I apologize in advance if this post makes less sense than usual. I was up until 2am playing Civ V.
But first, let me get Professor Layton and the Unwound Future out of the way.
I still have a fondness for the Professor Layton games, although it's mostly because they remind me that I own a DS, and I still have a fondness for the DS, because once upon a time it was a kickass handheld gaming machine that had tons of cool games coming out for it all the time.
Still, though, the first Professor Layton game was charming and witty and unique, and while it may have had one (or ten) too many matchstick puzzles, it was still an enjoyable experience. The second game was good, too, in a competent sort of way - in a way, it kinda reminds me of Bioshock 2, in that PL2 and B2 are technically better than their original games in terms of UI improvements and mechanics, and yet somehow not nearly as charming or as fun. PL2 in particular had one of the most bat-shit crazy stories I can remember, which added to my sense of disconnection - the whole game is about solving puzzles, and yet you as the player are never given a chance to solve the fundamental mystery of the story; it seems as if it was pulled out of thin air.
This same problem is in PL3; the big reveal is completely ludicrous and borderline nonsensical, and you are never given a chance to actually figure it out for yourself - nor could you even guess, because it has literally nothing to do with anything you've already spent the last 10 hours dealing with.
But whatever - you don't play the Professor Layton games for the story, right? You play them for the puzzles. And here, the puzzles are very much hit or miss, and more often than not they feel unfair, in that they're written unclearly, or misleadingly, or simply do not make any sense. I ultimately used a walkthrough to finish the game, which makes the entire experience pointless.
And not only that, but the puzzles don't take advantage of the DS nearly as much as they ought to. Which is odd, because sometimes they do. Let me explain. There are a few puzzles which are fully interactive - the one I'm thinking of in particular is where a piece of paper has been ripped up into pieces, and you need to piece them back together in order to find a secret code. And the game lets you manipulate those pieces with the stylus - it's like a jigsaw puzzle. Whereas there are other puzzles, featuring the same exact concept - a photograph of the end of a race has been ripped up into pieces, and you need to figure out who came in third place - but you can't manipulate the pieces. It seems odd and unnecessarily difficult.
Here's what I'd like to see in a future PL title - I'd like the whole game to turn into a point-and-click adventure, with puzzles thrown in. I'd like to take some ownership in how the story actually unfolds. The puzzles don't necessarily have to make sense in the context of the story (after all, they certainly don't right now), but I'd like the whole process to be a little more involving than simply going from screen to screen and clicking on random people and getting nonsensical puzzles thrown at me. And I'd especially like it if I, as the player, were given a genuine opportunity to solve the grand story for myself, instead of having some crazy deus ex machina do it for me. Otherwise, why bother with a story at all, if it's never going to make any sense?
Back to Civ V.
So last night I finished my first campaign; my Roman armies were beating the shit out of France until, inevitably, they surrendered.
My initial impression of Civ V is probably not all that relevant to the hard-core Civ fan; I was introduced to the series through Civ Rev, which I promptly fell in love with and played on both the 360 and the DS. Shortly thereafter, Steam probably had a sale on Civ IV, and I played with that for a bit, though eventually I fell back to the Civ Rev version.
Civ V is, to my noob eyes, a perfect mashup of the two. It's got insanely deep systems and tech trees and whatnot, but it's also incredibly approachable and accessible and you don't have to micro-manage if you don't want to. It took me about 70 turns to realize that I could automate my workers, which, looking back, was the right time for me to figure that out - that was around the point where the game started to evolve from simply settling and developing cities into building units and wonders and technologies. I didn't start the game with a desired outcome; I simply built my empire as big as I could, keeping all of my bases covered - in fact, if anything, I eventually decided I'd get a cultural victory - but I soon realized that I was miles and miles ahead of France, which was the only empire left on the continent, and I could probably just send a few rocket artillery units over and raze their cities without too much fuss, and that's exactly what ended up happening.
It is, indeed, a time suck. I haven't stayed up that late on a school night in years, and it certainly wasn't my intention to do so. I figured I'd play up until the 1400s or so and then come back to it later, but soon "one more turn" turned into "well, let's just finish this particular Wonder", and that turned into "OK, let's build some rockets," and ultimately Paris fell, and I rejoiced in my victory, and then fell dead asleep.