As soon as I heard about Iron Brigade (called “Trenched” at the time) I absolutely knew I had to play it. Not only was I already a fan of the humor and fun stylized aesthetics that Double Fine tends to inject into their games but I’ve been a fan of the whole hybrid tower defense / action hybrid genre for quite a while now (as I’m sure I’ve thoroughly documented here with games like Toy Soldiers and Orcs Must Die!.) The fact that the action component looked a bit like the MechAssault franchise and that whole thing was wrapped in a wacky alternate history World War I setting to boot? Sign me the fuck up!
“Shooting some Tubes on the beach.”
So, there it sat, doomed to my backlog forever. I guess the waiting has finally paid off though as when I signed up to Xbox Game Pass there it was, waiting for me to play for sorta-free. Waiting 8 years to save 15 bucks? Seems like a reasonable strategy to me! 😉 Well, at least I didn’t buy it and then let it languish in my backlog like I do with most of the games I’m interested in. Anyway, the time was right to blow through a quick game so I rolled up my sleeves, hopped in my “mobile trench” and set off to blow some Tubes into smithereens.
As billed, the relatively simple action feels a lot like that of MechAssault; somewhere between the huge, slow mechs of MechWarrior and the relatively frantic action of something like, say, Armored Core. You move and look with the analog sticks while each trigger handles the weapons and equipment installed on each side of your mech. Your equipment can vary, as your mech can be customized with a huge array of different specialized parts, weapons, and paint jobs, all of which is slowly acquired in a sort of light version of the loot systems popularized by action RPGs and MMOs. While the customization itself pales in comparison to something like Chromehounds, I still found experimenting with different builds and loadouts to be quite a fun element of the game. Loading up a heavy chassis with a 6 heavy machine guns, or dual huge, heavy cannons is fantastic, and some of the steampunk inspired tech is ridiculously cool.
“Customizing our mech… err, I mean Mobile Trench.”
The rest of (and the bulk of) the gameplay is total, classic tower assault. Using the same third person perspective, you can place emplacements (turrets/towers) anywhere on the map limited only to the amount scrap you collect from enemies you kill. While there is a respectable variety of emplacements, the game only allows you to carry a certain number of certain categories of each one depending on the chassis of your mech, adding a touch more variety to the whole customization aspect beyond just what weapons you have installed. Of course there are a variety of enemies that demand variation in weapon and turret strategy, changing with each new map, and how efficient you need to be to get the rating you’re after
About the only negative I can attribute to Iron Brigade would be the story and the enemy design, which both feel kind of quick and throwaway. I mean, the Tubes are certainly unique, but I don’t find them to be all that cool. Eh, this is a relatively minor complaint though, as these elements certainly work well enough in service to the gameplay and the overall conceit.
“Emplacements absolutely everywhere, as it should be!”
I feel like there’s a lot more I could say about the game, so I’ll just wrap this up with a couple of things. First, for an early entry into Double Fine’s efforts to shift to smaller, lower budget titles, the team developing Iron Brigade put quite a lot into it and you can tell they had to practically restrain themselves for adding even more. The second thing is that funnily, this being a quick playthrough didn’t really go according to plan. You see, I LOVED Iron Brigade so damn much that I decided to keep playing until I achieved a gold rating on every single mission, taking quite a bit more dedication than a quick run through would have. I even ended up buying the game’s single expansion pack “Rise of the Martian Bear” which I’ll give a quick review of in a future update.
Oh, and if all of that wasn’t enough on its own, I also totally forgot to mention that the game also features something of an Horde-like Survival gameplay mode, and both it and the campaign support co-op with up to 3 other players so that you can actually show off your customizations. I never got around to trying either, but I can only imagine how fun this game must be to play cooperatively. Awesome.
You can download Iron Brigade for Xbox 360 (which runs flawlessly on Xbox One) as well as on PC. If you’re into tower defense and big, stompy robots, definitely check this one out.
“Back on the road!”
I also returned to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. I ended my last article about Telltale with the semi-optimistic news that all three of the games I discussed had planned sequels in the works for 2018 and 2019, with the first one of those on the list being the finale to The Walking Dead series. Well…
A hell of a lot has happened since then, hasn’t it? The first episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season was released in August 2018 to favorable reviews, with the second episode slated for release in late September. Just days before it was to be released Telltale announced they were closing down, immediately laying off most of their staff and killing their in-development and upcoming releases. While they did end up releasing that second episode, with two more episodes to go, it seemed like the series wouldn’t actually receive its finale after all.
Rumors swirled about other companies offering ex-employees jobs, or potentially attempting to pick up The Walking Dead or some of Telltale’s other titles, but it was actually Robert Kirkman’s own Skybound Games that stepped in and negotiated finishing the remaining two episodes, hiring a number Telltale’s former staff on a contract basis to see the season to completion. I’ve got mixed feelings about whether or not it was right to prioritize finishing the game over taking care of the employees who lost their jobs in more substantial ways, or if I should continue to support Telltale with my money, but nevertheless I’m selfishly thankful, as once the fourth and final episode was released and the reviews looked decent, I bought the entire season and my girlfriend and I cautiously jumped in.
“Keeping AJ in line is damn stressful work.”
Almost immediately we were totally engrossed. Taking place several years after the events of A New Frontier, you’re finally back in (a now teenage) Clementine’s shoes, wandering the desolate South with a much older AJ. The change in the character dynamic alone is massive, with Clementine coming across as more and more mature and AJ now a fully fleshed-out character. AJ is by far the more interesting of the two, being raised post zombie-apocalypse, he has his share of childhood trauma induced behavioral issues (to put it in a super generalized, spoiler free way.)
While the gameplay doesn’t stray from the typical post-TWD Telltale formula, The Final Season starts out very strong with a great sense of being able to drastically affect the story with your choices. Telltale fans know by now that this is absolutely essential to keeping the player from feeling somehow “cheated” by choices that ultimately have little real consequence. In fact, I found struggling with making decisions in this season to be particularly intense, especially when it came to those choices that directly related to influencing the young, impressionable AJ. We always felt like we were somehow making the wrong decision and oftentimes we were despite our best attempts to do the right thing. Very effective.
“Many new characters join the cast for the finale.”
As with A New Frontier, the new engine and updated art style are running smooth and looking great. There were some great set pieces this time around, and as usual the voice acting was mostly stellar. Playing the Xbox One version (on a normal Xbox One S) the only real complaint I can leverage is that load times between scenes were much longer than I remembered from any previous Telltale games. I’m really not sure what is up with that, as from a quick glance around the ‘Net it doesn’t seem to be a common complaint. The final two episodes, the ones finished by Skybound, fair slightly worse overall though – it seems like they didn’t quite get as much polish, with noticeably more performance hiccups and glitches. Given how they were developed this is completely understandable.
I had some similar issues with the game’s action scenes which were more palatable in the early episodes and felt more sloppily implemented in the later ones. Even the checkpoints were placed less generously in the last two episodes, and that only served to make those action sections that much more frustrating. Again, this is almost certainly because of the accelerated and probably relatively chaotic development under Skybound resulting in less playtesting and refinement. These issues didn’t ruin the experience for me by any means though they are worth noting given the unusual circumstance.
“The Whisperers also make an appearance.”
I’d certainly rank The Final Season above A New Frontier, and I enjoyed that one more than most people so that’s not meant to be faint praise. More importantly, I’m happy that the series didn’t get unceremoniously axed half way through its finale which could have easily happened. Instead, it felt like the series got an appropriate sendoff and given how many people have loved the series, whether they bailed after the first season or made it all the way through the finale, and how influential this new style of adventure game has been, I’d say that’s a pretty big deal. It’s not entirely surprising that Skybound was able to help wrap up the season as one of the more spectacular things about the series is how strong it’s been start to finish despite many of the key players changing over the years. I mean, I was skeptical about Season 2 after finding out that Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin had left and it turned out to be my favorite season.
In summary, if you’re a fan of the series than it’s an absolute no-brainer: play this! If you had your fill after a couple seasons, or the Telltale formula wore out its welcome on you, then it’s probably not worth coming back for this one last hurrah as it’s unlikely to change your opinion.
As usual, what should Xbox 360 and Xbox One screenshots are PC screenshots borrowed liberally from various places on the Internet.