Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Rebellious

Surprise! I finished another game. I forgot to mention last time that I'd been playing Rebel Galaxy on and off for a while, and I put it to bed last night. It's a funny old game; apparently it was made by just two people, which is super impressive for what it is, but does also explain some of its failings. First up, what is it. It's a flying, shooting, trading, exploring space opera. Think along the Elite/Privateer lines and you're pretty much there. Uniquely, though, this isn't fully three-dimensional - you only travel along a single plane. It's a bit more like a driving sim that they swapped the road backdrop out and replaced it with a star field. (I have a theory that it may have been based on a driving game engine, but I could be wrong.) So, you can only turn left and right, not up and down. That sounds insane in a space game, but actually I got used to it pretty quickly. Other objects - enemies, meteors, etc. - can move above and below you, giving the feeling of three-dimensionality, but you're still glued to your single plane.

How do you fight when enemies can swoop and dive around you and you can only turn in a lumbering circle to try and track them? Luckily, you have two (well, three including missiles) ways of attacking, broadside cannons and turrets. Broadside cannons are powerful but can only be fired sideways so you have to turn side-on to your quarry, while turrets can track and fire at targets all around you. You can choose which of these you want to be in charge of, letting the other cannons auto-fire. While it's kind of fun to act out your star wars fantasies of being Luke in the Millenium Falcon turret, I found it much easier to let the computer handle the turrets, while I concentrated on flying and firing off a broadside every now and then when I got the chance. Combat is mostly fun and visceral, but it's rapidly apparent that kiting is the best strategy. The ships that you buy are mostly big and slow, and as you upgrade them they get bigger and slower, so you never really want to just fly into the thick of things bobbing and weaving because a) you can't bob and weave, and b) you can't dodge a laser. Flying directly into a firefight against a well-armed foe will mostly just get you killed, so you're better off trying to lead a couple of ships away from the main party at a time and slowing whittling them down. It's a bit of a missed opportunity because playing something nimble would have been fun, but it makes sense in-universe. If you want better shields you need a bigger ship, and bigger ships don't behave in the same way as smaller ones. You'll end up flying the equivalent of a well-armed oil tanker, which is fun in its own way, but doesn't scratch that specific space opera itch.

In terms of setting, they've gone for a kind of wild-west feel with twanging cowboy guitars with a battered, crumpled look to the universe and the people in it. It's a good fit and adds to the ambience of the world they're building, but I have to admit I turned the music off after a while because it got a bit samey and was a bit of a distraction. I prefer space to be a quiet place.

So, for the most part you're flying between systems doing delivery quests and earning enough money to upgrade the various parts of your ship. Stuff is expensive and doesn't make any really noticeable difference (other than upgrading the ship itself), so it gets grindy really quickly. Also, the quests themselves don't really change (that's where I think the depth of the game suffered from only having two developers) so no matter where in the galaxy you go you're mostly doing the same thing over and over. There is a main quest that pulls you along for a while, but actually you don't need to grind that much to finish it, and once you're finished...what else are you going to do? The ending itself was also really meh, you finish the quest, you have a chat, and you're left to carry on flying around. So, yeah, good while it lasted, but I think I'm done.

Next up on the randometer is...WaxWorks! Interesting. I remember this well from when it was released - a kind of adventure horror thing, similar to the Elvira games. I had one of the Elvira games, but I don't think I ever played WaxWorks. I'm also going to make a start on the King Arthur game series and see if I can make some headway there.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Clockwork soda robots

Well that didn't go well. Here we are near the end of March and the world is almost unrecognisable. Games are the last thing on my mind while I'm worrying about where we're going to get food from. Free time is pretty much non-existent - I'm working mornings and evenings so I can spend some time looking after the kids during the day, and the odd hour I do get is just a smeared, bleary-eyed crash of time curled on the sofa. Does that mean I'm not thinking about games at all? Of course not. I'm pining for a return to normality, and games are a defining feature of my normal life. I've been thinking of starting up a new gaming project even crazier than this one - I know it's my brain trying to run away from the real world; trying to escape into a dream life of unending electronic entertainment, but who wouldn't want to escape this?

Anyway, I didn't come here to whine. I came here to catalogue the games I was playing pre-covid-cataclysm so I wouldn't completely forget them. I mentioned in my last post that I was playing a few 'snack' games, and I think I mostly finished three of them. First up was Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink. This was a really simple hidden object game, but sometimes that's what you need. I actually find them quite relaxing as a way to turn your brain off for a while. Not really much more to say, it had a story, I played through it, I found all the objects.

Next up was Soda Dungeon. This is one of those 'idle games' ported over from mobile. There are no micropayments in the Steam version (you still can buy in-game currency in bulk, but why would you?) so it's just an auto-grind. Again, something you can do with your brain on snooze. You choose a set of characters, equip them, start them off on their dungeon journey and then go away and do something else for a few hours. When you come back, they're either all dead or they completed the dungeon run - whichever it is, you still end up with a bunch of loot at the end that you then pour into incrementally powerful abilities for exponentially more money. As far as I can tell, there is no end to it. I've made it to the last zone, but from what I've read it's just endless so I'm going to count it as done.

The final game I played was Robothorium. This is a very light RPG where you send a group of robots on missions and slowly level them up. There's a hard level limit that my bots hit long before the end of the game, which is always disappointing. That doesn't mean the fights get any easier, as the enemies scale as you progress. I made it through to the final boss, but as far as I can tell it's functionally impossible to beat it with my current set up. Essentially, all enemies in the game have shields and health. Once you do enough damage to drain their shields you start to remove their health, and once their health is gone they're destroyed. Enemies regain a bit of shield (and sometimes health) at the beginning of their turn. Your characters work in the same way. The gimmick with the final boss is that it recovers a huge amount of its shield every turn, and it has a huge shield to begin with. My characters don't do enough damage each turn to offset the amount it's healing. The boss also isn't doing enough damage to me that I can't recover every turn so we're at a stalemate. I can see what I need to do to defeat it - you can find certain weapon types that do a little damage to an enemy's body at the same time as a little damage to its shield, so I could chip away at its health even while it restores its shield - but those weapons are rare and only found in random drops at the end of fights. I started grinding out fights to try and earn the weapons, but hadn't got anywhere after a few hours of trying. As mentioned, I'm also already at max-level, so the grinding has absolutely no material benefit, which is fairly soul destroying. So, even though I'd actually really like to finish this one, I think I'm going to have to call it a day and drop it.

That's it for now. Who knows when the next update will be. My aim is to carry on with Rebel Galaxy when I can. Stay safe everyone, my thoughts go out to you.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Hello 2020! Sorry I'm late

Jinks, are we through the first week of Feb already! The quest for games isn't off to a good start this year, but it's definitely still going. A recent role change at work has meant I've been really busy of late, but hopefully things will settle down a bit in the coming months. It has mean that I really have been down to 5 minutes a day, though, and that's meant I haven't wanted to play any of those big games I should be playing, and have instead been diving into a few cheap and cheerful 'snacks' that just about scratch the itch, but don't do much for my stats! Last year was by far the lowest number of entries since I started, and I have a horrible feeling that this year might suffer some of the same fate. In my first year (and that was only half a year!) I managed 22 entries, and last year I only reached 11. I can't quite believe how shamefully low that is. Definitely have to try and do better, even if they are only short entries. Without any more ado, here are the stats:

This time last year we started out with:
   Done: 646
   Total: 4775
   Completed: 13.5%

Here's where we stand at the start of 2020:
   Done: 667
   Total: 4853
   Completed: 13.7%

Which means, for all you maths fans out there, my totals for the year were:
   Done: 21
   Total: 78
   Completed: 0.2%

Gosh, that's not great. Again, all down on last year. I feel like a lot of those games were skipped ones, too. With only 11 entries, I definitely don't think I completed that many. The number of added games is down, which is good, but I know I've recently bought a bunch of bundles in the sales that I haven't added yet so expect to see that total rise as soon as I get around to updating the master list. What I did do last year was try and focus on getting through some PS3 games, as they're not included in PS Plus any more so I'm essentially paying for the Plus service now solely in order to keep those games hanging around in my 'to play' pile. That's a waste of money that I could really do without. Saying that, though, I stalled on Red Dead Revolver and there are still a LOT of PS3 games to play, so I might be doing this for a while.

I didn't play much last year, so this is going to be a bit of a thin selection, but without further ado, let's take a look at the best and worst. Starting with the worst...hmmm. The DOS Dragonlance games were fairly simplistic and rubbish, but I feel like I bailed on them without really giving them a full chance so I can't really make them the worst games. Same goes for Deathtrap Dungeon, though the bit I played of it wasn't terrible so I don't think it would make the worst game cut anyway. Night Hunter was pretty bad, but I couldn't really work out how to play it properly. Ugh, I think I'm going to have to be a bit unfair in this one. I played a couple of games last year (actually 3 including Red Faction Battlegrounds) that were meant as multiplayer games but that had single-player components: Out of Reach and The Ship. Out of those, I think The Ship was the worst - it was so slow, dull and unexciting in single player that I really feel like they shouldn't have bothered including a single-player segment at all. Just simple bot matches would have been fine. So, as I say, it's a little unfair because it's not really made as a single-player game, but The Ship is my worst game of the year.

As for the best...that's pretty tricky, too. I played through the Prince of Persia games with mixed results. I still adore the first game for its free-flowing feel and time-bending powers, but the series just went downhill from there. None of the follow-up games came anywhere near living up to the first. There's a hint of rose-tinted specs there, but like the first Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia made an indelible impact when it first came out. It was so fresh and new that it burned itself into my memory and the rest of the games i n the series were pale imitations, especially with that wannabe dark, angsty posturing, which is such a turn-off for me. Devil May Cry? Ah, it just didn't do it for me. Solstice and Deadlight were just middling games. Costume Quest 2 was a more of the same sequel... I think it's going to come down to West of Loathing or Ni No Kuni. Ni No Kuni is a great game, a very accomplished JRPG, but it's just a bit too trad. It doesn't really step out into new territory at all and the systems that it does try and innovate in aren't really that successful - like the creature breeding that was just a bit too slow and grindy and didn't really have enough affect on the combat to make it interesting, or the combat itself that wanted to be strategic but was easier just to button mash. As I say, it's a beautiful, warm-hearted game that I really enjoyed, but I feel it just hasn't quite got that spark that makes it a game of the year. That means I'm giving this year's game of the year to West of Loathing! I'd actually completely forgotten about the game, but thinking back on it still makes me smile and that can only be a good thing. It's not a deep RPG by any means, but it's a genuinely funny game and those are few and far between. It also brings back fond memories of all of those hours I spent in Kingdom of Loathing years ago. Probably not a classic game by any means, but almost certainly the best I played last year.

So, what are my plans for this year? I definitely need to try and play more games. I'd like to carry on dipping into the PS3 list and clear some more of that so I don't have to keep playing for Plus (unless I end up buying a PS4, but no sign of that in the cards at the moment). I'd also really like to make a bit more of a dent in the PC list - I don't think I properly completed a single game in the series list last year, which is rubbish. Doesn't help that I'm currently supposed to be playing a bunch of really heavy games, Red Dead Revolver, King Arthur the Role-Playing Game and Rebel Galaxy. I have dipped in and out of a few smaller games, which I've almost done with, so I'll hopefully have something to cross off soon. Anyway, the sky's blue and I'm supposed to be clearing the garden. Big love to one and all, and have a great gaming year ahead.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Strategone

Stratego is exactly what it set out to be, a faithful rendition of the boardgame. It's actually a much simpler game than I first thought. It's a bit like battleships in a weird way. You hide your flag somewhere on your side of the board, and your opponent does the same, then you both add some bombs sprinkled around. These are all of the static units in the game. The aim is to have one of your units capture the opponent's flag. The rest of your side of the board is then filled with an assortment of different units with different numerical ratings, running from 1, the highest, down to 9, the lowest (scouts). When two units meet, the one with the lower value will win the battle. The exception is that when two units with the same value meet they are both destroyed, and a bomb will destroy any unit. All units can move one square orthogonally at a time, except for scouts that can move two squares. That's pretty much it. The computer plays well enough, but once you've played a couple of games there's not much more to it. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer (which is definitely broken...sniff! Something in the latest Windows update seems to have stopped it loading properly.) is...Gex! Yes, the Gecko. I know there were a few Gex games, but I only have the one. The only question is whether this is going to be a Win 95 game that won't play nice. Hmm, the answer is clearly NO. Windows flat out refuses to run the installer, so that's that. Next up is...Rebel Galaxy! Not a game I know anything about. It's on GOG, though, so hopefully will run.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Night hunted

Night Hunter is a funny old game - literally as well as figuratively. You play a vampire who must wander the levels looking for...stuff...in order to do...stuff. Look, I couldn't really work it out, okay. I picked up various items like keys and upside-down crosses, but I couldn't work out how to use any of them. I presume the keys are what let me open certain doors (although that in itself is a process of immense trial and error). While you're searching the levels, you're constantly being attacked by wandering villagers and creatures (I don't know what witches have against vampires, but they delight in zooming past on their broomsticks and bashing into you). If you get close enough to another creature then you can grab hold of it and suck its blood, filling up a little more of your life meter. You can also change form into either a wolf or a bat by pressing diagonally down and hitting fire (Q). The bat can be used to fly quickly across the level avoiding enemies and obstacles, but it doesn't last for long. The wolf is used for...something? I couldn't work out what the wolf was good for. The biggest issue was that I couldn't work out how to proceed. I found a few things, but they didn't seem to be enough to enable me to open up the other doors on the level and search inside them. It was interesting wandering about for a bit, but I can't get anywhere and it's not worth carrying on with it.

Next up on the randometer is...Stratego! Yes, the board game adaptation. I don't think I've ever played the board game.

Slight panic there, as I lost the entire collection database, but it seems to be back and working now!

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Deadlit

Deadlight wasn't what I was expecting at all. It's a 2D game very similar to Limbo, where you have to move from left to right through the levels, traversing obstacles and avoiding traps. Death is a frequent friend, with checkpoints enabling rapid restarts. The big difference is that where Limbo has an arty, lo-fi graphic aesthetic, Deadlight has a full 3D world in the background where there is always something going on. It gives a different look to the game, but in essence the feel doesn't change that much. It's very focused on the mechanics of traversal, as is Limbo. Oh, and there are zombies. They're mostly just another obstacle, as combat isn't your forte, but there are times when you'll need to use your axe/pistol/shotgun to show them who's who. The story is...okay? It's very standard zombie plague fare. There are hints at something wider from the snippets of text you find on your journey, but it never pans out.The same goes with the main character's diary. You have a diary that you find lost pages of as you progress, but it's largely pointless. It doesn't really add anything to the backstory, and I can't imagine I'd feel any differently about the character if I hadn't picked up all of the pieces and read them. It shows that the guy's a bit nuts, but not a lot more. The setting follows similar lines - a big thing is made of it being Seattle in the '80s, but really it could have been anywhere at pretty much any time. Anyway, gameplay-wise it was fine. A lot of people complained it was short, but that didn't bother me - I'm happy to get through it and move on.

Next up on the randometer is...Night Hunter! Looks like a vampire action game from the '80s.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

So Long, Solstice

I finished up Solstice last night. It's not a long game by any means, only a few hours, but I actually played it through twice. That doesn't necessarily mean I hugely enjoyed it, but I wanted to see how much of a difference I could make. As mentioned, this was a visual novel affair with some choices thrown in along the way. I'm still not completely sold on the idea, but I did enjoy it more than I thought I might. I won't give away the story, but essentially there's a bit of detective work involved - you're trying to find a missing person and prevent a crisis from happening. You do this by talking to people and choosing different conversation options. There's no other action as such, it's all done through conversation choices. The writing and the story itself was fine, but I felt frustrated as it played out that I couldn't do more. For example, when the missing person plot thread plays out, you're left with a list of three people that you can accuse. Obviously, you can choose any one of those three people and the plot plays out differently (a little) depending on whom you choose, but those three people were not the ones that I wanted to choose to accuse! There was no way for me to finger the person that I wanted to, and it's moments like that that really broke the immersion for me. Obviously it's difficult because they have to limit the amount of options they can give to you, but it felt like I didn't have a hand in some of the important ones. I still don't think I'll be buying many more visual novels in future, I'm afraid. Ah well, onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Deadlight! Some kind of zombie apocalypse thing from a few years back. Interesting.