Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quick Gaming Update: Splinter Cell Conviction, Alan Wake, From Dust

Splinter Cell Conviction: I enjoyed this for the most part. It is the first splinter Cell game I have actually played through to the end although the campaign is short so that isn't as significant as it sounds. Minor gripe: Much of the game is on very tight rails. General objection: Why do I have to kill everyone? Why can't I stealth past most obstacles?  Major Gripe: Auto difficult adjust continually pissed me off. On several occasions I came to a difficult section and died a few times working out a strategy. Then, just as I was about to put my master plan into place the game would halve the number of enemies trivialising the obstacle and destroying any feeling of achievement for overcoming it.

Alan Wake: I am half way through this game (3 out of six episodes). Thumbs up for the spooky atmosphere and strong storyline. Thumbs down for the dreadful combat. Combat in this game really stinks. In general you have to shine a torch at an enemy to make it vulnerable and then shoot it with bullets. Given that you almost always face several enemies coming from different directions, given that you have only one narrow torch beam and given that the controls are awkward and non responsive makes combat an exercise in frustrating tedium.   I much prefer the parts where you have no weapons because it means you get to do some exploring of a spooky environment. As soon as I pick up a gun my heart sinks because I know I am in for more of the stupid torch game.

From Dust: This It seems to me like a paper thin game built on a very clever engine. That engine allows you to morph the landscape of the game world moving sand rock and water around at will. You use these powers to help your human minions achieve certain goals, generally getting from A to B while avoiding certain environmental hazards along the way. It looks beautiful and really does give you tremendous freedom to shape the game world but I found the missions quickly become tiresome. The look and feel of the game strongly remind me of Spore but the gameplay lacks Spore's depth.

Interesting side note: I played all of the above games on my PC using an Xbox 360 controller despite the fact that they have perfectly adequate mouse and keyboard control options. Partly this is because these games were originally designed for controller and it feels like the most natural control scheme for them. Partly it is because I like being able to put my keyboard which I use for work aside and pick up a controller for play. I still believe that mouse and keyboard is a better control scheme for many types of games: First person shooters, anything that requires precise aiming and complex games like RTS with lots of buttons. One of my biggest peeves with the controller is how many games use context sensitive buttons which do different things depending on where you are. For example the same button is used for running and jumping depending on whether or not there is an obstacle in front of you.  It is no doubt a response to the limited number of buttons on a controller but I find it very immersion breaking and it robs my sense of in game freedom. Sadly most games which do this copy the same limitation to a mouse and keyboard control scheme so there is no advantage to be gained from switching.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Early thoughts on Ubisofts new UplayPC service

I signed up to Ubisoft's new Steam lookalike game download service in order to avail of some of  the sweet launch offers (From dust €1, Driver San Fran €1).
The good:
+ Well, it does actually work. You buy a game through the client, download it and run it from within the client.
+ You can use Paypal to pay for your games  Hurray!
+ Ubisoft finally seem to grasp the reality of the PC games download market. There is none of the old extended download service nonsense( where you had to pay extra just to be allowed re-download your own games)
+It has an offline mode and it works! Need to be online to download game of course and for first run.
+ Surprisingly realistic pricing. Older titles are selling for €10 and their launch sale had some serious bargains.
+has achievements and friends and chat and other stuff you expect from a game client.

The bad:
- After buying a game it took more than an hour to show up in my games library. Perhaps this was server overload due to the launch sale but it was pretty confusing.
- Downloading was slow (about 1/3 of the speed I regularly get from Steam) and prone to losing it's place. I had a couple of restarts.
- You can't play one game while downloading another. Major annoyance

- You can still buy Uplay games from Steam but they use a different incompatible version of Uplay. You can't launch Steam bought games from within normal Uplay and vice versa. This is another confusing nuisance.
- Some of the email communication I got after the purchase seems to refer to Ubisofts old "Ubishop" service. It talks about the dreaded extended download service.
- Only sells Ubisoft games at present (and a fairly limited selection at that).

Overall first impression:A step in the right direction but needs work.I love Steam but I am delighted  to see Valve get some healthy competition to keep them on their toes. This new service from Ubisoft has a lot of catching up to do (EA's Origin is already more polished) but remember how awful Steam was when it came out first.






Thursday, August 16, 2012

Die Young, Stay Pretty, #Firefly

What do Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Kurt Cobain and Joss Whedon's Firefly have in common?

I'll leave you to work that out for yourself but I have been immersing myself in Whedon's space opera for much of the last week. Thanks to the magic of Netflix I managed to see all 14 episodes in quick succession and then finish up with the feature film.

The series completely passed me by when it was first released, perhaps it never made it across the pond to European channels but regardless I have long since passed the age when I am surprised at missing yet another cultural phenomenon. I did later become aware of the series enduring cult status however. Despite being cancelled after one series due to lackluster audience figures Firefly has earned itself a regular spot in top ten lists of greatest Sci Fi shows of all time.

Of course that begs the question - how much did the shows early death contribute to it's legendary status. Are we worshipping what might have been rather than what actually was?  Watching the show with fresh eyes a decade after its original release I am happy to confirm that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Unlike many prodigies cut short before their time Firely had a brief rebirth in the form of the 2005 feature film "Serenity". This  ties up several of the open plot threads from the series and is recommended viewing immediately after the watching the series. Taken together the 14 episodes and  film can be seen as a complete work and well worth the viewing time. 

In some ways the show feels very familiar - whether this is due to parallels with previous fugitive spaceships (anyone still remember Blake's Seven?) or whether it comes from the wild west theme's that Whedon has blended so well into his Space Opera story I cannot say. Given that I enjoyed the show so much I don't really understand why it failed to pull a larger audience. Perhaps it was a matter of timing? Perhaps some viewers were confused by an anti hero captain who saves the oppressed with one hand while mangling folk in in spinning turbines with the other. The show does have a rather confused morality and can sometime feel like a cross between the Walton's and Reservoir Dogs. Some might attribute this to 21st century edginess but  I think it is entirely in keeping with the Western theme. You can find preachers hanging around with whores in any number of Westerns just like you can in Firefly.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Andor's Trail: A mobile Dungeon Crawler, #android

I have been playing an inordinate amount of "Andor's Trail" a free open source dungeon crawler being developed for the Android Platform. The concept is familiar: explore the world to kill monsters to gain experience and better gear so you can explore further and kill more monsters and dot dot dot,  but the execution of that concept is shaping up very nicely in this still under development game. It is not finished, it has no sound at all and several quests cannot be completed but  the game already has has a multitude of locations, quests and monsters and the graphics look great to me.

A word of warning the game can be very grindy particularly at lower levels. The mobs hit hard and healing is very expensive so you may find yourself forced to farm a few beginner locations over and over in order to level up and earn cash.  I have said before that I don't do grind so I generally try to do just enough grind to allow me to progess. That approach makes the game quite challenging but so far it hasn't stopped me. I manged to do all the quests in a difficult region called Blackwater Mountain in my mid teens for exmaple while other folks on the forums seem to wait for level 30 or more before going there.

Do remember of course that the game is still in development and any or every thing could change. Hopefully the newbie grind will be reduced and I personally would like to see more healing options. Nevertheless the game is very playable in its curent state and worth a look. You can even contibute to the development process by getting involved in the game forum.

Hint: If you are a new player struggling to earn gold then make sure you sell this to buy this.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Id's Rage: Not making me angry at all #fps #rage

Some gaming deity must have read my last post because just as I was despairing of modern shooters I happened upon a very sweet deal on Bethseda/id's Rage. I really didn't expect to be having as much fun as I am in this game. It is a huge immersive world with a strong campaign, first class shooting, great driving and a tonne of side-games to play if the main campaign gets tiring (it doesn't). Somehow I expected a new id game to be a very old school no frills shooter, direct descendant of  Quake 3, but this game is so much more. Imagine taking Borderlands, Fallout3, Half life2 and Fear extracting the best bits of each and making a new game - that's what Rage feels like to me. Some might complain it borrows too generously from those games, a seasoned gamer cannot help but notice striking similarities. Nevertheless I don't care. It all comes together into a glorious gaming experience,  the most fun I have had in a shooter in a long time.

Strangely, in spite of the homage paid to many classic shooters the influence of id's own previous games is less obvious. Id's talent at polishing a game to perfection does show through however. Everything in this game works and works brilliantly. At first I thought it unusual that many of the weapons seem to overlap in functionality, for example the pistol can be equipped with a scope and high damage bullets to rival the sniper rifle. Now I realise that a key feature of the game is the ridiculous surfeit of tools they give you to overcome your foes.There is never one right weapon for the job and playing around with all of them is a blast.

A result of all of this choice of ordnance, particularly when combined with regeneration health and magical resurrection from a defibrillator means that this is not a very difficult game. Fun takes preference over challenge every time.  I am not particularly good at driving for example and I doubt I will ever get the hardest driving achievements but the one race I absolutely had to win to progress the game gave me an overpowered ability that literally blew my competitors off the track. Playing on hard mode I find the shooting fights easy enough except for a few bosses and calling in a couple of robotic assistants usually makes short work of those.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"But I have nothing to play": NOLF 2 to the rescue.

Despite having picked up a half dozen titles in the recent Steam sale I curiously found I had nothing I was interested in playing last night. After a game free fortnight on holidays I felt the need for that quick shot of gaming adrenaline that only a first person shooter can provide but none of my new games fit the bill.

Despite (because of?) the billion selling success of Call of Duty games good shooters are thin on the ground these days and I have already exhausted the replay potential of the few that made it into my collection.

Turning to my increasingly dust covered shelf of olde games I pulled out a classic I haven't played on almost a decade : "No One Lives Forever 2".

Good news: this humourous tale of 1960s sexy super spy Cate Archer installs and runs without a hitch on Windows 7-64. Better news: despite its age the cartoonish style has held up very well and the game still looks gorgeous. Best news: this game is still brilliant. It is funny, clever, challenging and great fun to play. It is one of the first shooters I remember that had an rpg lite element with the opportunity to upgrade selected abilities such as stealth or accuracy as you progress through the game.

NOLF2 comes from a golden age of First person shooters. A time when creativity had not yet been exhausted by endless repetition and when technology was just good enough to make games that had depth and challenge and graphics adequate not to give you a headache. Highly recommended if you can get your hands on a copy.