Game Review: Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX

I play (and review) a lot of indie games and often notice trends. Much like how the Rogue-lite genre is one that a lot of indie devs delve into. I do love a good Rogue-lite title but the issue with there being so many of them is that, well frankly, not all of them are very good. Developer Dejima and publisher Thunderful Games throw their firefighter helmet into the Rogue-lite ring with Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX.

Take on the role of a young rescue officer starting her career. Armed with a trusty axe and high-pressure fire hose that also acts as a jetpack, Firegirl responds to emergency calls across the city. Can Firegirl save all the trapped civilians caught in each blaze? Can she uncover the truth of why these fires have engulfed the city? Find out in a mystery that goes all the way to the top…

So here, you play as Firegirl, the daughter of a much-respected firefighter, who died while saving the city from attacking fire monsters. 10 years later and those fire monsters are back wreaking havoc. Firegirl, following in her father’s footsteps, tries to defend the city from those pesky fire monsters. Truthfully, there is actually quite a bit more to the story that is revealed as the game progresses, but I’m not about to spoil that here.

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The first thing to mention about Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX is that it is a much spruced-up version of the original game that was released on PC a while back and got some very average reviews. I never did play the original version but from what I have been reading, this new version is a lot more than just a slight upgrade. From all-new level designs, difficulty balancing, a better upgrade system and more. In terms of the gameplay, this is a very typical Rogue-lite platformer and if you are familiar with the genre, then you should know what to expect before you even press the start button. Explore randomly generated levels, earn in-game currency, upgrade, die and try again.

With this firefighting twist on the genre, the levels you explore are all timed and you need to move fast or have the building burn down, ending your run. Putting out the various fire monsters can earn you some valuable extra seconds and finding clocks adds even more extra time. Armed with your trusty axe, you can hack down doors and certain types of rubble that may be in your way. Explore the levels, try to rescue trapped civilians… and the occasional cat and then head to the exit. At the end, you are given a summary of your efforts and awarded cash accordingly. Leave any civilians behind and you will be docked money, save cats to not only gain some extra coin, but also beef up your fan level. The more fans you have the more bonus money you will get.

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Your fire extinguisher can be used to put fires out (obviously) and it can also be used as a kind of water-hover-thing to help you reach higher platforms or get across larger gaps. You do only have a finite supply of water but more can be found on the levels. Still, you do need to conserve water as and when you can because you just don’t know when, or even if, a water refill is going to be there when you need it. Back at HQ, you can use your money to buy all sorts of upgrades. Have your extinguisher hold more water, upgrade to a longer stream and more. Some of the civilians you save can be employed at the HQ to unlock even more upgrades. Add to your hit points, increase your fan levels and rewards. There’s even a handy shop where you can buy better equipment. Failing a level will result in you losing money, but there’s even an upgrade that can help with that too.

There are also a variety of levels just to keep you on your toes. Maybe you’ll be saving civilians from a burning building, maybe you’ll need to stop a runaway train, maybe you’ll need to deal with a forest fire or rescue people from a skyscraper. Given the randomly generated nature of the Rogue-lite genre, you really don’t know what this game with throw at you until it is thrown at you. The various levels will have you testing your firefighting skills in different ways and really do offer some much-needed diversity to stop you from getting too bored with the core gameplay. Not that I am saying the core gameplay is boring, it’s not. I just really liked the fact that Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX mixes things up for you to keep you on your toes. There are a lot of other games in this genre that just don’t do that and rely heavily on the random generation instead. Here, you not only get randomly generated levels but also a variety of levels too.

Looks-wise, what you have is a 2D sprite game in a 3D world. 2.5D, I guess? The presentation is very ‘arcadey’ with an announcer excitedly calling out when you pick up extra time, save a civilian and so on. Your fans will cheer when you do save a civilian… or a cat. And the game really has a very uplifting and joyful feel to it, with just the right amount of high-jinx and cartoony action. It feels like you are playing a 16-bit game from around 1993.

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If I were to pick out a niggle or two, and I will. The game starts out a tad tricky but by the time you have got a few of the upgrades, especially ones that reduce upgrade costs and increase your bonus money, it all gets a bit too easy very quickly and you’ll soon have more than enough money to buy all the upgrades. The basic idea of the game is to collect tomes that will summon the big bad boss to fight, and that is the end of the game. Honestly, that took me around 4 hours and I did feel a bit disappointed by that. Effectively, you can play the game for as long as you like and just not collect the tomes that trigger the big boss, so you could get a lot more than 4 hours if you wish. After the credits roll, you can continue to play and nab any upgrades you may have missed. But once you have bested the final boss and seen the story out to its end… what’s the point? I think that different difficulty settings would be a great idea, a ‘hardcore’ mode for seasoned players or something.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX also does this thing when running through levels where the perspective slightly shifts angles itself…and it’s really annoying, to be honest. The option to turn it off would be good. You can see it happening in the trailer above, or in this screenshot.

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While the various levels, that I previously mentioned, do add a bit of variety, there are only four and they do begin to feel a bit too samey after a couple of hours. Every train level looks the same, every forest stage looks the same, etc. Yeah the layouts change, but the graphics and assets don’t. You’ll see the same green and brown walls every single time you tackle the building stage. A few more scenarios, levels and variety of those levels could’ve really added a lot more gameplay value I feel.

£15 is what Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX is going to set you back, not a bad price. In terms of game length though… I’m not sure if it really is worth it. I don’t mind a short game if the price is right and this feels more like a £10 title than a £15 one. 4 hours it took me to see the end credits and as much as I did enjoy the game, that still feels quite short to me. As I said, that was because of the tome collecting that advances the story. If you want to play longer, just don’t pick up the tomes. But I also think that 4-5 hours is about the right length anyway, any longer than that and Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX would begin to drag. The gameplay is fun but limiting. This is a tough game to summarise as it doesn’t really do anything badly and what it does do can be great fun… but I do think it needed a bit more depth to warrant that £15 asking price. I do recommend this one but with the warning that it can be a bit too easy and that perhaps it can be shallow.

Game Review: INDUSTRIA

There is a lot that can be said for indie gaming that can’t be said for AAA games. They’re cheaper to buy, often offer the player new and interesting gameplay and a lot of the time, they can be quite short games. There is nothing wrong with a short game as long as the gameplay and price point are worth it. From developer Bleakmill and publisher Headup comes INDUSTRIA. A title that is certainly interesting and short… but is it worth the coin?

“On the evening of the fall of the Berlin wall, a young woman plunges headlong into a parallel dimension to find her missing work colleague who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. While the checkpoints in East Berlin are still being overrun by crowds of people, Nora escapes from this world, into unknown layers of time and into an unknown fate.”

So then, this is set in 1989 on the evening before the Berlin Wall is brought down. You play as Nora working on a project called Atlas and searching for her missing colleague/partner, Walter. At the start of the game, Nora learns that Walter had opened up a temporal anomaly using Atlas and is in another dimension. So of course, Nora goes after him. At first, INDUSTRIA really does seem like a ‘seen it all before’ FPS game… at first. Think Half-Life 2 mixed with a bit of BioShock Infinite and perhaps just a pinch of… well any FPS game in the last decade or so.

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While the gameplay of INDUSTRIA is alright and perhaps just a bit too ‘simple’ at times, its story, setting and surrealism is worth experiencing. The graphics are really well done and the world in which the game takes place is a joy to be a part of. The story can be a little confusing and by the time you get to the end credits, you will have more than a couple of questions left unanswered. Then, some of the more dream-like scenes really will have you scratching your head too… but in a good way. To be honest, the story and setting are the best things about this title.

There are some niggles such as having a terribly slow turning circle. Even when messing with the control options, I couldn’t find a setting that felt right. Some puzzles will have you picking up boxes to be placed elsewhere (standard stuff). But when you pick up a box, it takes up 90% of the screen and you can’t see where you are going. I played this on the Xbox and there are loads of notes lying around to read and fill in the backstory. To pick up those notes, you have to press the B button… the B button also cancels when you pick up a note. So as soon as you press the button to pick a note up, it quits out and you can’t read it and so, have to go into the menu screen to read the note that you just picked up. Look, this is going to be a short review for a reason I am now going to cover…

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£17 is what INDUSTRIA is being sold for and, getting to the point, I just don’t think it is worth it. I mean, I got to the end credits in a little over 2 hours… and that was with me getting stuck at one point for about 20 minutes or so. I did play on the normal setting and there is a hardcore one that will probably extend that time a bit, I guess. See, I don’t do review scores, I weigh up the cost of the game against the gameplay value instead and £17 for a 2-hour (or less) title is not great value in my eyes. This is why this is not a terribly in-depth or longer review, because there is very little here to actually review. Outside of the (in my opinion) high price point, INDUSTRIA is a fairly enjoyable title (niggles aside), but it really needed to be a 6-8 hour experience and not a 2-hour one for the price. I don’t recommend that you go out and grab a copy now… maybe a bit later when the price drops or if you can pick it up in a sale.

Game Review: Souldiers

Souldiers, developed by Retro Forge Games and published by Dear Villagers, is a wonderful-looking Metroidvania action-platformer with a very attractive SNES stylised look. So far, it’s ticking all the boxes for me. I do love a Metroidvania and the SNES is one of my favourite gaming machines. On the surface, Souldiers works well. But style and nostalgia aside, it is gameplay that counts.

Fight for your freedom in a sprawling fantasy world caught between the living and the fallen. Hone your skills in a retro epic featuring puzzle platforming, metroidvania exploration and crunchy soulslike combat.

There is a story here about warring kingdoms, or something. Look, let’s be honest, you don’t play these types of games for the story. These are all about top-notch action, loads of weapons and items, upgrades, level exploration and more. The story is just something this is happening while you enjoy yourself with everything else that is going on. In terms of what is going on here with the plot, my brain just kind of involuntarily skipped over it. Good guys, bad guys, fighting, blah, blah, blah… I’m not dismissing the story here, if you really want to invest in it, it’s right there for you. It is just that, I really didn’t care for it. I was here for the gameplay.

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With Souldiers you are given the choice of three different classes. A Scout, Archer, or a Caster. Each of the three really do play very differently from each other and will require that you alter your gameplay style depending on who you pick. Each of the three have their own strengths, weaknesses and skill trees. The Scout being the close combat character with a higher defence and block. The Caster is the other end of the spectrum with a very long-range attack but a far weaker defence. The Archer sits somewhere in the middle of those two and is probably the hardest character to use. The three classes add a nice layer of replayability if you feel like going through the game again once you reach the end credits.

The basics here have you killing enemies, earning EXP and levelling up to grow stronger. Earn points with each levelling up to spend on new skills and all the usual stuff you’d expect from a title like this. In terms of its basic gameplay, Souldiers really doesn’t bring anything new to the table. This isn’t a bad thing as long as the gameplay is solid and enjoyable. Do you know what? It really is too. Being a Metroidvania, you have the classic ‘finding a new weapon/item that will open up paths you previously couldn’t reach’ mechanic. Some basic puzzle solving. Finding a relics that adds fire (and other elementals) to your attack and you can burn down previously blocked areas. Find bombs to blow open damaged walls. Get a cape that allows you to double jump and reach higher platforms, that sort of thing. As I said, Souldiers doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, it just tries to make sure that wheel keeps turning while giving you a comfortable ride.

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Souldiers is a very familiar game and I loved this aspect too because it takes the Metroidvania sub-genre and just creates a very solid and enjoyable title with it. The combat here really does vary depending on the class that you choose at the beginning and this alone adds a few layers to the gameplay that other titles of its ilk miss out on. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes and each have their own attack patterns, you’ll really need to watch and learn to best even the simplest of enemy, never mind the bosses. You have a cooldown controlled dodge and a block, both of which will save you from death many, many times when used correctly. Health is hard to come by, potions cost a lot of coin, if and when you find a shop that sells them. You may find the odd healing (and other) potions out in the various areas but they are very scarce. You can very slightly top up your health via small pickups by destroying some scenery and taking out enemies. These pick ups will only top up your health a handful of points at a time too. Basically, the point I’m making is that Souldiers is not an easy game at all.

There are three difficulty settings to pick from and I began my play for this review on the normal setting… it was pretty bloody hard. So I dropped down to easy just so I could see as much of the game as possible to review it. Even then, easy is far from easy. Easy setting is more like a notch above normal and the hardest setting (which I did try for ‘fun’) is more like being a masochist who enjoys punishing themselves by sticking needles into their own eyes. Souldiers old old school hard and I do plan on going through the game again on a harder setting… just because I’m feeling a bit masochistic… and because this game is really damn good.

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Looks-wise, Souldiers is, as previously mentioned, very SNES-like. The graphics are certainly a tad above the 16-bit era, possibly closer to early 32-bit stuff. But just the way the game is presented, the design of the areas, the talking to NPCs, etc. It all felt as if I was playing a SNES action-RPG title, of which there were many on that system. The various areas are crammed with tiny details that look great and keep your eyes busy. Souldiers really is a very nice looking and well-presented title, one that harks back to the ‘good old days’ of gaming.

About £16 – £18 (depending on format) is what Souldiers is going to set you back and it is available to buy on everything right now. There is a lot of game here from the three different classes and three difficulty settings, offering replayability. Even on easy, this game is no cakewalk and will take you several hours to get to the end of. For the coin, you do get a good-sized and very playable game… as long as you enjoy a tough challenge. I did have a few niggles. The controls often feel very loose. Many times I was just walking and my character would crouch when I didn’t want them to because even moving the stick a millimetre had an effect. Aiming up with the Archer had me facing similar problems as just the slightest touch and you’ll be aiming off centre. Thankfully, you can change this in the options and have the d-pad to control the character, which I very much advise doing. Still, I like using the stick more and would prefer to do so too if the controls felt tighter.

Then there is the wall jump, which is awful and completely counterintuitive. If you want to jump from the right wall to the left… you have to hold the opposite direction you want to go, otherwise the character will fall off the wall. So let’s say you are on the right hand wall and want to wall jump left, you need to hold down right to hold the wall, then press jump and very quickly press left at the same time… to then hold left so you grip that wall, to then press jump and right to go to the opposite wall. Rinse and repeat. This makes zero sense and your timing had to be split second perfect as you either wont grip the wall or you’ll still be holding right when you need to jump left (and visa versa) and not make the jump. It is kind of hard to explain properly but when you experience it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Wall jumping should not work like this, ‘cos well.. it doesn’t work well at all.

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Some of the areas can feel a bit too long and may get a tad tedious with all the backtracking that you have to do, even with fast travel. Load times are not great and while they may not sound like a lot, 30 seconds to load each time you die, as an example. They really do add up and as this is a tough game, you will die a lot. Going to a new area can see you looking at the loading screen for over a minute. I know that doesn’t sound huge, but when you are going from area to area multiple times, again, this adds up. For a game that is as ‘basic’ (in a nice way) as Souldiers is, you really don’t expect load times like this. It’s not as if it has to load up a fully open-world environment in full 3D and HD graphics is it?

Progress can feel slow and sluggish too. It’ll take a good few hours before you even get to the main hub (city) of the game where you can buy weapons and items or purchase upgrades. Even the levelling up felt a bit slower than other similar games and some of the most basic skills will take you a long time to unlock. Still, Souldiers isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon… a long, hard and very gruelling, but ultimately satisfying marathon. Apparently, this game has some performance issues on the Switch too. I played on the Xbox and didn’t see any problems myself. But I just thought I would bring up the Switch performance in case you were thinking of buying it.

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Souldiers is the debut game from developer Retro Forge Studios and it really is a great debut too. It’s not a perfect game and I do think some of the issues mentioned above could be addressed. This is bloody hard too, but not in an annoying or unfair way. The difficulty here is well balanced and certainly playable if you are used to games with a bit more of a bite to them. I mean, I’m going back for more on a harder setting. Though I do think that an even easier setting would be great for newcomers to the genre because easy is still challenging. Souldiers is a good looking game with that late 16 to early 32-bit style and I loved exploring the various areas that the game threw at me. If you are looking for a hard but fair Metroidvania, action-platformer with a smidgen of RPG thrown in, then you’re not going to find one much better than Souldiers.

Game Review: Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, from developer Big Bad Wolf and publisher Nacon, is the latest in the long-running Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. Based on the tabletop games of the same name, the first video game adaption came out in 2000 with Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption. Despite this franchise being over two decades old, this is my first time ever playing any of them.

“What if vampires were real? What if these bloodthirsty predators lived hidden among us in complex societies and had been hatching conspiracies for thousands of years? And what if you became one of them? In Vampire: The Masquerade, you play as these alluring monsters in a sophisticated world where the lines between the real and supernatural are always blurred.”

So then, you play as three different vampires here and play between them switches as the story unfolds. Speaking of which, the game is set in Boston 2019. The three characters that you play as are part of a vampire court-thing and said court has suffered several attacks, with you having to investigate to find out how and why… I think. Look, I have to be honest here and say that I struggled to follow the story. I don’t know if that was due to some lazy writing or because Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong threw a lexicon of vampire language at me that I really struggled to decipher. If you are already well versed in the world of Vampire: The Masquerade, you will probably follow the plot easier than I did. But this game really is not friendly at all to first-timers of this franchise, as I am.

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Anyway, the three characters you play as are Emem who is a century-old jazz singer. Gale is the right-hand man of the vampire’s big boss and Leysha is some kind of a psychic investigator. Between the three, they have to find out what the hell is going on and how to stop the attacks on the vampire court… I think. What struck me most about Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is that, this isn’t an action game with you killing other vamps with crossbows and stakes. This is a much slower-paced and analytical kind of game, one where you have to delve into investigation, search for clues and partake in dialogue, lots and lots of vampire dialogue.

As there is no weaponry in this game at all, you have to win your ‘fights’ via conversations. Did you ever play The Secret of Monkey Island and do you remember the infamous insult sword fighting? Well, that is kind of how Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong works. Lots and lots of conversations and you have to get the best of your opponent via your words. You have various powers and stats to use as ‘weapons’ when you do engage in conversation, those powers and stats are what will give you an edge. Each of the three characters also has a pretty extensive character sheet. Bearing in mind that this title does spawn from a tabletop game and you can really see that here too.

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When you do use your conversation powers, your hunger will increase or your willpower will decrease (depending on which power you use). Drinking human blood will sort out the hunger issue and using consumables will top up your willpower. Still, you need need to be careful as and when to use those powers as there is only a finite amount of availability to top them back up. So you can find yourself in a conversation that you just can not win if you have overused the powers previously.

Outside of the conversations that drive the game, you will be investigating crime scenes. There are a few puzzle-like elements too. But most of the game is dialogue-driven… and for me, this was a major drag. There really is nothing wrong with a dialogue-heavy game at all. But here, nothing seems to gel. The plot is awkward as is the voice acting. But when the actors have such a dull script to follow, can you blame them for not giving it 100%? Plus, the game just gets very monotonous after only a few hours.

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Then there are several bugs and glitches in the game. Playing this on the Xbox Series X, as I did, you’d expect it to run buttery smooth. But no, I had the game stutter several times and even parts where the textures didn’t load in properly for a few seconds. These things can be patched out later, I know. But there really is very little that can be done for the tedious gameplay. I really liked the idea of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong on paper. Playing as a vampire investigator and having to search for clues, solve puzzles and quiz people. Kind of like L.A. Noire… but with vampires. Yet, nothing seems to come together as well as it could’ve and you are left with a very disjointed and sadly, a very dull gameplay experience.

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£50 is what Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is selling for (at least on Series X which is what I played on) and that is a big price for a low budget game like this, especially for one which is this distinctly average to play too. Doing my judging the game by how much it costs vs how the game plays, I say avoid this like a vampire avoiding daylight. This is nowhere near a £50 title. If you can find it on sale for at least half of that, it may be worth a gander. Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is far from being an outright bad game and it falls short of being as good as it could’ve been. What you are left with is a game that had some really great ideas but many of them were poorly executed. A slightly above average title that perhaps needed a bit more time in the coffin before being raised from its slumber.

Game Review: Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition

I haven’t played a good RTS for a long while. It is a genre of game that doesn’t get a lot of love these days, especially on consoles. I grew up playing RTS games. The likes of Dune II: Battle for Arrakis, Mega-Lo-Mania and the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, were games that swallowed my free time as a teenager. Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is an RTS game on consoles, developed by Gentlymad Studios and published by Assemble Entertainment.

“In 2021, a group of terrorists blew up nuclear power plants around the world and plunged the world into chaos. Only few were able to escape into underground facilities called “Endzones”. 150 years later, mankind returns to the surface – under your command! In an extremely hostile environment full of radioactivity, contaminated rain, extreme climate change, and people dreaming of a better life, you’ll have to prove your worth as a leader. Dedicate yourself to great ideas and guide your people into a period of prosperity and new inventions.”

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So then, as the blurb up there tells you. You are leading your people and fighting for survival following nuclear fallout. Though I mentioned a few RTS games in the intro up there, they were mainly ‘construct buildings and attack your opponents’ type titles. However, Endzone: A World Apart plays more like a SimCity  crossed with The Settlers RTS game over a build an army and destroy your enemies one. Though there are a few fights in this, they are not the focus. Here, your main goal is simply to survive and keep your little peeps happy. The main gameplay with Endzone: A World Apart centres around town management and maintenance.

Begin with a bare basic settlement and a few civilians and start out by gathering the essentials. Water is always a good thing to have and certainly a much-needed commodity. So, build a jetty on a body of water so your people can gather water. Then you’ll need a cistern to store your water for use. Still, before all of that, you’ll need builders and water carriers. See, that is just one resource, something as simple as water and you already have several elements that you need to manage to obtain and maintain it. Times that by the many other resources in the game, 90-odd buildings, the numerous jobs your little people will have to do and you have a pretty involving game here.

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Endzone: A World Apart is not a simple game at all. Let me put it this way, this comes with a tutorial that will take you a good few hours to reach the end of, in itself. Your town can grow from that bare basic settlement, to a bustling mini-metropolis over time. Time that you will be spending by managing and micro-managing every single aspect of your town as your lead your people to survive everything that a post-nuclear fallout brings.

Check the land for radiation and moisture to see if it will make good farmland to grow crops, decide which crops to grow, research new buildings and tech, rediscover electricity and more. Your people will soon start to have children that will need education, so you’ll need to keep on top of that and build a school. Your population will grow and so, you’ll need more buildings and better resources to keep everybody happy. Endzone: A World Apart just keeps throwing layer upon layer at you, unpacking more for you to do and manage as you play. As I say, this is more like SimCity or The Settlers than a Command & Conquer RTS, so you really do need your best management head on.

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Now, Endzone: A World Apart was released last year on PC. This updated console version, Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is the base game, all of the DLC and a few other tweaks to help with smoother play via a controller on consoles. Outside of the standard survival mode, you also get several scenarios to play around with, each with their own stories to follow. The game also comes with some impressive difficulty setting options where you can tailor pretty much every aspect of the game to find a setting that will suit your gameplay style.

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Coming with a hefty £45 price tag, but that price does include a piece of DLC and this is a huge game that will eat up many an hour. Still, there are actually two DLCs available and you really would think this version would have all of the DLC, especially at this price. Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is not a game that everybody will enjoy. It is slow, methodical and you do have to take a lot in. The tutorial is very in-depth but it’s also pretty imperative to play through… which can take a good while. This is a very deep and involving city-building RTS and these things just plod along at a slow and steady pace. So if you are looking for something with a bit more ‘action’ then you’re just not going to find it here. However, if you do have a soft spot for an in-depth RTS game (on console), then you’ll be hard pushed to find one much better than Endzone: A World Apart. A recommendation from me if you don’t mind that £45 dent to your wallet.