Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's not a time for kids really, Christmas

Christmas Fighting Game
I do like Christmas. Lots of lovely holiday to catch up on games, punctuated at regular intervals by stuffing myself silly with food and booze, and meeting up with family. And the weather's so bloody cold nobody thinks bad of you for staying inside all day. I've had a couple of weeks off so far, mostly dominated by Fallout 3 which I'm enjoying more now than when I started (due to the incredibly amateur way I have ordered things for publishing I think the post about that won't have gone up yet. I am great at this, me), but still feels oddly hollow, like I'm just ticking off quests so that I can say that I've done them. Still, do them I will. And every now and then something happens that I enjoy a lot, such as killing everyone in the Republic of Dave for not letting me vote.

I have also managed to get a few hours on co-op Gears of War 2. I really enjoyed playing through the first one's story campaign because I did the whole thing with a friend. So far (just on the second main level at the moment) it's good, though doesn't feel as focussed to me - each encounter feels engineered to provide a different combat experience, or introduce a new weapon or element. Which is an odd complaint, I know - they would have been mauled by critics if they'd just left it as 5 levels of the same run and gun action as the first. But nevertheless it feels slightly "bitty".

While visiting family my Lego mad nephew found out that his uncle worked on a game based around Bionicle. At the time I hated the stuff, but looking at the sets he's been given by Santa, it seems that they've started to make some real effort with them. Anyway, the bits and pieces of information I could remember from five years ago paid off, and I was able to wow him with my knowledge of Toa names and elements. Then I got told there is a Bionicle game on the Lego website which is much better than the one I worked on, which might have been an innocent but cutting remark, if I didn't view our game as the worst thing I've ever done. So I just laughed along and later added another five seconds to my internal "how long have I spent feeling bitter about those six months" timer. Seven hours so far. You could play Bionicle from start to finish seven times in that!

Just before Christmas Free Radical Design went into administration, which must be a blow to their hard working staff. There are interesting stories coming out now, though, which often happens in these situations - people who kept quiet before for fear of losing their jobs are telling all now that they have nothing left. I'm sure the good guys will have no trouble finding new employment.

Right, I'm off to hunt through online sales and see if there are any bargains. I was expecting Left 4 Dead to be cheap by now, so I could add it to my pile of as-yet-unplayed stuff. But it doesn't look like it.

PS - Game of the year (since every website and blog is contractually obliged to provide such a thing) was Fable 2. Everything I was expecting it to be and more.

PPS - The banner image is from Kristmas Kombat, which is about the true meaning of the holiday season. No idea if it's any good, I just liked the picture.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mediocre-At-Best Company, More Like

Battlefield Bad Company
Hello chums (the seven of you that StatCounter informs me reliably visit every day). I've been a bad blogger again. I know. I had the best intentions, but work and home life still conspired against me. Whatever time I got to jot down thoughts on games I had been playing and news I had been reading, resulted in bullet point lists. I put the lists into blogger for editing into proper posts at a later date, but I never really found that editing time, and when I did, the posts were so out of date it started to feel a little pointless. So, in the New Year I'm going to try again. Honestly. But before then (and probably during then, since there are a few of them) I'm going to do a quick editing job on the handful of posts I'd already written, and publish those (unless the editing job consists of "what the hell was I thinking?" and I delete it). Just keep in mind that some of these are quite old. And now on to your scheduled content...

I had been playing Battlefield Bad Company on the Xbox, borrowed off a colleague. It was something that I'd been interested in, but had always thought might not be worth shelling out for myself (what with me not really being into playing endless hours of zero sum competative multiplayer). I was right. When your first bullet point issue with a game is "not sure if I'm enjoying it" you shouldn't be too surprised when you stop being bothered to play as soon as something else comes along (I think it may have been a Lego game that stole my interest).

The player can die in the single player, but if you do you just respawn slightly back from the combat with full ammo again. Given that I spent a lot of my time in firefights running low on ammo, it ended up with the very odd situation of dying being a blessing, since I'd get restocked in both health and weaponry, and any enemies I'd killed would stay dead. I'm sure there's a good game to be made around the high concept of killing yourself to progress, but this isn't it -  the resulting missions became a monotonous slog of taking out a few enemies, dyinging, walking back to the combat, and repeating.

The open levels are probably great for multiplayer, but were bad for single player. They are pretty but sparse, and the levels drag on for ages. Each one is a series of combat set pieces in a small area of the map, linked together by a boring journey to the next rendezvous point.

The guns and explosions are very nice. Great sound effects. Cutting down trees with explosions & gunfire is ace, especially in the rare occasions when a falling piece of foliage lands on and kills an enemy.

The USP of blowing up buildings is cool, but limited. You can't totally flatten a building, and buildings that will be needed later in the mission are impervious to damage. Buildings have pretty much no furniture in them so by midway through the second level I was getting confused and a bit lost going between identical looking shells of buildings, trying to remember which one had the heavy weapon I needed to pick up in it.

A major game crime in my opinion - No subtitle option. So late at night with the sound turned down to avoid waking up my wife, and the jet engine in my 360 blaring, I can't follow what the characters are talking about in the cutscenes.

And in a similar vein, there's also no brightness setting. Seriously, fuck off with "adjust your TVs settings for this one game", I'm very clearly not going to do that and screw up the settings for every other game I play am I?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fable 2

Fable 2
Fable 2 is a wonderful game. Absolutely riddled with minor glitches & bugs*, but still everything I was expecting, and it is brilliant.

I will say at this point that I was a fan of the first Fable (possibly because I never listened to the hype before it came out, and then pushed through the fairly boring first chapter at the hero school). Fable 2 is a classic sequel - it includes everything from the original, and expands and improves on it in every way.

One of the main things that I love so much about the game is how focussed it is on leading the player by carrot instead of stick. It's literally impossible to die in - the worst that happens is you get "knocked out", respawn back on the spot, lose some experience, and any experience still lying around is lost too - so the consequences of getting in above your head are pretty much non-existant. Another great touch is that after spending experience to improve your character you have to option to sell the upgrades back, and reclaim some of the points. This gets around one thing I always hate with RPGs - that they expect you to pick skills and attributes for your character at the start of the game, when you don't know what might be useful. To take Fallout 3 as a recent example, "Heavy Weapons" sounds like it could be a good skill, but before playing the game for some time you have no idea how prolific the ammunition you need to make use of it actually is.

But back to Fable 2 - it's very charming, with interesting and funny characters throughout and a massive amount of great lines for the villagers and enemies. Hearing foes lament their comrade's death because he owed them a pint, or walking past a house at night an overhearing a child's nightmare really help to draw you in to the world and make you smile. The cutscene dialogue is also good, though often let down horribly by what I can only assume is a limitation of their scripting system that has resulted in some terrible pacing that leaves huge gaps between sentences.

The only bit that annoyed me was the obligatory arena quest, and that wasn't hard, it was more of a "oh fuck's sake, why does every fantasy game need some osrt of arena where you battle increasingly difficult waves of monsters for the entertainment of the general population?" frustration.

Finally, the online implementation of seeing "orbs" that show where your friends (or any number of other players, if you want) are in game is cooler than I thought it would be. Someone gave me a huge warhammer, which was nice, and to "pass it on" I gave a friend a very good sword that I had no need for. You could probably break the game's balancing very easily in this way, but it really doesn't seem to care since it gives you enough other ways that you could break it yourself if you wanted to (the economy and sales seem almost deliberately designed for this). As I said before, I've never seen an RPG be this free and easy with its boundaries, and carrot not stick before.

The worst thing about Fable 2 by far has been that I have Fallout 3 to play, and it feels so stuck in its RPG ways, and so dour, and brown, and humourless, that I've been put off playing much of it at all.

* I know there are a lot of people out there who had much more than minor bugs, and with the game's limited save files I can see that being deeply annoying. But I never experienced anything outside of the minor visual category in over 30 hours of play. I guess Fable loves me too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Complete 360

My replacement Xbox turned up a week ago. Thankfully this time I've been sent an entirely new one, rather than a refurbished one. It's much quieter than any of the Xboxes I've owned or borrowed from work, and hopefully that's a good sign.

So, after two weeks of being Xbox deprived (so deprived in fact, that I even resorted to playing Haze on the PS3) I have finally been able to dive into Fable 2, which is amazing (but more on that later).

I just need to get the time to crack on with Fallout 3 now. And Gears of War 2. And Saints Row 2. And Little Big Planet. And FarCry 2. And Midnight Club. And finish off Lego Batman.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Games Reviewed in Ten Words - Haze

Really, Free Radical? From Timesplitters and Second Sight to this?

Monday, October 20, 2008

And it Burns, Burns, Burns

Red ring of death
Well, it's happened. My second Xbox 360 has died. Something in the end of level sequence for Lego Batman stressed it an inch too far, and it gave up (though if it took my 60% complete save file with it I won't be happy). Just in time for the game release silly season. What a pain in the arse.

This one has lasted pretty much a month shy of two years, having been delivered as a replacement for the actual 360 I bought, which lasted around six months. So, their lifetimes are improving.

Also improved is Microsoft's support phone line. Whereas two years ago I had to jump through a few hoops before they would take in my console, now they are very quick to believe your tale and get the relacement process started.

The plus side of having been through this before is that I had a perfect cardboard box ready for shipping the dead console off in - the one it arrived in.

Oh well, time to give the PS3 a bit more attention. It's a shame Little Big Planet has just been delayed though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holy Great Game, Batman

Being able to admit when I'm wrong is one of my many virtues. And since it's one that people don't often get to see in action, this is a great opportunity.

Lego Batman is, contrary to my previous worries, the best Lego game Traveller's Tales have made.

Unconstrained by following the plot of a movie series, they have really let themselves go, and have come up with some brilliant and inventive level design. Playing as Batman is good, but when you get the the villain versions of the stages, the game really shines.

Fans of slapstick and visual gags will also be very happy about the cutscenes - again, a world away from Indy's relatively straight interpretations. The scene at the start of the Joker strand in particular is a treat, as Batman and Robin prepare to patrol, while Mr J sets out his plan to his fellow supervillains.

Still the same crappy front end menu though, how long has that work experience guy been on his probation? At least he changed the font this time.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Games Reviewed in Ten Words - WipEout HD

WipEout HD
It is WipEout Pulse. In HD. Half arsed photo mode.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

We Named the Dog Indiana

Lego Indiana Jones
So, I've been going back over some notes for things that I had played over the last few months. I found some stuff about Lego Indiana Jones, which is interesting again, since Lego Batman comes out in the UK at the end of the week.

The bullet pointed list, then...

  • Feels like it's had a lot less love & effort put into it than the Lego Star Wars games. In particular there are things that were added to the Complete Saga that are missing here (such as online co-op, surely it's in their game engine now?)
  • Not helped by having a lot fewer cool characters than Star Wars. For most of the game I didn't want to be anyone but Indy.
  • Looks nice, but when you turn on vsync the framerate goes to shit. How unoptimsed is their engine? I realise "the kids" don't care about this sort of thing, but it's something else that makes it feel a bit half-hearted.
  • They've worked out how to make good achievement lists. (Since writing this note I've also played Complete Saga, and that has good achievements too.)
  • The front end looks and feels like it took someone 5 minutes. What's up with this rubbish flashing text in a debug-looking font? And why is "new game" always the default selected option? How many times do I want to start a new game?
  • Has quite a lot of annoying instant deaths for a kids' game. And in partcular some enemies with one-hit-kill rocket launchers.
I seem to be unable to stop myself buying Travellers Tales' Lego games, so my copy of Batman will be on its way soon enough. I wonder if they will have returned to the series' high water mark of Complete Saga? I doubt it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Digital Pimp, Hard at Work

If anyone who reads this is in need of a professional writer, I would recommend James Parker. I've worked with this guy in the past, and his writing is top notch.

He also has a blog about writing in games, here, which is interesting reading. It's good to find something to read about the writing in games that isn't just trying to push the "we should be art" or "we should be films" angles constantly.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ratchet & Clank Rundown

As pretty much anyone who knows my gaming habits already knows, I'm a huge fan of the Ratchet & Clank series by Insomniac. I was a huge fan of their Spyro games before that (only theirs, mind), and I find their platform games to be generally very well put together.

Since I've recently finished Quest for Booty, I thought I'd put together a run-down of my thoughts on every R&C game. Why? Hasn't 4 dead months taught you anything? I need content!

  • Ratchet & Clank - A very good game. Lots of variety, though the non-standard sections (jet bike racing etc) were very annoying.
  • Going Commando - The best in the series, expanding and improving everything from the first. A wide variety of levels and gameplay, with the extra bits not being too hard. Excellent level design gave a lot of replayability to individual levels, searching for hidden bonuses and skill points. A great selection of weapons, and the experience & upgrading system is nice.
  • Up Your Arsenal - A slight downturn here, it definitely felt a bit weaker. The level design wasn't quite as good, and the game was shorter and had more focus on multiplayer and providing replayability through arenas.
  • Deadlocked - I never played this one, due to every review pointing out the very heavy multiplayer focus. Apparently the single player was essentially reduced to arenas and challenge courses.
  • Size Matters - The first PSP game in the series. I had high hopes for this after seeing what had been done on the handheld with the Jak & Daxter series. Even ignoring the controls and camera, it was a weak title - poor level design (very linear, and with a focus on instant death traps and falls), and a heavy focus on space hover board races which were rubbish.
  • Secret Agent Clank - The second PSP game. I've only played the demo, but it seems a bit better than the first, by slowing the game down and downplaying the action.
  • Tools of Destruction - The first PS3 title, and second best in series overall. A return to having a great variety of levels and gameplay, though not as much as at the PS2 heyday. The weapon selection is fairly boring though (you get some interesting stuff early on, but later it's all generic flamethrowers, shotguns, etc.), but it introduces single-use gadgets that have more imagination. Surprisingly, given previous titles, the arena section wasn't as well fleshed out, and had a very limted number of stages.
  • Quest for Booty - A downloadable budget titles on the PS3. It continues the story from Tools of Destruction, and features only Ratchet. For around a third of the game you only have your wrench, though eventually you are given a handful of other weapons from ToD. The level design is incredibly linear, and the usual hidden skill points and platinum bolts are missing. Generally I found it very disappointing, even given the price.
So, what does all of that mean? By my scientific calculations, the next PS3 game in the series should be the best ever Ratchet & Clank adventure. Unless they release more of the sorry downloadable episodes.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crazy Things Internet People Write About Games

Sonic Adventure 2 [...] it should be respected for trying to make the Sonic games take themselves seriously.
Yeah, that's exactly what a game series about an incredibly fast blue hedgehog and his double-tailed fox chum needed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Force Unleashed

First, a cautionary tale about pre-orders. The previews and whatnot for Force Unleashed looked ok so being the spend-happy chap that I am, I decided to pre-order it. Then a demo was released (or unleashed? No, let's go with released), and I got about halfway through before getting very bored with it. But it had been a while, so I'd forgotten my pre-order existed. The reviews started  coming out saying that the game was average at best, "I might get that when it's cheap" I thought. Then I received an email saying my pre-order copy had been shipped. Balls.

Though it's turned out better than I expected. I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm finding the full game to be entertaining enough. Still not £40 entertaining, but definitely better than I was expecting from the demo.

A quick run down of the pros and cons, specifically for Dave, who asked for one:


  • The force powers are nicely done, and the physics engine is very good. The two combine to ensure that when it's going well you feel like a true ultimate badass.
  • The graphics are detailed and colourful, and the game can throw a lot of enemies at you, which is also useful for the ultimate badass factor.
  • The story fits in very nicely (if you didn't know, this bridges the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), and the acting is better than in the three Starwars prequels. Admittedly not a high bar to have to hurdle, but still.
  • The sound is all you would expect. Stormtrooper radio chatter, appropriate character themes & scores, blasters and lightsabers make all the right pewing and swooshing noises.
  • The lightsaber and force power upgrades and customisation are nice, allowing you to tailor your saber from the situation you're in. Also any experience you earnt from killing enemies is kept even if you die, so levelling up will gradually improve you even if you're in a difficult section.
  • The planets and locations that haven't featured in a big-screen tale are a bit lacking, and don't feel as good as rampaging through locations you recognise. One particular mushroom planet is rubbish, has annoying and ugly enemies, and you go there more than once.
  • The controls and camera are utterly hateful. Lock on is based on the direction your character is facing, rather than the camera, and small tweaks to your facing to change the focus of your lock on are pretty much impossible. The targetting is as likely to lock on to an inoffensive metal bin as it is to select the giant metal laser-spitting foe stodd next to it, which causes no end of swearing. Jumping feels floaty and imprecise, which makes the very occasional platforming section (thankfully mostly just used to reach bonus pickups) frustrating.
  • In order to keep the combat varied, they have been forced to create a range of enemies who are able to effectively fight at close quarters with a lightsaber-wileding sith. Usually this means that enemies take several hits to kill, and are usually able to block your attacks. Some enemies are completely immune to force powers, which plays against the title's strengths.
  • You can fairly easily get into situations where an enemy attack will stun you or knock you to the ground, and then other enemies will continue firing rockets at you, which do the same as son as you're on your feet. You can quickly go from full to no health.
  • Load times to access the options menu. No, I'm not kidding. The menus are ugly too, with some weird scan-line effects that can make some heading text more difficult to read, despite being on a HD screen.
The other stuff
  • There are mid-level save points, and they're fairly regular. Though every now and then you'll hit a section where you're forced to fight a few tough battles in a row without a save.
  • It has quick time events. They don't actually bother me that much in this game, since you get a lot of time to react, and except for a couple of situations, they're entirely avoidable (ie, the mid-level bosses and large enemies can be killed using a QTE, but equally you can just fry them to death with your force lightning). 

Back Once Again?

No, I didn't discover SingStar and then give up on gaming.

Maybe it will last longer this time. I have been very busy both at work and at home, and the spare time I've had I've spent playing games instead of writing about them. And when I have been writing about them, it's been on message boards rather than here, which is rather stupid of me.

I will try and do better.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Apparently Sony are going to put songs by unsigned acts up for download in the SingStore. Of the couple of hundred tunes currently available, there are lots on there by famous acts that I haven't downloaded. The reason is because I don't know those songs, and the fun of SingStar is singing along to stuff you know. Surely Sony must realise that?

PS - If anyone who has any say in these things is reading, if you made "Danger, High Voltage" available I would buy it. Possibly even at triple the usual price.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Metal Gear Online Beta (PS3)

I don't know quite what I was expecting from this, to be honest. I've always wanted to like Metal Gear Solid games, but every tie I've tried them I've ended up giving up, due to a mixture of the controls and the cutscenes.

Maybe that's why I thought I might like the Metal Gear Online beta - because it'd have no cutscenes. But in the end I've left it thinking it wasn't a very good idea to try and make an online shooter out of a game series that's mostly about sneaking around.

In a reverse of the order that things annoyed me, I'm going to briefly go on about how rubbish the gameplay is, then I'll get on to everything else. The guns aren't satisfying at all to shoot, and the damage reaction is minimal to the point where I could rarely tell if I was damaging someone, or about to die myself. The controls are floaty and vague, and what seems like every element from the single player has been left in, leaving them overly complicated given the few actions that you'll actually want to do.

Why would anyone want to use tranquiliser guns in multiplayer when you still have to go over to your enemy and kill them? Similarly disguising yourself as a cardboard box, given your enemies aren't stupid AI. The "throw everything in and hope something sticks" mentality baffles me.

But before you get to play, you'll have to trudge through the interface and registration. Lucky you.

It's become quite clear to me that Konami don't really understand user interfaces. For example, Sony have allowed previous Metal Gear Solid games to continually break their requirements checklist in the West, and since Konami can't be arsed to do a proper job of localising, we "too damn tall" gamers have had to try and remember that back and select are the wrong way around in all of the menus. They've sorted that for this game, but there's still a raft of horrible interface niggles. For example, it has a whole raft of screens that expect you to press a button to continue, but don't tell you that, so you sit looking at it for a minute thinking that it's just taking its usual, horribly slow, pace to do something.

Aside from those basic niceties, the beta will regularly update, or fail to connect, or do something else it wasn't entirely expecting, and instead of dealing with it in a friendly manner (I don't know, perhaps a "retry" option, eh?), it will leave you with a "you've got to use the PS3's system software to quit the game and restart it again" screen.

And of course there's also the registration. For reasons that probably make perfect sense to someone in Konami Towers, your PSN id is not good enough for their baby. So as well as that I now have a Konami ID, a game ID - neither of which can be the same, for some reason, and one of them needs a 8 digit numerical password (I wonder how many phone numbers Konami have on record now) - as well as a character name. So 3 identifiers and two passwords, just for 1 beta.

The last step before you get to start shooting people is using the automatching system to find a game to play in. I liked that I selected "team deathmatch", and it decided to ditch the "team" part. Thanks, Metal Gear Online, clearly I was confused about what game mode I was interested in. You do know best.

So for some kind of rough summary, then. If you like this sort of thing - that being a very average 3rd person shooter with a bobbins interface and horribly bland washed-out graphics (and remarkably I do know at least one guy whose gaming preferences lie in exactly that direction) - you might well enjoy this.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Twisted Firestarter

This bit of news provoked two separate thoughts in very quick succession. One: Has there been a single good Spyro game since Insomniac stopped making them? Two: When are Sony going to release the PS1 Spyro back catalogue on Playstation Network?

I'd buy them all again in a flash. Imagine having a good platform game (that isn't Daxter) to play on the PSP!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Don't hate the Player

As you might be able to tell if you pay attention to the bits of my blog that I update over on the right there, I recently bought a PlayStation 3. Despite still only ticking one out of four of my buying requirements, the urge to play Ratchet & Clank had become too great. After all, there are only so many Mexican terrorists that you can shoot with a range of realistic weaponry before it all becomes a bit tiresome and repetative.

So, from my position as someone who's owned an Xbox 360 for the last two years, here are my thoughts on the PlayStation 3. Who knows, maybe indignant Gamefaqs arguers will balloon the number of hits I get and I'll be able to blow off this game developing lark and live off my AdSense revenue.

First off, some things that I really like about the PS3...

  • The Xmb is quick to navigate, consistent, user friendly, and looks slick. It's a world apart from the mess of the Xbox dashboard & blade system.

  • Touch sensitive buttons to eject the disc, and switch the power on & off. Such a minor thing, but I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

  • Remote play is a cool feature. I'm not sure I'll ever use it (aside from the one time I tried it out by sitting in my living room playing G-Police on my PSP while it was being piped through the internet and back by my PS3). But it is cool, and there's got to be something to use the PSP for, right?

  • It's so quiet compared to the 360, a big plus in girlfriend-acceptance factor in the living room (especially given the size of the thing).

  • I like having prices in proper money in the online store, so I don't have to do mental calculations to work out how much a pointless bit of DLC costs. And it's nice to not have to prebuy set amounts of cards or points, since it allows you to put exactly the amount you need to make a purchase into my wallet (well, as long as it's above £5, but I can live with that).

Now on to the things that I dislike about the PS3...

  • Having to install demos and games once they've downloaded, before I can play them. It seems completely pointless, since the downloads are in the Gb range anyway they can't be compressed too heavily. And the installation can't be done in the background. How about having "automatically background install" as an option at some point, Sony?

  • The Supplied USB cable for charging your controller is tiny. I can't believe anyone has their sofa that close to their entertainment system. Another annoyance is that when the system's in standby it doesn't leave the USB power on to charge a connected controller, so you can't leave it to charge overnight like you can with the 360's play and charge kit.

  • Speaking of controllers, the Sixaxis is a horribly light and flimsy feeling thing, and as of yet I've not played anything that's been improved by the whole motion sensing thing. Thank goodness DualShock 3's restore much needed weight, even if Sony are dragging their feet about releasing them in Europe.

  • Strange as it seems, I really miss the rich presence stuff that Xbox Live has. You can't see your friends list while you're playing a game, you can't see what games your friends have been playing, what they're doing in that game, or how far they've played through it. I guess Home is supposed to be adding some of these elements, but ... well that's an entirely different scathing blog post I think.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Good idea - Rainbow Six Vegas 2's experience system

Non-RPGs have often dabbled with adding in experience systems, and recently the idea seems to have really taken off in first person shooters. Halo 3 had fairly limited multiplayer progression, and then Call of Duty 4 had a fantastic online experience system. Now the Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (and that's the last time I'm ever going to type the ridiculous football score name out in full) developers have implemented a logical progression from that.

In R6V2 you have a single character, who is shared across all three game types - campaign, multiplayer, and terrorist hunt - and every kill that you or your team makes earns you experience (though obviously you earn more for making the kills yourself). At certain experience levels you earn a new rank, and with those come new types of armour and camouflage.

R6V2 also adds the A.C.E.S system (I forget what it stands for), that rewards you for kills made in certain ways. So shooting enemies at long distance will improve your sniper level, and killing filthy terrorists with explosives increases your assault rating. Leveling up these categories gives you experience bonuses (towards your rank)and is also how you unlock weapons, themed to the category you improve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reasons why working in the games industry is still great

1) Sometimes you get really cool stuff given to you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bummer, man.

A thought that recently struck me, for no particular reason I can work out, is that I feel really sorry for any team given the task of producing a new Bomberman game.

First, the good. They're guaranteed to get some sales through IP recognition. I would be more likely to buy "Bomberman" than "Explodeguy", just because I would know roughly what I was getting. And I'm sure there are some people out there that have bought (and will continue to buy) every Bomberman game that's released. Even Act Zero.

But I think the bad far outweighs it. There is a weight of expectation that comes with Bomberman - there have been some excellent games in the series in the past, so a developer has a lot to live up to. I think a lot of it is down to the games having such a "simple formula" (for want of a better phrase, though the best titles in the series have a lot of extra features). If a developer doesn't add anything new to their title it will get panned as being too basic and conservative. If they do add things then they'd better hope they chose them wisely, because there are few things in a reviewer's mind worse than messing up the "simple formula" with unfocused new features.

It makes me wonder why, other than for the cash, anybody does it. Did the people who've produced poor Bomberman games really think they were bringing something worthwhile to the table, or did they just do it for the money?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vegas, baby

Rainbow Six Vegas 2 From GameCentral's review of Rainbow Six Vegas 2.

As usual this isn't a bad game though, just a completely unnecessary one.
I do love it when developers release games that are completely necessary. You know, like ... um ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bad Idea - Limited flashlight batteries

A rubbish battery
Question: What do Gordon Freeman, the protagonist from FEAR, and Master Chief circa Halo 1 all have in common?

Answer: Despite being equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and armour, they're all hampered in their efforts to save the world by being given flashlights powered by the quality of batteries that you'd expect in the remote control for a cheap DVD player. You know, the sort that has a fake power meter on them.

I'll never understand this design decision in a game. It doesn't add any tension, it's just annoying. You've obviously decided at some point to make a level in your game that's so bloody dark that no-one can see where they're going. Fine, you're already probably an idiot, but whatever, maybe it genuinely does add to the atmosphere of the game (like in Condemned). So the player needs a flashlight to navigate. But there's the thing, when their flashlight runs out, players aren't going to barrel on in the dark (because they might miss something, or get lost), they're going to stand still until the blasted thing recharges.

Thankfully rubbish batteries seem to be doing the way of the instant death trap in games, even HL2:Episode 2 increased your battery's lasting power considerably (though with no real explanation in-game, which is a bit odd for Valve, maybe they just wanted to gloss over their previous mistakes without drawing attention to them), and ever since Halo 2 Master Chief has had as much battery life as he needed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What's in a name?

I was recently linked to the Indie Gamer forums. It's an interesting place where a bunch of independent developers chat about stuff.

Briefly looking over their feedback forum I was struck by the importance of having a good name for your indie project. It's all very well for the "big guys", if they release a game called Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom they have enough money to advertise it enough that it stands out a little. But if you're an indie publishing a game (especially on the PC where there are a staggering number of titles available) you really need to make sure the title grabs attention or sticks in a potential customer's head.

Some game names from that forum are: ZoX Universe. Mech Builder. Core Fighter. Magic Farm. Azgard Defense. Runes of Avalon. Empire of the Gods. Covert Warfare. Destiny Architect. Battle Forces Online.

You could easily combine any of those with a colon, and it'd be no better or worse. ZoX Universe: Destiny Architect. Runes of Avalon: Battle Forces Online.

I've started to come to the conclusion that if you have a good game you need a name that's either: incredibly short and snappy (but still manages to describe some aspect of the game) like Fez; or something long and strange sounding (but without a mass of x's, y's, or z's) along the lines of Professor Layton and the Curious Village.

Anything else and people like me will look at the name and never even bother trying to find out more about your hard work.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Good idea - Army of Two's GPS

This game features a lovely map / waypointing system that overlays onto the screen, turning the entire thing into a nice simplified HUD view that simplifies and highlights the geometry. At the same time it winds a lovely bright spline along the player's route, and tags up anything that can be interacted with.

Despite it being both practical and very nice, I've not been able to find any screenshots on the internet of it. So you'll have to make do with this one that I took with a camera. Sorry.

Army of Two's GPS

Friday, March 07, 2008

Bad idea - Army of Two's limited ammo

Army of Two features the same design decision that I really disliked in Criterion's Black. In a game that's all about how great it is to shoot the everloving fuck out of everything (and in AoT's case making it an important gameplay element when you're trying to get aggro from your partner), which bother having limited ammo?

I can understand having a limited clip to force the player to stop shooting and reload, but running out of ammo just makes you start running around to find some more, or switch to your secondary, less exciting, weapon. It's forcing you in to doing less exciting action in the middle of a firefight.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

You're All I Need

Best of the bunch - and also the most overtly homoerotic touch in a game that's not exactly short of them - is the riot shield system, which allows one player to use a shield or car door as portable cover while the other cuddles up close behind and dispenses "lead" from his "iron".
I don't know why this stuck out so much to me, but I find it interesting that a professional reviewer spent so many words during their review of Army of Two on a thinly veiled "hee hee hee, it's all a bit gay isn't it?". And by "interesting" I mean "sad".

Eurogamer's review of Brokeback Mountain: The Game would be a sight to behold. So would the comments, no doubt.

Friday, February 29, 2008

PS3 Buywatch

My current PlayStation 3 bundle purchase requirements:

  • Some form of backwards compatibility, for the girlfriends Singstars at least (look, they are hers, and you certainly will never caught me singing Barbie Girl). I thought I remembered reading that the new Singstar was going to have this, but apparently it doesn't. Status: No.
  • Any two of: Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted, and Singstar (look, it's for my girlfriend), bundled with it. I've had a look around, but I can't find a suitable bundle of games anywhere. Status: No.
  • Two DualShock 3 pads, since I don't want spare shitty pads lying around the place, and I certainly wouldn't want to be saddled with any when I know the DS3 is just around the corner in Europe. Status: No.
  • Under £300 for the lot. Status: Yes.

Put that into a big whirry machine, and you get the answer that ..... this weekend I am 25% likely to buy a PS3.

Come on Mr Sony. Just tick the other three boxes (or possibly just two of them, but especially the first one. I can't stress how important that is to the acceptance of this purchase in our house), and you'll have yourself an extra £300 in your back pocket for getting a few beers in on Saturday night.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Absolutely Fableous

Here's a top tip for you - my method for vastly increasing the chances that you'll enjoy Fable 2.

1) Have a look at a single screenshot of Fable 2 - this should be enough for you to gather that it's a fantasy themed game.

2) Play Fable 1. I think it's on Xbox originals now, and the PC version is probably easy to get hold of. Or just have a look for some Youtube videos of it being played. You'll soon realise it's an action role playing sort of thing.

These first two steps are to weed out people who will definitely not enjoy it, because of the setting or type of game. The only people still reading should be those who would be interested in a fantasy themed action role playing game. Step 3 is the important one for those people.

3) Never ever EVER read, watch, or listen to, any development diaries, interviews, soundbites, or basically any output at all from Peter Molyneux. Not about Fable, and not about anything else (just to be on the safe side).

This was the method that I used before Fable came out, and it worked out well. While I was playing it I was enjoying what was there. But anyone who disobeyed the golden third rule had a very different experience, and spent their entire playing time noticing what promised elements weren't in the game after all.

So there you go - to enjoy Fable 2, try and know nothing about Fable 2.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Devil May Cry 4's Agnus is a very scientific lover

Hypothesis: Arousing Nero will result in his sexual pleasure.

2:46pm - Experiment begins.
2:48pm - Tickled Nero's balls at a medium intensity for 5 minutes.
2:53pm - Experiment concludes.

Devil May Cry 4 has terrible dialogue.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bargain Alert

For anyone in the UK - Game are selling Overlord for £15 at the moment. It's definitely worth picking up for that price.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Movies Games and Videos

Recently I thought I'd try out the Video Marketplace thingy that MS have finally released in the UK. My main reason for it was that I have a high def TV, but it's only 32" (girlfriend acceptance factor dictated tht I couldn't get anything much bigger), and I was curious to see if an HD movie format would actually look noticably better than the upscaling DVD player I have at the moment.

The marketplace itself is quite nicely laid out (certainly a lot better than the Arcade), allowing you to search by genre, popularity, or year of release, and offering up "if you liked X you might want to try Y" links. Once you've downloaded a movie it's very clear how long you have to watch it, so you're in no danger of something accidentally timing out on you.

I probably won't use it very often though, for two main reasons:

First off is the price. It seems high to me, especially for the HD stuff. Currently I rent using Blockbuster's online service - as many movies as I can watch (3 at a time) for £15 a month. And that includes Blu Ray and HD DVD.

I would have thought the HD movies would cost the same, or possibly even been cheaper, than SD, to tempt people into using it more - especially if MS really are trying to kill the HD format war so they can step in with downloads. The standard def version of "300" costs around £2.90 - a better option for most people would be to buy the DVD for only £3.99 and watch as many times as they liked (or sell it on if they didn't like it).

The second downside is the poor selection of titles. At the time of writing there are still only around 40 titles, about three months after the service launched. Everything on it seems quite old, and the recent titles (recent in that they're only a few months after DVD release) have even more hiked up prices.

I can understand the need for a back catalogue to be presented, but surely to provide a useful movie rental service you need to ensure each week's new releases are added promptly? How many people do MS think are sat at home thinking "oh if only there was a way that I could watch Wild Wild West and Executive Descision, yet those two titles are simply impossible to rent or buy"?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Burnout Paradise: An Apology

The full game is indeed a lot better than the demo. So, to any Criterion bods reading: I'm sorry I said you'd cocked it right up.

The lack of a teleport option is still a big pain in the arse though. I've lost count of the number of times I've wanted to warp to a junction, or even just a scrap yard. And for a game that couldn't have a "retry" option because it would add loading screens, it seems to have a lot of loading screens.

But in general it's a good fun blast, enjoyable for the same reasons that Crackdown is - messing about in the city is fun, even if the core content is average at best.

Showtime is also quite nice, though not as rewarding as a Crash junction, since the nature of it (that allows you to continue for as long as you can) requires that it cleans up your destruction as you go, robbing it of that "holy shit, that is a big pile of wrecked cars" sensation. But since Alex Ward hasn't yet come around my house and snapped my Burnout Revenge disc in half, I still have a way of getting my Crash fix.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Blub, more like

What is it about people called Ward?

I "got it", I just didn't think that the core concept - stylishly killing people for points - was fully carried through by the gameplay. Certainly not in the demo, and after a quick look at the website it seems the full game offers little new.

You can either shoot someone, or shoot them in the head. It didn't have any other type of skill shot as far as I could tell.

Killing enemies felt dull. No over the top death animations, or excited text telling you how good you are.

Movement felt slow and rubbish. No diving, flipping, or cartwheeling while you kill targets to increase your bonus.

The weapons felt bland. A dozen variations of 'rifle' and 'shotgun'. Where's the harpoon gun for pinning enemies together for bonus points? The molotov that sets targets alight (who then set other targets alight as they run around screaming, earning you a multiplier)? The bonus for playing an entire level using just the aluminium baseball bat?

Basically, it's worse at what it does than Max Payne, or Total Overdose, or Stranglehold or Quake 3. It has no flair, no soul, and is a completely missed opportunity.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thought for the day

What does the "HD" stand for if you're playing Rez HD on a 480p telly?

Monday, January 28, 2008

What's next?

From the Eurogamer comments thread on the news that Call of Duty 4 sold very well.

COD4 isn't revolutionary in any way. And I just hate franchises that release new installments every year. COD is turning into something like FIFA. What's next, COD8, COD11...?
I would imagine CoD 5 is next. Just a wild stab in the dark, like.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Christmas games roundup

My short(ish) views on what I was playing just before Christmas:

Call of Duty 4: Brilliantly exciting single player with some very inventive set pieces and levels. Makes you wonder how all war games aren't this exciting. I thought the Multi-player would grab me, but it didn't in the end, and I've kind of given up with it after only a handful of sessions. Final score: 8/10.

Assassin's Creed: Disappointing, but overall I enjoyed it a lot. The cities were breathtaking in places, and I thought the free running and combat were well implemented, and made me feel every bit the bad-ass I was meant to be. Still has plenty of room to improve though - I'm sure Assassin's Creed 2 will be incredible if the team are given enough time. Final score: 75%

Mass Effect: Fantastic story and dialogue, let down horribly by the engine it runs on. One of the only games I can think of that had an ending that was both an obvious set-up for the sequel, and also incredibly satisfying. Final score: A+

Orange Box: Portal, as you probably know, is short but very sweet. Team Fortress 2 never worked that well for me the few times I tried it, and I'm finding server browsers a chore after getting used to Halo's party and matchmaking systems, so I kind of gave up with that. Half-Life 2 single player (and in that I include all of the episodes) is really showing its age, I think. Stop using see-saw 'puzzles'. Final score: ****

(Incidentally, and please either indulge my ego for a minute or skip this paragraph, if you're wondering why there were no updates in December, it's because I was getting fed up with writing and thinking about what to write, and thinking that I hadn't written enough. I have a regular job, this is just something to keep me entertained and spew forth opinions, and I wanted a break.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Men of Achievement 2008

Just a week before my 30th birthday, I have finally completed the one and only thing on my "things to do before you are 30" list.

I am better than 550 other people at Voyage mode Easthaven 3 Deck in Soltrio Solitaire. I was so happy I almost cried.

(To be fair to me, I did only add this to my list about a month ago - it's not something that's taken me 29 years to achieve.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Message for box artists

Yellow sports cars driving away from an explosion at a slight tilt, with the game's title angled up to the right above, look cool! But then, I guess you already know that...

Also, if your game's cover looks the same as your competitors, it's not really going to jump off the shelves.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

In the middle of our street

Majesco have announced a game called "Our House" - probably some sort of "just like the house-building bit of the Sims" thing for the Wii.

I found the press release disappointing, mainly because when I heard the news I was expecting something with a Madness license - surely a hot IP for video games. Just think of the possibilities: Our House (a Sims clone), Driving in my Car (a racing game obviously), Shut Up (a small-time crime thing set in London), Uncle Sam (the inevitable WWII FPS in the range), Baggy Trousers (a Bully rip-off), and .. er .. probably others.

Someone get me Suggs' agent!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"More than 4000 still pictures"

Sony have announced a new 16GB memory stick for the PSP - "Users can store up to 110 minutes of high-definition video recorded in 1920 mode, almost 6 hours of HD video when shooting in 1440 LP mode, and more than 4000 still pictures in 10 Megapixel resolution."

What people are really going to use it for is their massive collection of pirated PSP games. Which will further shaft software sales on the platform, and end up turning more devs away from it. Great move.

I wonder how many PSP games have ever broken even.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Xbox Dead more like, am i rite?

Having a unified online system like Live, as opposed to having every game do their own thing, is a great idea. When it works. Unfortunately Live is undergoing some troubles at the moment (apparently due to an influx of new users, which suggests that either a staggering number of Xboxes were sold this holiday, or that the system was perilously close to falling over anyway).

I say at the moment, because despite Mircosoft's assurances that it's all back to normal now that Christmas is over, as of today it's still a very hit and miss experience.

What I find baffling is the way the systems are spread out. For example, I can log in to Xbox Live, but the bit of Live that tells my friends I'm online might not work. I can log on to Live Messenger from the computer, but my Xbox is stumped by it. Marketplace is a no-go zone - most of the time it's telling me that I'm not connected at all. Apparently XNA is also flaky, insisting that some users aren't online (despite them being able to see their friends' activity).

Most annoyingly, the bit of Live that tells games that there are title updates available is working, booting me off Live until I've updated them. But the bit of Live that actually holds and installs the upgrades is screwed, so I'm unable to play any of those games. In the case of Xbox Original titles this means that I'm completely unable to play the game, even offline (the message tells me that apparently the game won't work on my Xbox, despite it being fine a couple of days ago).

Microsoft has promised all users a free Arcade title to make up for the trouble - though usually this means a particular title is made free, rather than just giving all users 800 free points, so bad luck if you've already bought the game they're offering, and let's all just hope that it isn't a stinker.

This afternoon I would have settled for just being able to play games that I have already bought, on the online network I have already paid a subscription for.

(And before anyone chimes up with "it's just your connection is flaky" - the network test on the Xbox runs fine, and confirms that I am connected to Live. Or what's left of it.)

Friday, January 04, 2008


I had a play of the demo for Frontlines: Fuel of War recently. I thought it was quite good - a nice take on the Battlefield "capture point" mechanic, but in single player. In particular I liked the demo level, and the way it allowed you to go off the beaten track, and rewarded you for finding good routes to flank the enemy positions. The tank bit was rubbish, but it was also over much more quickly than the good bit.

So overall I would be looking forward to the full game. I say "would be", because I noticed a disclaimer on the title screen with words to the effect of "this demo is not representative of the finished product".

I'm not sure what to take away from that since the demo seemed quite finished, I wouldn't expect to see the finished game being a formula 1 racing sim, for example.

It seems like someone at THQ has no faith at all in the demo - they're second guessing that you won't like it, but are trying to persuade you to buy the game (despite knowing that you probably wouldn't like that either).

Or possibly they mean that the full game isn't one third rubbish tank bit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Burnout Paradise

"Holy crap, there's a demo of Burnout Paradise available - This'll be great, I love Burnout games, me!" was roughly what I was thinking the other Thursday morning.

Oh dear, that'll teach me.

The crashes are very nice, and I like that the camera while you're racing is very dynamic, with lots of shake and stuff when you nudge other cars and do other exciting things.

The main complaint I can see coming up again and again is they're reintroduced the "sassy" DJ voice over man who tells you that you're doing shit, and wow what an awesome time you're going to have here, and is generally much more excited about the entire thing than you are.

Since nothing gets added to your map until you find it the whole thing feels completely directionless. This might just be a symptom of the demo, where you're essentially dropped into the city and left to find the three events yourself, and hopefully the full thing will at least direct you towards events that are at your level of ability.

There is stuff like billboards to crash through, but it doesn't give you a nice camera view or any exciting text or anything when you do it (just a plain "1 out of x billboards" message - where's the Burnout flair gone?), so you get no feeling of having done something good. Smashing a billboard doesn't even fire off any particles -they just switch instantly from fine to smashed.

Plus it's really easy to get lose, I found. Who has time to look at a map and a little compass when they're boosting along trying to smash people off the road? And when you have lost you have to drive all the way back to the start yourself. The events seem to be arranged roughly top to tail around the map (so there's always something that starts near the finish point of another race), which is clearly meant to occupy you for the return journey, but what if I've finished the return event? What if I just want to keep hammering the event I lost in order to nail it?

What, exactly, is wrong with menu screens?

Edit: Since I originally wrote this Alex Ward of Criterion has released a bit of a rant explaining that anybody who thinks the same things as me is wrong, and that this is clearly the best game demo of 2007. Sorry Alex, but the Crackdown demo was released last year too, and you're very wrong about the "retry" option.

The Definitive Unarguably Best Game of 2007 That Only a Moron Would Be Without or Disagree With

Well, everyone else is doing it so why not, eh?

This last year's been an odd one for me, mainly because of this blog - I've never been able to sit back at the end of a year and look back over what I've played, and what my thoughts on those games were at the time, in such detail. It is an oddly reassuring and peaceful thing to do, to the point that I would actually recommend other people do it too.

Xbox achievements give extra insight too - looking over my played list shows which games that, though I might look fondly on retrospectively, I never bothered to get more than halfway through.

If it was based on time spent then I would have to go with either Slitherlink or Soltrio Solitaire, both of which have been constants since I got them. But they're essentially time wasters (well, moreso than all games) in that they're something I pick up when I only have 10 minutes to spare, when I'm sat somewhere with only my DS on me, or when I'm too drained to play anything with a more hectic pace.

So after thinking it all over, I would probably go with Crackdown. Though I haven't picked it up in ages, I played it solidly for a couple of months, and enjoyed it every time. In fact, I might even give it a bit of a go this afternoon.