Monday, 9 December 2013

Weak-willed and Tardy

Oh dear, a month since the last post. Rubbish. In the end of year rush at work, so not much free time...and I was bad. After making it through most of the year as a shining paragon of non-game buying, I succumbed to that most evil creature of all, a Steam sale. Yes, I bought Skyrim. In my defence, it was only 3 quid and I've wanted it for ages, but I still felt a bit dirty doing it. Of course, once the flood gates had opened, I went crazy and bought another couple of similarly priced titles. I am a fool and a bad person. Maybe I can excuse it by calling it a birthday present to myself? Anyway, worse than just buying the games, I then went and played them; starting up Skyrim...just to see if it would run at all on my Surface...and then getting totally sucked in. I've now weened myself off it, and it'll wait until the series comes up on the list, but things were looking a bit dark there for a minute.

So, in other gaming news, I have been playing a bit of X-Com: Interceptor, but I have to say that it hasn't grabbed me. This is probably mostly down to the technology rather than the game itself. Basically, the game sticks very closely to the old X-Com template in that it's two games welded together to form one. So in the old series you have the base-building strategy side of it welded to the alien-shooting missions, and you have exactly the same thing here except that instead of turn-based, tense combat, you now have arcade space combat - a bit like Wing Commander. I wouldn't have minded this too much - I enjoy a bit of space dog-fighting - but everything runs so quickly on modern computers that basically the fight's over before you have a chance to do anything. I should mention that when you fly missions you have a couple of wingmen with you, so they'll zoom off and destroy the bad guys before you really get a chance to do anything. This is actually a really good thing, as without them, there's no way I'd even be able to hit one of the alien ships with my lasers, they just flash across the screen in a blink. So, thanks to the wingmen I've been proceeding through the game, but I'm not really enjoying it as much as I'd like to be. It's also changed my strategy. Normally in a game like this I'd be powering up my own ship and pretty much ignoring my wingmen, but I've found myself spending all my money powering up my wingmen to make sure they can deal with the aliens and I've been spending my tech developing smart missiles so I can at least fire off a few of those in a fight and hope they hit something. I'm dreading the game switching up a gear later on and having missions where I don't get any wingmen and have to fly on my own. If that happens, then I'm done for. NB: If this was running in DosBox then I could easily slow it down, but it's a Steam game. I might see if I can just plug the EXE independently into DosBox and run it that way if things get desperate. Also, I haven't really got any sense of overarching story yet, I've just been upgrading my base and attacking any random alien craft that fly through my sensor networks. So far, so X-Com, but in this one the map is huge. I'm only exploring a tiny part of it, and I'm not sure if I'm going to have to expand out massively before I learn more. That would mean a LOT more bases. I've already built three just in my little quadrant, and covering the map would take literally hundreds of them, which isn't a management task I really fancy. Oh well, we'll see.

I've also been playing a bit of Quantum Conundrum on the PS3. It's got a very Portal feel about it - physics-based first-person puzzler - and a very similar aesthetic, but I feel it was a mistake for the developers to try and draw those allusions. Portal is a great game. A fantastic game. It's a very focused game - the portal gun does one thing and one thing only, and all of the puzzles are built around that one thing. It means that you get used to the core mechanic very quickly, and so when the game explores that mechanic in different ways, they still feel very natural because you understand the core mechanic so well. It's also a very clever core mechanic. One of the very worst things about first-person puzzlers (and FPS games in general) is the jumping. Pixel-perfect jumping when you can't see your feet is a terrible experience. Portal gets around this by just letting you create a portal to the place you want to go to, then you just step through and arrive there. Problem solved. It gives you absolutely perfect (and pretty frustration free) control of your avatar in the environment. Quantum Conundrum does not have a portal gun, but it does have lots of first-person platforming. This is a bad thing. It gets in the way of the puzzles. If I can see the solution to a problem, and I'm trying to execute that solution, please don't make me fail it by falling off a platform that I couldn't see in the first place. That just makes me angry. I don't mind a bit of skill in games, but this isn't skill, it's a very simple everyday jump. If it was a 2D platformer and I could see where my character was jumping from and to then I'd make it every single time, but because it's in 3D and the only frame of reference I have is the wall in front of me, then I constantly miss platforms and slide off into doom. It really detracts from the central experience of the game - to solve the puzzles. In its favour, there are some really clever puzzles in there, things that make you scratch your head and feel smart when you solve them. Those bits are really enjoyable, and I like exploring what the different powers do (although part of me wishes they'd just restricted it to simple Light-Heavy gravity powers and really focused on those rather adding more). It's just the implementation that's so frustrating. Oh, and I'm finding the humour irritating rather than funny, but that may just be me (I'm such a grouch!).

The siren-song of Skyrim was strong, but I'll say more about that another time when I'm playing through it properly. I'm tempted to fire up Wizard Warz and give that a go because I want to try and knock off another game or two before the end of the year, but I'll try and dive back into X-Com and make some headway, too.

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