Foxhole Preview

Foxhole is almost certainly unlike anything you’ve played. It could be compared to Cannon Fodder, to ARMA, perhaps even to Age of Empires – but none of those are quite right. It’s a WWII-era massively multiplayer combat game that features a persistent world, crafting, and a top-down view.

When you spawn in Foxhole there’s very little guidance on what to do – other than players rushing past in trucks yelling at you to get out of the way. Open the map and you’ll see your side (green or blue) has a number of bases, and the enemy has a number of theirs. Your first instinct would probably be to pick up a gun from the town hall and some ammo, then run off to the front line, where you’ll almost certainly get horrible murdered by someone you can’t see. You’ll then slowly realise you just wasted a uniform, a rifle, some ammo, maybe a pistol and some bullets. All of those things were crafted from raw materials that were mined out of the ground. Those then got taken (usually driven in a truck which was also crafted) to various factories, where they were put in a queue to be built. Once complete they were collected and shipped to the spawn points. Like I said, not like anything you’ve played.

The biggest turn-off for some from Foxhole is going to be evident from the screenshots, the view. It’s top-down 3D and your field of view is exceptionally small. Cover breaks your view of even your own team, so if you hide behind a wall, everyone on the other side of it will disappear because you can’t see them anymore. To shoot you hold right click to aim, drawing a line across the terrain, then you shoot with left click, firing a bullet somewhere close to that trajectory. It’s slightly inaccurate and you’re often shooting at people you can’t see – a bit like the real WWII I guess. When it gets dark your view shrinks even further and only a few items (like binoculars) can increase it. Using binoculars, of course only lets you see further when standing still, so you have to relay all that information to the rest of the team.

Finding a team to start out is very daunting, you don’t get placed in a squad like in Battlefield or ARMA, instead you just bumble about until you find someone. There is an official Discord set up to solve this problem, but it’s vital that you group up with people – your carry limit is so low there’s no way you’ll be able to carry all the gear needed for a serious attack.

Once you’re spawned into the game with a team and have a little directions, it all seems to make sense a little more. You could become a scavenger, collecting the metal needed to create the tools and machines of war, doing runs backwards and forwards as efficiently as possible in relatively safe territory. You could become a truck driver, taking the crafted supplies to the front line where there’s a little more risk of ambushes, but people will be more likely to thank you as they are directly affected by what you are doing. You could become a medic, holding back a little and crawling to the wounded to heal them up and get them out of harm’s way. Or you could become an infantryman and master the art of moving through cover, scouting, and then committing to a big push with your team. Some people like to stand around and open gates for people, that’s fine too.

While the game undoubtedly has its epic moments, currently it starts to get quite tedious quite soon. Lots of the jobs simply aren’t that interesting and take a long time. If you want to build tanks for your team, you’re looking at hours of gathering and crafting. Even as an infantry soldier you’re not going to see a great deal of progress very quickly unless the enemy team completely falls apart. Instead you have lots of incredibly long stalemates where nothing interesting happens.

There’s no stats to speak of other than a basic xp levelling system, so nothing you do seems to have any weight. Either you stay in one server for hours and hours playing until you win or lose, or you leave the server half way through a fight and come back to join a different one later, it makes no difference and no successes are going to be particularly remembered.

This tedium and lack of obvious progression have put me off the game for now. If it had lots of dramatic emergent gameplay, that’d be fun. If it had a really fun progression system, the grind would be more bearable. But without either, you’re left with an interesting experiment in a new type of war-game, but not enough to be a really good game.

Now, moreso than usual, I am aware this is very much just my opinion. A friend has been absorbed by the game and lots of people have put hundreds of hours in already, so clearly there’s something there that grabs some people. You can get a decent idea of how the game plays by watching some streamers, but be aware that for every front-line hero, there’s ten more running the supply chain to keep them stocked. That supply chain isn’t a whole lot of fun.

 

Foxhole is available now on Steam Early Access

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Vostok Inc. Review (PS4)

Vostok Inc. is a perfect example of a truly brilliant game that’s almost completely ruined by a relatively tiny game design decision. For me, the game went from something I could easily recommend, to something that I’d tell others to steer clear from in a single moment, and hopefully it’s a (very long) moment that can be patched out.

Simply put, Vostok Inc is a clicker game combined with an open-world version of Asteroids. You fly a sprightly little 2D shop around the solar system, shooting asteroids and various aliens. Once you have some money gained from doing that, you can go land on planets to build various buildings in a more typical clicker-type interface. Each building costs an increasing amount for each copy, and produces a certain amount of money. You can also buy upgrades for those buildings and for your ship. Eventually you earn enough money to fight the boss of the solar system, then that opens up the next solar system for you to work through, with increasing financial targets.

First of all, the good. The art style and writing in this game is quirky and brilliant. Some of it’s genuinely funny and the annoying voice interruptions can now be turned off at will (or will be soon at the time of writing). Flying around space is a joy where there’s always things to do. Do you upgrade to the giant laser and sweep through asteroid fields? Do you take on the enemies and their challenge rooms (occasionally if you don’t kill some enemies quickly enough you get locked into a challenge room with a moderate reward if you survive)? Do you simply fly from planet to planet upgrading things? The choice of what to upgrade is always difficult. Say a school costs 100 dollars. The second one will cost another 120, but will obviously double your output. Now there might be an upgrade that costs 120,000 but only increases the productivity of those schools by 1.2. At what point is the upgrade worth buying over another school? You’re constantly faced with questions like that and when you discover the games many breaking points, parts where it feels like you’ve broken the system and can suddenly rake in huge amounts more money, are incredible.

Unfortunately, that’s also where the game’s biggest problem lies. Remember those financial targets? Well for the second to last planet, you’re looking at getting quadrillions of dollars. That’s 1000 trillion. Up until then you could always increase the amount of money you were getting fairly easily and keep up with the targets without breaking pace – this one is different. There’s no good building or upgrade choice that will let you move from trillions to quadrillions. Mining asteroids and killing enemies only brings in a paltry amount of money, the next set of buildings are far too expensive, and the last ones don’t make you enough, even with all the upgrades. You now have over twenty planets to manage (upgrades don’t transfer between planets) by flying to them individually, and everything takes a long time. To try and complete the game for this review I left the PS4 running overnight twice, and it still wasn’t enough to buy a decent amount of upgrades to make the target more reasonable. Basically I hit a brick wall.

Any time a game requires you to grind for hours it has clearly failed, and that’s exactly what happened to Vostok Inc. If they release a patch to boost the earnings of a few buildings exponentially, they could fix the game within minutes. If they don’t, it’s going to be remembered for that soul-crushing grind, rather than all the fun and whimsy that fills the rest of the game.

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Fable Fortune Preview (PC)

Fable Fortune is the somewhat unexpected entry into the card-game genre for the Fable series. Unexpected because there hasn’t been a Fable game in a long while, and because the card-game genre is not only saturated but also completely dominated by Blizzard’s excellent Hearthstone.

It’s no great surprise then that Fable Fortune feels instantly familiar. Essentially this is a slight retooling of the Hearthstone formula rather than a new take on the genre. You and your opponent take turns to play cards, using up gold to do so. The amount of gold you have goes up by one each turn so you can progressively play more, or more powerful, units. The aim of the game is to reduce your opponent’s health down to zero before they can do the same to you. You have a hero ability unique to each class and create your deck from a combination of neutral cards that can be used by any class, or specific cards that are tailored to your particular brand of combat. So far, so Hearthstone.

Fable Fortune does have a few aces up its sleeve though. First of all, and my personal favourite addition to the game, is that you have a taunt ability that can be placed on any unit for 1 mana. This makes taunt-specific cards less important and frees you up to create some interesting plays. You can force opponents who run very few units to waste turns killing off your weakest units, or turn absolute powerhouses into solid walls to protect you. This ability can only be used once per turn but is available to all characters and will often save you from death.

Secondly, and a much less enjoyable change, you start with three gold on your first turn instead of one. I can see why they’ve made this change, it means there’s far fewer skipped turns at the start and everyone has some options. On the other hand, it eliminates the viability of having high-risk decks designed around killing the opponent before they have a chance to get going. I quite enjoy that kind of variety in the game but here rushing is much less of an option.

The final significant change is the morality system. At the beginning of each game you select one of three quests. If you complete this quest, you get a morality point to spend on either good or evil, and this will change your hero power. The more quests you complete, the more points you get, the more options you have. This system also affects certain morality cards that shift depending on your alignment. While it’s an interesting extra system, its impact on the game seems quite limited from what I’ve seen so far, and it would have been nice to have a little more nuance to the system, like healing units pushes you towards good and killing things pushes you towards bad? It feels like an adaptation of the worst side of Fable, which for me was how easy it was to game the morality system. Here they’ve removed any pretence of it being organic and simply let you click a button.

In terms of game modes there’s your regular PvP but also a PvE co-op mode that works on a rotation. Each ‘season’ (lasting a couple of weeks) you get to take on a boss alongside someone else. You take a turn, then the boss, then them, then the boss, then you and so on. You can make use of your team’s units but only your hero powers. The major downfall of this is how incredibly limited the communication system is. You can suggest moves using little exclamation marks, but you can discuss strategy ahead of time or chat at all. In versus you can’t even say ‘well done’, you can just concede. This lack of interaction spoils the co-op mode a bit and really eats into my enjoyment of the versus mode. Everyone is just a faceless opponent with no character, making the game feel more like a grind that it needs to be.

In terms of strategy, the game is fine, but not a patch of the variety and range of Hearthstone. Some of the decks and classes lend themselves to ridiculously long games thanks to the taunt mechanic, and fast, decisive wins are few and far between. At the moment it’s too easy to cling on for another few rounds even if you’ve clearly lost, dragging out games far past the point where they stop being fun or exciting.

Graphically it has a nice Fable-esque art-style, but very little in the way of animation. The boards have no interaction and are simply static backdrops, the cards just project a little 2d cutout of the character above them, and spell effects are basic and uninteresting.

Overall I feel like this has been quite a negative preview, but you definitely can have a lot of fun with Fable Fortune. If you’re looking to learn a new game with new cards and a few new rules, it could be engrossing and eat up your time. If you’re just a casual player like us, it’s hard to see why you’d ever choose this over Hearthstone.

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