Archive for the Retrospect Category

Retrospect: Why UT3 failed.

Posted in Retrospect with tags , on July 28, 2009 by Baggie

Note: Big Ol’ Wall of text.

Unreal Tournament 3 was released late 2007 by Epic Games. Unreal Tournament has been a successful franchise since it was made in 99. Since then there’s been UT2003 and UT2004, (arguably the same game except UT2003 was terrible), not to mention the incredible amount of content UT99 has been updated with. All of these games were terrific and had something new to enjoy.

Then there was this game.

It wasn’t immediately obvious to me after I first played the game what I felt, but there was something that meant the game felt a little bit wrong. It was still fun, and it looked nice, but somehow it wasn’t as good as it’s predecessors. Clearly the gaming community thought this as well, as the Games multiplayer fell to the point that more people were playing UT99 than this game. Which was quite sad, because it had real potential to be a good game, but somehow it just missed the mark.
After a couple of years, I feel I may have pinned a couple of reasons as to why it failed.

– Unreal Tournament in not a Tournament

Strangely enough, Epic decided that the Single Player Campaign, where you competed in a tournament, choosing which maps to play, which bots to use, wasn’t good enough. They instead decided that they needed to create a single player campaign where you were trying to get revenge on some undead person and to do so you’d have to fight your way through 3 different factions in a linear corridor which makes you play maps OVER and OVER again (One of my personal hatreds in gaming).

While you can argue they have every right to make a plot more substantial than a few GUIs, which is understandable I suppose, I’m wondering what’s happened to the Unreal series? They had a bit of plot, and as far as I know they weren’t shabby. They had a large story component, small multiplayer, and UT had a small story and large multiplayer. And it worked really well. But for some reason they had to spend ALL that time making terrible jokes with paper-thin characters and frankly just killing the fun. It makes me wonder what they could have accomplished with all of that time, which brings me to-

-Lack of Content on release

When I say lack of content I mainly mean maps. When the game was released it had reasonable amount of maps, but all the maps were spread in all 4 gamemodes, meaning the gamemode you happen to like will invariably be undercut in content. Combine this with Technical restrictions and you’re not going to have a bunch of content.

Technical restrictions? Well, the UT3 Engine in itself is a really good engine. So good it doesn’t have a skybox function, so good it renders textures in potentially enormous capacities.
While this allows it to make really detailed environments, it also means that maps take a longer time to develop, means you got to make the characters look that much better. Which means that to make good quality content, you’ve got to make less of it.
Good quality content would be the lesser of two evils, but they seem to have concentrated on making the environments look pretty and not making the maps fun to play. Segue into-

-Where’s my favorite gamemodes?

Warfare is a mash of Assault and Onslaught from the previous games. Both gametypes were good, and a mixture of them would only be good right?
Unfortunately Assault was a very fast paced and the objectives were quick, and Onslaught was a more slow placed vehicle mashup with slow objectives. Combine that with sluggish vehicle controls and bad remakes of previously good maps, and it sort of makes this horrible thing which nobody really wants to play, ruining both gametypes.

They also removed Bombing Run, which was a favorite of mine, and any form of Domination, again another favorite of mine. Seemingly all this game has done is taken what you most loved, and either trashed it or ruined it.

And they made 5 remakes of Torlan from UT2004, god knows why.

But what really ticked me and several other people off too was when they claimed that the community could just remake the gamemodes with their editing tools. And while, yes, you shipped with editing tools, congratulations, after a while it felt like they ruined you favorite gametype, only to seemingly blame you, the community, because you didn’t remake something they could have easily made instead of this pile of junk.

-Gameplay regression

The gameplay of UT has always been based on the predecessor, with a few improvements and changes here and there. Back in UT2004 they added in a dodge move, which could be accessed by doubletapping a movement key. You could also dodge off wall to launch yourself away, and it was all very fun and rewarding. You could also double-jump, which was basically jumping in the air to give you a little more control and height.

So Epic, continuing their path of bad decisions, decided to adjust the double-jump and dodge moves so they were clunky and unfun. Excuuuse us for wanting to be skilled at your game Epic.

-What I did like

I can’t really be negative about everything in the game though, because I never would have picked it up again if I was. To be fair, while a lot of it annoyed me the game was functional for the most part (barring vehicles), and did have some cool parts. Just, only in Deathmatch.

The Deathmatch maps are pretty much a shining example of what the rest of the game should have been. They’re in creative environments, they have a fair amount of exciting elements, and maps such as Heatray (Enormous Tripod of DEATH), Phobos (Gattling Laser on Mounted Platform 200 metres from arena) really acceled in using these elements in fair and fun ways.

The graphics are quite good, as the UT3 engine is good at, but it sort of becomes a bitter acknowledgement rather than praise because if they spent more time on the fun stuff then the game might have been just that little bit better.

-End product

The game had good parts, and was still UT, but so much of it felt like they’d ruined or left out stuff. Coupled with the netcode being pretty shoddy it actually angered the UT Community, which, as the people that pay and enjoy your games, you do not want to get angry. It was really irritating to them that the game that had looked so good beforehand turned out to be something they didn’t really want to play.

So they community pretty much died, and anyone that has a few friends in gaming tends to know when major games are flops. Now your left with a game that annoys players who would have otherwise enjoyed spent a sizable amount of time on. Which being a game so heavily revolved around multiplayer was a very bad thing.

The game eventually converted to steam and released a free, large, update for UT3, and for a while it looked like it may be revieved, but unfortunately it was too little too late, and after a couple of weeks the multiplayer went back to being a Barren wasteland.

NOTE: I also did not use the term EPIC FAIL. Because that would be too easy.

Retrospect: Resident Evil 4

Posted in Retrospect with tags , on April 19, 2009 by Baggie

Resident Evil 4 is a zombie game by Capcom, where you play as Chris Redfield, leading a 1 man expedition to rescue the president’s daughter. First off I’ll say that if Spanish terrorists actually got their hands on the president’s daughter they’d send in a good amount of SWAT teams and then nuke the entire island once they got her out, just to emphasise the point.

It was a game originally created for the Gamecube, and has been ported to the PC rather sloppily.
First gripe I have is that they didn’t even bother letting you use the mouse, rather they just ignored it entirely and kept the same control system as the Gamecube had. While it was rather appropriate for a controller (more about this later) it made the PC controls hard to use and rather irritating.

To aim your equiped weapon you have to press the ‘aim weapon’ button, where the character aims and then the movement keys turn into aim keys.
This annoyed me immensely, since I hadn’t needed to use the keyboard to aim since they invented the SODDING mouse. But I can deal, right?

Well the next gripe was that they don’t ever tell you which keys you need to press for specific actions, they give you pictures for ‘Button 1’ etc. While this is bearable if it’s easy, like Enter being Button 3 to do most actions that was fine. But then they ask about the 1,2,4,5,6 buttons and I have no idea what the hell they’re on about. I figured how to open the Inventory and it felt like a big accomplishment, cause the game never tells you how to do it.

Third, there are quite a few quick time events. I don’t have a major grudge against well done quick time events, there are problems I’ve encountered where it’s asked me to mash E repeatedly but it won’t register because I’m mashing too quick (I’m too awesome), or when it flashes up before the actual button becomes active, and if more than 1 button is pressed it fails and I die, so I’m wondering if I didn’t press it right and if I press it again will it kill me, like some sort of Quantum quicktime event. Not great.

But here the control problem comes up again. Suddenly it’s asking me to press 5 and 6. Well hell, I don’t know what those are! Game never told me, I’ve probably been using them all this time without knowing what the hell they were labeled. So I die, wondering what the hell the buttons were, but it’s okay, cause it flashes up a different combination of buttons I don’t know. So it never gives me solid testing groups to find what buttons are which.

Mainly though it’s not a fault with the game itself, it’s the team who ported it either being too lazy, not given enough time, or not paid enough. Or all 3. PC gamers are 2nd class citizens in this respect a lot of the time.

So I was trying to get through the game while feeling I was playing it in Japanese or something. Not really enjoying it but compelled to keep playing because the story was decent.
Then I borrowed my brother’s controller.

Suddenly the sun came out and flowers started blooming, Parades happening in the street. For this game was now actually playable. And it was pretty fun.

The buttons on screen actually matched the buttons on the controller, quick time events were possible, and I could aim. One could argue that the game was designed to be used with a controller on the PC, due to the instant compatibility and design, but what idiot creates a game that you need a specialised piece of hardware most people on the particular platform don’t have?

The graphics aren’t terrific, the environments and most of the characters look like they were created just after Quake 3 was, though again this was a Gamecube design restriction, the console not being able to pull the skin off a custard, so I can’t really blame them.
But what stands out is the main character look extremely high detail, better than a lot of recentish games. While this is good, it’s be a better if they did this to the entire game, cause the characters look like they’ve invaded from another, more recent game, and clearly don’t belong in this pixelated mess.

The zombies, while entertaining to a point, it takes FAR too long to kill them.
What would happen if you got shot in the head with a 9mm pistol? Why, you’d die. So why can these guys take a good 5 rounds before their head explodes, presumably due to the built up force of 5 bullets to the skull. And why does carrying a chainsaw give you the ability to take 3 shotgun blasts? Cause I’d have one on my person at all times if it were the case. Zombies do not  get bulletproof skelletons, they die like the rest of us, something only a few zombie games do properly unfortunately.

While this game is supposed to invoke a sense of horror, I found myself running away from zombie hordes not out of fear, out of frustration, because it would take a good half a minute to kill 5 zombies and I wanted to get on with the plot.

(Speaking of which this game MAY be scary to your average person, but I’ve played far too many horror games to be squimish at virtual blood or limbs flying off.)

The game has a bit of a treasure hunting mechanic, where random jewels, jewellery, other things of value are scattered around the place, and gives you more money to buy weapons etc. I actually enjoyed looking for these more than the zombie killage, and the brief level you play as the President’s daughter (Whom I REALLY wish would put on a longer skirt) where you didn’t have conventional weapons was insane fun for me, pity it only lasted ten minutes.

Back to quicktime events, now I can actually perform them they’re pretty decent, however there’s one particular cutscene that has about 7 quicktime events. Cutscenes are supposed to be a time to learn about the plot and reflect, not be watching the bottom half of the screen in-case of of the 2 quicktime combos popup and kill you in a variety of fun and messy ways! I don’t mind quicktime events in gameplay e.g. Press X to throw zombie off you, but in cutscenes seems a bit cheap.

The inherit danger in playing a game that’s been lazily ported from one platform to another is there’ll be some inherit bugs at the very least. Take the Orange Box, it gave me about 500 hours of entertainment for 50 dollars. Brilliant. It was released at the same time on the Xbox 360, which was also awesome, everything worked brilliantly, the only issue being Microsoft’s unwillingness to let developers give away free content.
But EA decided it wanted to port the game to the PS3, because EA, as we all know, are money grabbing whores. The game never really ran well, controls were sometimes unresponsive and a couple of bits were nigh unplayable, because EA did a lazy port, effectively ruining the game for anyone silly enough to buy a PS3 (their own fault really).

So Resident Evil 4, rather strangely for a PC game, practically requires a controller to be functional.
It’s decent enough and compels enough interest to actually get through, but don’t go out of your way for it. Personally I only bought it cause it can with Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, but that needs about 2 gigs of updates before it works, so I might be able to play it at some point in the distant future.

Retrospect: Chronicles of Riddick, Escape from Butcher Bay

Posted in Retrospect on April 4, 2009 by Baggie

Escape from Butcher Bay is one of the most cinematic games I’ve ever played. Developed by Starbreeze, it focuses on a man named Riddick(Vin Diesel through and through), as he tries to escape a prison facility known as Butcher Bay. To be honest the title is one of the things I like about it, actually having a bearing on the events of the game, instead of other games that have poetic titles with little relation to the actual game.

Riddick is a First Person Stealther, with the occasional shooty section. The main point of the game is to get though the levels without alerting the guards to your pressence, and in defience to gaming LAW, it actually does it well. You primarily use darkness to hide yourself, though the guards will find you if you’re not careful. The focus on dark in the first part of the game, is rather interesting, but there’s the problem that often YOU can’t see either. Mildly annoying, but it actually functions as an extention of Riddick’s character.

If you’ve not seen the movies or in fact, this game, Riddick is a chap who has eyes that are incredibly sensitive to light, usually called Eyeshine. To get around he has a pair of SWEET welding Goggles, taking them off gives him the advantage of being able to see in the dark.
Well in the first part of the game you don’t have that. As I said before, annoyance.
After the first chapter of the game, you get said Eyeshine, and I was incredibly impressed about how… right it felt. It was like a part of me (The character, I’m not Vin Diesel no matter how hard I wish) had been put back in the right place, and I was going to kick ass with it.
And you do kick ass with it, it makes sculking in the dark much more fun,  laughing at the guards who can’t see crap.

The main focus in combat is melee weapons. Whilst you do use guns, and use them a lot, whilst you’re a prisoner you obviously haven’t got access to them, so you have to rely on getting shivs. There’s a number of people who can hook you up, though they usually want you do to something for them. The melee combat is a nice change from the “Click to Attack” attitude normally present in FPS’s, Butcher Bay has an intuitive blocking system where you can use the arrow keys to perform different attacks, usually you want the one the enemy isn’t currently blocking. It’s rather akin to a dynamic, bloody version of Scissors Paper Rock.

The people you meet in the Prisons are pretty interesting, though most just want to gamble, complain or kill you.  Sometimes all three if you’re good at pissing people off. It shows off the conversation system, where you can pick your replies, similar to Mass Effect of Fallout. You’re often given multiple ways to complete objectives, and choosing is often difficult.

The game ties in with the 2 other movies, serving as a prequal in a good few respects. Vin Diesel was heavily involved in the movies, and the way he represents Riddick is incredible, a lot like Simon Jones and Arthur Dent (Well.. a few changes).  Video game representations of people weren’t exactly terrific back in those days, but Riddick looks almost exactly like he does in real life, it was refreshing to say the least to see someone in a game who actually looked like the person who was portreying them.

The narrative, although I can’t talk too much about it without revealing some fairly big spoilers, is very nicely done, has a nice prison formule it  switches up occasionally with alien colonies and sci-fi elements, a good ammount of reviews said it was actually most intriging than Pitch Black, which was basically unheard of back then, games were for shooting people.

There are a couple of Critisms I have though, the game was a bit buggy in places, such as the health station recharge system which didn’t work at ALL, the mech sequences were a bit… unnessisary really. I mean I’m a killing machine, brutal and animalistic, for some reason I’m going to use a Mech. I’LL USE MY BARE HANDS! (Actually did once, it was pretty damned fun)

There’s a new Riddick game as a sequal called Assault on Dark Athena, which takes place on a spaceship. Called Dark Athena. Which you are assaulting. However, because Escape from Butcher Bay was never ported to the Xbox 360, the developers decided to redo Escape from Butcher bay as a part of the game. AWESOME!  I just hope they don’t change too much, ideally I’d want a game with improved graphics, maybe a couple more different options to get from point A to point B, nothing more really.  Course video game law states any remakes must be of equal or lesser value than the originals, but I’m hopeful.

The new Riddick game comes out later this month, here’s to hoping it lives up to the original.

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.

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.