Sunday, September 23, 2012

What I am playing September 2012

The creative juices have not being flowing recently so this poor blog has been quite neglected nevertheless I do like to keep a record of the games I am playing so boring diary post coming up.

Driver San Francisco: The "campaign" in this game is utterly forgettable but the  driving is great fun. I dip in and out of the game every so often for a spot of high adrenaline thrills.

From: Dust: A clever God game with interesting terra-forming capabilities.  It looks and sounds very like Spore but the game play is much more limited sadly and doesn't really do the superb terra forming engine justice.

Rainbow Six Vegas2: I really enjoyed the first Rainbow Six Vegas and this squad shooter sequel is more of the same.  A minor annoyance is that the difficulty is uneven with many trivial levels and  some that are very difficult to complete without multiple deaths and progress by trial and error. Nevertheless there is good replay value in the various challenge modes once you compete the campaign.

Fear 3: Despite the title Fear 3 isn't scary at all but it is a surprisingly good shooter. Any attempt at scares is pretty much destroyed by an achievements system that constantly splashes congratulatory messages on the screen but the campaign has everything you expect in a modern shooting game: well designed levels, intelligent enemy ai, a useful selection of weapons, a good cover system and a powerful bullet time facility. It gets even better the second time around because once you complete any level you can play as the protagonists evil ghost brother. This guy doesn't use guns himself but can possess his enemies which completely changes the way you play the game. Minor complaint is that some of the levels are a bit repetitive but overall this game is highly recommended to shooter fans.

Ground Control: This 12 year old classic could have been been my all time favourite rts. It has no resource building  (which I don't like) and lots of tactical combat (which I love). It still looks fine and runs flawlessly on Win 7-64. It has one major flaw unfortunately and it is a humdinger. There are no mid levels saves at all, not even checkpoints. With challenging levels that last several hours this is a deal breaker. Over the course of last week I got about six levels into the game. Then I lost two hours of progress to a stupid ambush and I remembered why I gave up at about the same point a dozen years ago. The game was released as a free download to celebrate the launch of its sequel so if you want to try it it wont cost you a thing.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Local Co-Op games on a PC

A few months ago I discovered that my youngest daughter enjoys playing co-op PC games with her Daddy. This discovery subsequently transformed several hitherto neglected platform and adventure games into my "new favourite game". It doesn't really matter what the game is. If it is a PC game and it has local co-op then I am a fan.

At one level this is a pretty pointless exercise. Local Co-op has never been a strong point of PC games and we have a Wii console sitting in our living room which is designed for co-op. PC gaming is my domain however. It is the thing that Daddy does and I defy any father to try and resist the opportunity to share something of your inner self with your kids. It is a primeval thing.

Ignoring the futility of the exercise there are a few basic hurdles to be overcome. The first is that a mouse and keyboard don't easily split into two. If you really want to co-op on one PC then you need to invest in at least one game controller. I strongly recommend purchasing two. Even though many games allow one player to use a mouse it is easier and more balanced to use two controllers. Thankfully the Xbox360 controller has become standard for modern PC games. I have one genuine Microsoft controller and a lookalike from Game-stop that works fine. It is worth noting that the standard wired Xbox360 controller works in a PC with no modifications but the wireless controller which is more common these days needs a special dongle to work with a PC. Go for wired if you can get them I say.

The next difficulty is finding games that actually allow PC co-op. Many otherwise excellent ports of console games to the PC leave out local co-op altogether. Thankfully there is an invaluable resource here: Using  "couch co-op" filter throws up 126 PC games with local co-op at the time of writing.

Finally be prepared to do some technical tweaking. It isn't always required but sometimes a little  bit of effort is required to convince your PC to give a good local co-op experience.

The games we have tried so far include:

Lego Harry Potter, episodes I-IV:We started this on the PC and enjoyed it so much that we moved on to the Wii. The PC version has been neglected since but this split screen co-op game does work very well.

Dungeon Siege III: Enjoyable and challenging co-op experience but sadly imbalanced in that there is only one major character who advances through the game while the second acts as a kind of henchman to the first. This doesn't use split screen so you can have some frustrating moments when one character is prevented from moving until the other comes along.

Portal 2: Probably our best co-op experience to date, a brilliant game with a very good co-op campaign that is completely separate from the single player game. Unfortunately local co-op is not officially supported by Valve and it required quite a bit of hacking to get this to work. When we did get it working though it was worth it. Side by side gaming on one PC driving two screens. Superb.

Trine 2: Local Co-op seems flawlessly integrated into this game but sadly the puzzle format never quite grabbed my daughters attention. We only tried it a few times and it didn't quite stick.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light: Our latest discovery and it looks like a good one.  It has a nice balance of combat and puzzles and even though both characters are constrained to a single screen  it doesn't feel as constricting as this did in Dungeon Siege 3. Single player and co-op play the same campaign (but with slightly different abilities) and unlockables are persistent for both characters giving a lot giving a lot of flexibility to how you play the game.

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