Archive for March, 2009

New, Used, Abused: Left 4 Dead

Posted in New, used, abused on March 30, 2009 by Baggie

Left 4 Dead is a cooperative fps by Valve, in which you and 3 others battle your way through hordes of infected people (zombies but fast) to reach a means to escape the apocolypse.

This game is unique in that it’s main focus is cooperative play. There’s a good serving of situations that you physically cannot get out of without a friend to give you a hand. While many games has coop modes, mostly these are just the singleplayer campaign with two people instead of one, not really interacting with each other in a purposeful way. The games that have player characters directly interacting with each other are the cream of the crop in regards to coop, and left 4 dead uses this to fullest potential.

The main characters, the survivors, are 4 very different people, each with a refined personality, backstory and a few odities.
There’s Francis, a disgruntled biker who hates quite a few things, as he is more than willing to tell you, Bill, a Vietnam vet who is oddly agile and responsive for someone his age, Zoey, a teenager traveling with 3 older men(she also likes horror movies but this is the more notable trait), and Louis, a black electronics manager who still hasn’t taken off his tie. I mean seriously.

These guys are hilarious, and have a tendency to yell new lines every now and then, interact with each other in convesations, and give a nice charming face to the future of humanity .(Francis’s, of course).

You travel through 4 different scenarios trying to escape the nightmare, shooting a large amount of zombies on the way and virtually DRINKING pain killers.

The infected (zombies) aren’t the dead, shambling “Braiiiins” kind, they’re humans driven to insanity by a mutated rabies virus, to which the survivors are immune for some reason. That’s about the beginning and the end of the plot you get in this game. Not that it’s a bad thing though, it suits quite well because I expect in a zombie appocolypse the empahise isn’t on the why, rather the shooting, dying etc.

The ‘common’ infected will run at you, climb fences, and do whatever it takes to beat the shit out of you. One isn’t a significant problem but it’s common to get them in groups of 30-50ish. They cause minimal damage, but they also cause you to slow down dramatically, causing big problems if your swarmed. They’ll go after you, they’re attracted by loud noises, such as car alarms, scissor lifts, and one memorable metal detector in an airport. There’s really no point in trying to kill ALL of them, you should just run and occasionally find a good spot to make a stand against a horde.

There are several ‘special’ infected, which have different abilities. They’re less common, but are far more dangerous.
The hunter is a hoodie that can jump off walls and up buildings, all for the purpose of landing on you. When he lands on you he starts ripping your chest apart, presumably looking for lungs or something, and renders you completely helpless until another survivor either shoots or melees him off. He can also pounce long distances to get additional damage to surviors, which is capped at 25.

The smoker is possibly a 20 pack a day man who has a long tounge, possibly made out of tumors, that can pull survivors long distances, pulling them up to you for some scratching or hanging them off a ledge. Again, you have to wait for a survivor to help you by shooting the smoker, meleeing you or shooting the tounge. He also explodes in a spectular poof of smoker which makes it hard for the survivors to see whilst inside it.

The boomer is rather discusting quite honestly. He attacks people by vomiting on them, which in turn summons common infected in swarms after the person who was boomered. They’re effectively blind, and pretty much helpless, needing the team to help you fend off the infected.

The tank (my favorite) is a muscle bound (like, 2.5 meters tall)chap who is rather more direct in attacking you. He simply runs and hits you, throwing you far away, possibly off any skyscrapers you happen to be on, dealing LARGE amounts of damage (by hitting you. Skyscrapers tend to be a 1 way street). However for the sassy tank you can also rip up chunks of concrete from the ground and throw it at the survivors. The best defence against tanks is fire, but most of the time he’ll be the most likely to take your victory.

The Witch is more of an environmental hazard than a zombie, she sits down and cries, and is avoidable usually. However if you disturb her (shooting, yelling, too close, looking at her in a funny way) she tends to get violent, instantly incappacitating the bastard who disturbed her, or simply killing them on the hardest difficulty. After that though she tends to run away and hide.

There’s a high concentration in staying together in this game, a person alone can get swarmed, pounced or smokered, and if you go off alone there’s a high chance you’ll be dead within 2 minutes. And don’t even think about taking on a tank one on one, you’ll get a good dosage of shear, unadulterated muscle. However staying together as a group dramatically increases your chances of survival, if you’re quick and smart.

Weapons are pretty basic in L4D. You get two tiers. Tier 1 weapons are a pump shotgun and uzi. Not particularly powerful but you can survive with them well enough. Tier 2 weapons are the auto-shotgun, M4 and a Hunting rifle, all of which contain a serious punch, downing infected in 1 well placed hit. Melee is also a large part of the game, you can hit hordes back, get special infected off survivors, and… actually just those two things, but those are two big things!

Oh, and you also get a pistol as a sidearm, and they can be dual wielded if you find another, but these aren’t really EVER used unless you’ve run out of ammo, they just aren’t powerful enough.

You can also carry 1 grenade, 1 healthpack, and 1 bottle of pills.

The grenade can be a molotov cocktail or a pipebomb. The molotov instantly kills common infected and causes problems for the boss infected. It can kill entire hoardes coming your way if placed smartly, act as a deterent for pursuing boss infected. It’s actually my favorite stratergy for taking down a tank, molotov then RUN until he dies, firing backwars whilst running.
Pipe bombs are for large groups of infected, nothing else. You throw one, it starts beeping, which attracts infected, often in large quantities, and after a while it explodes, often killing a good 50 or so infected. Useful to have as a backup plan, also looks downright COOL.

Healthpacks are just your standard first aid kit, even cushiony soft, which heals lost health by you banaging yourself up for a bit, also reseting the times you can be incapacitated. A quick explaination of the incapacitaion system, you can go down to zero health and you won’t die, you’ll just fall on the group, not able to get up without a team mate, and can only use pistols to defend yourself. You can do this twice and be revived with half health, but after this you come back with only 30 temporary health, and if you get to zero health you die for good. Until your team mates find you in a closet of course (yeah, don’t ask about that one).

Pain pills  give 50 temporary health, which is health that slowly decreases over time, and really is only good enough until you find a healthpack. Biggest advantage though is that it can be taken on the run, while healthpacks require a good 8 seconds of your time, which the tank in pursuit may not sympathise with.

There are two main modes, Coop and Verses. Coop is the standard campaign in which you try to get through the apocalypse itself, while verses is a rather more competitive mode where 2 teams of 4 take turns to play both survivors and the special infected. As you can imagine Coop mode has been pretty much abandoned because of the infinite fun of playing as wacky wacky zombies.

Playing verses is a lot more stratigic than Coop, because after you play surivor you get a score based on how much health you had, how many people survived, whether you had healthpacks or pills and what your average distance was. This results in survivors only healing when strictly nessisary, hording pills and healthpacks.

The infected though are sole concentrated on taking as much health off you as possible. You’re assigned to be either a boomer, a smoker or a hunter (usually a hunter), then you get to choose where to spawn via ‘ghost mode ™’ and then wreak havoc on the survivors. You can also get tank when one has spawned, which is the most fun you’ll have for a long time.
You’re also rewarded for using clever tactics in verses, such as smokering people into a car alarm which is triggered by touch. The combinations you can use the infected in are enourmous, such as having 2 hunters distract people while a boomer sneaks up from behind and have a smoker drag one away, smokering people into areas which can be used by hunters to get 25 damage pounces, the possibilites are endless!
It’s worth noting that the 2 teams doesn’t nessisarily break out of the coop gameplay, rather it feels like 2 coop teams are working side by side, each to their own goals.

The way zombies, item spawns and other things are decided is by a sophisticated piece of AI called the director.  It measures how well you are playing, how many zombies you’re fighting and how your stress level are (Last one is a bit difficult to believe really), and spawns zombies in appropriate amounts, even controlling the flow of special infected in campaign. This is a rather clever piece of technology, but since it’s been named as a human would be, and it’s directly responsible for fucking around with you, it’s developed a sort of hated-idol status amoungst players, them occasionally shaking their fists at the sky and yelling “WHY DAMN YOU? WHY!?!?!”.
Really though the game is fun even when you’re getting your arse handed to you. The flow of zombies and occasional unexpected hunter keeps you on your toes.
He also controls the zombies to make a experience that feels rather cinematic, such as creating lulls in the action to create tension, and high points to exhilerate you and make you fight for your life, rather similar to the stratergies employed by movie makers to capitate the audience.

This game has a system I like to call ‘functional music’, in that it tells you what mood the director is making, but more importantly it gives you advanced cues on dangers link hordes, witches ahead, and I’ve never had a situation where I’ve seen a tank without at least 5 seconds warning in ‘tank music’.

The only negative point I have to make about the game is the small amount of maps. There’s 4 campaigns, 2 of which can be played in verses mode, so you end up playing the same maps a LOT. While the zombies, items and such are changed up a bit every game you start to get bored of the architecture itself, the same hospital you’ve travelled through a good 50 times becoming a bit repetitive. While it’s a minor niggle it’d be nice for them to add more maps or give the community resources to make their own campaigns, which I hear they’re doing actually, but it would have been better to have this from the start.

Valve was very clever to make a exlusively coop game and such a brilliant one at that. The AI director ensures that the game is never the same twice, and the verses mode allows us to have the most enriching “not quite zombies” experience yet. Highly worth checking this one out.

New, Used, Abused: Warmonger

Posted in New, used, abused with tags , on March 24, 2009 by Baggie

Warmonger, developed by NetDevil, is a FPS game that takes new physics technology and uses it to the fullest potential.

It was comissioned by Nvidia to show off their new Physx technology, which allows physics processing to be used on Nvidia graphics cards, and released it for free. While physics runs fine on CPU to an extent, physics on a graphics card allows physics that can only be impoved upon by buying a physics card, something no one in my knowledge had done.

As a comparison between CPU and GPU(graphical processor unit):
CPU: Boxes can be moved around and thrown realistically.
CPU: Dead bodies fly around realistically.

GPU:Cloth moves in the wind and can be shot to make holes, seperatin the fabric in half if done right, or nearly cut in half and rips when the wind blows too hard.
GPU: Walls break apart realistically, chunks moving as they should.

While CPU physics is quite acceptable, GPU physics can add an extra layer of immersion and fun, even creating new gameplay elements.

Warmonger is a game that not only takes GPU physics but creates a decent game with new elements based on the physics technology. The game itself is rather simple to explain, there’s a Team Deathmatch mode, and a Capture Point mode. In Deathmatch you pick up weapons from weapon spawn points, in Capture Point you get them at spawn by choice. There’s a machine gun that can shoot grenades, a gattling laser that can deploy a shield,  a rocket launcher, though don’t expect to be able to defend yourself with this. You pick up ammo boxes to restore ammo. You also get a pistol and a ice axe as sidearms.

The machine gun is rather standard, has a 30 round clip, a scope, but the grenade launcher is the most interesting function. You can fire grenades that stick to whatever hit it and detonate after 3 seconds. You CAN stick them to enemies, but it’s far more useful application is shooting down walls. The way the game is designed the bits you can destroy are preset, but it’s done in an incredibly realistic way, and I’m yet to find a wall that I’d expect that could be destroyed that couldn’t. This can provide shortcuts, create escape routes, or suprise enemies, though you only get three grenades in your clip.

The Gattling Laser is more difficult to use. If fired in free-aim you get massive recoil, making it impossible to hit practically anyone, but right click deploys a shield that reduces recoil to a managable level and protects you from enemy fire from wherever you’re facing, though it CAN be destroyed.

The rocket launcher is a weird weapon, it’s got a large amount of damage, but only has a 1 rocket clip, and is slow to load, also vunerable, which makes it practically useless because anything you might need it for can be done by the Machine Gun.

The ability to break through walls allows you to be incredibly creative with how you approach combat. People in pursuit? Shoot the wooden plank you just crossed. Someone capturing a capture point? Come in from behind and destroy them. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding when you us alternative combat methods in battle and are paid off with sucess. Hell, I’ve even been in laughter when I was crossing a plank of wood, someone shot me and it, leaving me on 1hp, and dying from the drop, it’s something I’ve never seen before in gaming, closest thing is the Gear of War 2 destructable cover system which is the same technology but dumbed down and hardly used.

Another new combat mechanic is the material which is around the map. While at first it’s seen as asthetic it can really affect combat. There’s a curtain over the hallway you want to guard. You can shoot off the two corners it’s hanging by, which makes it fall to the ground (looking AWESOME), and voila, you can guard the hallway. There’s even a chokepoint in one of the outdoor maps which segments the two sides, which really affects combat. You can decide to shoot off the corners and suddenly the battle changes, because people can see each other and act accordingly. You can also leave it in tact and rush through it with 3 minigunners, destroying the opposition and gaining an upper hand, the curtain making for a good tactical retreat point.

This game also concentrates on asthetics. It looks brilliant, but UT3 engine, everything does. The main asthetic feature is the random bits in the world that can be shot off the walls, random pieces of cloth, one level (my favorite for this reason) is set in a subway with tiled walls, which all can be shot off, it makes for some AWESOME firefight, tiles going everywhere, dust billowing, really adds to the immersion.

The game, while looks great graphically, it is more demanding than Crysis and requires specific hardware, which is probably why the concept hasn’t been expanded on, because I don’t reckon major game companies want to alienate half their audiences, though EA make a good job of it sometimes.

Also apparently there’s a plot. Never occured to me once to look for one.

While I thought it’d have a rather large following the game flopped quite spectualarly, with the best ranked players having 300 kills. In comparison I probably have over 1,000,000 kills in Team Fortress 2, and I’m not the best player by far. It’s rather disapointing that the game died quite quickly, probably due to the lack of advertising of the game, though since they aren’t getting paid for it it makes sense. I heard from somewhere that they were going to release a new version comercially, but I’ve not heard of it since so I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon.

Next week, hopefully on time, I’ll be writing about… L4D. Why not.

Remembering: Multiplayer Wars

Posted in Remembering with tags , on March 19, 2009 by Baggie

Back in late ’90’s, the sucess of multiplayer in games started to be noticed.  Before this multiplayer wasn’t really considered important enough to form the basis for an ENTIRE game, most games had limited multiplayer service, or none at all.

Two of the big companies however, Id software and Epic games, both having successful frachises, noticed that in their Quake and Unreal games, respectively, there was actually quite a large following of the Online Multiplayer functions. Like any good company they decided to expand on sucessful ideas.

At the end of 1999 Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament came out, three days between release in fact. These games were both new in that the Multiplayer was the primary function of the game, and the singleplayer only existed in the form of locally hosted matchs filled with AI opponents. This was a big step for both the companies, and gaming as a whole, and it paid off. Both games became widely sucessful, and kicked off the idea of Multiplayer only games.

After a little while (I’d give it a week) there was pretty intense argument over which game was better. UT looked better and had some interesting features, but Quake 3 had more freedom of movement.

It was rather akin to the fabled ‘Browser Wars’ in that both did what they should do and did it well, but there were minor differences that made people use one over the other, and was closely followed by the mud-slinging because the other game was terrible.

In the end Quake won, becoming the staple competitive game choice for almost a decade. People STILL compete in professional ladders and tournaments, after TEN YEARS. They haven’t started using Quake 4, they stayed with the old relic that ran on my school’s computers that didn’t have anything but a motherboard.

Not to say UT really lost much however, it’s still a largely successful game franchise, unless you count UT3 which they gracefully bollocksed up, then unbollocksed somehow. UT still has a fair amount of active game servers, so does ut2004. In reality they probably made more money that Id because they released more that one game every 5 years.

So it was rather a win-win situation, both companies made an atrocious amount of money and will do so in the years to come. It’s an interesting phenomenon that people are willing to make large arguements over very small differences. It happened with multiplayer games, it happened with browsers, it’s happening now with game consoles, graphics cards, operating systems, the list goes on. Why do these people argue about trivial little things and take time out of their valuable fragging time? Who knows.

Also; I hate Macs.

New, used, Abused: Mirrors Edge

Posted in New, used, abused with tags , , , on March 15, 2009 by Baggie

Mirrors edge, developed by DICE on the UT3 Engine, was a game that I followed with some interest for most of the development time. After playing Assassin’s Creed I felt open to the concept of parkour in video games, and thought that Mirrors edge would be interesting at the very least.

Then it was released for the Xbox 360 in late December of ’08, to the massive public opinion that it was terrible. I was disappointed, though I had the distinct feeling that the use of the 360 controller was a bad idea, and it’d probably be much better as a PC game. Skip to blaming lazy developers for the console only release, forget about game.

Fast forward to Mid-January, I’d lost hope in the game, but then saw it for $70 in JB Hi-Fi. Despite my recent lamenting and bad feelings I took a chance and went halves with my brother. One of the best risks I’ve ever taken in my opinion.

Now, talking about the actual game.

Mirrors edge, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a First Person… Parkour…er? You play as a girl named Faith, who is part of a group called the runners, basically high-calibre couriers, in a distopian future where the city is controlled by a paranoid government. You traverse a number of levels, all with not-quite linear paths to advance, but it feels more like Prince of Persia rather than anything else, because, while you have a good number of ways to get from point a to point b, both points are necessities, not an open world like Assassin’s Creed.

While I enjoyed playing Assassin’s Creed more than Prince of Persia because of the open world aspect where you could go basically anywhere, I’m incredibly greatful dice took a nice position of the Prince of Persia side of things. Everything’s more direct, and every level is filled with preprogrammed action sequences that make for quite an interesting story.

The basic element of the game is running. You’ve got 3 main buttons; jump, crouch, turn around. However depending on the circumstance these can turn into anything from sliding under a pipe to wall running up a wall, turning, wall running up another wall and jumping onto the roof of the structure containing the first wall. They’ve done a terrific job in making the buttons appropriately context sensitive, and it feels quite natural using the same button for a good 5 moves when it’s needed. From the first person view it should be hard to know what’s going on, rolling after jumps and going up walls, but frankly I’ve never had a problem with it.

Gunplay also comes into it in a notable way, in that you can go through the entire game without ever firing a shot. Since you’re running around a lot you want to be light, so Faith doesn’t carry weapons. What you can do though is take weapons from the people trying to shoot you, and use them for a small amount of time. However this slows you down for the bigger guns, and since you’ve got no ammo you get a clip worth before it runs out of bullets, in which case you just throw it away. While you can go through a rotation of shoot, pick up his gun, shoot, etc it’s much more fun just to beat them up using a variety of martial arts moves, which can be incorporated with running up, around, off things.

One of the major things I liked was the music. Because they went for a fairly linear path and the unreal 3 engine is excellent at managing music, the music was done incredibly. The beat changes very quickly when there’s a ‘Oh shit, police helecopter’ moment from relaxed Parkour mellow to pulse pounding action. While other games do this there’s always a gap between when you see something dangerous til when the ‘something_dangerous.ogg’ plays, which I didn’t notice here.

The plot is also worth noting, because it’s really decent. While I’m probably biased because I love Terry Pratchett and his daughter was involved in the game, it was nice to see that they actually bothered with a storyline. What bugs me is that there’s fairly major spoilers in the second level, so I can’t really tell much about the story. The characterisation is decent, the dialogue is interesting and you come to empathise with the characters over time.

The online time trial mode is a nice addition, where you go through maps from the campaign and follow checkpoints as fast as possible. You unlock more maps by beating qualifying times, and there’s two better qualifying times which you can go for, each time adding more skill points to your rank, which is a nice addition as I can brag about my awesome three stars on storm drains 1-3 when people start talking about guitar hero.

Pretty standard, but what’s interesting is they record your movements and place them online, measuring you against the world. You can download other people’s routes as ‘ghosts’ and learn new ways to go, what corners can be cut, what speeds you up etc. There’s also a friends system which lets you race people you know, again giving bragging rights.

There’s also a mode where you can do a time trial in the actual campaign storyline, rather than just the maps. While this was a nice addition I don’t really see why we’d pick this over the time trial mode.

Another random attraction for me is that you don’t need a CD to play. This may seem trivial, but it’s a nice thing to see when most games these days are so paranoid they want both a disc and an online login before you can play the game.

There’s a bunch of random leftovers from the Xbox 360 version though. There’s bags which you can collect in the campaign, but since there’s no achievement for doing so, I’m left wondering why they kept it in, especially when in the first level there’s a bag you need to pick up to deliver to another runner. But since it’s part of the whole bag system you don’t see it on replays of the map, making the story as to why you’re going somewhere non-sensical.

The graphics (an after thought of course) are excellent, as in natural for the UT3 engine, but another thing that came to light was the addition of Nvidia Physx, a technology which basically performs physics processing on your GPU. Not only did they implement it but they went crazy with it. With it enabled you run through fly barriers (those strips of plastic hanging from the ceiling… never did get their name), break through plastic protection to get to a button, makes glass break and fragment realistically, with the pieces moving around when your foot bumps into them. It’s rather beautiful to see, and the only game I’ve seen that’s used physx better is Warmonger, as awesome game which no-one has heard about. Guess what I’m talking about next week.

So that’s Mirrors Edge, a game infinitely better than the unfortunate title which has no bearing on the actual game, which itself is quite good.

Retrospect: Need for Speed Underground

Posted in Retrospect with tags , , , , on March 8, 2009 by Baggie

Today I’m writing about my favourite racing game, Need for Speed Underground.

Why is it my favourite game? It’s a complicated answer really.

NFSU was a relatively simple racing game by today’s standards, in where lies the appeal. You started as someone on the bottom of the underground street racing ladder, working your way up to the top. While it’s not the most complicated story in the world it is incredibly appropriate for a racing game, where you don’t want story, you want to gorram race. You get to race in Standard Laps, Sprint to the finish, drag races, drift courses where you had to get the most points, each type of race with several tracks suited for the race style.

There’s a couple of factors which make it an incredible game.

First factor, Dialogue
You got some random chick called Samantha at the start of the game, who occasionally helps you out or explains things, but mainly is in the background, doing her own thing, you only occasionally run into her.

This pleased me greatly, because the game gave you some measure of freedom, where other games have a tendency to hold your hand for the first hour or two and after that always keep an eye on you, this game basically lets you work it out for yourself.

To give an example of this you start the game with one of a number of stock cars that could barely pull the skin off a custard, then you get a short cinematic where Samantha gives you a short intro to how the racing ladder works. She finishes with:
“Got it? Good.”

It was an awesome idea to make the person who explains stuff to you not spending a second more than she needs to on you, while in other games the tutorial character tends to spend every waking moment on how to improve your interaction with the game, which kind of kills the immersion.

The dialogue in general follows the same rule; it’s quick, punchy and straight to the point. In a ten second cut scene I was told this guy ran a car modification shop, was over confident, and was a bit of a dick. Current gen games usually take ten seconds to do a camera pan from the characters shoes to their face. It’s a brilliant style of cinematic, for a racing game especially.

Second factor, interface
More specifically how it didn’t try to copy GTA and have you drive everywhere to do your next race or customise your car, which tends to turn an awesome racing game into something where you feel like an errand boy.

To get to a race, you access a race menu, pick a race, pick a difficulty, get a loading screen, and get to race. By comparison the following games in the NFS series, and practically all racing games, have gone open world, and your drive everywhere. To modify your car, you have to drive to a mod shop. To get to race, you have to drive to the start line, each action taking you 5 minutes to start what you really wanted to do.

Realistic? Yes. Fun? No.

This also meant that the game wasn’t restricted when it came to distributing Nitrous Oxide. While this seems like a finicky thing let me clarify; In NFSU you got a tank of NO2 when you started a race, how much you got depended on what level NO2 upgrade you had. This makes sense, doesn’t kill immersion. While in NFSU 2, whenever you earned style points (which I’ll explain later), your NO2 tank got a bit of a top up. While this was due to the needless open-world game style, it begs the question of how exactly the NO2 got into your tank, and that’s when immersion is taken out of the car and brutally beaten with a blunt object, cause it doesn’t make sense.

Third factor, Style Points.
You earned style points by drafting, drifting, taking shortcuts, hang time, narrowly missing traffic, and other misc actions. You got a modifier based on how stylish your car is, and you get new parts after a certain amount of style points. Earning style points actually added to the fun of playing the game. Even if you lost a race, you still earned enough style points to unlock level 2 tailpipes, better paint colours, etc. This always added a feeling of accomplishment, even if you lost a race.

Forth factor, Car customisation (You can tell I like a game when there’s a forth factor).
Customising your car in this game is incredibly deep, the number of different combinations of paints, vinyl, roof scoops, tail lights, spoilers, neon lights, is incredible. You’re constantly adding, changing, upgrading, and the best bit is that it’s incredibly fun. You get a better style points modifier on how stylish you make your car, and you’re constantly getting new parts to make it look better. It’s like a vicious cycle, but fun instead of destructive.
Customisation has since taken a hit in racing games, where again the open world design means that it takes forever to get to a mod shop and start the actual customisation. In addition the options and add-ons have been reduced, so it feels hardly worth making the car look better.

Fifth factor.
My mum plays it.
While this may not seem a big point, this is a game so well designed and user friendly that a person who hasn’t played video games since Doom 2 can play and fun with it.

It was a decent racing game when it came out, and a lot of things we took for granted in racing games became prevalent after the recent racing games which feel more like work than fun. For me it’ll be the pinnacle of racing games, when graphics started to become terrific, and before stupid design decisions were made.
I would gladly pay $200 for a remake with current gen graphics (minus brown filter), physics engine upgrades, and absolutely NOTHING else changed, because I feel it might very well be one of the best games ever created.

New, Used, Abused: Mass Effect

Posted in New, used, abused with tags , , , on March 3, 2009 by Baggie

Mass Effect, release by Bioware in 2007 for the 360, 2008 for the PC, is a third person RPG in a space age setting, which follows the adventures of Captain (Player Name Here) Shepard, a member of the human marine core, as (he/she) tries to stop an alien called Nihlus, whom rather oddly wants to destroy the entire human race.

The start of the game is relatively straight forward, you customise what Shepard looks like, gender, pre-service history (which manifests in different quests later in the game) and combat classes. There’s the standard soldier class, which can be proficient in all the weapons, a tech class which specialises on disabling weapons and shields, and a ‘biotic’/’force powers’ class. There’s 3 other classes that are mixes of the 3 classes, e.g. Biotics that can be proficient at the shotgun, techs that can use the sniper rifle, biotic/tech hybrid.

Biotics can use abilities such biotic push, biotic lift, and a number of other things that have been surgically grafted on from the Star Wars universe. Not to say it’s implemented badly, my first character was a biotic and it was incredibly fun and satisfying to use, feeling more natural than in the Star Wars games I’ve played, but it kind of irks me that they didn’t come up with an original concept.

One of the main focuses of this game is dialogue and the choices therein. There’s even 2 separate skills for ‘paragon’ and ‘renegade’ dialogue options. It’s the standard RPG character interaction dialogue tree, where the NPC talks for a while and you get a couple of replies, some that are unlocked by the respective dialogue skills.

Leveling up is pretty much standard, you get a fair amount of XP for killing enemies, depending on the enemies and your level, get a large amount for completing quests, you gain about 10 XP for just looking at stuff a lot of the time, and you get XP from dialogue choices sometimes as well. When you level up you get a bunch of skill points that you can put into specific skills, such as weapon proficiency, biotic/tech abilities, and other miscellaneous character improvements. You can also gain paragon or renegade points for dialogue choices and other actions, but these don’t really effect your character at all, going into a little bar on the character screen which is never used for anything. Kind of disappointing that NPCs didn’t know that I was a saviour or Lucifer incarnate when I talked to them really, giving the standard “I’ve heard a lot about you commander” response to my presence, and then refusing to comment about the entire colony of insane humans I killed/saved etc. This may seem finicky but with the depth of the dialogue system considered I sure it could have been done.

Anyway, once you’ve finished the first bit of the game you get a spaceship and can travel to any one of about 300 planets, though most of them you don’t get to play on and are just given a “resource found” message or a small text box which explains about the planet in question. This makes it an ENORMOUS game, with a lot to explore, but mostly these are just side quest opportunities, and kind of makes me wonder what justification I can give to my character, who swore to hunt down bad guy#1, that he/she’s off gallivanting around the universe, finding power modules and searching colonies of space monkeys (I wish I was kidding about that last bit). I’m not saying these bits aren’t fun, but some justification would be nice now and then.

Text is a BIG part of the game too. Practically everything you do is added to your encyclopedia.. thing, and it ends up with an insane amount of information, though reading it isn’t actually required. It’s all background information about the mass effect universe, species, technology, etc. A good idea in theory, but who in their right mind is going to actually read THAT MUCH background information?

This post is getting far too long, but there’s a good reason for that, it’s an ENORMOUS game. I haven’t even talked about the vehicle sections and the companions. It’s a decent enough game and certainly worth the price if you like RPGs or even if you like sci-fi and want to get into RPGs, but it can and will be irritating at times, like the 2 connected dialogue scenes, in between a long elevator ride, and then a hard fight that you may not win, returning you to 5 mins ago (oddly specific eh?).

Retrospect: Doom

Posted in Retrospect with tags , , on March 2, 2009 by Baggie

As this is my first post, I decided it would be unfitting to write about anything but what I played first in my life: Doom.

Doom, if you’ve been living under a hole for a good couple of decades, was one of the first fps games created.

You were a space marine (a main character occupation will NEVER be retired), investigating sudden silence of a research base on Phobos. You go in alone, after all your squad has been decimated to small bloody giblets, and try to find out what’s going on. Turns out they were messing around with teleporters, tech savy demons got through… somehow… , and you take it upon yourself to clean up the mess… for some reason.

Or that’s what they tell you in the text cutscenes and the game manual. When the actual game starts it becomes apparent that you won’t get much plot at all, the game basically giving you a lot of weaponry, sitting back and saying ‘Go nuts’. Plots, and even the relevent locations to the plots sort of melt away, and you have a good time killing baddies.

Being one of the first fps games created it had a few quirks that were a result of the technology of the day. For instance you couldn’t actually look up or down. There was no jump key, any jumps you needed to make had to be sprint over. Most people didn’t even use a mouse, instead just playing it with a keyboard. While not really avoidable back then it’s interesting to look back and see how far we’ve come.

Another thing I love about doom was that it started multiplayer as we know it, both co-op and deathmatch. Seriously. It didn’t contain the most user friendly way to connect to people’s games, but it worked and was incredibly fun. It was a basic change on the maps from the original game, where you could add more/less/no monsters and more weapons. There was no clear cut game types, people playing as enemies on a monster packed map was a type that was played a bit, along with the coop and deathmatch settings that survived till this day.

Doom has this uncertain x-factor that I can’t put my finger on (unless it’s nostalgia…), which may be why it was so successful. The enemies are  fun to verse, weapons fun to use, and the maps intriguing to explore. The only game that has given me the same feeling is Valves latest game “Left 4 Dead”, which has a lot of the same elements except that you actually feel like you’re progressing through a storyline.

So that’s doom in a nutshell. Incredibly fun, even if you can’t look up or down.