Port roundup: SpellForce III, Sokocat, Green Hell VR & The Hand of Merlin

SpellForce III, Sokocat, Green Hell VR and The Hand of Merlin all made the jump to different platforms in recent weeks, and we’re taking a closer look at them today.

SpellForce III Reforced review (PS5)

It’s been almost six years since we first saw SpellForce III in action at a trade show, and we were still impressed with it when it launched a year later. It now comes to consoles in 2022, which was a good opportunity for us to see how it held up. It’s available on Xbox and PS4 as well, but we tested out the PS5 version.

The new “Reforced” title definitely brought a smile to our face as a nod to Warcraft III’s recent re-release, but what you’re getting here isn’t as big of a visual leap forward – which makes sense as SpellForce III isn’t nearly as old as Warcraft III was. In fact, if you’ve played this on a PC before you won’t notice much of a difference at all, especially if you’re played the expansions that introduced a few new tweaks to the UI and skill trees. That’s not a bad thing though, as we always thought SpellForce III was a pretty game to look at and that’s still true to this day.

spellforce 3b

What’s also true is that its mix of an RPG adventure with traditional RTS gameplay elements is still fairly unique, and especially so on consoles. The actual story campaign is unchanged though, and still leans more towards an RPG experience than a 50-50 hybrid of the two genres, letting you build a party, gather loot and advance your skill tree, as you also would in the expansions. Those expansions have also been released for consoles, but weren’t included in the review version we played.

As most RPGs tend to either handle combat through hack and slash or turn-based mechanics, we love that SpellForce III does things a little differently, and base building, resource gathering and tactics are all a good fit for the genre. The end result isn’t as refined as we would have liked though, with some awkward AI/pathfinding and units that can feel poorly balanced. It’s certainly fun and a welcome addition, but if you’re a less forgiving RTS purist you’ll find it underwhelming.

spellforce 3a

As with any console port, a big factor is how well the controls were adapted to gamepad controls. And while SpellForce III runs and looks just as good at the PC version did, the controls are a mixed bag. The RPG portion represents the bulk of the experience and works pretty well as we’re used to seeing inventory menus and the like on consoles, but the RTS portion feels a tad cumbersome without a mouse and keyboard, especially when you’re trying to control multiple units and squads at once. This makes the PC version the best way to play this one unless you only play on consoles.

Sokocat – Combo review (PS4)

Sokocat – Combo is actually two games in one, bundling Sokocat Islands and Sokocat Dungeon in one package that’s still budget-priced. Both games were originally released on Steam last year by developer Moraes Game Studio, and are getting a bundled console release now thanks to Brazil-based QUByte.

As with pretty much any game that starts with “Soko” in the name, Sokocat is a Sokoban clone, and you’ve probably also deduced that you’ll be controlling a cat in these games. Gameplay-wise, there won’t be too many surprises, but the game does feature an isometric point of view that’s pleasing to look at, especially during the more soothing and colorful Sokocat Islands.

sokocat

Sokocat Dungeons has a darker aesthetic, but offers familiar block-pushing conundrums. Both games have 50 puzzles to complete, and although some will only last you a few seconds there are some real head-scratchers in here as well, so you’re getting decent value for money if you’re a Sokoban fan. Audiovisually it’s nothing special, but it’s a relaxing experience for puzzle gamers that can be picked up at a budget price point.

Green Hell VR review (PC)

It hasn’t been that long since we reviewed Green Hell VR when it launched on the Quest. Developer Incuvo has now released the PC-VR version of the game though, and we’re covering it again because it’s actually quite different from the Quest edition!

The obvious and expected differences are technical in nature, and relate to the additional horsepower that people with a PC-VR rig have available to them. While the Quest version was very much dialed back in terms of denseness of the foliage and the level of detail, the PC-based version looks remarkably close to the flat screen original, and is thus a far more immersive experience in VR than the Quest version was.

green hell vr

There are also differences in terms of content and mechanics though, as the new PC version brings back some of the structures you can craft and brings the game map back to its original size, whereas the Quest version had a reduced map with fewer crafting options available to you. A downside, however, is that for some reason the PC version makes less use of motion controls for crafting, instead letting you forge things on a workbench, as you would in the flat screen version.

So while the PC version seems like a serious upgrade, it depends on how in-depth you want your survival experience to be. We’re not huge on survival games so we really enjoyed the dialed back experience on the Quest a lot, but were also impressed with the PC build, which really feels like you’re diving in at the deep end. Luckily, hooking your Quest up to a PC (wirelessly if you can) is also an option, and in that case you get the best of both worlds. It’s a shame that the PC build doesn’t come for free with the Quest version in the Oculus/Meta store though – for now it seems to be exclusive to Steam.

The Hand of Merlin review (PS4)

We covered The Hand of Merlin earlier when it was in Early Access, but now the game hasn’t just left early access but has also been launched for consoles. Time for another look at this blend of roguelite and turn-based mechanics from developer Room-C Games and Versus Evil.

While the game is technically narrative-driven, its roguelite nature means that the cataclysmic event that’s hanging over you is more of a premise than the main driving force, as story events that occur in-game differ in each run you start. As Merlin, you’re hoping to help a band of adventurers to avert doom (by applying ‘the hand of Merlin’ to their quest), but as your magical powers didn’t prevent you from dying you have to do so as a ghost of sorts. Luckily, this also enables you to travel between alternate worlds if the quest fails, and you can just try again.

hand of merlin

On top of randomizing the story, you can also diversify each run further by picking different responses and solutions to quests offered, and while the writing isn’t as good as that in a true story-driven RPG it does help in keeping things engaging. The gameplay itself is familiar if you’ve played games like XCOM before, featuring a turn-based system in which you usually have two action points to spend on each turn, per character. And while winning a battle is important, you’ll also want to keep an eye out on your health and armor status, as armor automatically recovers in between battles but health doesn’t – making defensive and protective moves just as important as offensive ones, unless you regularly want to make the trek back to a town in order to heal.

Combat is often tactical in nature with a limited number of units on the battlefield and high stakes, as you lose a lot of your progress if a run fails – the biggest area of growth in between runs lies in the roster of heroes you have available to you. This means the game doesn’t get a whole lot easier over time either, so prepare for a challenge. Some of that challenge will also come from the user interface, which is distinctly PC-centric in its design and heavy on menu items. If you don’t have access to a gaming PC for a game like this, however, then you’ll find a rare combo of a roguelite with challenging turn-based here, that’s hard to find on consoles.

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