Short Sessions, Part 14

This is another post in my series about the odd games that I have decided not to complete, although I will at least try them out for up to an hour or two.

SpellForce: Platinum Edition

Developer: EA Phenomic | Released: 2005 | Genre: RPG, RTS

Both this and the sequel were gifted to me. As I’m not crazy about strategy elements in a game, I knew it probably wouldn’t be my cup of tea. The SpellForce series are fantasy RPG with RTS elements.

I must say the narrated tutorial was quite extensive. It was very keen on holding my hand through using the UI, combat, and even building a complete settlement for crafting and feeding the human workers. The only thing that annoyed me was the pause of a few seconds between every voiced tutorial tip. That guy sure wasn’t in too much of a hurry to teach me the game.

I wasn’t too fond of the controls. It was another one of those where I had to select all members of the party to make sure they followed each other, and I had to use right mouse click for selecting and moving to a new spot. What I did like a lot was how zooming in close to the protagonist, a female mage, automatically switched to a 3PS mode steering with WASD and using mouselook with the right mouse button.

The RPG elements with inventory, spells and combat in general seem fairly typical of the genre. What stood out to me was the runeboard for acquiring e.g. party members or human workers as runes to be placed in sockets. Then I could spawn them from a monument. A party member joined my side in combat, while human workers could gather resources such a stone, iron or wood, then craft buildings.

SpellForce 2: Anniversary Edition

Developer: EA Phenomic | Released: 2006 | Genre: RPG, RTS

I tried this one right after the first one (well, actually, I had lunch first). It was very much the same as the first one, even down to the details of the voiced tutorial to learn the ropes. The user interface, the combat, companions picked up on the way, and the settlement, ordering human workers to gather materials and putting up buildings – not much deviation there. The controls used were almost the same too.

The graphics were a little better, and the annoying pause between tutorial tips were gone. It also achieved the 4K resolution properly, something the first game failed to do. The user interface was more streamlined but essentially offered the same features. While I still wasn’t fond of the control scheme, I could see the combination of RPG and RTS had it charms for gamers that enjoyed both.

And it sure had scantily clad women. It didn’t take long into the tutorial before my party met the iconic woman seen in press images for the game. I like beautiful women as much as any man, but her outfit was borderline ridiculous. No wonder we had to revive her after a fight we found her in.

SpellForce 2: Faith in Destiny

Developer: Mind Over Matter Studios | Released: 2012 | Genre: RPG, RTS

I also tried the standalone expansion pack after that. Exactly the same user interface and features as the main game. It even had another extremely scantily clad woman on the title screen. Why change this popular RPG cliché? After all, it might sell more copies.

Strange that there was no choice between a male and a female protagonist this time around. I could only choose male. The dialog in the short while I played the game was not exactly Hemingway. The writing seemed weak, and the accompanying woman was annoyingly condescending to the protagonist.

I also found it quite lame that I could talk to a military commander on a horse about maybe spotting evil invaders, yet a floating demon eyeball was also clearly visible a few meters away to the left. I know the eyesight of game characters are notoriously limited, but that was really preposterous.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Released: 2016 | Genre: 3PS, Adventure

As a Tomb Raider veteran, having completed almost all of the main games up to and including the reboot in 2013, I must say I only really truly loved it back when exploration was taking up most of the gaming time.

Although I did complete and admittedly even enjoy certain aspects of the reboot in 2013, I was never fond of the new focus on combat, the dumbing down of the tombs, and the all too frequent sudden “yanks” of action which was clearly inspired by the Uncharted series.

I guess I’m the grumpy gamer missing the good oldskool days of Tomb Raiding.

Rise of the Tomb Raider was given to me for free – together with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and HITMAN: Season One, back when I was working for IO Interactive. And for that reason I didn’t necessarily feel an obligation to complete the game. A small taste of it would suffice.

I did complete the snowy introduction in Siberia, the temple section in Syria, the short piece at Croft Manor, and then back to creating my first base camp in Siberia. Almost 1½ hours of gameplay.

There was a lot to like in it, of course. The detailed graphics and the motion capture was truly exquisite. I especially took note of the excellent facial animations with really good lip sync of dialog. Lara was gorgeous and once again well voiced by Camilla Luddington.

The actually spelunking – jumping, crawling, swimming, shooting – was well done, but all too frequently spiced up with sudden explosions of action. Everything crumbling down, platforms breaking up, hurry up and make this series of stressful jumps or die and try again half a dozen times until you get it right.

I never asked for th… oh wait, wrong game.

Interesting idea with the survival instinct hotkey to light up interactive objects. Reminded me of a similar feature in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Did the two developer teams exchange ideas there? Since they were both under the Square Enix umbrella at the time, they might have. But I’m just guessing.

Back in Siberia, Lara was freezing her bubble butt off and had to gather wood to light a camp fire. This opened up for a group of windows for using skill points, crafting bow and arrows, changing her outfit, and more. I must say that the design of the windows were once again really elegant, but survival gameplay is yet another thing I never wanted to be part of this game series.

I did like that she could get better at understanding languages, though.

The Eternal Cylinder

Developer: ACE Team | Released: 2021 | Genre: Survival, Adventure

What a wonderfully weird game. Truly surrealistic and cute.

Cracking out of an egg as a Trebhum, a tiny creature with a snout for sucking, I could run or roll around the landscape sucking up food for eliminating hunger or activate an object for evolving some kind of ability.

I could also roll into a ball for faster speed.

This was quite necessary because of an enormous cylinder that sometimes broke their blocking energy towers for rolling across the entire landscape, crushing pretty much everything in its path. I then had to roll to the next energy tower and cross through it to the other side. The cylinder smashed onto the towers and were (usually) stalled until I had completed a small task for the area. This spawned a cyan force field all around. Crossing it caused the cylinder to crumble the energy towers and start rolling again.

So it was a period of relative calm, sucking up food and ability enhancers, finding and revive other Trebhum for joining a group, visit a cave with some kind of purpose, then cross the force field for another sprint towards the next line of energy towers.

Among the abilities I earned, I got bigger legs for jumping higher, a square figure for fitting into a square socket, a wonderful trumpet sound for scaring away predators, and grassy hair for attracting flies.

It was all so charmingly strange.

Unfortunately, there were sometimes periods of not being sure what to do next. A narrator then usually talked about what I needed to do. One cute idea was that a curved light beam from one of the energy towers often pointed to our goal. Typically a cave.

I played for almost 1½ hours until I got to a point where the energy towers barely held back the cylinder and I had to roll for our lives twice in a row. Lightning began to strike the cylinder, slowing it down, but the way ahead had an enormous gorge with toxic gas in it – and it wasn’t easy to get around it.

When I read about and bought this game, I was hoping for something with a bit more puzzles and relaxed exploration. The cylinder introducing an element of stress into the gameplay and the resource gathering in a landscape filled with predators, made for a different kind of gameplay than what I was looking for.

See also: Short Sessions, Part 13

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