Nicholas Barkdull

Nicholas Barkdull

Nic is a freelance writer, doctoral student, and devout PC gamer. He says he's not a hipster but still insists that the best games are either decades old or made by one guy in a basement. This includes things like Undertale or any Final Fantasy that was released on Super Nintendo. He is also an RTS fanatic.

This blend of the old with the new relies too heavily on the old, while the new stuff fails to thrive. In its current state it’s buggy and lacks some fundamental requirements for smooth play we’ve come to expect from the genre.

Bio Inc. Redemption presents us with a confused tone: part of it wants to be taken seriously as a realistic medical simulator, while other parts seem to be trying to get a cynical laugh with out-of-place gore and sound effects. Still, this title is well polished and the gameplay is interesting (save for the Achilles’ heel of a terrible point management mechanic that destroys the immersion and fun). Flaws in both balance and theme could have been overlooked if not for the inclusion of this one unfortunate element.

Apocalipsis’ art style complements its gloomy tale incredibly well. While the story is nothing to write home about and the puzzles range from boring and easy to interesting and difficult, the voice acting and visual aesthetic make this title stand out from other point-and-click games. If you’re a fan of games as visual art, check this one out.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (PoE2) is the highly-anticipated sequel to what’s considered by many to be one of the best RPGs of all time. An early April release date puts PoE2 three years after its predecessor, which definitely isn’t as long a wait as many notorious sequels (I’m looking at you, Half-Life 3. Lols just kidding; of course there will never be such a thing.), but the pressure is on and expectations are high.

The Red Strings Club transports you into a gritty, 1980’s-inspired cyberpunk future to solve a mystery that asks more questions about morality and human nature than it answers. The nostalgic feel isn’t overpowering or gimmicky; rather, the setting could pass as something straight out of the Blade Runner universe, yet maintains its own style and originality. Modern technology is referenced, but the backbone of the plot takes your curiosity for a ride with its fantastical sci-fi elements. Add just a dash of that decades-old pixel art aesthetic, and you have a solid entry into the cyberpunk genre.

They Are Billions isn’t your father’s RTS. Sure, you still build a base and armies, but you don’t use them to go out and conquer your enemies. Instead, you minimax your way through, clinging to survival as “billions” of zombies assault your colony.

TARTARUS is a unique concept in that it makes computer puzzles come alive with realistic representations, where most titles try to make abstract mini games out of “hacking.” The plot and overall horror atmosphere don’t come together, however. Overall, this is a solid attempt at making light programming puzzles interesting, but more work needs to be done in this area before we see a title that is truly free of tedium.

The Rome II: Empire Divided DLC is the standard Total War that we all know and love. There are no huge surprises and for the most part, mechanics added do a good job at immersing you into the Third Century and a Roman Empire fallen into chaos. Banditry isn’t all that noteworthy but Cults are fun and thematic. In sum, if you can’t get enough of Total War give this one a try.

Project Nimbus has a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but that’s only because the climax revealed in Early Access set the bar so high, both in terms of gameplay and story. Those awaiting this title’s full release after playing the Early Access might feel a little ripped off, but they might also realize just how great this experience is a second time through. Impressive mech combat that never grows old and interesting story elements equate to an impressive win for this small indie developer.

Trackless is a neat little experience. The puzzles are not very challenging, and it doesn’t take long to get through them, but the message is unique and thought-provoking somewhat. This title offers minimal raw entertainment, but the art and music have their own characteristic appeal, and the ending is a fair payoff for a brief time investment.

Imagine the year is 2089 and the Cold War never ended. You would, of course, be a burly, time-traveling cyborg-agent who goes to dance clubs to flirt with and/or kill other burly men, right? Of course you would; the self-described tech-noir All Walls Must Fall is so chillingly accurate that an alternate history textbook could be written based off of it.

Super Cloudbuilt has the potential for unlimited playability simply due to the fact that there is always a higher challenge to aim for. The downside to this, however, is an intense level of frustration from repeated failure. The visual aesthetic and puzzles are commendable, but the awe doesn’t even register in comparison to the amazement you can experience due to your own reflexes and persistence – if you ever actually manage to make progress.

Planet Ancyra Chronicles appears to be made by a team of developers who are each individually good at their jobs – the level design, the narrative design, and the score all have their moments. Unfortunately, it seems the team suffered from miscommunication, because this title’s individual parts struggle to fit together into a single, cohesive experience. Perhaps only the most persistent of players will be able to make it to the end of this otherwise interesting story.

Vostok Inc. is as addictive as any other incremental game – in fact, it’s one of the better incremental games to come out; it has a lot more polish and character, along with humor, great artwork, and music. It’s nigh impossible to stop playing (because, what happens when you reach the last number there is?), but once you do, you wonder what the point of it all was.

Cladun Returns This is Sengoku achieves what it sets out to be with an apparent abundance of effort on the part of the developers. However, Cladun is not for everyone, and probably not even for most people. It’s intensely focused on customization, attention to detail, and a formidable obsession with stats. In the process, it sacrifices story and the option for casual gameplay; those not familiar with heavy RPG play, might want to think twice before plunging into Cladun.

Black The Fall has the makings of a deep and emotional retelling of life under a totalitarian communist regime. The literally dark, oppressive, and intimidating imagery combines with the music, sound effects, and mechanics to narrate scenes without using a single word, and that alone has to be respected.

RiME is a wonderful experience filled with both light-hearted excitement and touching emotional moments. It invokes the old cliché, “I laughed, I cried,” but, of course, that doesn’t do justice to the amount of effort it took to coordinate the vivid yet dreamlike artwork, the fun and easygoing gameplay, and the dramatic musical score. It’s unfortunate that the graphics can be choppy and the movement can be finicky. Otherwise — especially if you value aesthetics over fun — this is an incredibly satisfying title.

Project Nimbus is an impressive effort from such a small studio, but it’s very much a work-in-progress, and it’s been that way for a somewhat long time. The gameplay is excellent – addicting enough to burn through countless hours unnoticed – but the story is lacking. The voice acting, translation, and dialogue writing do not serve this title well, though the battles carry the gameplay enough to make it worth the time. If this kind of heavy combat in a robot setting appeals to you, give it a try, and hopefully the issues will clear up by the time it’s finished.

While The Franz Kafka Videogame ends up feeling a tad pretentious in its use of Kafka’s name, the artwork and some of the puzzles are worth appreciating. Bits and pieces can be frustrating, and the short play time is a downside, but fans of experimental point-and-click adventures might still want to check this one out.

Dawn of War III is very a solid foundation for the future of the franchise, but it lacks fresh flavor. The expansions to this title are sure to add races, storylines, and mechanics that are simultaneously new and nostalgic, but this initial release is somewhat bare-bones.

We all know Valve is trolling us about Half-Life 3 by now, and the common argument tells us that if they ever did release it, after all this time, it’d never live up to the hype. It’s just bad for business. But would we really want it, at this point, anyway?

Antihero is fairly well balanced and the mechanics are solid, but there just isn’t enough of it yet to make it stand out. It definitely has potential to entertain with its funny-yet-dark art and play styles, but so far it lacks any sort of story or variety. While I have high hopes for this title, we will just have to wait and see if it lives up to its potential.

Troll and I is unplayable. By all accounts, the game is full of glitches, even on the latest generation of consoles -- let alone all of the victims who bought the game to play on a PC more than a year old. It may work on certain systems to some degree, but the advertised minimum specifications are certainly false, and therefore merit a hefty downgrade. If you manage to get past the game-breaking bugs, the gameplay itself is frustrating and unoriginal, and the story seems to have nothing to offer. Save your money and your sanity, and skip this one.

Although Narcosis is "the debut effort" from Honor Code, the developers boast experience with legendary AAA games, and it shows. The Honor Code team has successfully crystallized their knowledge and skills, and put together an impressive work of art indeed.

Final Specimen: Arrival does not take any risks with plot. It is, mechanically, a platformer, reminiscent of the 90s, but nothing new or special is presented. The protagonist, for his part, promises to repeatedly die in every funny way imaginable, and that is exactly what you will get from this game - a lightly filling experience.