Let’s take a look at … – Grey Goo

Grey Goo is the first major RTS outside of a big company, such as Blizzard, Microsoft, and EA etc., to make a significant impact in the genre in a long time. Considering over the last few years the RTS market has been largely dominated by the likes of the Starcraft series, and remakes or re-releases such as Age of Mythology, Age of Empires and Rise of Nations, it’s awesome to see a fresh entry, and such a solid one at that. Hardly surprising, Grey Goo is developed by Petroglyph, a studio containing the veteran talent of ex Westoon Studios developers who are responsible for the Command & Conquer series! Let’s take a look at the RTS.

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Traditionally, RTS games have primarily lived on PC, and this is mainly due to the complex nature of gameplay not lending itself to the limited functionality of a controller. Grey Goo is no exception, and standard keyboard and mouse controls will feel instantly familiar. The game controls wonderfully, with just the right amount of complexity in places for a satisfying and rewarding learning curve. You’ll quickly be able to pick it up and progress through the first few missions with little difficulty, however there are enough shortcuts and hot keys to make it a challenge to master.

The game offers three race choices, each with enough different to make them genuinely feel unique from one another: The Beta can lay expansion hubs (small, medium, large) to expand on the map. The Humans build Conduit (roads) in order to expand, and the Goo offer the most diverse way to expand. The Goo start off with a large mass called “The Mother”. As resources are consumed this mass grows larger and can spawn smaller Goo structures. It’s a really cool distinction compared to the other races and the balancing is well done, allowing for players to choose a race based on their play style and not be at a disadvantage to some OP race.

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Bases consist of a main hub with four expansion ports. You start off by building a refinery close to a Catalyst Pool (the game’s primary resource) and your harvester will mine the pool for resources throughout the course of the game. Once you have money coming in it’s time to build a factory to produce units and start building an army. If you run out of expansions you can construct a new hub or remove structures to build new ones.

What makes the construction unique is that it takes a similar approach to Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. You have a pool of resources and as the buildings are being built resources are slowly taken from your resource pool as they are used instead of taking all the cost in one large chunk. If you don’t have the resources to purchase the structure, or train units, they are automatically paused until you gain a sufficient amount. This system allows you to pause production if you need to divert resources to a more important area.

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Another point of interest lies in the cover system. If your units are in cover they can fire on enemies out of position without the risk of taking damage. The enemy is only able to retaliate if they also enter cover. This makes for some great trap setups and gives high ground a tactical advantage, a mechanic that has become common in a lot of newer RTS games. Unless you have vision of high ground units there isn’t really much way to defend against them. What this offers is multiple ways to take out a few units, or a whole army that might be on its way to your base with a surprise attack!

Probably my favourite addition is the use of walls. A lot of RTS’s have abandoned the use of this mechanic but it’s brought back in Grey Goo. Set up a series of walls at choke points, or surrounding your base, and place your units on top of them. Instead of the typical tower defense concept, you instead place your units on the walls so that they can attack incoming enemies. I absolutely loved this idea as it simplifies defense.

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Visually the game is good. The structures, units and maps are fairly detailed though it’s nothing to spend a lot of time on. What was amazing were the cutscenes and 3d animation. The quality here is on par with Blizzards own 3D rendering and storytelling. It was really cool to see so much effort put into the cutscenes and pre-mission briefing scenarios. It immediately gives off a polished look and shows that this isn’t some cookie cutter RTS game that came out just for the sake of it.

I recently went back to Red Alert 2 to see how that game stood after all these years and it is 100% unplayable. From the incredibly slow game speed, to the dated visuals and broken functionality of changing your settings and having the game become visually distorted, there is no going back to that game until a HD remake comes out and fixes the problems of just re-releasing the game. This is where Grey Goo fills that void because it’s so similar, yet different enough to give the player something new to love. Grey Goo shines here.

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Overall my time with this game was well spent and enjoyable. Going in I didn’t know that ex Westwood Studio developers were involved though it felt so familiar I suspected they had their hands in it. I really enjoyed the story and gameplay and a way to experience the classic RTSs of the past in a new and fresh way. Grey Goo is top shelf quality RTS gaming at its core and deserves your attention if you are a fan of the genre.

Tl:dr – Grey Goo is the most recent offering from Ex Westwood Studios Developers Petroglyph and is an extremely well-polished game. Command one of three races as you build bases, protect your settlement with walls (yes they are back!), Mine resources to train units and explore detailed and well-crafted maps. With an engaging story and plenty to discover and master, Grey Goo puts itself up against some of gaming’s classic real time strategy games and gives the player that familiar but new experience from days gone by. If you were a fan of the Command and Conquer series this game deserves your attention.

Rating – 8.5/10

Purchase – Steam £29.99/$49.99

Trailer –

Indie Showcase … – Alchemic Jousts

Alchemic Jousts is a casual strategy game from Player 2 Game Studios. Their debut game, it’s currently on Steam Greenlight and looks like it could be fun. It’s a strategy game where you send a line of your enemies into a line of your opponents, and the strongest enemies break through. Your units are elements, so choosing the right element at the right time is crucial. Send fire elements into your opponents water units and you’re going to have a bad time!

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Water beats fire; fire beats earth; earth beats water, and air flies. From here things get more complicated. As elements mix they form new elements that bring with them fresh abilities and spells to help your own elements, or harm your opponents. With 180 combinations to be found, and a number of different game modes available, Alchemic Jousts looks like it could a fun little casual title.

The game will feature the following once released:

  • Single Player and Player vs Player modes, including local PvP with a single copy of the game (connecting a second mouse to your computer).
  • Strategic combat system where selecting the correct build is as important as playing it correctly. Button smashing won’t win the game.
  • Discover new Skills by combining the ones you already know. Starting with the 4 basic elements and having more than 180 to discover, it will take you a while to find them all.
  • Unlock passives to improve your active skills and your tower capabilities.
  • Strategically create your build for each game, depending on your discovered skills, your play style, the game mode and its Global Effects. There are millions of possible builds to try.
  • Each game will have a chance to have randomized Global Effects on it, which will enormously change the game conditions for both players. You will be able to see them before starting the game, and adapt your build and strategy in consequence.
  • Several game modes, each one with different objectives and strategies, including Combat, Endless, King of the Hill, Attack, Capture… and more to come.
  • Each game will feature an enemy with a randomized skill set and randomized Global Effects, no game will be the same.
  • Adjust the difficulty according to your needs. Select easy games for a more casual gameplay or hard ones to get better rewards and a challenge suitable for a Hardcore gamer.
  • Smart resource system which will automatically distribute the resources you generate will allow you to forget about resource management and focus on the action.

Here is the game trailer so you can see it in action.

Alchemic Jousts looks like it could be a fun little title. It’s a fairly uncommon genre, I don’t know of any games like this off the top of my head, and looks like it would be a lot of fun to play with friends. With 180 combinations, there’s also scope for those players that want to master the strategy.

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If you like what Alchemic Jousts could bring, then be sure to head over to the Greenlight page and cast your vote!

Indie Showcase … – CaesarIA

CaesarIA is an open-source remake of the strategy classic Caesar3. After making its way through Greenlight, the title is now on Steam in Early Access and is looking to develop a more substantial following as it moves towards a full release. Promising all the greatness of Caesar3 and more, it’s certainly worth a look.

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Community projects like this are fantastic. The game is open-source, and is available freely through Steam, so development is driven purely by a passion for the genre. There is no need to make money, so the entire focus on making the best game possible. According to the Steam page:

‘CaesarIA is a remake of an old-school economic strategy game, Caesar III which is a masterpiece among the games of this genre in our opinion.’

Current game features include:

  • Upload of the map from the original Caesar III game;
  • Construction\demolition of buildings and edifices;
  • Migration of population;
  • Farming and product distribution;
  • Entertainment, healthcare, religion, education;
  • Empire trade network with computer towns;
  • Extraction of raw materials and manufacturing;
  • Prefects, engineers, apprentices, soldiers, etc.;
  • Advisers;
  • Dynamic town modelling;
  • Changing the level of the houses according to the environment;
  • Healthcare and water facilities;
  • Military buildings.

Here is the Steam trailer so you can check it out yourself.

 

I must say, looking at the Steam page the game is currently sitting on Mixed review status with 65% positive reviews. I think this is a bit unfair. The biggest complaint seems to be the lack of content, but given it’s an open-source community project, and is free, I think more patience is needed. You only have to look at something like OpenTTD to see what community projects can bring off the back of classics. Give it time.

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If strategy games are your thing then it’s certainly worth checking out on Steam. Hell, it’s free, so there’s nothing to lose. The team are also always looking for people to contribute to the project, so if you’re a talented artist or programmers etc. then visit their website for more information.

Let’s take a look at … – Warhammer: Arcane Magic (IOS)

[EDIT: Since publishing this article, Turbo Tape Games have removed the purchase of gems from the game. They are also now rewarded when entering Arcane Fulcrums and when casting a certain spell. Bear that in-mind when you reach my IAP rant.]

Warhammer: Arcane Magic is a Warhammer themed turn-based strategy game from Turbo Tape Games. A premium app for IOS, it promises ‘epic battles and tactical gameplay that challenge both novice and veteran’. Does it deliver? Let’s take a look.

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The game starts with a lengths tutorial covering all game controls and features. While certainly in-depth, it’s incredibly boring! There is lots of text, and control is taken away from the player. This lasts way too long, and you’re soon itching to get playing, but are held up by a slowly narrated tutorial. This could have been presented better. I have to admit, I skipped through towards the end as I just wanted to get playing.

Once you’re through that and let free things get more interesting. Your squad consists of up to three characters. After the tutorial you have 2 of the 3 slots filled, with a further 5 characters available to unlock. 2 of these are unlocked by progressing through the game, and the other 3 are unlocked via in-app purchases. More on IAP later.

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Each character has a selection of slots available for spell cards. These are the attacks and abilities that each character takes into battle. There are 45 of these to collect, and are purchased via in-game currency. They can either be purchases directly from the character select screen, or unlocked in Plunder Packs, a pack of 3 random items, which can either be purchased for in-game currency, or found hidden throughout the levels.

Gold is rewarded for completing scenarios, so after a battle is complete you can return to the character screen and kit your squad out with better abilities. Gold can also be purchased by using gems, a more premium in-game currency, and in-turn, gems can be purchased for real-money. It’s a fremium model inside a premium app and it just doesn’t belong. A rant on this is still due later in the article.

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Combat is typical of a turn-based game. Each character can move once a turn, and has a set range. When out of combat however there is no movement restriction, and you’re free to wander around the level until you run into resistance. Your team has a set mana bar. This starts out at 10 each level, and each spell you cast gets deducted from the shared total, meaning you need to pick the best skill from the best character to suit a particular situation. There is no order imposed on this, so you can attack and move as you please which is great. You don’t have to move first then attack, it’s up to you.

When an attack is selected, each enemy that is in range will show a dice above their head. This is the number that is needed to hit them, and each of your attack is subject to a dice roll. Roll under the value for that enemy and they won’t take damage. The higher over that value you roll the more damage is dished out. There is also a skull value on the dice, which when rolled makes your attack instantly miss. It’s very frustrating when you need a clutch spell and the roll fails, but at-least enemies are subject to the same thing; they also roll their attacks and can miss just as you can. This addition of RNG adds a nice authentic feel to the game. It’s nerve-racking knowing you’re one duff dice roll away from oblivion.

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In each level there will be a number of glowing pads on the floor. The goal it to stand on each of them, unlocking the exit to the level. Each time a character stands on the pad, their special Cataclysm Spell is awarded, the mana cap is increased by 2, and all mana is replenished. These portals are very powerful, and need to be used at the right time in order to successfully defeat the enemies that swarm you.

You also have to be very careful with your attacks, as some of them will do friendly damage. If you want to lay down a blanket of fire to dispatch of multiple enemies once, you better move your other character(s) out of the way or their asses are getting cooked. It adds another challenge to combat, and while annoying at first, I grew to like the challenge of having to make sure I was positioning my characters correctly.

If characters do die, they can be revived by using gems. Gems are premium in-game currency and so are awarded slowly. While it is possible to collect them without paying, there are a number of IAP to get them which is silly. In a premium app the revival of characters should in no way be linked to IAP. Saying that, you can just leave the character dead until the end of the battle, at which time they will be revived, but when a character dies, the difficult of that level increases dramatically, so it’s usually just a restart.

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The game is set over 2 acts, each consisting of 8 battles. 16 battles is not a lot of content, and while I haven’t reached the end myself, the reviews on the IOS store confirm that it is indeed a short title. Each act has lore behind it, and each time a battle is entered the backstory is narrated. This is a nice feature and helps give some meaning to the battles and the progression through the game.

The combat and systems are fine. There’s nothing really more to it than that. They don’t do anything particularly badly, but they also don’t really excel anywhere either. It’s just fine. Gameplay feels a bit slow at times, and I think the UI could use some TLC, but it all works and does its job. Unfortunately that’s all it does, it doesn’t wow or make you want to continue playing.

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So let’s talk about the in-app purchases. Warhammer: Arcane Magic is a premium app, and comes at a price of £6.99 ($9.99). Why the hell are there in-app purchases here? Especially for something as intrinsic as characters. I’m not on-board with in-app purchases at all in a premium app, but at-least with the coins I can choose not to partake and it doesn’t affect my experience. But putting characters behind a paywall in a premium app is something I can’t get on-board with. It’s just greedy and NOT in the interest of the gamer. The reviews on the apple store reflect this, with the game having a rating of 2 stars, and people pointing fingers at the model. A fremium model in a premium app?! No excuse, that’s not ok.

Tl:dr – I was underwhelmed with Warhammer: Arcane Magic. While, gameplay wise, it doesn’t really do anything wrong, it also doesn’t excel anywhere. It’s all just ok. If this was a free app, I wouldn’t expect more, but since its premium I was expecting a better experience. The inclusion of a fremium model in the premium app left a horrible taste in my mouth, and made it difficult to overlook the shortcoming of the title.

Rating – 5/10

Purchase – IOS Store £8/$9.99

Trailer –

Let’s take a look at … – ShellShock Live

Fans of Worms and Pocket Tanks-style games, here’s one for you! Released in early access this past March, kChamp Games’ turn-based strategy game ShellShock Live is a blast … pun intended!

On the surface ShellShock Live might seem like just a clone of Pocket Tanks, but there’s so much more to it. Single player and online multiplayer options, an enormous plethora of unique and fun upgradeable weapons, unlockable maps, and a nice leveling system with achievements makes this worth checking out.

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Game play is simple learn, but hard to master. Each tiny tick of the arrow key to change the angle of your attack makes a big difference. Your location (changeable but limited by your fuel) and launch power are also factors. You might think you have it all lined up and figured out, but then an attacker’s weapon destroys your terrain, changing your angle of attack and therefore forcing you to re-calibrate.  You can attack directly in a straight line, by arcing your launch, or by using other items in the environment that can change the direction and speed of your attack. The weapons themselves act uniquely- some bounce upon landing, some roll, some stick and blow up wherever they impact anything. You have to practice with each weapon type to see what’s best for any given situation.

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Single player challenges vary between regular battles, target practice, or combinations of both.  Sometimes you’re limited as far as how many weapons and weapon types are available, and other times you’ll have packs that drop from the sky to replenish your expansive inventory. There are 8 sets of maps, and you have to beat every map in the set before moving on. After you finish a map, you will be awarded player XP for your performance and for finishing the challenge. You will also add points to each type of weapon you used, allowing you to level them into a more powerful version later.

Multiplayer is online only and the main screen shows all available players. The player level that you’ve earned from successful challenges is visible, so you can compare yourself to others to see whether you are evenly-experienced enough to battle each other. One glaring problem with this game is that because it’s so new, the amount of online players is always extremely limited, and those that are online are always much, much higher levels than me. Hopefully that changes over time.

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The first thing that caught my attention in this game was the sound effects. Launching weapons reminds me of the awesome sound of fireworks blasting into the air before they explode. I can’t help but leave my volume up unreasonably high while I play this, making my room sound like a war zone.  It’s a LOUD game. The other audio snippets in the menu screens are great too.

The graphics, although extremely basic, are also perfect. The mission screens and main page are nicely laid out and look modern and military. Each unique weapon has interesting details upon launch and detonation. Controls are intuitive. My only complaint is that load screens for re-attempts are a little bit long for my impatient personality, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

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This early access game is well-polished, with its main fault simply being that there aren’t enough players online to make multiplayer a good option for those who are low-level. Despite that, this game is definitely worth the buy, even at full price, which is still fabulously cheap at $6.99. Buy a four pack and play with your friends for $19.99.

Tl:dr – A Pocket Tanks-style strategy artillery game with a budding online multiplayer and tons of fun upgradeable weapons makes this game a great way to practice some of that trigonometry you learned in school!

Rating – 9/10

Trailer –

Let’s take a look at … – Convoy

Convoy is a squad based, tactical combat roguelike-like from the small team at Convoy Games. Development originally started in 2013, saw a successful Kickstarter campaign towards the back end of 2014 and is arriving on Steam today for £9.99 or your regional equivalent. Let’s take a look.

The goal of Convoy is to find various spare parts required to repair your broken ship. They are scattered throughout a dynamic world, filled with random encounters and events, and it’s your task to safely make your way through and complete your objective. To help achieve this you have a convoy of vehicles at your command, and it’s through them that you will complete the task at hand.

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Your Convoy consists of a main vehicle, MCV (Main Convoy Vehicle), and a number of supporting units. You only get one MCV, and you need to make sure it doesn’t die or it’s game over: I’ll touch on this a little later. Supporting units however can be picked up throughput the game as you build up a bad-ass convoy, capable of surviving the harsh world around you.

The vehicles in your convoy can be upgraded, with better weapons and stat upgrades available from the various camps found scattered throughout the world. These can be found on the game map, where the majority of gameplay takes place. Through interacting with, and taking part in, the random events you’ll encounter whilst travelling you unlock bolts and loot. Bolts are the game’s currency and will be used to purchase your upgrades.

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The game map is where the bulk of the decisions are made, and your game’s direction is decided. Here you move your convoy around the map, manage your objectives and can see information on your cargo, currency and fuel. When moving around the map you will run into random events that prompts a text dialog in which you have to choose how to respond to the situation. These text-based interactions have multiple outcomes, and your choices in them are crucial.

Respond to a passing convey incorrectly and they’ll spin-around and fire at your ass. Each encounter can lead to a beat-down, and given they are random you are constantly on edge. You also don’t have the ability to view the map without moving to that location, there no free-view. If you want to explorer an area you have to go there and play to hell you don’t run into anything that could overwhelm you.

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The other major component to convoy is the vehicle fights. If negotiations with an enemy fall short, or you’re just in the mood for a fight, you move away from the map, and get right down into the action. With direct control over each vehicle in your convoy, you have to fight off the attacking enemies. This is a nice system, and adds some real action to the generally decision-based gameplay, but is not without its flaws.

Your main MCV is centred, with your supporting units surrounding. Enemies approach from all sides, and you have to fend them off while keeping your MCV alive. You can move each vehicle individually, and they move in a very nice, smooth way to the target location over a period of time. There is a tutorial available that shows how to use this system, and in there the smooth movement of your units feels great. In the fast-pace of combat however I thought it felt sloppy and unresponsive at times. Sometime you want to get your unit out of the way fast, or to the other side of your MCV in a hurry and often that doesn’t happen and you find yourself waiting for the unit to gradually move into position.

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In these fight scenes you are driving constantly to the east, and various obstacles come at you which you have to avoid such as terrain. If you don’t get out the way in time your unit is instantly destroyed, and it’s in these situation where the slower movement really becomes apparent. Sometime you just can’t get out of the way and it makes the death feel a little … unfair.

There is a tactical mode available when in combat that allows you to pause the action, whilst still being able to command your units. This gives you some breathing room when things get a little manic and you need a moment to strategize.

Convoy isn’t a forgiving game. With a death resulting in the end of your game, and resources such as gas been precious, you have to plan each move carefully and think about all possible repercussions. I get why this is fun, and it does put you on edge at all times knowing failure is a wrong answer away, but I feel it’s a bit too much. I feel it’s at a point where it’s to its own detriment and it gets in the way of some gamplay.

With gas been a precious resource, and the fact that random encounters happen often, I felt like exploration was too risky to enjoy. There is a whole world around you but it’s just too dangerous to head into it and see what’s going on. You have to stick to the objectives and get the job done. You can’t view the map without moving your convoy, so you have to just wander aimlessly. If the game promoted exploration then this would be fine, but it doesn’t; you seem to be punished for exploring.

I think the risk vs reward is off. For example, you see a mission so head over there. It takes you a short distance away from the nearest camp. You end up in a fight which you couldn’t avoid. Afterwards you try to head back to camp to repair, but end up in another unavoidable fight and that’s game over. You can’t afford to take chances and explore, which for me is where the fun would lie in this. It’s incredibly punishing, and that was on the easiest difficulty!

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I see what convoy is, and I understand why it’s punishing as it wants your decisions to be calculated and deliberate, but I felt the risk vs reward and heavy punishment gets in the way.

On my first attempt, on easy, I died within 10 minutes. A couple more runs and I started to understand that exploring and taking risks seems to be the wrong way to play, but for me that’s the fun way to play. In order to stay alive for any amount of time I had to play so conservatively that I wasn’t having much fun. More just making sure I was making the right moves.

What it wants to do, it does well. So if you’re a fan of this genre you’ll most certainly enjoy the challenge. For me however, it was a bit too much and made me feel too restricted.

Tl:dr – Convoy is a punishing roguelike-like strategy game where each move has to be calculated and deliberate or it will most probably lead to your downfall. What it wants to do it does well, so existing fans of the genre will relish the challenge. For me, I found the punishing gameplay forced me to play conservatively and restricted what I wanted to do.
Rating – 6.8/10
Purchase – Steam £9.99 or your regional equivalent

Let’s talk about … – Former AAA developer turns to Kickstarter to fund indie title Sol Trader

Chris Parsons is a former AAA developer who worked on titles such as Evil Genius and Republic: The Revolution for Elixir Studios. Three years ago he decided to return to his roots in writing his own video games as an independent developer. Enter Sol Trader; “a cross between Elite and Asteroids, with a deep and thematic storytelling RPG elements”.

For those of you into your sims this may be one to watch, and you can have your part in making it a reality. Sol Trader is currently looking for £20,000 on Kickstarter to bring it out of Alpha through to a finished project in 2015.

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Keen to distinguish Sol Trader from similar games in the genre, Chris posted the following on the games Kickstarter:

I decided to build a rich world history which allowed players to discover and forge their own story in the context of their family, upbringing and childhood. I wanted players to uncover secrets about their rivals that go back seventy years and use them against them. I wanted them work their uncle’s contacts in the senate to secure lucrative diplomatic missions. I wanted them to meet school bullies on the space lanes, and teach them a lesson.

Even in the Alpha builds of the game this shines through. Before you even start there’s a large number of decisions that you make that generates a full family history that you can browse. Each individual has a full breakdown of their life, their interactions with other people etc. it’s incredibly in-depth.

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Moving past the lore and depth of the world around you, while core mechanics are there, such as trading and combat, gameplay is a little thin. Given the game is in Alpha that’s hardly surprising so we’re going to hold off on a review until the game has progressed a little further and we can give it a fare shot.

If you like the sound of a space trading/exploring/shipbuilding/combat sim then check out the games Kickstarter and help get the game released in 2015. Sol Trader is also currently on Greenlight, so head over there to drop your vote.