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April 21, 2017

Steam Pack 3

I wasn’t expecting to have a third set like this so soon... but at least it can help me practice in making my reviews shorter, especially those of Steam games. Last February I bought the Freedom Humble Bundle, which added a large amount of games to my collection for only 30 bucks… including many games that I would likely never write a full review about. Steam Packs are my way to cover all of those without wasting a whole weekend for each game. Once again, here are four games of varying prices, picked among the first titles of my library (in alphabetical order). Let’s-a go!

7 Grand Steps, Step 1: What Ancients Begat

Kind of a board game, kind of a Choose-your-own-path adventure, this game (often shortened to just “7 Grand Steps") relates the story of a character as they begin their legacy across History, starting in Egypt. Fall in love, become a parent, contribute to the major scientific discoveries of each era – even better, make those discoveries yourself!

Moving through the five circles of life.
On your turn, you can spend a Token with a symbol to move forward and perhaps accumulate Legendary Points. Legendary Points are what allow you to bring science forward, become a hero, or gain recognition. You can find a life partner, have children, teach your children the various arts present in that time period. Everything’s done through Tokens, by the way, and accumulating Tokens can be tricky since the parents are the only ones able to move on the board and collect Points. Interacting with other people – especially the loved one and some allies – lets the player collect more Tokens. The player can also distribute some of the remaining tokens among the kids, teaching them in one talent needed to live in that era. Someday, your character and their life partner will retire – and later die – and you choose which child gets to continue the legacy under your “guidance”. After which, things keep going, mankind evolves, passes through time…

Oh hey, you got all positive adjectives!
I got all negative adjectives...
The first section takes place in the Copper Age, and then moves on to the Bronze Age. I’ve yet to play through all of it (it probably gets to Golden Age and perhaps beyond), but the first full game gives a good idea of how the whole thing plays out. When selecting a child to continue the legacy, they take part in a trial… which you have NO control on. All they let you do afterwards is pick the character’s next defining adjective (good or bad, depending on how the trial went). Wanted Shura the Benevolent? Sorry, the Random Number God decided you were going to be Shura the Petty! There are some other choices you can make from time to time, but those don’t have that much of an impact. After a moment, you can move to the next outward ring of the “board” on this coin-operated game, all the way to Royalty! …That is, if your luck will allow it.

Making tokens, making kids... Making HISTORY!

You can never find out whether or not you've made
the right choice.
It’s definitely a good game, although I don’t know if I’d play through all of it. For one, I think too many things are decided at random – so if you strike out with all the opposite-sex partners at the start of the new character’s life, or they all get married before you could get one, well, you’re in trouble. Same for the Tokens, who when received are given symbols at random based on the talents of the character that gathered them. Whether or not a rite of passage goes well; the results of picking one of the four options presented in certain scenarios… There is enough strategy to balance it out, but you can never tell if you’ll end up screwed over by the inherent randomness. Well, I guess that’s life… I mean, all went well until my fifth or sixth family, then soldiers pillaged that family's village, killed my character’s wife or husband and two of the kids, and I barely survived thanks to a bit of luck.

It’s an enjoyable game, though I wouldn’t see myself paying 20$ for it. But hey, if you like strategy games, board games, choose-your-own-adventure books, and Historical fiction, you might find things of interest in this.

AI War: Fleet Command

Things start off simple enough...
Off to the conquest of your own sector of the universe! This game combines elements of real-time strategy, resource management and tower defense. The story is quite simple: Two warring human factions decided to build robotic combatants (the eponymous AI) to fight in wars, to avoid losing as many human soldiers in the feud. The AI rebelled, and headed out into the galaxy, taking over planets and fighting against mankind. We are now on the losing end, and the few remaining humans count on you to turn the tide around again: Defeat and drive the AI out of this galaxy!

...and you have no shortage of locations to visit...
If that’s the kind of game Ender was playing, then I’m glad not to be in his place. This game is very complicated. There are dozens upon dozens of types of ships that you can control and create, and you need to remember the functions of each and every single one of them. Harvest resources from the planets you visit, build a war force to capture planets, fend off the attackers. The game’s development studio, Arcen Games, explained that the opponent AI was built to be challenging, not to be fair. In other words, the odds will always be stacked against you. Oh, sure, you can set the difficulty level of the opponents – but even the lowest difficulty can prove problematic. See, you have limitations on how many ships of each type you can build – the enemy has no such limit. Computers are cheating bastards indeed.

...But then, things get completely crazy...

There is also a storyline that you can play, which adds two aliens with very different moral compasses to the original war between humans and machines. I should also mention that it’s possible to play this game with up to 8 players, meaning that you can help each other against the AI, or go around and battle other players. There are also multiple expansion packs that can radically change the way the game is played, if you really love the concept, the gameplay, and you want to add some spice to it.

...and there is so much on the screen that you can hardly
realize everything that is going on!
I swear, this IS Ender's Game!
Now, I’ll admit, this game is too complex for me. I mean, I can usually play games that are fairly complex, but this one didn’t attract me all that much. Oh, it’s not bad, it’s just not for me. I certainly like the backstory behind the game, and I find the settings and music to be simply beautiful – but there is so much to keep in mind, I lose focus. It’s just too much to juggle at once. And this, folks, is why we’re all doomed if someday I end up becoming humanity’s last hope. That’s also probably why I’ll never become a politician.

If this interests you, the game is currently sold on Steam for 9.99$, add 7$ or 8$ to that to get all of the expansions. There’s also an AI War 2 in development if you like the game.

The Astonishing Game

Hey, remember that rock opera I reviewed last year? Because I am that big of a Dream Theater fanboy? Did you know they had a game made out of that story? Because they did! And it’s on Steam! Of course, that also means a kickass soundtrack made of the instrumentals of the songs in that rock opera!

Is that how they play chess in the future? I always
thought it would be Knights decapitating towers,
pawns getting murdered by Bishops... all in
beautiful holographic animations!
It’s a pretty awesome concept for a game, too. Unique, that’s for sure. Probably more unique than “Chosen One saves the world with the power of love and the power of music”. Imagine chess… with RPG elements. Literally, chess, with characters moving like chess pieces on the board and attacking other pieces… except characters have hit points (called motivation points), so it can take more than one hit to take down any piece. You can play as the Ravenskill Rebel Militia, represented by musicians: drummers, guitarists, keyboardists, vocalists… and a dancer, for some reason. All that’s missing is a Theremin player. Or, you can play as the Great Northern Empire of the Americas, represented by characters in positions of power with roles similar to those of band members. What, a Judge has to keep the beat of justice, like a good drummer, no? …No?

Good to know what each piece does... now let's just
hope that menu will close easily, and won't be stuck
in the way.
You create pieces by spending energy points, and must also use energy points for every action you do – whether it’s moving pieces, making them attack, or using special moves to get the upper hand on the other side. And since there aren’t pieces to capture and, well, checkmates to be had, there is a different way to win: By destroying three of the special pieces at the other end of the board, representing the enemy’s headquarters.

There is, of course, a single-player campaign to complete, as well as a multiplayer option. There is also a Tutorial to let you understand the game. Cool concept, nice soundtrack, fairly decent models for the characters on the board, with an epic prog metal soundtrack… And by playing the game, you could actually win tickets to go see The Astonishing concert! Unfortunately, the praise ends here.

Ooooh, game customization! Alright!

Some stuff to learn about... but otherwise, it seems
like a clever idea. I just wish it wasn't so buggy.
See, the game is a bug-riddled mess. I never actually managed to beat the Tutorial, as I met not one, but two glitches that stopped my playthrough in its tracks: First I get the popup explaining one piece and am unable to remove it from the screen – with the popup blocking the screen and making it impossible to play unless you quit. The second glitch had the computer opponent making its moves and never ending its turn afterwards, preventing me from doing my own actions. Dream Theater, you’re a fantastic band, but you should have overseen that game’s creation and applied some quality control, because… yeah, that’s bad. I don’t think I’ll ever get a total play time for this one that even equals the length of the original rock opera. Big thumb down… but if you can’t resist the temptation, well, it’s on Steam for 2.99$.

Caveman World: Mountains of Unga Boonga

Let’s end this article with a good ol’ platform game. After all the logic thinking, it’ll be good to just be running and jumping my way around levels. Oh, right, it’s that one… Yeah, this one’s bad. Real bad. Anubis II level of bad? Probably not.

Caveman World: Mountains of Unga Boonga (Boy, that title is needlessly long) presents Unga, a caveman who has a sad tendency to wind up separated from his family in dangerous territory. Your task is to bring him home safe, avoid the various prehistoric monsters – including sabretooth tigers, mammoths and dinosaurs, because who cares about prehistorical accuracy – and bring back fruits for the family. On the way, Unga will often run into simplistic puzzles where he needs to find a bone key to unlock a door.

Lots of grunts and primitive sounds were exchanged
around the dinner floor that evening. Talks of how
they really need to invent weapons as quickly as
fucking possible so that they can finally have some
mammoth meat for dinner.

"Freaking triceratops! You should NOT exist at the
same time as I do!"
I’ll say that much, the game has an alright difficulty and a great number of levels, which already makes it more playable than other infamous junk titles out there. However, much like many of those junk titles, it suffers from various issues regarding physics and hit detection. Unga can run, but can only jump rather poorly, which is not really a good thing in a platformer. The enemies can be hard to avoid, and sometimes they, also, benefit from the poor hit detection. That’s particularly annoying in that this is a game that works with a system of stars: You can get up to three stars on any level, and the only way to do so in a level is to collect all the fruits and not get hit at all.

Yeah, this doesn't look good.
Ugly and repetitive graphics, with terrible physics and no real reason to keep playing past the first few levels (unless you seek out the Steam achievements and trading cards). Then again, I am not really surprised, as this game came out in 2016, infamous year where the Steam platform had a record number of game releases… most of which were shovelware released thanks to Steam Greenlight. But hey, at least it’s very cheap, there’s that. Caveman World: Mountains of Unga Boonga only costs 0.99$, if you really must try it for yourself.


There you go. Another Steam Pack done. I hope you enjoyed, and I hope these quick reviews gave you some idea of whether or not you’d buy either of these games. I might just pile up the Steam reviews now, posting them all over the next few weeks. I do have five of those to look at…