Premature Evaluation: Scrap Mechanic

Please give a warm welcome to Rob Zacny, the new writer of Premature Evaluation. Each Monday he’ll be picking through the detritus of early access to separate the games might one day be assembled into something worthwhile from those which should remain on the scrapheap.

A confession: I think sandbox games are boring.

Which makes their popularity kind of ironic, considering that Jim Rossignol once wondered whether games might one day “banish the curse of boredom from our lives.” If you look at the great majority of popular Early Access games on Steam, you’ll find they are either about sandbox construction and crafting, or about survival, or both.

Entire worlds at our fingertips, all manner of heroes, explorers, and villains to choose from, and yet the surest way to players on Early Access is to leave them with a few building blocks, a lot of room to use them, and nothing else to do. So it is in Scrap Mechanic.

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Wot I Think: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! (Parts 1 and 2)

Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! [official site] has been showing the mobile world what modern gamebooks can be since 2013, and now they’re following 80 Days onto the PC. The first two chapters come as a bundle, with two more on the way. If you’ve played them on iOS, they’re exactly the same games, only you can finally click on things instead of using your filthy sausage-fingers. If not, here’s Wot I Think.

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Wot I Think: Bombshell (The First Few Hours, Anyway)

3D Realms, freshly emerged from their settled lawsuit with Gearbox, bring us the much delayed top-down action shooter, Bombshell [official site]. Has the deviation from the Duke been worthwhile? No! No, it hasn’t! This is a steaming pile of shit. Now, with all surprises off the table, here’s wot I think:

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Have You Played… Spaceship Warlock?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Space may be the final frontier, but it doesn’t have to be so serious. Back in the ’90s, space games were more than happy to poke fun at themselves, from the Muppet-like live-action puppeteering of Commander Blood to Sanctuary Woods’ light-hearted Orion Burger.

That’s why I’m in love with 1994’s Spaceship Warlock, a first-person adventure game that feels as far away from conventional space exploration games as anything ever could. It’s an odd mishmash of surrealism, space pirates, and the strangest characters you’ve seen this side of Harvester.

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Wot I Think: Lego Marvel’s Avengers

Something very odd is going on at Traveller’s Tales. I’m not sure how, but in Lego Marvel’s Avengers [official site] they’ve managed to release a game that actively goes out of its way to hide everything good about it. So much so that it was only after hours of snoring through its dull, phoned in story mode that I discovered, behind a completely obscure and unmentioned menu option, what was really on offer here. Here’s wot I think:

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Wot I Think: Cobalt

Cobalt is about a tiny, blue, quick-witted murderbot who’s travelling through space with its ship’s AI, searching for remnants of human life. It’s a story that tackles themes like consciousness and sentience, but it’s tongue-in-cheek and full of lighthearted touches – like stumbling across a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in a library, or meeting an enclave of dubstep-listening, friendly robots who identify as non-binary genders. It’s SOMA via Futurama and Max Payne, and here’s wot I think.

From the outside Cobalt appears to be simple 2D, physics-based shooter, but if you jam a crowbar under its metallic blue plating and tear it back to reveal the tangled circuitry beneath, you might be surprised by its composition. Under its surface there’s a complexity to Cobalt’s systems and a surprising depth that will keep you playing.

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Have You Played… Sacrifice?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Centuries ago, some unknown ancient sage called Keeron Gillan wrote about a strange action strategy game called Sacrifice. I haven’t heard anyone mention it since. We have failed.

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The RPG Scrollbars: Roles We Take, Roles We Choose

Not for the first time, I’ve spent quite a while recently pondering the nature of roles – more specifically, mechanical role versus narrative role. When we think of RPGs, what we’re usually thinking of is the latter. You play the role of the Hero, but in a universe that’s typically designed to let you define that however you like. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but there’s a key difference between that and stepping into the shoes of someone more specific. Geralt in The Witcher 3 for instance is – spoiler alert – a Witcher. Every encounter revolves around that, every system involves it, every decision has, whether it’s by your choice or Geralt bringing it up, a mercenary element that reinforces that asking for money in exchange for your services is expected and not, as is often the case, the first step towards douchery and getting the Evil ending.

I’ve also been playing a lot of Hearthstone. The two things are linked.

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Wot I Think: XCOM 2

In 2012, Firaxis took on the seemingly impossible task of reviving one of the most beloved PC games ever made. The original X-COM is widely considered to be one of the masterpieces of the nineties golden age, and since its release there have been sequels, spin-offs and unofficial revivals, but Firaxis’ XCOM was a complete, licensed reinterpretation. It was also rather good. Now, with XCOM 2 [official site] ready for release, Firaxis aim to improve on the formula that made Enemy Unknown such a triumph. Here’s wot I think.

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