you’ve already started thinking about how it might play out and what you’re going to do about it. And whether there’ll be any tasty, tasty skulls to crunch in the aftermath.

It’s funny too – a snappy, silly singleplayer campaign that doesn’t outstay its eightish-hour welcome, never takes itself seriously, has a heart of semi-darkness without actually being unpleasant about it and even manages to throw in a couple of decent (but appropriately silly) plot twists en route. There isn’t so much of that in multiplayer, but there’s a lot to be said for a) facing equal opponents rather than scripted situations and b) an almost Team Fortress-like use of distinctive character model shapes/silhouettes, so you’re always absolutely clear about what it is you’re facing.

As I said earlier, I reckon just two additional unit types would really flesh the game out, as I’m a little worried I might exhaust it quicker than I’d like, but at the same time the general minimalism, instancy and speed really works for it. It’s near-perfect as a lunchtime grudge match game, so balanced, so slick, so quick. What a shame that none of the other PC gamers I know in real-life has Windows 8 (and very sensibly so, on their part), so I guess I’ll never get to do that, unless I kidnap them, drag them to my house and make them play it in hotseat mode.

Oh sorry, I wasn’t going to mention that again, was I?

OK: Skulls of the Shogun is great. It’s a great turn-based strategy game, it’s a great indie game, it’s a great game. Definitely, definitely, definitely get it if you have Windows 8. If you don’t… Hmm.


  1. LintMan says:

    Bummer – sounds interesting, but requiring Windows 8 is a showstopper.

    • Vorphalack says:

      Yeah. I sat down to read this, and about half way through the 3rd paragraph I suddenly realised there was no point. Shame, sounded fairly interesting too.

    • Teovald says:

      I am really not a fan of this art style.. but if in addition it is windows 8 only, good bye.
      I tend to always try to give a chance to games that support macosx and/or linux in addition to windows.
      If the only support is for windows 8, not even 7. I won’t play that.

      I wonder if Microsoft paid them for this exclusivity or if simply removing the very high price of entry on xbox has been enough.

      • RoAE says:

        If I remember right, Microsoft did come to the developer with this offer so that it could cover the development cost. He tried really hard to defend his position that the development cost were really up there for him but in the end all he did was shot himself in the foot as he has reduced the size of the audience that could purchase his product.

        I’m pretty sure they were 2 seperate RPS articles. One where RPS announced it as Win 8 only and another where RPS gave him a chance to give his side of what was going on due to the fast backlash. Could also be confusing it with a PC Gamer article…

        Edit: Look it up, he didnt want to deal with the extra costs involving C++ and C# conversion and somewhere in there Microsoft wanted to give the game a coveted feature XBLA spot but what incentive they may have offered him is unknown (it seemed really fishy at the time and there was a lot of backlash)

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    • ScubaMonster says:

      Seems utterly ridiculous they’d limit their market by making it Win 8 only. Makes no sense.

      • sinister agent says:

        Not unless Microsoft were willing to cut some sort of deal. I mean, I can’t think of any other good reason to do it, and it is in Microsoft’s interests to push their new mistake as much as they can.

      • LintMan says:

        Microsoft almost certainly gave the developer some sort of deal, like being featured on the Xbox Live store, or cash, or both, in order to make the game Win8 exclusive.

      • f1x says:

        Now if they “ported” Halo 4 to Windows8 that would make a bit more sense, could even induce some people to actually upgrade

        • RoAE says:

          ….or just setup a virtualized Win8 OS so they can play Halo 4 then delete the damn thing.

      • DrGonzo says:

        Why would someone develop for PC when they could develop for iPhone which has a lot more users? It’s a silly argument.

        • Ragnar says:

          Not really. The comparison isn’t one system (PC) vs another system (iOS), but one version of a system (Win 8) vs another (Win 7).

          Everyone knows why MS did it, to increase adoption by securing exclusives. It’s a strategy that works well for consoles (and is the reason I have an Xbox 360 and a PS3), but generally fails on PC. MS tried it with Vista with DirectX 10 and exclusive games (Halo 2, Shadowrun), and basically just succeeded in shooting themselves in the foot. Now they’re trying it again with Win 8.

          • nearly says:

            yes, really. if you’re going to insist that different versions are different things, then yes, they ARE different systems: it doesn’t matter if Windows 8 is a version of Windows 7 if you can’t use one thing on both of them. you can argue that, semantically, it’s a slightly different thing, but in every single way that matters (i.e. every way but your one semantic argument), it’s the same issue. the issue here is that one of them (windows 8) can run every thing the other can, and more, and that a certain app isn’t compatible with one system which has more users.

            that said, they sure did shoot themselves in the foot by making certain games exclusive. vista really would have taken off if people could have played halo 2 on xp. you see how “shot themselves in the foot” was a poor choice of words?

    • Groove says:

      A PC showstopper, time to break out the console.

    • Sharzam says:

      I was avoiding Win 8 like the plague for a while, but i thought well it is cheap at moment and just in case i want to upgrade in the future i will get the cheap one.

      So i am trying it out over the last couple of days and actually it isnt as bad as i first thought. I have assigned some useful shortcuts to my macro keys on the keyboard and now iam whizzing around just. Just takes a bit of re learning, whether i will still be saying that in a few days we shall see for example not just pressing escape/backspace to exit i have to unlearn.

      Regards the game itself, i think the comparsion to chess is the best one while yes technically in the same genre as XCOM it has a totally different feel. Much more long term planning than XCOM as you are fully aware where everything is so much more the long term plan, than the reactionary stuff you have to do in XCOM.

  2. x1501 says:

    “Skulls of the Shogun’s PC version is only available for Windows 8”

    Bye now.

    • subedii says:

      It’s kind of sad that MS can’t even be bothered to port Halo as their killer app this time around.

      Then again it did take 2 years the last time, so maybe we just need to wait a teensy bit.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        They’re putting out a very confused message with their weird strategy of universal compatibility across their products… various statements make it sound as if a game that runs on either Xbox, Phone 8, or Windows 8 must be able to run on all of them. Completely ignoring form factors, hardware “power”, etc. Then there’s their whole “Xbox” branding on things which are not Xbox (e.g. Xbox music, Xbox games on Windows 8/Phone 8 even though each platform has its own incompatibilities).

        Putting something like Halo 4 on the PC probably falls foul of their own limitations inflicted in the Metro UI marketplace. Even their Office suite, basically the MS “killer app” doesn’t use Metro, and only makes a mild attempt at being tablet friendly. I don’t know how many hands MS has, but none of them are talking to each other.

        • subedii says:

          I think one major card that MS could play is the “Buy on one platform, own it on the rest” card. But as far as I’m aware, they don’t want to go that route either.

          Regarding Halo 4, I joke about it, but ultimately I know that they want to keep that franchise to push the 360. Which I can understand, even if I disagree with it (considering that they need to push W8 as well).

          Instead they’re trying to brute force this through as always, with things like DX11.x and onwards being W8 only. I imagine that NextXBox is going to be making use of DX11.1 onwards, and MS are hoping that this will force the issue with ports.

          They certainly don’t seem to be all that interested in pushing for their own exclusives, which is again, a little sad, since gaming genuinely is one of the few reasons left that people buy proper PC’s at all.

          • Bhazor says:

            When frickin’ Halo is your “killer app” then you’re really struggling.

            Metroid Prime it is not.

          • subedii says:

            I don’t have a problem with Halo, it was a good shooter. And by all reports, the latest one is actually one of the best in the series (which surprised everyone, since Bungie stepped aside).

            But fine, let’s leave that aside for a second. Why haven’t MS developed their own killer-app game to sell the OS like they have for the 360? I mean this is an IDEAL opportunity, they could even custom design it to show off the very best of DX11 features in style. All the more pertinent because they’d then have something awesome looking that they could also port it over to their next gen XBox for launch.

            They have chosen not to do that. And instead made a W8 exclusive of a game that could run on an iPhone.

            Hoaxfish is right in “not talking to each other”. MS’s approach to the OS in general has been pretty schizophrenic from the start.

          • DrAmateurScience says:

            I really must dig my Gamecube out and replay that. It’s been too long.

            Never bettered.

          • Groove says:

            I always find it strange that they stepped out of gaming, with this as a prime example of why. Personally, Microsoft published the Mechcommander games, which are still some of my favourite games ever.

      • Ragnar says:

        Because making Halo 2 and Shadowrun, along with DirectX 10, Windows Vista exclusives worked so well for them in the past? If anything, I’m surprised they didn’t learn their lesson.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      Quite. I can honestly say that I would have bought this otherwise. Bloody stupid not releasing on an OS that’s still being officially supported. I mean in the long run win8 will gain the majority through new PC sales but stand alone sales have been really slow and the games marketing momentum will be lost by the time it has a significant user base.

      Out of interest is there a programming language difference between win 7 and 8 that makes this unplayable on 7, or is it just a coded lock me hearties?

      • Hoaxfish says:

        There’s no “lock out” as such. There are some tweaks to the Win8 desktop stuff which stop some older things from working, and the Metro UI is some sort of HTML5/javascript thing I think.

        • lambomann007 says:

          It’s a new kind of executable, a .appx file. So you’d need a ‘Metro’ emulator to run it on WIndows 7 I assume.

  3. DK says:

    Well a predictable commercial failure that’ll be attributed to “PC is Dead” or “Pirates make PC development not worth it”. Basically the same thing that happened when Microsoft bribed some deluded moron developers into making their games Vista exclusive. That didn’t work out so well either.

    • Cross says:

      I think you’re overly cynical. I don’t think they’re going to say a thing. It’s just going to pass by, and then we’ll hear the developers talking about how poorly it sold on Win8 in half a year’s to a year’s time.

      • DK says:

        They won’t criticize Microsoft in the slightest – their gag orders last as long, long time. See Remedies interviews when their contracts ran out and they finally were allowed to bring Alan Wake to PC.

  4. Joshua says:

    I actually found Windows 8 not to be any hassle. The start menu is fullscreen now – … not much else to see there. It also boots significantly faster.

    Then again, just upgrading to Win8 for one game might be a bit… overdone. As you said: Hmmm.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Just about all the interface gripes can be fixed with Start8 fyi. What’s another $5 when you’re already paying $90 for the OS, eh?

      Uhh, this was not intended as a reply, woops.

      • Ulaxes says:

        I’m kind of sick of all this “Win8 is the worst”-blah. It’s a fast OS that has all the features of Win7 with a much better designed startmenu on top, so what? All my games and buisiness tools run smooth and I had no problems with it since the install. Guess it’s just the Bash of the moment hype.

        • ScubaMonster says:

          The issue is it’s totally not needed. It’s basically a service pack with Metro plastered on top.

          • nearly says:

            totally not needed =/= worst thing to happen to pc games ever

            seriously, it’s not that big of a deal. if you wanted to find something in the start menu, you had to click start, then find it in pinned, or open up more options and find it among the various lists and subcategories. if you want to find something in the start menu in windows 8, you click start, find it pinned where it was put when you installed it or where you put it (because if you have a brain, you’ll pin the programs/apps/files you use most right there where they’re easy to see), or you click show all apps and find it in the single list that shows everything you have installed.

            my 1440×900 resolution monitor can fit 120 items on the start screen — I do not have 120 programs that I want to use on a daily basis: do you know how many items I have pinned on my start screen? not 120. do you know how hard it is to find the four that I use regularly (desktop, chrome, mail, steam)? not that hard.

            poorly designed? okay, I’ll give you your subjective feeling of design and aesthetic, it’s poorly designed. does it require rocket science to use or to use efficiently for daily computing or gaming? no.

          • Machinations says:

            Microsoft wants to shift away from the desktop, and move towards a closed-ecosystem, where you would purchase games, presumably GFWL, from their ‘App Store’.

            They eye Steam greedily. As someone who works with MS on a daily basis, I can tell you MS is completely dysfunctional, and I absolutely am terrified of their long-term plans. They will gladly cut off their nose to spite their face.

            Enforcing a touchscreen interface with huge, grade school sized color blocks that need to be scrolled though – and which cannot be disabled without a third party application – only so that they can peddle a touchscreen interface – FOR THE DESKTOP, which makes absolute ZERO sense – is egregrious but I suppose could be par for the course for the arrogant executive at MS. Who is going to push buttons on their monitor? Its definelty NOT more efficient than using a mouse and keyboard.

            More importantly, their cynical move to restrict future DX11 versions to Windows 8 shows they want to control the market and force upgrades which are completely unnecessary.

            I will install Linux and make do with little support – initially – for major titles, rather than install the bloated mess of an OS they call Windows 8. Funny thing is, I wont be alone, and finally there may be enough critical mass of Linux gamers to ensure more games have native support. Microsoft is causing this, and will have only themselves to blame.

            If I was to submit and go to Windows 8, when MS announces that multiplayer on Windows 8 titles will require an XboX Live ‘gold’ account, I would be beholden to their highway robbery.

            MS underestimates how many people are disgusted with their obvious ploy to control the games market – and they certainly are NOT impressing enterprise computing folks.

          • wcanyon says:

            And a $90 one at that. I’m just not seeing the upside. Even with this game which looks great to me.

        • Snargelfargen says:

          The Win8 interface is poorly designed for desktop pc use, especially for people who are used to managing their programs/files through directories and the desktop, not search functions.

          Glad to hear it’s working out for you and your business tools.

          • nearly says:

            having to relearn how to use business tools will absolutely ruin my gaming experience. I cannot afford that.

          • dsch says:

            I have to say I’ve not found Windows 8 to be particularly irritating after two weeks. I’m not finding that I do things much differently from 7. The only change is the start screen and the slight annoyance of how many clicks it takes to shut down. I guess I do use it more or less exclusively in the desktop view, and getting it for free probably helps too. Also, it’s pretty!

          • Llewyn says:

            “The Win8 interface” is indeed poorly designed for desktop PCs, but it’s also mostly irrelevant for desktop PCs. A click on the Desktop tile or a tap of the Win key brings up the desktop*, and the Metro (what are we supposed to call it now by the way?) interface is effectively only used as the Start menu – hit Win, type first few letters of what you’re looking for, hit Enter, just like Win7’s.

            There are irritations in using it, certainly. Biggest for me so far have been the loss of the Recent Items list and the relative inaccessibility of Windows Update for manual updates. No doubt others will have other things that have irritated them more. But for £25 to upgrade, which allowed me to use 32GB of RAM, I’ve no real complaints so far.

            @dsch: Are you using Win-I to quickly bring up the Settings menu with the Power button? If not you might find this helps. Still more clicks than Vista/7 though, especially if you want your ‘default’ option.

            *By the way, it seems that Metro only supports the primary monitor anyway so any additional screens are already showing the desktop on login. As my taskbar & quick launch bars are down the left of my second screen I have immediate access to everything I use without even looking at the Start screen.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            @nearly: Hah! Touché

        • Prime says:

          I’m with Ulaxes on this one: the rampant Windows 8 bashing is waaay out of proportion to the actual state of the OS.

          Metro’s prominence, and the removal of the Start Menu, ARE badly handled areas of the OS, but they are not the whole OS. Install Classic Shell, tweak the gpedit.msc to get rid of the lock screens and you are left with a beautifully quick and responsive operating system that, to my mind, beats every other iteration of Windows right out of the room. Also, I quite like Metro itself. I don’t see me using it much on my desktop (and now thanks to Classic Shell I never need to) but as a mobile device UI it’s no worse than Android or IOS.

          Alec’s suggestion above that gamers are “rightfully” avoiding Win8 is the kind of petty, baseless moaning that I’d expect from Youtube commenters, and not a journalist of his calibre; there is no proof whatsoever that gaming on Win8 is any poorer than on Win7, Alec (in fact I’ve heard the opposite, small improvements to frame-rate, etc). If you have proof of Win8 being some kind of scourge to PC gaming, kindly supply it: I’m sure the world would love to see it. Otherwise, admit that your moans are centered on an aspect of the OS that has very little to do with gaming at all.

          Oh, and this choice morsel:

          (and anyone who claims otherwise is more than likely predisposed to do so)

          is so unfairly dismissive and hostile to reasoned debate that it smacks of genuine prejudice. Deeply disappointing to read in a website that is usually written to a much higher standard.

          • Machinations says:

            Windows 8 is trash; see my detailed comment further above. It’s not just enterprises that need to be worried about Microsoft’s moves towards a closed iStore style eco-system; gamers should be worried too.

            MS will milk every dollar they can, and to hell with PC gaming; they would rather all of us own Xboxes anyway. I am telling you, be very, very afraid.

          • Prime says:

            More baseless FUD! Windows 8 is “trash” because of fears about Microsoft’s future plans for Metro? Do you have any actual rationale behind that preposterous hysteria? All I see in that comment above is Fear, Assumption, Assumption, Fear, Hysteria woooo the boogeyman is coming!

            My basic point still stands: Microsoft’s future plans have very little bearing on the state of Windows 8, the product that is here now. Calling a perfectly good OS trash because you are filled with terror about what Metro might mean is reactionary, paranoid and completely over-emotional.

    • mrmalodor says:

      The only reason you THINK it boots significantly faster is because you’re using a freshly installed, clean system. I can reinstall my W7 right now and it’ll magically seem faster too.

      • bill says:

        It’s weird. I remember saying the exact same thing when everyone was going on about how much better Windows 7 was than vista.

        It seems to be all the microsoft updates that slow things down. I remember being amazed by how fast my fresh Vista install started compared to XP. But over time it took longer and longer and ended up being about 3 1/2 minutes.

        There was also of course the benefit of hardware improving over the vista -> win7 launch gap.

      • lambomann007 says:

        Agreed. The real test as to whether Win 8 boots faster than 7 will be in 6 months to a year’s time, when your computer is filled to the brink with rubbish and stuff.

        • Prime says:

          Yeah, because nobody in the PC industry has thought to check that.


      • ThinkMcFlyThink says:

        No, it literally boots faster. There’s plenty of information out there for you to Google if you’re not convinced. They actually made changes to booting mechanism to make it more of a cross between booting and hibernation. Now if you want to disqualify it for that then so be it.

        • Machinations says:

          I had the prerelease. In short, the boot time difference is minimal and certainly not worth dealing with the insane obfuscation of essential tools and the imposition of a poorly-designed interface.

          • Prime says:

            Going from my own personal experience I’d say that the OS certainly does boot faster than anything PC-wise I’ve ever booted into before, freshly installed or otherwise. It’s reminiscent of the improvements Linux made through several iterations of Fedora/ubunut etc, shuffling the loading of components around to get the user into a useable desktop space without extraneous stuff being loaded first. A cold boot is nearly as quick as resuming a hibernated session in many instances. Of course once you’re int he desktop itself there’s a small delay while background processes start up, negating some of that speed, but I still think there’s a clear improvement. Ars Technica seem to agree,

            Oh, and should you really be comparing Windows 7 to a pre-release version of Win 8, barely an alpha? Schoolboy error.

          • Machinations says:

            Yeah, how dare I base my conculsions on the version Microsoft provided as the evalutation copy.

            Apparently, some will be apologists for Windows 8 without any reservation. Good for you.

          • DrGonzo says:

            No, the full version is very different.

            And it does boot much faster. All those UI arguments are valid, it’s subjective. I like the metro interface, you don’t, that’s fair enough.

            But it boots faster now, that is a fact, not an opinion.

          • eclipse mattaru says:

            And it does boot much faster. All those UI arguments are valid, it’s subjective. I like the metro interface, you don’t, that’s fair enough. But it boots faster now, that is a fact, not an opinion.

            So what? Why do people keep bringing this up as if it were such a big deal? We’re talking about investing 150 dollars for the thing, and all you can say is “it boots faster”? My Win7 PC boots in like 10 seconds or so, I don’t even know, really, and more importantly I don’t give a damn. Once it’s on, it remains on for hours, I don’t even remember about the booting time.

            What I do know, though, is that plenty of people have been reporting problems between Windows 8 and games with GFWL (much as it happened in the Vista days, in fact). Ah, if only both programs were made by the same company…

          • nearly says:

            no, you’re right, please tell us everything we need to know about the full retail release based on the unfinished version they let you mess around on six months before it was out.

            I’m guessing you either tried a “preview” or “release candidate.” if you were making observations based on an actual unactivated trial version, or an actual full version of what people are using right this instant after buying it, maybe, but to say that these websites are wrong and your personal experience of what’s essentially beta software is all that anyone needs to know is a bit narrow-minded.

  5. trjp says:

    So it’s a choice between buying an OS I don’t want or buying the game using Microsoft’s “Buy these and get hacked” funnymoney on 360?

    There’s a saying that it’s hard to make a game, much harder to finish one and fucking impossible to sell one.

    Kicking your customers in the balls isn’t really helping that is it?

    • El Stevo says:

      I’ve always bought prepaid funny money cards for my 360. A lot of places that sell them online will e-mail you the code rather than posting the actual card.

      • trjp says:

        I’d actually forgotten you could do that!

        • Groove says:

          it’s the only way I’ll do it these days, after I was hacked. You can also buy prepaid cards for live subscirptions, which is key since if you sign up for live you can’t remove your card without cancelling the subsciption. Like, cancelling it IMMEADIATELY, throwing away the time you’ve already paid for. I was furious at the time.

  6. DickSocrates says:

    Oh Microsoft. You just can’t help yourself. They will collapse and it will be 100% their own fault. If only they hadn’t been run by morons.

    • Machinations says:

      Yep – they absolutely will test the ‘too big to fail’ argument, with their utter arrogance and hubris.

  7. Bhazor says:

    I have Windows 8 and love turn based strategy.

    I guess I’m the one who doesn’t whine today.

  8. Smashbox says:

    Haw haw haw haw

    Shame I can never play your PC game on my gaming PC, you point-missing dullards.

  9. DrAmateurScience says:

    I guess with cross-platform multiplayer you don’t necessarily have to have a friend who owns Win8. Still seems crazy to me though. I wonder if someone can hack the OS locking bit out – although I imagine that will kill the multiplayer?

    Edit: to be clear, I’d quite happily pay for it if – through means fair or foul – it became playable on Windows 7

  10. PopeRatzo says:

    I hope the dozen or so gamers who use Windows 8 enjoy this game.

    I hope the developers realize that getting in bed with Microsoft to develop a Windows 8-only game is a quick way to ruin any indie cred they might have saved up.

    Whoever these knuckleheads are, it’s going to be a lot easier for me to skip any games with their name on it in the future. You’d think being a indie game developer is hard enough without putting a target on your back this way.

  11. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    Game looks pretty terrible anyway taking MS funds for Windows 8 is probably the best thing that could happen to the developer at least they got paid for making this junk I doubt a Windows 7 version would sell many copies somehow.

    • Cross says:

      Not that you’ve read the above Wot I Think or indeed care about the game’s quality. You’re just here to slander Win8. We have plenty of people doing that in much more articulate and subtle ways than you, so focus your efforts elsehere, please.

      • PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

        Ok let me try again the game looks like absolute shite Win 8 or otherwise the gfx looks terrible the character designs look dated if it were Win 7/Steam only the sales would be low but limiting it to Win 8 & Xbox live For Windows will be even lower!

        You also need to buy a seperate licence for each Win 8 device you own so if you also own an Xbox 360 that’s 4 (count em!!!!) licences required if your interested enough to own all 4 devices & want the game on each one which in itself is a complete failure by MS & they currently do not have inplace a system to change this pricing model so way to drive casual gamers away its like someone @ MS is doing everything possible to force PC gamers away from the PC onto their nextgen Xbox (probably the master plan if they have one that is).

        Xbox LIVE For Windows BTW makes GFWL look amazing the lack of features is so underwhelming the only way you would know your even connected is if you swap to the Metro UI to browse the social elements of XBL4W8. No ingame interface client here MS have put hardly no effort into it other than make it a DRM OS layer in the background so I doubt Halo4 or Forza on PC would make any difference to Win 8 sales they will tank as it does nothing Steam does not do much better except make a walled garden around the Windows App Store (which will not work either)!!!

        • ThinkAndGrowWitcher says:

          Here’s a few extra exclamation marks!! (As you’re no doubt now running low!!!) Please take them with your Ritalin!!!!!!

        • Malibu Stacey says:

          Ok let me try again the game looks like absolute shite Win 8 or otherwise the gfx looks terrible the character designs look dated if it were Win 7/Steam only the sales would be low but limiting it to Win 8 & Xbox live For Windows will be even lower!

          May I suggest, certainly until you come out the other side of puberty, that RPS isn’t the site for you. Kotaku or IGN may be more to your liking.

  12. Barberetti says:

    Hmm .. I’ve still got the dev build of Win8 from sometime back in 2011 on one of my partitions. If there’s a demo of this game in the works (ho ho what a quaint notion), I might have a crack at getting it running on that.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Actually, if you can get into the marketplace there IS a demo. It’s a requirement of the app store, iirc.

      • Barberetti says:

        Really? Ah right, in that case I’ll check it out tomorrow sometime. Thanks!

        • Mokinokaro says:

          A note on how it works: once you open the game’s page in the store, there’s both a “try” and “buy” option. It’s obvious which you want.

        • nearly says:

          do note the “if” before you get too excited. I couldn’t get into the marketplace on my trial version and that was before it expired.

          • Llewyn says:

            Was that using the pre-release versions or using the “Enterprise Evaluation” version? If the former, there’s a 90-day licensed evaluation version of “Win8 Enterprise” (whatever the hell that is, doesn’t seem to be something they actually sell) available for download. I used this for a couple of weeks in dual-boot to decide whether I could live with Win8 before upgrading.

          • Barberetti says:

            Yeah, tried it just now. No joy. Can click the button to download but nothing happens. Oh well, it was a long shot anyway.

      • lambomann007 says:

        It’s not actually a requirement, just recommended. Means you don’t have the store filled up with normal and ‘Lite’ versions of apps and games. You can totally ignore adding in a trial if you want to though.

        • Mokinokaro says:

          I did not know that. From what I can see most of them have trials.

          Skulls probably has a trial due to the 360 then as it’s an absolute requirement for an XBLA release.

  13. tumbleworld says:

    Meh. They’ve made their bed.

  14. Steven Hutton says:

    Not fifteen minutes before this was posted I came to RPS to see if a Wot I Think had been posted for this game so I could make a purchase decision.

    Do I have the psychic ability to control the RPS hivemind? I need to think of a test.

    Some kind of retrospective article singing the praises of under appreciated classic Second Sight!

    • IckyThump says:

      Wasn’t the one made by the Timesplitters devs? I always meant to play that. I wonder how it holds up.

  15. ScubaMonster says:

    Indie who sold their soul to Microsoft?

  16. Penicillin says:

    Alec, is there any word on whether or not their Microsoft exclusive contract has an expiration date? This is one of those rare games that looks like it would work equally well on an iPad… Damn shame about Microsoft and Windows 8 exclusivity. I hope for the developers sake that they got paid a LOT for that, because it’s going to take a big toll on the fan base they could have been building with this debut title :(

    • Mokinokaro says:

      The money was needed to finish development. The game wouldn’t have been finished without the Microsoft contract.

      If it’s anything like Microsoft’s DLC exclusivity expect to wait 2-3 months.

      EDIT: Bringing it outside of Win8 will be a bit difficult as well as it currently relies on Win8’s integrated MP framework (which is why it can crossplay with 360.)

      • Fede says:

        Reading Alec’s WIT I was reminded of Battle for Wesnoth. Certainly not the same thing, but still a very good free TBS game. Might be a good substitute for who hasn’t Win8.

      • c-Row says:

        Bringing it outside of Win8 will be a bit difficult as well as it currently relies on Win8′s integrated MP framework (which is why it can crossplay with 360.)

        Which makes as much sense as allowing antique cycles to the Tour De France.

  17. Stellar Duck says:

    You know, I’d have actually bought Win8 if it had been with a sane UI. I get enough touch bullshit on my Galaxy. I seriously do not need more. Especially not on my desktop, for which I have a perfectly alright mouse and keyboard.

    So I suppose the Shoguns skulls are gonna stay that way. What a shame.

  18. dsch says:

    ‘(and anyone who claims otherwise is more than likely predisposed to do so)’

    What? Anyone who claims otherwise is more than likely predisposed to claim otherwise?

    • beekay says:

      He’s not wrong.

    • Stickman says:

      I think its a metalanguage layer: a confusing and cynical sentence to invoke the same emotions instilled by Windows 8 use.


    • Kitsuninc says:

      That’s a fine sentence. When you write it that way it sounds redundant, but I don’t think there’s another way to write it. Rewrite it yourself if you’re going to complain.

      The point is that if you’re saying Windows 8 is good, then it’s probably because you have a predisposition e.g. being a Microsoft fanboy, and not because it really is good.

      • dsch says:

        If that’s what was meant, then it’s a distinctly unfair argument that forecloses any possible objection and declares any opposing opinion to be unreasonable. I guess I usually find Alec more considered than what this implies.

        • Llewyn says:

          I think – as someone who has upgraded to Win8 and is generally fairly content with it – that it’s a fair argument. It is very difficult indeed to make any argument for Win8 as a specifically good thing; there is almost nothing that makes it definitively better than Win7, or for that matter Vista SP2*.

          However, most of the comments I’ve seen claiming it’s a clear-cut bad thing, or meaningfully worse than Win7 tend to be complete bullshit, and I’d argue that most of the people making those are more than likely predisposed to do so.

          *That might change, especially if they can improve it over time as Vista improved from release to SP2.

          Edit: Just re-read Alec’s original comment. He’s obviously predisposed to being an arse this morning.

          • lambomann007 says:

            I find it a lot quicker to use with the mouse, what with the buttons on the start screen being a lot bigger than the start menu. Less fine aiming required.
            Also, grouping on the start screen really helps organise things too, which makes finding and launching things quicker. (I find it a lot easier to just use the mouse instead of using the keyboard to launch stuff because my hand is usually on my mouse already)
            The live tiles are a nice feature to have too.
            In my opinion, the start screen has significant improvements over the start menu. Not much difference if you’re just pressing start and typing the name though.

            You also get access to a new ‘platform’ and all the programs that come out for that (Like Skulls of the Shogun).
            $40 for a better start menu and access to a new platform, plus small performance improvements? That’s a pretty good deal. Shame the price is going up to $200 though. I still think it’s worth it though. Apparently I’m predisposed to think that though :P

          • Kitsuninc says:

            Erm, when was it ever $40? I guess I wasn’t paying attention but the minimum price for the upgrade seems to be $80 right now.

          • Llewyn says:

            @Kitsuninc: link to windows.microsoft.com

            Presumably there’s an equivalent US page, and $40 would be roughly equivalent to that offer (£25), which ends today.

            As an aside, for anyone who has moved to Win8 already, today is the last time to redeem the free Media Center upgrade as well.

          • Kitsuninc says:

            Oh, so it would seem. Well, it’s too late for me.
            Jesus christ, $200. I mean, I know that’s the norm, but it’s still pure insanity.

      • ThinkMcFlyThink says:

        It boots faster, has better file management, better multi-monitor support, Storage Spaces, a better task manager, and a faster search function. Does that make it worth upgrading? For me it was worth $40, but maybe not for you. Does that make me a blind fanboy because I’m glad I have W8? I didn’t think so.

        • Machinations says:

          Totally subjective – have you just been reading MS’s product releases and regurgitating them?

          We tested it extensively in a lab with proper controls. Performance differences are minimal and completely offset by the negatives.

          More worrying is the direction MS is going in – be prepared to pay 15$ a month to play your games multiplayer. Oh, and use a touchscreen monitor.

          • TormDK says:

            Xbox Gold isn’t 15 dollars a month anyhow, but nice try!

          • Machinations says:

            @Tom; Who cares – thats semantics – if you buy month to month, it remains 15$ where I live; more importantly you have completely missed the point that you are paying for the ‘privilege’ to play multiplayer with your friends. In 2013.

            I don’t recall having to pay to play Doom with buddies, or any other game, ever, on PC, except for garbage MMOs.

            Oh and the horrible VOIP that Xbox has? Yeah, VOIP on the PC is done better by a score of companies, Ventrilo, TeamSpeak or even Steam.

            So what exactly is xbox live gold for? Oh right, to part fools with their money.

    • bill says:

      It’s a rather odd statement, and fairly insulting.

      I just upgraded to windows 8 yesterday. It’s fine. I’m not predisposed to like it in any way. I’m definitely not a microsoft fanboy because, well, only morons are fanboys for operating systems or games platforms.

      If anything, it should be the other way around. If you don’t like it (and haven’t tried it) then your obviously predisposed to be an angry internet moaner and dislike things because you heard it’s cool to do so. Bearing in mind the nature of the internet, that option seems much more likely.

      Basically, it’s absolutely ok, and most of the complaints about it are just blowing things out of proportion. It’s probably not an essential upgrade, but since it cost less than the price of a single game, it’s hardly worth moaning about.

      The metro start screen interface works fine on desktop.

      UNLESS you use illustrator CS2, because after upgrading to Win8 in 40 hassle free minutes, I’ve since spent hours of frustration trying to get that to install. Despite testing it on the RTM version and it working fine. Grrr!

      • Machinations says:

        “Basically, it’s absolutely ok, and most of the complaints about it are just blowing things out of proportion. It’s probably not an essential upgrade, but since it cost less than the price of a single game, it’s hardly worth moaning about. ”

        Yeah it totally isnt extortionate for them to price it at 200$, unless you are the type of person who jumps in head first, without looking before you leap.

        Along with the vast majority of well-managed enterprises, in my house we will be giving Win8 a pass.

  19. Stagnation says:

    I downloaded this on my Windows Phone today. Guess I need to give it a try.

  20. Kitsuninc says:

    I’m really impressed Microsoft is so committed to making every other Windows release suck.

  21. Xzi says:

    So I guess this is mutliplayer-only? Because if there’s any singleplayer component to it, then there will be a Win7 fix released within a month.

    Modding community > Micro$oft

  22. KingVietKong says:

    It’s so odd to compel an indie company to make a game Windows 8 exclusive. Is this being on Windows 8 going to pull people wholesale over to the platform? Is there a massive wave of exclusivity arrangements that’s going on that I just haven’t heard about, with Skulls being the most press exposed of them? Who exactly is this benefiting?

  23. Christian says:

    Whaaaaat? It needs DX11 to run, but the onlyest bestest Windows that EVERYBODY should be using is Windows 98 (because if you use Windows 7 with its bubble-gum-interface and aero-voodoo you must clearly be stupid!!11!!) and that doesn’t support DirectX11? This is killing PC-gaming, NOBODY in the whole wide world is using Windows 7 because it’s the worst thing ever (!!11!1!!!).

    Aah, remember the good old times?

    And everytime it’s the same whining, with each and every new Windows version. Isn’t this getting boring for you people?

    (meaning: leave the charms out of the first paragraph, replace “Windows 8” with “Windows 7”, and you’ve got perfectly sensible paragraph from an article that was written 2 years ago..).

    having the game just run on Windows 8 *is* a really stupid move and there’s surely no technical reason for this limitation. And there are lots of reasons to complain about that. And they probably also deserve to sell a lot less for being so stupid.
    But seriously, for 30 €, Win 8 was just a “why not?” update. It’s not like they really changed anything critical..and after using it at home for quite some time now (yes, I ruined pc-gaming for everyone, I have Win8 on my gaming-pc), I really do hate the tiny START-menu in Win 7 on my laptop at work..it’s just so limiting.).

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I really do hate the tiny START-menu in Win 7

      You must have the only version of Windows 7 which doesn’t allow you to configure the start menu to your personal preference.

      Sucks to be you.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        I haven’t found a way to make the interface usable in Windows 7 without installing ClassicShell, and you can use that in Windows 8 too.

    • Machinations says:

      You only ruined gaming for yourself, not PC gamers generally. Microsoft is doing that instead.

      As I have said, dont be surprised when you can only purchase games from the Windows Marketplace, and that you need to pay 15$ a month for your Xbox live Gold account to play in multiplayer.

  24. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    The issue isn’t whether Win8 is good or bad (it’s not bad) – the issue is that for the majority of Win7 users there’s simply no need to upgrade. It works fine and is still supported.

    As a PC Gamer there is literally zero requirement for me to move on from using Win7, not for another few years I reckon. And I won’t do it for some arbitrarily Win8-designated indie game, regardless of how good it might be.

  25. leQuack says:

    Suddenly I’m really happy to be both owning a console & pc. Looking forward to play a Shogun game (albeit not Total War) on the 360.

  26. august says:

    The way some of the settings are buried in Metro is nuts but I genuinely enjoy using the Stat screen, Mail app and Weather app.

    But this enjoyment is in no doubt engendered by my cynical moral failings. Thanks for the heads up, Alec.

    • Machinations says:

      Oh, the indignation. How dare someone insult your choice to move to Windows 8?

      The fact is, if you’ve purchased Windows 8, you have been suckered, or made a concious choice to ignore the conventional wisdom.

      Good for you – you go, contrarian!

      However, as has been stated, don’t be surprised when MS makes their next obvious move – restricting game digital delivery to their closed-ecosystem Windows Marketplace and charging you 15$ a month for the priveldge of playing a game online.

      • TormDK says:

        Nice try, but the EU would scream bloody murder, and it’s not even going to happen as Microsoft already allows others to make a store on their infrastructure.

        • Machinations says:

          “already allows others to make a store on their infrastructure.”

          What are you talking about? Should I thank Microsoft for ‘allowing’ me to use Windows to access the App Store? Is this what you are thinking? What a bizarre, fascist worldview, that somehow because I run an OS from a particular vendor that they dictate to the end user how that OS will be run, including what sites or applications it can access.

          It seems that these legitmate, and likely, complaints are missing your understanding completely. Try re-reading what I said, which is that MS, being MS, will attempt to shut down Steam and replace it with the Windows Marketplace. To this end they will use tricks like making DX 11.1 not work on anything other than Windows 8.

          • MartinNr5 says:

            And why the hell would they do that?

            Do you seriously believe that they’ll risk hundreds of millions in revenue from selling the only truly open and useful OS just to try and eek out millions in revenue from games being sold in the Windows Store?

            The next time you run into Gabe Newell in your lunch room, say hi from me.

  27. Battjmo says:


    *Blows dust off of XBox 360*

    Finally something worthwhile to play on this thing again…

  28. Malibu Stacey says:

    My previous offer to 17-bit studios to port it to Windows 7 still stands.
    However I suspect their arbitrary check on GetVersionEx() is something they could modify themselves if they cared about actually selling this thing.

  29. karateka says:

    You failed to mention that the game is available at the discount for the next 6 days.


    source: link to portablegamingregion.com

    store: link to windowsphone.com

  30. MartinNr5 says:

    Hey Alec, two can play your game!

    “Windows 8 is a well designed and very functional evolution of WIndows 7 (and anyone who claims otherwise is more than likely predisposed to do so) that PC gamers appear to rightfully be embracing.”

    I especially like how you underhandedly accuse everyone that likes Windows 8 to be cajoled, bribed or some other way forced to do so.

    Seriously, the Windows 8 bashing is not doing you or RPS any favours.

    That you aren’t willing to invest time in learing a new way to start applications or invest time in figuring out why Windows 8 is an evolution of Windows 7 or invest time in realizing that the Windows Store won’t be the death of PC gaming says a lot about you.

    I guess it’s easier to be the grumpy old fart, angrily claiming that things were better before.

    I always felt that people who avoided Johns articles because of him were a bit daft but now I understand how they feel, even though it’s not Johns articles that I’ll be avoiding in the future.

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  32. JasmineGibbs22 says:

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