Monday, 16 November 2009

You're Late!

Things I’ve been playing recently:
Uncharted 2
The Left4Dead 2 Demo
The Torchlight Demo
Dragon Age (the reason I’ve missed another Monday post)

Given that the merits of Uncharted 2 have already been discussed in an earlier post, I’m only going to say that this is a game of sheer quality. Its one of those games that really pushes this medium as an art form, blending fun and intuitive game play elements with an exemplary cast and script.

Borderlands and Left4Dead 2 have been briefly run over by myself, so I’ll avoid these two. As much as I love Borderlands I don’t feel that there’s much more to say than it’s a brave attempt at a new concept, flawed if you will by its own design. Left4Dead 2 will be receiving a bit more coverage from me around the time of its release.

That leaves us with (arguably) this year’s two biggest RPG releases. Both games are vying for the void left between the date Diablo 3 was announced and its eventual release (probably in around 5 years time). I was going to rant about why I hate developers releasing in game footage of titles when they’re nowhere near completion but I don’t want to sound like a miserable git. Instead I’m going to actually discuss why after playing over 30 hours of one, and around 30 minutes of the other I adore both.

Created by a team of RPG veterans, Torchlight focuses heavily on Dungeon Crawling game play mixed with the same click to attack style of combat found in the Diablo games. For a short time, it’s an extremely fun game and its one I could see myself playing in bursts (and for £14.99 I’m not complaining) however over a long period of time, I’m really not so sure it will hold me as much as say... Dragon Age. That’s not to say Torchlight isn’t a good game, it has both good and bad points. Its just a shame that for me, its repetitive game play stands out as a bad point.

Overall, the thing that really stands out for me in the game is the music. Immediately on your arrival in the town a huge sense of atmosphere is created by the sombre song playing in the background. It’s almost depressing in tone, but works really well to set the mood of the dead end town you find yourself in. Inside the dungeon itself, the music takes much more of a background role to the well recorded combat sounds yet still manages to set the dark and dangerous feel of each floor you pass through. It really does help to make the very repetitive game play much more bearable and it is easily in my opinion, the game’s best feature.

Bioware’s latest effort, Dragon Age takes influence from a variety of mediums including most fantasy genres and of course, tabletop Dungeons and Dragons. What Bioware Game (Mass Effect not included) would be able to function without stats, stats, more stats and damage rolls. As confusing as it may be to your average gamer, it’s something that quickly becomes clear after an hour of play and in my opinion there is nothing like it. As ridiculous as it sounds, what better way is there to ensure you never play the same game twice than by adding random chance to almost everything you do in the game! Seriously, I’m not complaining here! I know it’s a huge over exaggeration but it’s something that I feel is a core component of the genre. Baldurs Gate was rock solid because of it and luckily, Dragon Age is just the same (to the point that I *may* have lost some hair).

The one thing that had kept me engaged throughout the difficult situations was the constant need to progress though the story within the game. Engaging narratives have been common features within Bioware games (even if they can be criticised for their similarities over the various games) and this one is no different, combining traditional medieval themes of war and treachery with a swords and sorcery fantasy setting. It works well for the most part, assuming that you ignore some of the stereotypical plot points and contrived characters (Morrigan) and focus on some of the better things to come out of the game (Opening Character Sections, Shale).

At present I’ve clocked up around 50 hours in the game and according to the in game progress calculator I’m around 30% of the way through. For £30 I think this is fantastic value for money, especially when you consider most games nowadays offer 6-8 hours of single player game play, with developers assuming most players will fall in love with the multiplayer side. In terms of numbers, you’re getting around 6 games for the price of one here and it’s a great deal for a great game. Definitely a game of the year contender.

This is all starting to look a little jumbled now so I’m going to quit whilst I’m behind. Stay tuned sometime this week (hopefully) for a Left4Dead 2 piece.

Gaming Podcasts

I'm sure that many of you out there own ipods and the like, so therefore enjoy a good podcast. I have various favourites 'casts on my ipod, some gaming ones in particular. I have chosen my favourite two and thought id would share the enjoyment with you!

First up we have the Gamespot UK Podcast, which can be found here.

Presented by the brilliant Guy Cocker (insert immature name joke here), this podcast releases a new recording 3/4 times a month, generally between 1 and 2 hours long. The team discuss all the latest gaming news, latest reviews and also have a special guest for every episode, often a highlight. Guests are generally from a more obscure gaming background, giving a great in-site into many different sections of the industry. The podcast has a high production value and is very informative and entertaining, making it a great listen on the bus or when walking the dog etc.

Secondly, i would also recommend the Joystiq podcast, which accompanies the great gaming blog Joystiq. Find it here.

This podcast, recorded in the states, I would class as second place to gamespot UK. The cast is very informative, and i find that discussion on certain issues can be deeper than GSUK and more provoking. The podcast is also fairly humorous at points, but where it is let down compared to GSUK is the production value. Whereas GSUK is very tight and well produced, Joystiq takes more of a 'wing it' approach, with people entering and leaving randomly, mobile phones going off and various sneezes and what-not throughout the recording. This does let it down, but its a good podcast none-the-less.

So i suggest you check them out. Stand-by for my Modern Warfare 2 review, making sure i give it a proper play through, and I'm finding some parts fairly hard at the minute. Should be up soon though.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fear? not really.

Fear 2 is the successor to the popular PC game Fear, a ‘port’ later ended up on 360.
Well successor is perhaps not the right word, but I’ll get into that later.

Once you get into the game most PC players will immediately notice one thing, black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Yep that’s right, they didn’t bother to add support for 16:10 resolutions and if the recent steam hardware surveys are anything to go by it’s easy to see how it’s an annoyance for most people. From then on I realised this was a game made for consoles, and pc was now the ‘port’. Now let me make this clear, Fear 2 is a console game.

The game actually looks pretty acceptable aside from the black bars. Although it suffers from a boring colour palette (and the black lines) the game looks quite pretty; great effects, satifisfying blood puffs, a few shiny textures here and there.

Once you actually start shooting at stuff there are a couple of differences that differentiate the game play to fear 1, but largely you would be forgiven for thinking it’s the same game. The biggest improvement is that when you aren’t in slo-mo mode the combat still feels great. And it creates a more cinematic feeling of going back to normal motion- slo mo and so on. In fear 1, while the combat felt great in slo-mo the weapons all felt wrong, they didn’t do enough damage and the recoil was too much in normal speed. Aside from that it’s still going to try and scare you in the same ways, except there’s a difference this time. You’ve seen it all before. In fact the enemies are almost identical to the first game as well.

It’s a simple story; this super being that they have created is now going mad and killing everything in sight. She’s more powerful this time, and actually seems a formidable foe. In fact the parts of the game with Alma in are actually really fun, atmospheric and often scary. Right now your thinking how could anyone go wrong with a story so simple as that, right? Well IW choose to tell the story through notepads, borrowing from games like system shock 2 and doom 3. There are few cut scenes, and the radio messages do little to explain things. The problem is, these little notepads have some of the most cringe worthy writing I’ve ever seen In a game, simply has to be seen to believed.

The sound does it’s job fairly well, it’s all in 5.1 and works. It creates more of an adrenaline feel this time, rather than the tense atmosphere of the last game.

Overall you’re getting an average experience, it all works it just doesn’t do anything really well. For fans of the first game prepare to be disappointed, and for those who haven’t played the first game; stick to that.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Football Manager 2010 Review

Being my first post on the site, i have decided to 'kick off' (excuse the pun) well within my comfort zone with the new football manager relea
se. My love of the football manager genre began with Championship Manager 4, since which i have been a sucker with my money every year since.
Last years title saw the introduction of the controversial 3D match engine, and with new competion from the now revived Championship Manager series, what improvements can Football Manager 10 offer to hold onto its crown?

The first thing you notice is a total re-jig of the user interface. This hit me for six, having just come from FM09, trying to navigate around the new UI was particularly dificult. After a while the new setup does come easier, but still, admittedly after just a few hours gameplay (like clicking you fingers in FM terms), i still feel myself getting frustrated with what seems to be a rather fiddly UI (The continue button is now in the top right hand corner! Why put it there, it has never been there, it should never be there etc etc).

So, the UI apart, what other new features do you ge
t from FM10. The 3D match engine, first introduced last year, has seen a years worth of polish, which really shows in the end result. The play seems much dynamic somehow, with 'over 100' new player animations, the whole thing just feels slicker and altogether more enjoyable. Ball physics seem to have been notably improved, so watching the net ripple as your midfield maestro curls one in from 30 yards looks great.
Other things that i have found especially useful are the inclusion of 'Backroom Advice', where your staff offer there advice on various different actio
ns you could take to improve the team or sign a new player etc. For the lazy player (like myself), this enables quick and easy changes to be made. Players can also now 'Shout' tactical changes from the touchline for his team, and also chant and gesture rudely towards the referee (ok, that may not all be true). This extra tactical option adds another layer to FM's already extensive tactics system, but in reality, I didn't find myself using it much on a regular basis.

So yes, its football manager. They still don't have the license for the German National Team, and it will most definitely still eat up large amounts of your time. As with last years game, i will be trying to win the champions league with Everton, which is always good fun (my 2.3 million signing of Ruud Van Nisterrooooy is looking inspired).
The thing is, for the first time with a FM game, i would rather be playing last years title. I wish that Sports Interactive had taken the 'If it aint broke' approach on the user interface, as this is where the game seems to be let down. This may well improve with time however, meaning Football Manager 10 is still very much the undisputed king of Football Management Games.
Thanks for Reading.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Weekly Update

Rather than a full on article this week, I'm going to be skimming over several topics. After spending most of my week playing Borderlands I've become fairly out of touch with what's going on in the gaming world. Of course, I won't just be talking about Gearbox Software's new game, I'll also be reviewing some of the stories that have been brought to my attention this past week.

After taking advantage of the 4-pack deal on Steam I had expected a wonderful co-operative experience from Borderlands that would combine the game play of Fallout 3 with the old school Dungeon Crawling loot of the Diablo series. Instead what I found was a worthy effort at re-inventing a genre, verging on brilliance but unfortunately failing due to simple mistakes made by its developers.

Upon release for the consoles Borderlands was blighted by networking problems that often meant a large majority of people could not host or join co-operative games online. Worse still, the PC version that was released around 2 weeks later still had these crippling issues, despite a console patch being released the previous day. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the game; however if a publisher chooses to market a game on the strength of its co-op play they should at least make sure the developer has not cocked up the netcode before release. Yes there are workarounds such as lan software (Hamachi, Tunngle, Gameranger) or port forwarding however these should not be needed. It reeks of laziness on the part of Gearbox and its hard to justify paying full price for what is essentially a broken game.

They have however nailed something that a lot of games are missing these days, fun. When you can get a co-op game going this game is fantastic, just make sure to play with friends if you want your fair share of the loot. I just feel that simple development issues are stopping me from enjoying it even further.

Left4Dead 2
Another moan as pre-order customers get shafted once again. A demo that was 2 days late, no apology and no real benefit to pre-order customers. Yes, there is a hat that you can use in Team Fortress 2, but if you don't own said game, its more money you're paying out just to get your pre-order bonus.

Modern Warfare 2
I'm glad I left it a few days late to write this article, else I wouldn't have stumbled across this great transcript from a chat session with the Infinity Ward team. I am astounded that the developers of one of the most successful games ever seem to be continually driving away a market that has allowed them to reach the position that they are in today.

It would also seem that a video entitled “Killing FourTwoZero” (That's IW's Robert Bowling) has been removed from Youtube as Activision claimed copyright infringement. Are they are blind to the storm they have caused?

...And Finally

Dragon Age: Origins is released in the UK on Friday and I honestly can't wait. After being hooked on the flash game I am eager to jump in to the full game head first and lose myself just as I did with Baldurs Gate.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Moan, Moan, Moan... and Moan

By Morgan

I’ve recently been trying to write an article regarding the current Infinity Ward Dedicated Server malarkey, however I find myself struggling to provide anything other than what’s already been said. Therefore during this article I’m going to moan about Activision.

Robert Kotick can’t seem to get enough of controversy at the minute. Here is a man at the head of one of the top gaming publishers in the world, a man who is in charge of so much responsibility and a man who for his own reasons, seems to hate the gaming world.

First he announced the rise in pricing for Modern Warfare 2 with copies reaching up to the dizzy heights of around £55 per console copy of the game. This was shortly followed by a complete contradiction of his former views claiming that due to the high price of the Playstation 3 and its accessories, Activision didn’t feel it was a profitable platform to produce games for. All of this coming from the man who watches Guitar Hero (a game with a plastic guitar) sell millions of units with each going for up to £100 in the United Kingdom on release. Seemingly not content with angering the console and pc crowds, Kotick recently made a speech at the 2009 Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference in which he claimed the future of video games (more specifically, game development) was one “without fun”; a nice choice of words there from one of the most powerful men in gaming.

Kotick doesn’t seem to realise that the games industry is an entertainment one, built on the foundations of fun. Imagine if he was in charge of cinema and film distribution. Would every film be a low budget, art house piece of crap where we sit and watch a girl drink, smoke and cry for 5 minutes whilst a man pats her on the shoulder? Probably, but heh, if we take out the fun all we’re left with is mind numbing boredom and drawn out references to social problems (for those wondering about the above, it’s probably daddy issues). The problem is that if said film sells out he’ll be encouraged to make more (unless he’s Uwe Boll, in which case he will just make more...).

As the industry grew it was always likely that management types such as this would take an interest and it’s a shame to say that we as gamers may have brought this upon ourselves. Who else remembers the days of demo’s, shareware and (dare I say it) free games! It was a time in which people were just expected to have fun and nothing else. Nowadays it’s all about addicting the consumer to a concept, rather than allowing them to just enjoy something.

Games such as World of Warcraft rake in millions ever year and although enjoyed by gamers, one has to ask what exactly it gives people over other games? An epic story? Great characters? An amazing setting? Endless replayability? You could probably tick some boxes however a lot of questions remain. Endgame raiding for example just screams endless repetition to me and can it really be called replay value when you’re paying money for the game each month? Sure fans may love it, but for me, the growing price of the game over time does not make it a worthwhile investment. Compare this with a game such as Dead Space that cost a maximum of £40 on release (Around 3-4 months of World of Warcraft, not including the price of the boxed media), a game that attempted (and succeeded) to revitalise the horror genre. Despite its great reviews, the game encountered poor sales EA and had apparently considered scrapping the brand until they saw the cult following it had developed. Companies seem to be in favour of scrapping innovation in return for a profit, and it’s something people like Kotick are really pushing for. The problem is that shareholders and investors are seeking profits and are likely to agree with him, thus forcing the industry down a very bad road.

Before someone says it, piracy is NOT the answer. But neither is shelling out large amounts of money on games that are using their name to generate interest. Just look at FarCry 2, what a crock of shit that was. Look for innovation, look for fun and through buying these games we can hope to show the industry that fun is the way forward, that fun is what the consumer wants when they’re spending their money.

Maybe a Modern Warfare 2 article next week. Maybe...

Uncharted 2: A new era of gaming

The Critical Alien

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I've never actually said this before about a game. Uncharted 2 has blurred the line for me between film and game. Finally, after years of gaming highs and lows, a game hits that does pretty much every single thing right. There isn't any issue with the game. There isn't any blemish that erodes its greatness. This, my friends, is as good as gaming gets.

Whenever I play Uncharted 2, which I've completed twice now, my reaction is always the same. It plays like a movie. Ever since the first 3d titles, games have attempted to mimic and recreate film. Set pieces have always been an attempt to portray cinematic moments. As far as I'm concerned, gaming has, since its infancy, been on a journey of catch up with film as a narrative medium.

I guess Half Life 2 was perhaps the first example of this boundary dissolution between the two. In that, characters were lifelike and there was never a differentiation between cut scene and game. Steven Spielberg, the CoD4 whore, even commented on this and believed this was where games needed to be heading in order to reach the next level. Uncharted 2 is surely the first game ever to cross this boundary. Personally, I think GTA IV was close but didn't quite make that jump.

Beyond the characters and dialogue Uncharted 2 is simply an excellent game. The level design is homed and never overly fleshed out. The action is tight too. The cover system is perfect, and works online, as is the cool melee system and climbing mechanic. Even the enemy A.I seems flawless. They make an effort to flank you, use cover effectively, hurl grenades, and even retreat.

I honestly have tried to find flaws here. If I was being picky, I'd say that perhaps the last level lacked the sheer wow factor of mid-game stages. This is such a straw man though. Perhaps the only thing that can be said about Uncharted 2 is that it could do with even more co-op levels. The co-op isn't linked to the single player, a good thing, but with only three levels to play through with mates you soon plough through it. However, more are likely on the way in the form of DLC.

The multiplayer is generally excellent. Matchmaking is here but works well for this sort of game (not for stuff like... oh MW2 on PC). There are also other co-op modes for up to three players such as a fun and unique gold rush mode and standard survival. This game has also opened up the Playstation Network to new great things that Xbox Live users have grown accustomed to. Now all we need is cross game chat ;)

I don't want to go on about Uncharted 2 too much for fear of coming across like a fanboy. I don't care what console this game is on, nor do I care if it could or couldn't potentially run on an Xbox 360. All I know is that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the best games I've ever played on any format.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Infinity Ward and the PC Community

My Photo


Well, as a new contributor to the site my first post will be on a topic that's quite big right now in the PC community. Namely Infinity Ward's decision to take away dedicated server support for their new title Modern Warfare 2 (you may have heard of it).

Now before I get flamed by the console crowd be aware that I do own all the current gen consoles and handhelds bar the DS Lite cos I sold that a while back. I chose to play many of the multi-plat games on the PC and if it was a console only game the PS3/360. I do not play FPS on the consoles if I can help it, mainly due to the control scheme but also due to the match-making. As a matter of fact I choose to play my FPS and most other games on my PC because I find p2p match-making botched and very often laggy - something which dedicated servers alleviate.

Personally I don't know why Infinity Ward decided to get rid of the dedicated servers instead of having both match-making and dedicated servers. It's not like they're mutually exclusive methods of getting into a game. Also I cannot understand why they did not go for a 'master server' which EA did with Battlefield 2142 where there were stat tracking and had a log-in system in order to prevent pirated copies playing online. This worked fairly well in my opinion and whilst not perfect (stat-padding etc.) it still supported dedicated servers which many PC gamers prefer.

Of course I know many console gamers don't know nor care why the PC gamer crowd (or most of them from what I can see) are so uptight about this change Infinity Ward has made to Modern Warfare 2 but for me it's simply this: they've taken away the online advantages of playing online with the PC which hinges around those dedicated servers and lag-free gaming. That and now that the player cap has been reduced from 32 players to 16 to account for the p2p connection which in my eyes means less fun with more players in games. Some may not see it that way but the value proposition of the game has suddenly plunged four-fold so far.

The fact that Infinity Ward says that these changes were made to cater to the 'casual' and 'moderate' COD4 player is somewhat of an oxymoron. Such players either do not mind the server browser or don't exist. Those that found PC COD4 intimidating have either moved past the difficulty curve of choosing a server (which, let's be honest, if you can install a game on a PC and configure it you won't have much trouble at all) or have moved on to the console scene. I do not think that COD4 nor MW2 will ever be a 'casual' game by any stretch of the imagination and therefore saying that such a gamer exists on the PC is both an ice-thin argument and laughable.

It is a sad state of affairs overall in the PC community and I can't see this getting any better anytime soon. There were other avenues Infinity Ward could have taken to combat piracy (which will always be a problem on both the PC and 360) but the lack of choice of method is one I cannot accept. On a deeper level I do not like the fact that they have waited until now to announce these changes to the PC community. One could say they knew that there would be backlash and wanted to quietly slide this under our noses so near to release, especially if the claim that they have invested a lot of time and money into this new system. Surely one would think they'd want to shout about it from the rooftops if they honestly had believed that IW.NET would be a resounding success?

As many I don't think I will be buying this game and have instead pre-ordered Borderlands which I had not before since I had assumed all my gaming time would've been taken up by playing MW2. It's sad to think that within two years Infinity Ward has changed it's tune so drastically regarding the PC community; from their stance on supporting modders and dedicated servers (see here for an interview with Grant Collier) to the poor excuse of catering for players that either do not exist or are the distinct minority of PC gamers. That and the lack of information about IW.NET this close to release does not alleviate my concerns for the tone Infinity Ward are taking towards PC gaming in general.

For all those who are interested, please sign the petition here and show your support. As of writing it has reached 156744 signitures. If anything it will show Infinity Ward how many people's toes they are treading on with this decision.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Clash of the mil-sims: A dragon is rising

I'm not even convinced there is such a genre as the mil-sim. There is really only one true fully fledged military simulation game and that is Operation Flashpoint and the Arma series. There isn't anything else out there that is even remotely comparable to those Bohemia titles. However, it is clear that the tubes speak of the mil-sim nowadays like it is a defined category of game. The reality is that most realistic war games are closer to tactical FPSs. The mil-sim is something more than just that. It is a sandbox open world where a multitude of military vehicles, small arms, and disciplines can be played, tested, driven, and destroyed.

I was going to talk about Arma2. My review of it didn't quite finalise what I had to say. However, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising has now hit and I've decided to combine my opinion on this new game with what I have to say about Arma2.

The reception Dragon Rising has received seems to be pretty negative from the perspective of the community yet rather positive on the reviews front. This is because no matter how hardcore a games reviewer is, writing for a well known website or magazine, they are not in the same obsessive league as those true mil-sim aficionados who will spend hours arguing on youtube over whether or not the Chinese fire green tracers or not.

Dragon Rising is all about accessibility. Arma2 is more a toolkit for smart people. Dragon Rising aims to bring the mil-sim (or in other words the original Flashpoint template) to the masses. In my opinion, this has been achieved. Console players seem to like the game. It is easy to learn but not so easy to master. Arma2, on the other hand, is hard to learn and hard to master. It is just hard. I love Arma2 though. But I also love Codemaster's new take on the mil-sim.

Sadly, most of my gaming buddies don't do sneaking around in the bushes with night vision goggles on. They're too busy grinding in caves or surviving onslaughts of the undead. I did manage to get one pal onboard for my tour of DR though. Using neat virtual LAN software to get over the problems with the game's influxed master server, we hit some co-op. We aren't yet close to completion but I've seen enough to know that DR is a quality game.

DR is alot like the original Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon before Red Storm Entertainment got shafted and Ubisoft borked the franchise in the GRAW series. You can't muck about. Enemies will catch you out and cleverly flank you. The key is in applying realistic doctrines to your assaults and behaviours in game. This is why I like DR: because using real world tactics actually achieves outcomes. Even Arma2 sometimes fails to achieve authenticity when it comes to stuff like this. Enemies won't be pinned down by suppression for example whereas in DR they will be suppressed if you sustain enough covering fire on a position. They also run away and even play dead. Gunfights are dirty affairs but when things go to plan it feels oh so great.

It all reminds me of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. This was a vastly underrated game that adopted the same system as DR. This is squad based combat and it is homed for that. Co-op for up to four players is what DR is all about although the A.I is workable.

Arma2 is a different sort of experience to this because Arma2 is realistic in ways no other game attempts to realise. If DR is hollywood realism then Arma2 is just realism. Hardcore mil-simmers want full realism. Most gamers want a mixture. Me, it depends on my mood and that's why I have both games on PC.

The editor that ships with DR for PC is simply incredible. It's probably more sophisticated than Arma2's one and is certainly much easier to learn. However, CM made a pretty big mistake with regards to hosting your mission files. In order to play them with people, you must manually send them the files first. Not a big issue but I personally loved showing random players in Arma2 my crazy attempts at a mission.

There is also a 64 object limit for the editor in DR. Clever people will overcome this (CM are sure of it) but it requires proper scripting knowledge in the LUA language. This means that DR's accessibility doesn't quite put a lid on the complex ambitions of mission makers out there.

There is no denying that Arma2 is the real Operation Flashpoint sequel. It is also a far more ambitious game. However, DR is still a good game though. It isn't as good as Hell's Highway (and if that game had co-op I'd be in heaven) and it really feels like a console game but it's sound, tactical stuff. It also achieves a greater sense of immersion than Arma2. This does fall short with classic console coding limitations though, such as enemy bodies vanishing after 30 seconds.

In summary then. What I'm saying here is that it isn't that Arma2 is a mil-sim. It's that Arma2, and other Bohemia titles, are the only mil-sims. Dragon Rising is a tactical FPS and a rather good one. Ultimately then, there is no clash going on here. Personally, after all is said and done, I'm left wondering what could have been if Codemasters and Bohemia had never parted company. As a fan of the original Flashpoint from 2001, I still feel that the polish of Codemasters as publisher combined with the genius of Bohemia as developer is what both these games ultimately lack in order to be classed as truly great games.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

I don't care much for caped crusaders. Never been one for the comic books. It just hasn't ever resonated with me. Because of this, I've never really been interested in computer games based on comic book characters. However, Arkham Asylum has proved the one comic book game that stands above the usual suspects. Here we have a genuinely great game and one that actually makes the uninitiated rather interested in the man dressed as a bat.

Simply put, this game is a master class is level design and pacing. It is vanilla gaming. Gaming 101. I couldn't put the damn thing down. Like a great movie, it ends too quickly and you want more. Challenge mode keeps you going though once the single player is dealt with. It's fun for a while and gives you quick access to punch ups and stealth stages. You can also freely roam the map once you've done the game and hunt for all the riddles and trophies you may have missed.

I'm not one to go around trying to find all the lost gems in games and even with Arkham Asylum I don't really plan on bothering to get that 100% completion achievement. That is just me though. The game is just a masterful romp around a well designed island. The fun of the fighting system is probably unsurpassed. I've not seen a better scrolling beat-em-up since Streets of Rage 2. There is also a really nice sense of cinematic quality to the set pieces and the gadgets are well implemented as they all must be used during certain points.

Solid as a rock game by Rocksteady. You don't see this sort of old school stuff that much nowadays. It's a fresh title and one that really came from nowhere for gamers like me not that interested in the source material. A quick review I know, but there is little else to say. If you are reading this and own either a PS3 or 360, or have a decent gaming PC, just go and get this one. Anyway, back to the batcave.

Sequels, sequels, and more sequels

I've not updated the blog in a few weeks, largely because all I seem to play nowadays is Left 4 Dead and occasionally Arma 2. However, quite a few titles are around the corner. For those that might be interested, here are the games I intend to play and review over the next coming months:

Batman: Arkham Asylum (review now here)
Halo: ODST (maybe) (Update: Actually, I cba)
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (Here)
Borderlands (co-op fest)
MW2 (clearly) (Update: Bad news)
Left 4 Dead 2 (Those swines)
Natural Selection 2 (If it ever makes an '09 release date) (Update: Which it won't)
Uncharted 2 (I smell a classic)

And if that's not enough, I'll also be revisiting Arma2 at some point because certain things just need to be said. So stick around and I'll be in touch.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Left 4 Dead: Pros in action

Left 4 Dead is, in a word, awesome. Nothing seems to beat the co-op mode when you're with a good team and taking on an equally good team in the versus mode. This vid shows me playing alongside some gaming buddies. This is how the pros do it. Take note.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Bloody 'Armazing'

It's so easy to knock a game like Arma2. It is a behemoth of a game; aiming at meeting the expectations of a community of gamers so hard to please that even real militaries sometimes fail to convince them things are done a certain way (America's Army 3 for example). Arma2 is the spiritual successor of Operation Flashpoint and is, in many ways, just like that 2001 title.

The interface is essentially the same, only far more sophisticated. You get more options. You get more units. You get improved A.I and you get one stunning new graphics engine. For me, the fact I got a brand new map to play with and make my own missions on was enough. I guess the one things that really is new here is that map in all its graphical glory. Stunning. There is no game to compare this 225km2 landscape to. It feels real and lush and takes us noticably a step further into a virtual subspace. Oblivion was the first to really do this in 2005. Now we have Arma2.

I could go on and on here about why Arma2 is easily the greatest FPS/Military Sim ever made. It is an acquired taste though. Many will only take note of the bugs and sure, it has them in abundance. Many will also just dislike the intense realism and the fact that you just cannot play this game rambo style. Arma2 is a tactical affair and one that simply acts as a gaming platform at its core. The fanbase will mold this puppy like they did with the original Flashpoint and first Arma game. Mods will eventually come out that will improve on aspects that are arguable lacking. Already, a stunning sound mod has been ported over from the original Arma community and works great with Arma2.

Any PC gamer with a good enough rig needs to at least check out the demo of this game if only to see the graphics. But be warned: this game is a demanding one and even mid range PCs will struggle. I recently bought what can only be described as an ub3r gaming rig and even I struggle. To be honest, this is largely down to current issues the game has with Nvidia's flagship GTX295 card and Bohemia have promised us patches that will fix these problems.

The gem with Arma2 isn't the campaign. I haven't really even touched on it. Nor is the gem here the adversarial mp. If you want that, play Call of Duty 4. The gem is co-op. This is plain and simple. Co-op in Arma2 is co-op squared. No game compares. Any console game looks old and weak in comparison and even most PC-based co-op games fall short of what Arma2 offers: the ability to make and host your own co-op missions/scenarios and play them effortlessly online with as many mates as your bandwidth can handle (about 3-10 I'd say). The YouTube video posted above is my very own and based on a mission I am currently working on. (see here)

The sad thing here is that most PC gamers really just have a lot of hardware catching up to do to join this co-op fest. If something like this ever made it onto Xbox Live... game over competition. There are rumours that Arma2 is, in fact, being ported to the 360 and I am very excited at the prospect. Let's hope they manage to transfer this "create and host" dynamic onto a console. Without it, the game wouldn't be the same.

In terms of platforms, Steam is the way to go with Arma2. Although it doesn't support cloud-based features or server lists and steam friends invites, it does automatically update itself (which is worth the extra few bucks alone) and supports the Steam in-game interface. This allows for you to talk to friends whilst in-game and simply makes arranging games a more hassle free affair. However, I will admit to being slightly disappointed at the lack of 'full' integration. It really is no big deal though as the netcode is stable and hosting private games is a piece of cake.

I am simply in gaming nirvana when I have the tools of Arma2's inventory at my disposal. I have made a bunch of missions and keep learning more and more aspects of the powerful mission editor. I have hosted them and played with mates and it feels like gaming has finally enabled a level of freedom never before seen. I can make my own scenarios and play them with friends. From this point on, anything else for me is going to seem dated and seriously limited in comparison to this.

There are issues with Arma2 though. The flora/grass is great but doesn't exist after about 20 feet. Ground is bare and featureless besides trees and bushes beyond this point. This means that no-one can truly hide in the grass as they will be seen by people at a distance! Bohemia fixed this in the original Arma with a patch that simply created less detailed grass at a distance and basically need to do the same here. There are also just general bugs with everything from a certain weapon's firing animation to the fact players tend to get kicked from mp games when the host switches a mission. There is one word for this though and that word is patches.

Fixes will come and Arma2 will improve. Mods will hit and Arma2 will find new fans. Arma2 is a platform and I cannot stress that enough. No developers out there are doing what Bohemia have done here. They have released a toolkit for the wargamer. Everything from first aid modules to hand signals can be enabled or disabled in the editor and for the single player side of it there is even a random mission generator that allows you to define the type of battle. If you know what you're doing, you can even then save these missions and put them in the appropriate folder of your Arma2 dir and host them online! True gaming freedom.

If everyone who is remotely into war games had the kind of PC you need to fully embrace Arma2 then I think we'd be seeing far more hype about this game. The reality is though that this game is just too revolutionary for most gamers to take on board. Firstly, you need a really high end PC to get the most from the visuals. You also need to know what you're doing and be prepared to 'fiddle' and experiment with tweaks in order to get those extra frames per second. Perhaps most importantly though, you need to be a patient and mature gamer. Not a gamer who is only after the quick fix sensations of the linear 'CoD' genre. This game spoonfeeds you nothing. You have to go out and find those gaming moments. The thing is, once you encounter them they are real and unscripted. Nothing else comes close.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Arma2 on Steam: PC gaming is back on track

I'm going to be quick to admit that, for the most part of last year, I was brainwashed by console propaganda. Me, a veteran PC gamer, spending all my gaming time and budget on Xbox 360 titles and eventually even a PS3! I'm suddenly now at a point of total 360 reversal though. Console gaming has its place, sure, but PC gaming looks oh so promising once again.

I sort of gave up on PC gaming by about mid 2007. Essentially, the realisation that Call of Duty 4 was best played on an Xbox 360 and Live got me thinking and negating any potential long overdue system upgrade. I was also just fed up with the hassle of the installation process. Why doesn't it just work like with a console, I'd say to myself. I got infuriated by driver conflicts and low frame rates. I just wanted straight forward, hassle free, gaming on my HDTV.

Of course, I was right to think this way for a while. PC gaming was, for all intents and purposes, dead during a black period of about late 2007 to... now. Two things have suddenly changed this. One is Steam. The other is Bohemia Interactive's Arma2.


When Steam first launched in 2003, I hated it. So did everyone. Even your mother hated Steam. Steam was Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Steam, worse even than that, was Jar Jar Binks when it came to gamers. No-one wanted anything to do with it. It was the enemy of IRC, CS 1.6, and celeron processors. However, Valve knew what they were doing. Steam improved and it's now essentially Xbox Live on a PC... only better and free.

Because of Steam, I've hit up a few games and love them because of the ease of being able to download them and play them with friends. Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor are Steam-centric games and no-one can imagine playing them the old way.

Arma 2

Arma2 is BIS' latest title; a hardcore mil-sim and by most accounts the greatest. I'm an Operation Flashpoint vet but never played the original Arma due to my lack of upgrade in 2007. However, Arma2 is the reason why I've upgraded to a very high end rig and 24" monitor! It is the reason why I'm unlikely to log into Live or PSN for months. From what I have read and seen, this game will be astonishing.

When you combine the literally unlimitied potential of Arma2 with the fact it is going to be released on Steam this month I think it becomes clear that a very special moment awaits for those gamers that are into the FPS / mil-sim genre. This will be an easily accessible large scale co-operative game of scope and purpose. Sure, it will have bugs (that will get patched) but in the words of Eurogamer, this is clearly one of the most ambitious games ever made.

If I had to select one game to play for the rest of my life I would still, to this day, say Operation Flashpoint. However, this may soon be set to change to Arma2. Everything is in place here: gorgeous graphics, realism, a mass of customisable weapons and vehicles, a new and powerful mission editor, the huge 225km map, and countless online modes. I have no doubt that the mod community will also truly flourish. There are already impressive vids out there of projects that will no doubt add to Arma2's greatness.

There is also the potential of the organic campaign. I've read things about this that have simply flawed my expectations. Firstly, it is four player co-op. Secondly, it is persistent and not based on any standard mission structure. Things change on the fly, intel comes in, and you decide who to trust and what to do and what not to do. Like a real recon team, you're forced to act on information as it comes in. The potential here for arguments and squad in-fighting regarding what direction to take is enough alone to put a smile on my face.

Another important thing to note about Arma2 is its landscape. This game looks like it has an exploration factor comparable to Oblivion. The scenary, the animals, the plantlife, all stunning. The civilians, the weather, the night and day cycle, all incredible. This game is one to check out. Roll on the 19th! It is due out on Steam on the 30th but here's to hoping that they move that forward soon to match the retail release.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

A journey with the PS3: I came, I saw, and then I went "Meh"

I've spent the past few weeks in a daze of sorts. DMT? No, I wish. Alcohol? Sure, but that's only partly to blame. No, my real drug of choice has been Sony's Playstation 3.

I've sampled this piece of kit in every manner possible and come to some interesting conclusions. This is a tale of my time with the PS3, split into sections detailing each specific area.

The interface

Crucial to the console experience, the initial interface or hub is as vital as an
ything. Coming from the Xbox 360, I was at first a little at odds with the lack of eye candy. I then realised that this was actually a rather cheeky little interface; enabling you to customise most elements. Needless to say, I stuck a nice pic of a lady up for my background and was pleased to see it fully on display (unlike with the NXE and its random black blobs of blockage).

DVD playback

The PS3 is the DVD playback king, no doubt. The upscaling is incredibly good. End of discussion. Oh yeah, and blu-ray is good too.

Killzone 2

It seems as if this game is, by itself, a part of the PS3 so integral that it almost seems embedded in the console. I was very won over by the hype before this game came out and I will admit that it was a major factor in my mind when it came to deciding whether to buy or walk on by.

For me, FPS titles are where it is at gaming wise. KZ2 is a mighty title. It is graphically incredible. It is technically impeccable. It has very good online multiplayer. However, here comes the inevitable. It is essentially just another linear FPS. It gets old quite quickly. It suffers from all the old FPS faults and it isn't as good as CoD4 online. Nuff said.

Playstation Network

Now here is where my proper analysis kicks in. We all know that the PSN can barely touch Xbox Live when it comes to ease of communication. However, what amazes me about PSN is simply how reliable it is most of the time when compared to Live. This is largely due to dedicated servers being the norm in most games.

For a game like KZ2, dedicated servers aren't around and yet the lag seldom sets in. It is generally a flawless affair. However, with games like Little Big Planet (see below) lag creeps in like a wasp through your car door on a hot summers day.

"Be gone, lag! Hello?"

The above line about sums up ones inner thoughts and linguistic behaviours during a session of LBP - the game I "wanted" to love. You see, the PSN succeeds only with a few games whilst in others you simply begin to miss Live. I hate admitting it but I have grown accustomed to Live over the years and can't seem to tolerate the choir of trying to arrange a session with mates without the Live tools at my disposal. Even before NXE's fantastic party mode feature, for years Live allowed gamer to send messages, arrange private chat, and quickly send invites. Sony take note.

The PSN is a form of stripped down, bare essentials, online experience in comparison. Like an old Soviet T-34, the thing works but just lacks the polished, feature-ladden sparkle of Uncle Sam's M1a1 Abrams (and yes I do know that this is likely the worst cross tank / online system comparison ever considered by a gamophile on the internet).

In all fairness though, a brilliant new feature has just recently come out with a firmware update. Now you can create private text-based chat channels and use them to communicate with friends when in games. Not quite a party mode but it's close and actually something Live doesn't have.

Little Big Planet

Made just up the road from me, LBP is a unique gaming experience akin to taking
five dried grams of psilocybin magic mushrooms. The only difference is that with psilocybin you get to see self replicating machine elves, whereas with LBP it's all about sack people.

LBP represents a lesson for me. This is a lesson I should have learnt a long, l
ong time ago. That lesson is this: don't go telling people to get a game unless you know for sure it's worth the cash. I waxed lyrical about this thing for weeks. The problem was I hadn't played it much online with other people. When you do, things fall apart due to lag.

I've tried playing this with two or three friends and the lag kills all fun. With one other, it is just about playable but even then gets sluggish and hangs during load times. Lag, or netcode, utterly ruins this game online and the whole point of this game is the online component.

PS3 Home

Ah, now the fun bit of my little tale. Home is a kind of Second Life-like, Active Worlds wannabe but without the ability to make your own world and show your mates. Instead, you get an apartment that no-one ever sees because no-one cba to look at how imagin
ative you are when it comes to arranging generic furniture around a template room.

Home is essentially a 3d realm of Sony hegemonic adware. You get to look at posters for PS3
exclusive games. You get to watch videos of people talking about the PS3. It is all very stomach churning. Home is also unoficially a 3d flirting space where males attempt to chat up females who are, in reality, males looking for lulz.

For a week or two it was fun but I soon got bored of telling people great ane
cdotes about all manner of things only for them to say "I have no keyboard".

It was all looking bleak for Home until...


Xi, which literally means something, is a sub Crystal Maze ARG, or Alternate Reality Game. Basically, Sony made a sort of persistent MMO challenge, split into missions and clues. You start in a lobby environment and eventually enter the "games" area. This was the state of play the last time I logged in. It gets updated constantly. However, I'm no longer interested.

In reality, Xi is an exercise in Googling. You need the answer to the first mission? Cba to actually work out the puzzle for yourself? Google the code! Google the next code! Google the answer to everything until you actually have to start doing something with your controller.

The first real mini challenge is a fun series of timed arcade games. You then get to have a go with the six axis tree dodging. Finally, you get to experience a text-based rpg old school style. I was just about still interested up until this point but then suddenly a new mission struck. Now, you're expected to do all those mini games again... only on an expert setting. Read strict time limits and other annoyances. I gave up with it. Where is the incentive? Nah, it's not worth the button pounding.


If I'm honest, the main reason I got a PS3 was for the internet browser, which I heard was very good. I was pleased to discover it's true greatness. 90% of my PS3 time now consists of just resting in bed watching Youtube, iplayer, Dailymotion, etc. The way you can make videos full screen and view them on your HDTV is just total goodness.

Life with Playstation (formerly Folding@home)

Wtf is this? No, seriously. I still don't know. It seems to be a series of mathematical downloads akin to Seti packets of data for CPUs to churn over. Whilst the cell works, you get to look at a globe and read news stories. Downright random. I wasn't won over. I wasn't even approached by anything from what I can tell.


The PS3 is a highly sophisticated device capable of all sorts of things. Little touches like upscaling and wireless connectivity out of the box impressed me. I actually like the interface too. It's simple and mature, unlike the NXE; a horrendously misjudged mish mash of childish theme and adult content.

Although I like the PS3 for being an all singing console, the sad truth is that I know the 360 will still woo me back to it everytime with its promises of easy mic-based communication, invites, fast and instant downloads, and a vaster library of games. All I know is that last night I was on CoD4 on Live and it felt oh so good.

Here's the deal with the PS3. It's not a games console. It really isn't. It's a sort of blu-ray/dvd player with an internet browser and a decent set of codecs for file playback. This thing is basically a big bad black son of a... media player.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A new direction... sort of

I've been thinking about it and have decided that reviews just don't work for blogs. People may disagree but it just seems out of place somehow. I've also concluded that reviews in general are almost a dated concept in this ever-evolving new era of the personal computer.

From now on, I won't be continuing with the review template; that is, I won't give a game a score out of ten. I want to share my thoughts about games I play, sure, but no longer see the point in giving them the review treatment. If a game is pants, I'll just say it.

I no longer believe that scores hold any real meaning, particularly when it comes to computer games. What a gamer thinks one day about a title changes a week later. There are so many things to take into consideration: longetivity, playability, the potential for patches and updates. The list is endless.

I prefer the idea of offering my own take on games without trying to forge a review on top of that. So, farewell to ye olde rating system.