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.