Super Hero Showdown

There are a ton of superhero games for the Genesis, and by this point in the project, Stryker and I are getting pretty sick of them. So we gathered up 5 of the remaining titles and decided to put them through their paces. If they’re any good, we’ll let them live to fight another day. If they suck, they’re getting eliminated. Given our experiences with these kinds of games thus far, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Game #1 – Capatin America and the Avengers

Overview: Beat ’em up in which Captain America, Vision, Iron Man and Hawkeye exchange some, uh, interesting dialogue:

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Superhero Treatment: Perhaps in an effort not to show up Captain America, none of the Avengers appears to have any kind of superpowers other than punching things. This is particularly notable for Hawkeye, who is always shown with his bow and arrow in hand, yet still resorts to punching his foes. Ironman has been reduced to a point where his most devastating attack involves picking up an empty Coke can and flinging it at his enemies. Keep in mind he can normally shoot lasers out of his palms.

Notable Feature: One of the more impressive translation jobs of the 16-bit era, including conversations like “There’s no escape!” follwed by “No, it is YOU who will be escaping!”

Gameplay: Braindead enemies who, despite having guns, pretty much just walk up to you and get punched, horrendous graphics, and limited control all go out of their way to ensure that this game isn’t any fun. Your actions are limited to jumping and punching, meaning that the guys from Double Dragon have more versatility than some of Marvel’s most prominent characters.

Conclusion: The goofy dialogue provides the only small amount of amusement to be found in this game. We’ve kicked educational games off the list that were more fun than this. ELIMINATE.

Game #2 – The Punisher

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Overview: Final Fight style game where you play as the Punisher and clean up the streets of… well, just about everyone. Let’s hope they were all criminals.

Superhero Treatment: The Punisher doesn’t have any true superpowers, beyond a ravenous appetite for destruction and wearing a shirt with a skull on it. So yeah, the game managed to capture that pretty well.


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Just to be sure that nobody mistakes him for merely beating up the criminals without killing them, most stages feature a few sections where the Punisher whips out his sidearm and starts shooting his attackers. In the balls.

Gameplay: Capcom already had a lot of experience with beat ’em ups, and that influence shows. This game is basically Final Fight with Marvel Comics characters, but that’s a good thing. Enemies find a nice middle ground in between being cheap and being punching bags, the game is fast-paced, and the controls are tight. Shooting sections add some much needed variety. It’s a two button game like Capatin America was, but somehow manages to feel nowhere near as limited.

Conclusion: The Punisher is awesome. PASS.

Game #3 – The Tick

Overview: Beat’em up (surprise!) in which you play as The Tick, the superhero parody beloved by comic-book geeks and nerdy hipsters all across the internet. It was like, the best cartoon show ever, man.

Superhero Treatment: Although the Tick has some superhero powers, such as super-strength and near-invincibility, his main appeal was spoofing mainstream comic book heroes. That kind of thing doesn’t really translate to a game very well.

Notable Feature: Rather than try to recreate the humor of the comic book and animated series, comedy in The Tick is pretty much limited to some humorous animations that get old after roughly 10 seconds.

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Gameplay: Not good – the majority of the game is just repeating the same attacks on the same palette swapped enemies, who display little variation in AI routine. There are also some jumping sections so cheap as to make the final stage of Double Dragon seem like a Godsend of level design. You also don’t get anywhere near enough moves to stay interested and can’t even grab or throw your enemies.

Conclusion: This game’s a total disappointment. But after the atrocity that was the live action series, Tick fans ought to be used to that by now. ELIMINATE.

Game #4 – The Death and Return of Superman

Overview: Superman must stop Doomsday from destroying Metropolis. This involves a lot of punching. And dying.


The Death of Superman001Superhero Treatment:
The game actually gives Superman some of his abilities from the comics, including the ability to fly and to shoot lasers out of his eyes. The fact that we find this noteworthy probably explains a lot about why we think so poorly of superhero games in general.

Notable Feature: Superman, for whatever reason, has apparently been cursed with tiny little Tyrannosaur arms, which makes it kind of hard to beat people up efficiently.

Gameplay: The stages go on too long, and there’s usually only two or three different enemies per stage, making things repetitive. Superman’s eye lasers tend to do more damage to himself than whoever he shoots, limiting most of his attacks to punching out his enemies. And since Superman has the ability to fly, you can’t help but wonder – why wouldn’t Superman just fly past all these lackeys and go right to the boss?

Conclusion: This game’s not horrible, but we found still ourselves getting pretty bored by the end of the second level. ELIMINATE.

Game #5 – The Adventures of Batman & Robin

Overview: Revolutionary, one-of-a-kind, puzzle-based adventure game where the world’s greatest detectives must collect clues to figure out and prevent the Joker’s evil plot… No wait, of course not – this is another game where you walk around and beat the crap out of people.

Superhero Treatment: Batman’s main power in the comics was his array of technological gizmos that he relied on. This is represented in the game by him throwing crap at his enemies. Certain power-ups in the game upgrade this to throwing giant glowing blobs of snot at them.

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Notable Feature: The game actually lets you choose whether to play as Batman or Robin… you know, in case Robin’s mom wants to play or something.

Gameplay: In the first level, clowns try to hit you with their flashlights and you throw crap at them. Then you get bored. I’m just going to go ahead and assume the rest of the game is like that, too.

Conclusion: On the Batman awfulness scale, this game ranks somewhere in between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, and the Penguin attacking Gotham City with a bunch of missile-equipped penguins under mind control in Batman Returns. ELIMINATE.

Crack Down

When I was in ninth grade, three of my more brilliant friends invented a sport called Wäk-Ball (pronounced whack ball), as part of an assignment for gym class. It was sort of a combination of baseball and dodgeball. And insanity. At first, it started off as a way for them to use the phrase “Wäk-ing Off” (the “official” term for batting) in a paper for school, but they ultimately ended up creating a game that was actually sort of fun to play. Before long, it turned into a genuine phenom, with games drawing small crowds of neighborhood kids. There was even an MVP trophy given out after each game – the coveted Wäk-Plaque.

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Not to brag or anything, but I did win a few Wäk-Plaques during my career.

One particularly intense game of Wäk-Ball ended with some controversy over who deserved the Wäk Plaque. This one guy Ben thought he deserved it, even though nobody else thought he had played that well. So when the Plaque was awarded to the another player, Ben declared himself a co-MVP, took the award and broke it into two pieces. He kept his half and gave the other half to the official winner. This touched off a bit of controversy and when all was said and done, Ben’s half ended up on the roof of his house.

Ben went into his house to get a ladder but very soon he re-emerged with startling news. A raccoon, possibly interested in claiming the Wäk Plaque for itself, had somehow gotten into Ben’s chimney and was going crazy. So we called the police, and 10 minutes later, the cops arrived at Ben’s house. Shortly after that, a fire truck arrived. And trailing behind the fire truck was a man on a bicycle.

As he rode up on his bike, we all marveled at how impressive he looked in his Richard Petty jacket, tight jeans, and thick glasses. Though he looked to be a relatively youngish late-thirties, it immediately became obvious to us that he must have been in charge of the fire department. You could tell from the way he kept trying to tell everyone what to do, even as the other firemen kept ignoring him and telling him to go sit down and watch from across the street. Surely, he must be the Chief of the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department.

It was my friend Ken who first saw through this carefully woven illusion. “Look!” he said, as the police officers threatened to arrest the man on the bike if he didn’t stop interfering, “that guy isn’t a real fireman.” And suddenly, it became clear to the rest of us. This man apparently followed the firefighters around on his bike and tried to work with the other firemen when he arrived on the scene. As he shadowed the police and real firemen around Ben’s house, we could see that they weren’t interested in his help or advice. In fact, they seemed kind of annoyed by him, yet also resigned to his pestering, as though this was not the first time this had happened.

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You wanna be a fireman, you have to equip yourself like one.

He’s Captain Pretend! declared Ken. “He goes around pretending he’s a fireman.” Well, was it really so strange? Didn’t we all pretend we were firemen at some point in our childhoods? This guy probably loved the fire department so much that he never stopped pretending. Once he grew up he bought a scanner and would ride his bike to the scene. I suppose anyone who wanted the dream bad enough could have been driven to this kind of behavior… or they could just join – it was a volunteer fire department, after all.

Ultimately, I’m pretty sure that there are still raccoons in Ben’s house. At least, I don’t remember them bringing any out that day. Eventually, everyone left. The Wäk-Ball players went home. The police went back to Hamburg Village Hall. And the firemen climbed back onto their red fire truck and went back to the fire station. Captain Pretend hopped on his bike screaming “Wait for me, guys!” and rode after them, later spending the rest of the day going through their dumpster looking for “fireman stuff.”

What does any of that have to do with Crack Down? Well, Crack Down might be considered a more militaristic version of the Captain Pretend story. The game’s opening text explains that 2 special agents have a mission to destroy an enemy base with a new type of bomb. And perhaps at some point – maybe in a sequel or something – that actually happens. But Crack Down is about two completely ordinary looking guys, Ben and Andy, who seem to think that they’re secret agents, and attempt to destroy the enemy base on their own with bombs they appear to have made in their garage. The game doesn’t show them riding their ten speeds into enemy territory, but I’d say its a pretty safe assumption.

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The gameplay takes place in the bottom-left corner. The rest is taken up by useful stuff like the inventory of the guy who isn’t playing.

Crack Down is far from the worst game we’ve played on this project and would actually be kind of fun if it didn’t feature one of the most monumentally stupid design choices we’ve ever seen. It’s an overhead shooter that’s played on just barely more than 1/4th of the screen. Yes, that’s right – a game that is centered around shooting and dodging enemies is designed in a way that ensures that you can’t see the people trying to kill you until you’re practically on top of them. The rest of the screen is cluttered up with mostly useless information that nobody would miss if it wasn’t there. This isn’t a case of incompetent programming or low-budget development – the people who made the game did this on purpose because they thought it was a good idea. Which is pretty sad when you think about it. Not unlike a certain “firefighter” in my hometown.

If there’s one lesson that we can learn from Capatin Pretend, it’s that letting delusions continue on unchecked can eventually lead to negative outcomes. Therefore it is for its own good (as well as our own), that we confront Crack Down about its awfulness and revoke its Seal of Quality.

Shadow of the Beast II

Oh man, there are so many reasons to hate this game, but the most obvious one is that the main character is a mostly naked caveman. This is just the most obvious of many, many baffling design choices made by the development team. According to the story, this is the same guy from the original Shadow of the Beast, only the curse that had turned him into a cool-looking demonic creature in the first game has been lifted, and he’s reverted back to human form.This time he’s on a quest to save his sister from a similar fate.Apparently this couldn’t have waited long enough to put on some goddamn pants.

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I’d say that the programmers half-assed the level designs, but that would be way too generous.Scientific instruments have yet to be designed that are precise enough to measure just how little of an ass went into this.

Shadow of the Beast II also features one of the most unforgivable offenses in bad game design, which is that it frequently and rather easily allows you to end up in no-win situations where it becomes impossible to progress any further in the game.For instance, early in the game, you’ll come across a demon attacking a man.Fail to save him and you’ll find out that his rescue is critical to getting through a later area.And you know how most games won’t let you squander essential quest items before they are needed?Not SotB 2!It gives you no indication that something you picked up might be really important and irreplaceable, and lets you use it all up only to get stuck later.

Let’s compare this approach to another Genesis game EA published around the same time.In The Immortal, if you use a critical item incorrectly and waste it before it was needed, the item generally kills you instantly in the process.That sucks.But at least it gets the suffering over quick, and lets you know right away that you aren’t supposed to do that.In Shadow of the Beast II, if you waste some quest object before it’s time, or fail to rescue someone important, or make some other kind of mistake, the game keeps on going.You might end playing for a long time without even realizing that you’re in an impossible situation, and even when you do figure it out, it’s not always obvious what you did wrong to end up there.What I’m saying is that it takes a special kind of ineptitude to make The Immortal’s constant barrage of instant death seem like a preferable design choice, but SotB 2 manages to do so rather convincingly.

Even when the game isn’t screwing you over, it still isn’t very good.The sprawling, open levels are supposed to encourage exploration and non-linear gameplay, but so little direction is given that they really just seem aimless.Monsters display a point value when you kill them, but your score is never shown at any point in the game – its not a big deal, but it gives you an idea of how sloppy the design process must have been.Much of the game contains areas where it’s impossible to avoid taking damage, and all you can really do is rush through them and try to minimize the damage.Fighting enemies is also usually a battle of attrition, and rather than killing them, you can often take less damage by running past them and absorbing a few hits.

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I don’t why they’re attacking him.Clearly, he’s not the guy who stole their pants.

Instruments of Chaos Starring Young Indiana Jones

Brad: Well, here’s what we’ve been waiting for – a game that chronicles Indy’s little-known adventures as a Belgian spy during World War I.

Stryker: Wait… what?

Brad: Yeah. Didn’t you know that’s what this game was about?

Stryker: Um, no. They maybe should have put that into the intro or something.

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This seems far-fetched, even for Indy, who once rode on the outside of a submarine across the Indian Ocean.

Brad: I think they just assumed that you would have already know that from watching The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

Stryker: That seems like a really questionable assumption to make about anyone.

Brad: It was an educational show!On network TV.In prime time.This actually happened.

Stryker: That’s terrifying.

Brad: The 90s were so awesome.

Stryker: This isn’t going to be another update where we just reference a bunch of crap from the 90s and try to get a jump on the inevitable nostalgia wave, is it?

Brad: POGs! Suddenly Susan! Tamagotchi!

Stryker: God, it’s like working with a VH1 executive.

Brad: Silverchair! Cross Colors! Just the Ten of Us!

Stryker: Got it all out of your system yet?

Brad: Yeah, sorry. All better now.

Stryker: How much longer before the whole nostalgia/irony thing hits the 90s in full force? Five more years?

Brad: Way less than that. I’m kinda surprised it hasn’t happened already, actually. And when it does, we’re going to have a lot to answer for. People our age been pretty smug in our treatment of the 80s, but our decade was far from flawless. But we should probably get back on topic.

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Wait, did they even have jackhammers back then?  And why’s that guy so huge?  I thought this was supposed to be educational!

Stryker: Agreed. So Indy is a spy in this game?

Brad: Yeah, this is before he became an archaeologist.

Stryker: Well, that answers my questions about why they would send him to prevent the German agents from meeting with scientists to exchange secret weapon plans. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing you would need an archaeologist for.

Brad: Yeah, but it doesn’t explain why he’s carrying that whip around. Spies generally try to keep a low profile, and it just seems like cracking a big ol’ bullwhip everywhere is going to draw a lot of attention. This isn’t a Devo video. Or Double Dragon.

Stryker: It might explain why everything in the game is trying to kill you. Including birds.

Brad: On the Tibet level, fish actually jump out of the water onto land, sacrificing themselves to a slow, agonizing death, just for a chance to attack you. That takes some real hatred.

Stryker: What the hell were we doing in Tibet anyway?

Brad: Same as every level – trying to prevent German agents from obtaining the plans to secret, advanced weapons. Tibet is a hotbed of secret weapon development, apparently.

Stryker: I like that on the stage select screen, they have Germany listed, but you aren’t allowed to pick it until you beat some of the other levels. Seems like a desperate attempt to give players the false hope that at least one of the levels in the game might not be completely horrible. Believe me when I tell you that the awfulness of this game goes beyond mere level design, though.

Brad: Yeah, like control. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to make it so that Indy will automatically change from walking to full sprint without any warning. Or to almost always seem to put a pit about two steps right before he does that.

Stryker: Maybe that’s the programming for the game. Instead of pressing a button to sprint, or having him start running after a certain number of steps, the game’s programmed to have him run whenever he gets close to a pit.

Brad: “IF PitDistance < 2 THEN Sprint.”

Stryker: Or maybe he wasn’t running at all. Maybe they were all black holes.

Brad: That could be the real secret weapon that the Germans were working on – A Black Hole Gun.

Stryker: You mean that the Tibetans were working on. The Germans were just trying to buy these technologies.

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I knew we couldn’t trust that Dali Lama.

Brad: That’s right. But a Black Hole Gun would sure make the title of the game more accurate. The weapons you’re trying to stop the Germans from obtaining in the game – a flamethrower, mustard gas, ball-bearing bombs and Gatling guns – are all deadly, but calling them the Instruments of Chaos might be getting carried away. I mean, we have them now and we don’t live in chaos.

Stryker: By the way – and admittedly, I’m no expert on explosives – but do you really need secret plans to design a ball-bearing bomb?It seems like just coming up with the idea would constitute about 95% of the necessary research into making one.

Brad: So how bad was this game? Was this the worst game we’ve played so far?

Stryker: No, not that bad. But it might be the worst one I was unfamiliar with before we started this project. I knew what I was getting into with Dark Castle and Jurassic Park, but this was an unpleasant surprise.

Brad: This game had me longing for my comparatively pain-free days working as a Quality Markets cartboy in the dead of a Buffalo winter.

Stryker: It left a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth.

Brad: It’s one of those games that’s so bad you instinctively start trying to chew your thumbs off while playing it.

10 Games Eliminated by Screenshots

After seven months of doing this, we’re a little sick of writing, and you’re probably a bit sick of reading. So we took 10 games that are bad, but not really bad in any way interesting enough to write about at length, tried to find some screenshots that illustrated their awfulness, and then Stryker and I provided a little bit of commentary. I’ll spare you the tired cliche about a picture being worth a thousand words and instead tell you that putting up screenshots is about a million times easier than writing anything.

Pit-Fighter

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Brad: I’d like to think that this is how all illegal, underground fights end – with the winner triumphantly standing on a forklift while the crowd throws money under him and compliments him on how studly he is.

Stryker: What this screenshot doesn’t show is that sometimes during the fight, a hooker will run out of the crowd and starts stabbing the shit out of you for no reason. As crazy as that sounds, it’s probably a lot closer to a real street fight than games like Street Fighter, which make fighting seem organized and kind of glamorous.

Midnight Resistance

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Brad: This game begins with one of the greatest introductions scenes ever – a dude with a machine gun riding on the hood of a jeep while his heavy metal friend drives. Things go downhill from there, but really, who could keep up that level of awesomeness for very long?

Stryker: In a perfect world, this is exactly how I would get to work every morning.

Wacky Worlds

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Stryker: Wacky Worlds is one of those children’s art-making games that probably should have been disqualified before we even started this project. But since we failed to do that, we went ahead and drew this picture for you.

Brad: We were trying to recreate the first level of Doom. I think it came out pretty well.

Bonanza Brothers

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Brad: What the hell? I know we’ve been brainwashed over the years into believing that we’re not supposed to care about a game’s graphics, but seriously, this game looks like it was made for the Atari 2600.

Stryker: This is a “crime simulator” in which you break into buildings and shoot cops in the back like in Grand Theft Auto. But unlike GTA, parent’s groups never protested it – probably because nobody could figure out what was supposed to be going on.

Batman: Revenge of the Joker

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Stryker: Holy vampires, Batman! We’ve somehow ended up in the NES version of Castlevania!

Brad: My favorite part of this game is that when Batman dies, he fucking explodes.

Last Battle

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Stryker: Last Battle is kind of like Altered Beast except you don’t get to turn into a Werewolf and it isn’t any fun.

Brad: The awfulness of the dialogue is pretty representative of the rest of the game, too.

Combat Cars

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Brad: Every time I look at “Growl”, the first thought that pops into my head is “Chewbacca would be the worst telemarketer ever.”

Stryker: If you could imagine two very inept Russian spies in the 1980s trying to disguise themselves as American teenagers, they would look exactly like Sadie and Ray.

The Incredible Crash Test Dummies

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Brad: The whole fucking game is like this.

Stryker: I hear the writers for this game eventually got jobs writing children’s birthday cards.

Bubble and Squeak

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Brad: This screenshot actually shows a part where I got trapped, couldn’t move, and ended up slowly drowning. I’m being totally honest when I say that is my biggest real-life fear in the entire world. So nice job giving me nightmares for the next month, Bubble and Squeak.

Stryker: The entire game is based around the premise of guiding your idiot friend through the levels. You know, because what everyone wanted was an entire game of nothing but escort missions.

Whip Rush

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Stryker: You can’t exactly tell just by looking at it, but in this screenshot, we’ve just picked up a a weapon that shoots in the opposite direction from whatever you press on the control pad. If there’s a more counterproductive power-up in the history of shooters, I can’t even imagine it.

Brad: Defender used to have a button called “Hyperspace” which, 90% of the time that you pressed it, would kill you instantly. I used to refer to it as the “Fuck You” button. Guess what – that’s still more useful than Whip Rush’s opposite direction cannon.

Berenstain Bears: Camping Adventure

Brad: Anytime you make a game about a family of bears going on a camping trip for vacation, you’re already starting off on a pretty shaky premise from a logical standpoint, and things only get worse from there. I really had to question the parenting skills of anyone who decides to send their kids off exploring on their own when the campground is located in between a haunted forest and an abadoned diamond mine. And in between being attacked by alligators and pecked to death by angry woodpeckers, I also began to wonder whether the Mama bear really had her cubs’ best interests in mind. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t have expected too much from the woman sitting around in her pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.

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Stryker: What’s to say? Another mediocre at best plaformer based on a license from the very fringe of marketability. I don’t know who thought the Berenstain Bears would be enough of a selling point that they didn’t have to put much effort into making a fun game, but that person is probably dangerous.

Mr. Do!: Bears are famous for doing one thing in the woods, and it sure ain’t camping. Then again, I guess Berenstain Bears: Pooping Adventure would be kind of a weird idea for a game.

P.T.O.: Pacific Theater of Operations

Brad: Hey, Koei – I’ve never commanded the Pacific fleet before. I just thought I should mention it because you seem to have mistaken me for someone who has. Why don’t you tell me how much of my budget should be allocated to fuel? Will I get more money later? How far can I go on 100 of your arbitrary fuel units? How many ships do I have right now? Those are all things I need to know before I can start making decisions that will affect the rest of the game. Even if you get through the opening screens without screwing up your fleet too badly, the rest of the game really doesn’t get any less overwhelming or confusing.

To put it another way – the company that made this game, also made Aerobiz, a business sim about the airline industry. I know even less about running an airline than I do about commanding the Navy, but I was able to figure out how to play it without too much trouble (or without even reading the instructions), because it’s designed to not be impossible. P.T.O. could lean a thing or two from that concept.

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Add in some of the most menu-intensive, unintuitive gameplay ever seen on a console, and you’ve got yourself one nightmare of a strategy game.

Stryker: I don’t mind investing a fair amount of time in order to learn how to play a game, but I also I don’t want to have to earn a PhD just to play it. PTO is absolutely brutal with the amount of detail it has, and the fact that it does absolutely nothing to ease you into it. Even after reading the instructions and a detailed FAQ, I still had no idea what the hell I was supposed to be doing, and probably made a lot of bad choices that would have hindered my war efforts if I had ever been able to get things going in the first place. Maybe if I had a few years to learn this game, I could get my head around it, but I just don’t have that kind of free time.