It’s that time of the year again when everybody dusts off their Steam catalogs and looks back in shame and disgust at their time wasted playing things they don’t remember. In 2021 we had some fantastic releases such as War In The East 2, Warplan Pacific, Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive, Age of Empires IV, Combat Mission: Cold War, and 2022 cannot compare. In a way, 2022 was a weird year for video games. Sure, there were some major releases, but nothing spectacular or- pardon my pun- game-changing. With 2023 right around the corner and looking at the games that might be coming up, it’s rather depressing looking back. Second Front is already gearing up for a post-Christmas release in late January, Ezra Sidran’s General Staff is fine-tuning the small details, and Company of Heroes 3 is polishing its gun for a release during the last week of February. This list isn’t necessarily in order, just some games I consider to be worthy of your time and maybe your bucks during the up-and-coming Steam Sale if you need some digital goodies to fill your Christmas tree and fireplace socks.
As always, these lists are based on games I personally played, so there might be some that really deserve to be here but I just didn’t get around to them.
Starship Troopers: Terran Command
Whenever someone asks me what’s my favorite movie of all time, Starship Trooper has been the answer since I’ve seen it as a kid. Don’t mind the fascist undertones, and cultural criticism of militaristic societies, I don’t care about any of that. What tingles my dingle is the interesting universe and how entertaining of an action movie it is, and that’s all I want from my movies: dumb and fun. Hate me for that, art students, I don’t care.
Expectations weren’t necessarily riding high when Starship Troopers: Terran Command came out in the Spring of 2022. In fact, I expected only to be somewhat disappointed. This was, for all intents and purposes, Slitherine’s real foray into what we can consider “a mainstream title”. Jankyness, obtuse user interfaces, and terrible graphics were sure to follow. What happened instead was 2022 biggest surprise. Starship Troopers looked amazing, units (both marines and bugs) are extremely well modeled, and very faithful to Verhooven’s movie style. For a game whose sole focus is on sending the largest amount of bugs into the afterlife, it did a fantastic job at transcribing the sort of “line” style of fighting the marines used in the film into the game mechanics. Every unit has a limited line of sight and units can’t fire in between one another, so maximizing firepower becomes a priority for any bug-squashing commander worth their salt. An engrossingly enough single-player campaign set on the desert planet of Kwalash, after the blunders of Klendathu manages to capture the essence of what it would be like to protect a planet from the arachnid menace.
It earned a final score of five out of five stars on my review: “Starship Troopers: Terran Command is a videogame that screams homage and exudes reverence for the films of the franchise. A stellar presentation in combination with an expansive campaign that’s going to last you a good dozen hours before you’re done with it, allied with a fantastic friendly and enemy unit variety that is both movie-accurate and interesting to play with, plus the tactical conundrums present that are sure to stir some of your brain cells to make Starship Troopers an obvious purchase. That’s not to speak about the fact that the games cost some meager 25€. So, if you’re either a fan of the franchise or want to play one of the best real-time strategy campaigns since the release of the first Company of Heroes and Starcraft II, Starship Troopers don’t fret. Despite some of the bugs and lighter criticism, I can’t help myself and must award Terran Command a Strategy and Wargaming Golden Seal of Approval. Starship Troopers: Terran Comand is what happens when the theme meets the mechanics with exquisite care. You made the Federation proud!”
Field of Glory II: Medieval – Storm of Arrows DLC
There’s little doubt that Field of Glory II: Medieval is the ultimate medieval game for anyone looking to recreate what commanding a medieval army would be like. And if you think Total War: Medieval II even come close, you’re either reading the wrong website or have no idea what medieval warfare looked like.
FOG II: Medieval was already shaping up to be a great game when it came out, but the addition of the Storm of Arrows DLC (focused on the Hundred Years War) was enough for me to firmly place it amongst my favorite video games of all time. As always, if one looks deep enough there’ll always be things up for criticism, but as it stands right now, Field of Glory II: Medieval has the most complex battle system imaginable, and the larger unit pools to pull from if you want to create your very own battles that might not be represented. It’s a really easy system to learn and the number of possibilities is just endless. A recent DLC called Sublime Porte takes medieval warfare into the fringes of Eastern Europe and modern-day Turkey.
In my review I stated that Storm of Arrows makes “Field of Glory II: the best medieval video game of all time, all things considered. An absolute masterpiece of interconnected battle systems that work perfectly to bring to life the most realistic outcomes of medieval encounters. As a former historian and someone who still keeps some ties to the academic world, I would wholeheartedly recommend this game as a teaching tool for any University professor wild enough. If you are a medieval warfare enthusiast, look no further. No Total War game, no matter how spectacular it is, can even come close to matching FoG in its craft. Storm of Arrows only elevates these qualities further- making FoG II: Medieval the best and most complete game of all time in this time period, earning a Strategy and Wargaming Golden Seal of Approval, not only for its DLC but the whole series”.
Distant Worlds 2
Distant Worlds 2 describes itself in a very humble manner: a “vast, pausable real-time 4X space strategy game”. What this description doesn’t tell you, is that Distant Worlds 2 is a universe full of possibilities and presents the player with depth and detail on its systems few games would dare attempt to replicate. It’s not a vast game, it’s a huge one, every start feels like the start of an epic space opera. It’s not a real-time space strategy game, it’s a massive simulation of intricate economic, diplomatic, research, exploration, and military systems that come together beautifully to present some things that are way bigger than just the sum of their parts.
Other than being a scarily huge game, what Distant Worlds 2 truly is at its core is a story generator, very much like Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron. Sure, it gives you the wiggle room to optimize every little thing and to interact with every nook and cranny of the game but why should you? Its fun is to be found on the macro side of things, making galaxy-wide decisions and letting your surrogates take control most of the time. At least, that’s how I’ll advise anyone to play it. Yes, it can be overwhelming and the bugs keep creeping, but in all honesty, there’s so much potential in Distant Worlds 2 you would be a fool to dismiss it on that basis. Constant developer updates will elevate Distant Worlds 2 from a very good space 4X videogame to a genre-defining standard for years to come. Is it there yet? Not, but it surely will. As it stands, Distant Worlds 2 is very much a game about making your own fun, deciding what to automate, and roleplaying your virtual empire and mandate.
Campaign Series: Vietnam
Campaign Series: Vietnam is a classical hex-based, IGO-UGO, operational (and tactical) level wargame focusing on the jungle conflicts of Indo-China, with scenarios spanning several conflicts, starting with the First Indochina War, from 1948 to 1954 all the way to the late 1960s with the American invasion of Vietnam. In between both conflicts, CS: Vietnam also represents the South Vietnamese Civil War of 1955-1964.
It’s a wargamer’s game for those interested in Vietnam; what it isn’t, is a game that will please every palate, if you don’t enjoy jungle warfare and/or love the idea of playing a classical hex-based game then this isn’t the one for you. If you happen to be one that loves both, then I’m happy to give it my endorsement. CS: Vietnam isn’t going to be known as a wargame trailblazer (unlike the excellent Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive), its developing team decided to play it safe but there are some new things in here that set it apart from the game it’s based on (the original Talonsoft Campaign Series) such as airborne units (there’s a surprising degree of control for helicopters), different factions can have different objectives and supplies play a major role. The game isn’t lacking in the content department either, with more than 100 scenarios reflecting the changing nature of jungle warfare from the late 1940s to the mid-60s.
In Strategy and Wargaming’s 3 and a half stars review, it was stated that “I might be becoming an old bat that enjoys slow-paced, methodical turn-based games. Given that the last game on this website to receive a 5-star rating was Ardennes Offensive- a truly unique gem of a game that improved on the genre in almost every way- I don’t think it’s fair to attribute the same score to Campaign Series, mainly because it stays so glued to the typical wargame formula it’s hard to praise something for playing it too safe. I also don’t know enough about the Indochina Wars to fully appreciate the game and I’m almost certain that if I did, there would be little doubt in my mind that Campaign Series: Vietnam would earn four and a half stars based on mechanics and details alone. If you don’t enjoy the Vietnam style of warfare, then Campaign Series’ latest endeavor might be a hard sell if you’ve grown accustomed to more modern titles. Campaign Series: Vietnam will set you back $37,99”.
Marvel: Midnight Suns
I’ve recently started playing Marvel: Midnight Suns and I’m very happy to say that after a rocky launch things appear to be on the straight and narrow.
Superhero’s videogames have a tendency to go extremely poorly, be it either due to bad decisions or a fundamental lack of understanding of the source material, they were the bane of gamers. Cash cows, purposedly made in a hurry to cash on a movie release and made by untalented people and throwaway studios. However, the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved that there was enough audience to justify the creation of a proper superhero video game. This effort was spearheaded by Insomniac Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment which culminated in the release of 2018’s Spider-Man, now considered to be the holy grail of videogame adaptations of your friendly neighborhood spidey-dude.
Miles Morales was released two years later to great acclaim, so it’s no surprise that eventually, other games would soon start to pop off. From the brains of the hivemind that developed XCOM 2011 and XCOM 2, Midnight Suns had all the pedigree necessary to be another unrivaled success, and as far as I can ascertain, it didn’t disappoint. It certainly manages to keep yours truly playing for hours after first booting it up. I plan on reviewing it, so I won’t get into too much detail here but the card system mixed with the turn-based tactical combat is absolutely fantastic and creates some rather memorable combos and synergies. The deck editing feature gives everyone the opportunity to customize their heroes’ actions and fine-tune how your team of world-saving misfits will react to every situation.
Here are the games I know are good but just didn’t have the time to clock in enough hours to properly comment on them (at least, as of today): Victoria 3, Terra Invicta, Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm, Attack at Dawn: North Africa, Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Games – Daemon hunters.