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Echochrome is one of those clever well thought out games that will sadly be overlooked by many people. The concept of the game is that perception is reality which means whatever view of the world you currently see is the way it is. You have to get a little character to walk around the various puzzles to certain points. which consist of various unconnected beams. Your only controls are moving the camera and to stop/speed up your character, by rotating the camera you can hide holes or merge gaps to allow the character to walk across. For example if you have two beams, one horizontal with a hole in the middle and a vertical beam sitting separately you can rotate the camera so that the vertical beam blocks your view of the hole. Since you can no longer see the hole, your character can walk across.
Much of the concepts of the game are the optical illusions people have been impressed by for years. At times it can be a bit tricky because what you're doing doesn't make sense and it can mean quite a bit of spinning the cameras to make the beams join up in their unconventional way.
While some may complain about the poor graphics, personally I thought the presentation is outstanding. Everything (aside from that awful cover, what were they thinking??) is presented in a simple black and white scheme with a single violin providing the only music. The simplicity very much suits the game as anything more complex would make the illusions more difficult to see and they wouldn't work as well.
The game is available on both the PS3 (download only) and PSP although I prefer it for the PSP as I find it's the sort of game that's enjoyable to pick up and play for a couple of levels during a break. If you're looking for something a bit different from the mainstream games I'd highly recommend this
Although Bullet Witch has not had great reviews, the idea of it appealed to me so I picked a copy up. After playing the game extensively, I can't rate it more than two stars - while it has some enjoyable moments it's really dragged down by a large number of serious flaws.
You control Alicia, a 'witch' who is clearing out the demons from a world set slightly in the future. Her 'broom' is a large weapon which can function as a machine gun, shotgun, cannon or gattling cannon. You increase the gunrod abilities over time, unlocking all four forms and then increasing their strength. Alicia also has a range of magic spells from basic incantations which allow you to throw objects like cars or summon a wall to defend yourself to truly impressive spells such as tornadoes and meteors.
The most immediate problem for me is the physics and collision system, it's a very impressive scale as tornados can actually tear up buildings and meteors send concrete flying everywhere. However, most objects have a collision box which is far too large - items which you've clearly dodged can still easily hit you when they shouldn't have done. What makes this really annoying is that it's completely unforgiving, if any object at any speed enters Alicia's over large collision box she is killed regardless of health. For example I was killed when taking cover behind a car, it was being shot by standard weapons which pushed it back slightly and that killed Alicia. Even worse, when Alicia uses magic to push items away (such as wallop a car at an enemy), for some bizarre reason it can kill her?! This can be immensely frustrating when Alicia is killed when she shouldn't have been as there are often long gaps between checkpoints if there's a lot of enemies.
Compounding this is the fact that it's very easy to be killed instantly having done nothing wrong - one of the enemies can throw around items which with the physics problems above is a complete pain in the neck. There are times I've walked round a corner only to be walloped in the face by a flaming petrol tanker....which means it's back to the checkpoint. Even a car slowly sliding along as an enemy tries to pick it up can kill Alicia. The standard 'Geist' solidier seem inconsistent, I've faced off with 20 at the time and killed the lot without taking much damage then turned a corner after my health has regenerated and a standard soldier has killed me in a couple of shots. It doesn't help that there's no graphic effect to show when you're taking a beating, you have to keep an eye on the small health bar to know when to retreat.
There's not much to the game either, just six levels which feature very few different enemies - combat is very repetitive as you're mainly fighting against the same soldier from start to finish. There are 'remix' levels to extend the gameplay but Atari have decided these are an extra you have to buy off Live - unacceptable to me given the game is so brief.
At times I have to say I really enjoy Bullet Witch - enchanting my ammo to set it alight then throwing a couple of cars/vans at a troop of soldiers then picking off the rest with my gunrod. On the hard difficulty the system works well as it forces you to use your magic and gunrod effectively together, you can get away with just the gunrod on lower difficulty levels. However, my enjoyment is quickly cut short because I've been killed when using my own magic spell or out of the blue I've been killed. Once it's happened a few times, especially after spending half an hour shooting a boss I feel like shredding the disc.
Competing against a strong games library I can't recommend Bullet Witch sadly.
Sid Meier's Railroads!
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When I first started playing Railroads I very much disagreed with the reviews as I found it all quite overwhelming - once my network was starting to grow I found it more and more challenging to try and keep on top of the growth with an efficient network. However after spending a couple of days with it I can now see what the other reviews mean, once you get to grips with the fairly strange truck system (trucks can appear and disappear at different stations, you don't need to carry them all along with you) it's not that hard to get the network running smoothly.
The basic premise of the game is to connect up the various towns and industries, when you start you will normally have a few large cities with many smaller towns. The smaller towns can usually only produce one item (such as converting timber to paper) which can then be supplied to one of the cities. As well as running freight, the larger cities also need trains to carry passengers and mail. You choose what route a locomotive runs and what it carries on that route, early trains are slow and can't pull much - as time progresses you get access to more powerful engines.
As time goes on, towns and cities grow increasing their demands and allowing you to install new industries allowing you to streamline your network to make sure all resources are being used efficiently.
The problem is, as mentioned by someone else there's no real motivation to focus on any aspect - generally all cities want pretty much everything and there's a limited amount of items you can bring in to them without trains getting stuck or having to wait for the rails to clear. Occasionally you will get a goal to deliver say, 6 loads of grain to a town/city which gives you a $100,000. Unfortunately these are few and far between, as long as you get a few trains running with a reasonable amount of goods the money just comes piling in. I think it would have worked well if these incentives grew over time in their scope and complexity with penalties for not meeting them to give people who are doing well more of a challenge in the longer game.
With a game like Sim City (which this game does remind me of), keeping your city going was always a challenge for me - I would start up some city blocks which seemed to go well but then people started moving out because of traffic, forcing me to constantly redevelop my city to try and keep everyone happy. I never really got to a stage where it was all running fine unlike Railroads which I've found I can now consistently get to a stage where money just pours in.
For those looking for a tabletop railway and not interested in the game side of it, Railroads works well in this capacity - it has a mode with no money which lets you build to your heart's desire which I have to admit I found entertaining to let me understand how the game worked.
I also have to agree about the bugs, I have a reasonably beefy system but once I get to large maps where I have developed most of the land I find the game has an annoying tendency to lock up entirely. My system seems to work fine otherwise with much tougher games which leaves me more inclined to blame the game.
I only paid three pounds for this game and for that I've easily managed to get my money's worth - I wouldn't be disappointed if I'd paid up to 15 pounds. However I can't help feel that so much of this game is done so well in terms of it looks good, the track laying generally works, the trains are satsifying etc. that the game could have been so much more.
Earth Defence Force 2017
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On paper this game looks rather weak - you run around similar environments blowing up large numbers of aliens, consisting of robots, giant ants and spiders. I have to say though this has been one of my favourite games for a while now, I've finished the first three difficultly levels and struggling through the 'hardest' settings.
As you go through the game killing enemies you gain armour and weapon unlocks which apply universally which means if you play through on easy and then start medium you're in a better position than if you went with medium at the start as you'll have more armour and weapons. This is what really keeps me coming back, I know there are more powerful weapons out there which I'm eager to get my hands on plus the fact I don't really like to be beaten. Weapons are broken down into different groups (Assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, grenades etc.) with large amounts of variation between them - each variant has the same model but they can be massively different in use. For example the Air Tortoise fires off a huge, slow rocket leaving a colossal smoke trail as it leaves the launcher which then takes up to ten second to reload. However, the Fork-TW fires something like 20 small rockets simultaneously which then reloads in a couple of seconds.
The lower difficulty levels don't provide much challenge but the higher difficulties are significantly tougher with enemies that move extremely quickly and inflict a large amount of damage. This can be frustrating as it forces you to 'farm' levels - doing them over and over again to build up more armour and hopefully unlock more powerful weapons. The game is pretty much identical in single player and co-op which can make it difficult (and pretty much impossible on the top difficulty level) if you have no-one to team up with.
There's not much variety in the environments you fight in although they are a reasonablly large scale, combined with some huge enemies, large numbers of giant ants and lots of explosions rocking the screen Earth Defence Force can look more impressive than expected for the budget price.
If you're looking for a game you can just drop into it and have a blast, I'd highly recommend this especially for its budget price. However if you're looking for more depth in a game to play for extended periods of time this is not it.
SanDisk Cruzer Micro U3 USB Flash Drive 2GB
In a market flooded with USB memory sticks, the Cruzer stands out with its solid design - it's small which means it easily attaches to a keyring without being noticed and the retractable usb connector means no lost caps.
However, the U3 software lets it down slightly as it automatically launches giving you no choice if you want to use it or not. Once it has launched you can then uninstall it although it left a phantom drive on my machine which I couldn't seem to get rid of. If you like this sort of functionality I'd recommend portableapps.com, it gives you a useful suite of applications for your memory stick but gives you the choice.
Without U3, this memory stick is an easy five stars as it's well designed and built plus it's cheap however the minor annoyance of U3 docks it one star for me.