Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death (2013 - PC)

This is actually the first "God of War" type game I've ever played, and whatever the default difficulty setting is, it's really easy to complete without giving much thought to what you're doing. Now, bump it up to Hardcore and you're in for a challenge, except I'm now wondering if I had figured how to get the game to switch weapons sooner (Tab key doesn't work for me, I had to use the individual number keys), if it would've been easier. The last weapon you get is very powerful, but is so slow to swing that being stuck with it means fights are very drawn out and sometimes difficult to outlast. The final boss on Hardcore was almost impossible to beat that way, but once I figured out how to switch back to the second weapon, I nullified him right away.

There is also a serviceable amount of platforming and puzzle-solving, though nothing any seasoned player will be stuck on for very long, with maybe an exception here or there. (One thing annoying about modern games is that if you get stuck on a puzzle and have no idea what to do, it's hard to tell if you just haven't figured it out, of if the game glitched. This game did glitch on me a few times, but other times it was just that I wasn't doing a puzzle sequence correctly.)

Anyway, it's very fast-paced and action-packed. It's not unusual for it to launch you directly from a melee sequence to a hectic slide down a mountain slope, and into a series of jumps through giant water wheels, then into a boss fight, and so on. It has just about every action game cliche that's been invented and/or overused in the past decade - bullet time, QTEs, slow-mo special moves, massive combo attacks, mini-game sequences - you name it, it's probably in here. The amount and frequency of explosions has earned it the nickname of "Michael Bay: The Game".

The story is nothing to speak of and will annoy anyone who hates "save the girlfriend" plots, but it's practically a self-parody as evidenced by the goofball banter between the main character and his floating Mayan mask spirit helper. (Considering they both exhibit the same level of reckless abandon as they plow through their enemies en route to saving their girl, it's like you're playing as a human Crash Bandicoot with an Aku Aku that can talk.) It's nice that they made the daring choice of having Marlow be African-American, but a little odd that at the same time the main villain seems like an Asian stereotype. Although, he's voiced by James Hong (David Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China), so maybe not?

Once you're past the factory settings near the beginning and into the Mayan jungles, it becomes one feast for the eyes after another (screenshots do not do it justice - the scenery is absolutely amazing, despite the use of some "bloom" here and there). Jungles aren't rare in games, but the specific Mayan setting is a little more unusual.

Marlow Briggs frequently goes on sale for around $1-$3 at Steam, and if God of War clones or action games in general are your thing, I can easily recommend it for that. Even the normal store price of $5 isn't a bad deal for it, but since I found it easy, I imagine that people who are more used to playing games of this genre than me might blow through it quickly, even on Hardcore.
Rating: 3.5/5

Super Sanctum TD (2013 - PC)

And now for my first experience with a Tower Defense game. Having played nothing else I can compare it to, I probably can't give the most informed opinion on it. However, I can say that it's fun and addictive while it lasts, and often goes on sale at Steam for less than a dollar. But it seems curiously unfinished. There is a lot of empty space on the world map where it suspiciously looks like more levels were intended to be placed - especially since the final continent has only one level, when previous areas had anywhere between 2-4 levels.

Each level has a Normal and Hard difficulty setting, but "Hard" is rather hit or miss as far as challenge goes. The problem is that once you've played enough on Normal, you'll unlock a plethora of skills to make the Hard difficulty that in name only. However, some of the stages near the end, especially the one with the boss that replicates itself, will take a lot of planning and strategy if you're going for the 3-star achievements.

Um, does this game have a subtle anti-environmental theme? You're protecting cores, which may or may not be nuclear reactors, in a sterile "shopping mall"-like setting, from these bug-like creatures who emerge from the surrounding woods and plant-like structures. Hmm....
Rating: 3/5

Yet Another Zombie Defense (PC - 2014)

Probably one of the least impressive games I've played on Steam thus far. The best way to describe this is Robotron with zombies and some Tower Defense elements. The only real reason to play this game is to go for the achievements. Otherwise, it just feels pointless because of how quickly you'll end up getting overwhelmed by the zombie hordes as the rounds progress, and their strength, speed, and numbers increase. Being able to obtain enough equipment to continually survive against them requires some amount of luck - how much (random) money the zombies drop, how much of it you're actually able to collect, and whether or not the shop items go on sale between rounds. Even if you're lucky enough to get good deals and lots of equipment, chances are you'll still reach a round where the zombies just completely overwhelm your barricades and auto-turrets.

That's why the achievements are important. They give you concrete goals to shoot for and even sometimes force you to do unusual things you wouldn't otherwise (getting the one for shooting several zombies in a row with the sniper rifle was especially tricky).

Also, you might need to resort to the multiplayer mode to get some of the achievements. I didn't have much trouble finding people who were playing the game, so I was able to get all of them while helping them to get their achievements as well, but I'm not a very social gamer so this always felt a little awkward to me. You may also want to make people aware of what you're doing. Example: If you're going for Kiting Mastery, make that clear or people will bug you to build barriers.
Rating: 2/5



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