It's that time once again folks - time for Game of the Month. This is where we round up the highlight’s of the previous month's releases and put to you our humble view of who we think bested them all. Maybe it will inspire you to pick up a game you never realised was out, maybe it will simply validate your own opinions on these games - either way, we do this for you guys. Let’s have a look at the highlights of February:
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
EA’s brand new ip hit the ground running, earning the No.1 slot in the charts for a week, and getting generally favourable reviews. With the creative prowess of Todd McFarlane, Ken Rolston and R.A. Salvatore behind the wheel, it’d be hard to go wrong, and Reckoning gave a very good account for itself. It’s a big, epic, yet slightly traditional fantasy RPG with a core narrative and a combat system that’s similar to something out of Fable.
As Chris Capel says, "Anyone who ventures in to the Kingdoms of Amalur will find a gigantic and compelling RPG experience. It’s not quite ready to topple the big guns of the genre, but despite feeling “inspired” by every RPG or fantasy ever made it manages to offer a unique and entertaining alternative. Even if it does add yet another surly scantily-clad elf girl to the genre."
Final Fantasy XIII-2
Only the second Final Fantasy title that was a direct sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was met with a mixture of suspicion and cautious optimism, depending on what you thought about FFXIII and the previous direct sequel, X-2. Critically, it received everything from a 5/10 from one UK magazine, to our own score of 7.5, to a perfect 40/40 from Famitsu – so if one thing is clear, it’s that gamers will have to make up their own minds (even though you all do anyway).
As far as Nick Akerman is concerned, whilst not perfect, he thought FFXIII-2 was “an appealing return for the much-adhered franchise. It offers some truly unique and intriguing gameplay elements that will invite newcomers whilst challenging series aficionados. This is extremely important after the failings of XIII, as it shows Square Enix are prepared to keep building on the RPG formula they shaped. Serah's adventure is an entertaining and dynamic one, signalling that Final Fantasy is moving in the right direction once again.”
The second favourite game of February, going by the score it got, Dead Esther won over Manny with its surprising quality, the narrative, and how it questions the traditional idea of what a videogame ‘is’. I’ll let him do the rest of the talking, but this is definitely one you should check out:
“Frankly, for my money, I couldn’t care less. There was more emotional resonance captured in that lonely wander through hills and caves than the majority of releases I’ve played in this or any other year, and it was pitched to a nigh-on perfect length to never outstay its welcome. Do we need shooting, puzzles or interaction to classify something as a videogame? Maybe, but whatever Dear Esther is, don’t get bogged down by the semantics. You’ll be missing out on one of the most haunting and well-executed titles of this or any other generation if you do.”
Wargame: European Escalation
One of my personal favourites of this month, Wargame was an oddly refreshing strategy title from the guys who brought you R.U.S.E. Multiplayer-focused, deck-based, and set during the cold war, Wargame kept everything R.U.S.E. did right, left what it did wrong, and even added in some other unique elements to help make it a very well made strategy game. Single-player is a bit on the weak side, but this game was never about the offline mode. Others have lamented a lack of a proper tutorial as well, but we still feel this is a definite highlight for February, and for Strategy games in the past few months.
As we said in our review: “Some people liked R.U.S.E., some people didn’t. I don’t mind admitting I was probably a little harsh on it when its turn came. Wargame: European Escalation however is definitely a better game – Eugen has taken everything they’ve learned and made a better, more engaging product that’s more focused on the strategy. Looking forward we wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of abilities worked back into the game, whether off-map or unit based (Engineers, for example, don’t really do anything engineering). Regardless of the future though, this game is worth getting now, pure and simple.”
February also saw the release of the long- awaited Syndicate reboot, although we suspect it’s not the re-imagining many of the older fans were hoping for. Still, Starbreeze gave it their all and while Syndicate didn’t totally flop, we here at Strategy Informer at least don’t consider it to be anything special. As Chris puts it:
"I loved both of Starbreeze’s last games, but while I expected to love Syndicate it just left me cold. There’s fun to be had, especially in the co-op which plenty of people will get their teeth into and love, so that makes the game worth it at least. Nevertheless, while Syndicate’s a good solid FPS, it wastes its world, its unique ideas and its potential. And that’s just a damn shame. Bloody corporations."
Whilst this game has technically been out for a while now, it only got a UK release in February, and that’s when our review went out. More Anime, than actual game, Catherine was an excellent poster-child for the more narrative driven game, and certainly did a lot for the whole ‘maturity’ issue. Still, it wasn’t perfect, and the ‘game’ elements weren’t that great, and even the story was fairly niche in content.
As our writer Manny put it: “Catherine isn’t a perfect game that’s recommendable to everybody though. Dialogue can be hit-and-miss, and - as with most translated Japanese titles - it’s delivered at a pace that skirts dangerously close to plodding… (but) It gives you most of the control as to the statements it makes about the sanctity and relevance of marriage and commitment, and it’s worth pursuing for those reasons alone.”
Special Mention: Asura’s Wrath, for being so lovingly bonkers. You can read our review.
And the winner is…
Crusader Kings II
We think February was a month for the indie and niche titles, and this reflects our choice for this month’s Game of the Month. Crusader King’s II is not only a really fun and engaging game in its own right, but it’s probably one of the best Paradox games to date. You get to forge your own destiny for you and your family as you weather through hundreds of years of medieval history, from 1066 all the way to the 1400's.
Through conquest, diplomacy, intrigue (or pure luck), you must forge a dynasty that will stand the test of time. In my own words:
"Whilst the subject matter and the set-up may not be to everyone’s liking, Crusader Kings II is definitely the most impressive Paradox game to date. The game mechanics are an interesting twist on a well-known genre, the code itself is highly polished, and it’s just a really fun and interesting game to play. Some minor improvements could still be made, and this really is a game of patience, even more so than other Paradox games. Like we said at the beginning though, playing is winning, and there’s something quite satisfying about leading your house to power and glory through whatever means you can, for as long as you can."
February was an interesting month for games, filled with sequels and new ip’s alike, AAA’s and Indies, and plenty of them. It’s a good sign for the year ahead, and we hope we’ve illuminated you guys as to what’s available. Don’t forget to check out our review section to see the rest of February’s releases that we’ve covered. You never know what you might discover!