Review: Steel Diver

Steel Diver has been kicking around at Nintendo for quite some time. The first time I played this game, it was a tech demo for the original DS at E3 back in 2004. It didn’t look quite as nice, and it wasn’t as refined, obviously, but the game was there in a very limited form. After the better part of a decade, Nintendo decided to dust the project off and give it a development team and a slot in the Nintendo 3DS launch lineup.

Much like Yoshi Touch & Go for the DS, Steel Diver feels sort of like an introductory title for the 3DS. The game ignores depth in favor of accessibility and simplicity, while attempting to provide some quick thrills that revolves around gameplay that begs for mastery. The missions in the game are fairly simple: get from point A to point B as quickly as possibly and either avoid or take out as many enemies as possible as you go. You’re scored based on how quickly you can pass the mission, how little damage you can take, and how much damage you deal out along the way. Until you really know the levels well, you’ll often have to choose between speed and battle efficiency.

Mixed in with the missions, and also available as its own mode, you engage in periscope battles. This mode uses the  gyroscope in the 3DS and you hold the handheld out in front of you, and rotate around to locate ships on the horizon. The goal is obviously to take down the destroyers quickly and before they can sink you. It’s neat, it’s novel, but it does limit where you can play the game. Trying to take down ships with the periscope is near impossible on an airplane or bus.

The level design is pretty good. Steel Diver does a good job throwing tight passages, mines, enemy destroyers and subs, and obstacles at you while you’re trying to hurry through the stages. It takes lots of tweaking of the knobs and dials on the touch screen to keep your sub going in the direction you want and firing at the right angles during combat. Again, like Yoshi Touch & Go, the real challenge is replaying missions to improve upon scores.

A mode not often talked about is the Steel Commander mode, where you play a tactical game with destroyers and subs. Moving around on a grid, you need to position yourself to be able to destroy your enemy’s supply ships while protecting your own. You can attack and hide at different depths, making for a fun cat and mouse type of experience. With different maps to play on, this mode is seriously a great time sink if you have a friend with their own 3DS to play against.

The visuals and sounds found in Steel Diver are fairly basic, especially when compared to other 3DS games, but they look nice and sound clean overall. The 3D effect is layered well it provides one of the more comfortable launch games to play with the 3D effect cranked up to full. It would have been nice to see just a few more passes of graphical polish or some additional effects added in, especially given that there’s not really a ton going on at any given time on the screen.

Steel Diver is going to be a divisive title. If you don’t mind replaying the same missions for better scores, and if you have a friend that will play the Steel Commander mode with you, Steel Diver is an appealing title. For the types of people that generally pass a mission, move on, and don’t care to chase high scores, Steel Diver will provide a pretty short experience and will probably seem fairly shallow. I fall in with the former group, but unfortunately many might fall into the latter. I’d still recommend the game, but with some reservations due to its length and simplicity.

Overall Score: 3 out of 5


Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Note: This review will also appear on Gamer Theory when it launches later this year.

When intsalling a game like Sid Meier’s Civilization V (Civ V) to your PC, you better know what you’re getting yourself into. There are games that come by once in a while that will grab you, fascinate you, and then refuse to let you go. After days worth of game time logged, I can safely say that Civ V is definitely one of those games. Firaxis Games has enjoyed a loyal following and huge success with the Civilization series, but they’ve never been averse to allowing the series to evolve with each release. Civ V makes some rather significant leaps forward in regards to presentation, pacing, and unit management among others. The result is a game that’s more approachable yet more challenging and nuanced at the same time.

For newcomers to the series, Civ V is easily the best place to get started. While there is a massive amount od depth to the strategy in the game, Firaxis Games has done a very effective job at implementing a great tutorial and a very helpful tips system to keep players from feeling overwhelmed. Also, at the easier levels the AI aggressiveness is toned down to the point where novice mistakes aren’t punished too harshly. While earlier Civilization titles are available on the cheap these days, Civ V really is the best place for a newcomer to get into the series.

For the experts out there, Civ V introduces a few new features that will make the game feel familiar, yet fresh at the same time. One of the biggest changes made to the game include the transition from square to hex tiles for the world map. This change seems minor at first thought, but it really makes movement around the world a more fluid and natural undetraking for units. Cities also expand in a much more organic way as well with the hexes breaking up the tiles in a more complex pattern. You can see clearly how the hexes work below.

Another big change is that units are no longer able to stack up on tiles with the exception of a single military unit sharing space with a worker. In the past players could stack multiple military units on a single tile, which often lead to nasty bottlenecks where a player or AI had decided to stack units for defensive purposes. This change is a welcome one as it forces you to manage your military units more carefully and always be concious of where you’ve left each unit.

All the changes made make Civ V a more tactical experience in all aspects of the game. Winning via science, military, diplomatic, or culture will take a very deliberate approach that demands that the player adapts to ever changing conditions. Quite often I would start the game with the idea to win under one condition, only to have to aim for a different one due to the AI’s agenda not jiving well with my own. This makes the game very replayable, even if multiplayer isn’t something that interests you.

The game isn’t without its flaws, but Firaxis Games and 2K has been working to improve the game via updates and patches. As of now, however, the AI could use some additional tweaking and improvement. The AI is tuned to constantly exploit advantages, but often times it flies in the face of logical behavior. If you get too powerful or too large, at times the AI will just flat out refuse to cooperate with you, even if it would benefit their civilization greatly. At other times the AI will engage in trade agreements that are quite obviously skewed in your favor. These inconsistencies should be addressed over time, but as of the time I wrote tihs review it was an issue.

AI oddness aside, Civ V is a fantastic PC gaming experience that is engrossing, addictive, and different each time you approach it. Between this, StarCraft 2, and the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, it has been a strong year for PC releases.

5 Stars out of 5