Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Counted Down

The first Buck Rogers game is done and dusted. I think I was looking back on it with slightly rose-tinted specs, as it's nothing like as good a game as I remembered. The core of the gold box engine is there and it's as solid as ever, but it definitely doesn't fit the sci-fi setting as well as it does the fantasy world of the D&D games. The battles are way too hard in places and take way too long, and the story is a bit uneven, but I still enjoyed it all the way to the end. After a bit of a fiddle, I've also managed to transfer my party across to the sequel, so I'll be blazing my way through Matrix Cubed as soon as I can.

I've also started on Black & White, and I'm running into exactly the same issues that I did when I first played it. I just find it horribly slow-paced, and the lack of direct control is infuriating. I don't know if it's just my bad luck with dumb creatures, or if I'm a terrible teacher, but I can't get my creature to learn anything useful. They tend to do the exact opposite of whatever I want them to do, no matter how much I slap or tickle them! For example, one of the early quests is to rescue some villagers from drowning. I send my creature down there and click on one villager and...he just stands next to the drowning villager and starts drinking the water. SLAP. I click on the next villager drowning away, and he does exactly the same, thing slurping away merrily while they sink to their doom. SLAP SLAP. I click on villager number three and he finally picks up the villager and lifts him from the water. TICKLE. I click on the beach, and the creature wades out of the water and back to dry land. TICKLE TICKLE. He then proceeds to eat the villager. SLAP SLAP SLAP. The quest giver who is standing on the beach then starts shouting at me, telling me what a terrible god I am for killing the drowning villagers instead of helping them. My creature picks up the quest giver and hurls her out to sea. SLAP SLAP SLAP SLAP. Finally, of his own volition, my creature wades out to sea and rescues the last villager, but by that point I don't even have the heart to tickle him. I just send him out to sea as far as I can and leave him there, hoping to put him out of his misery, and mine. It may sound funny, but it's just not fun. At least not to me. The quest is failed and the game is autosaved. I like to finish every mission I'm given in a game, and not being able to - not because I don't know how to, but because the controls of the game don't allow me to - is infuriating. I spent a few hours last night playing and my creature learned one skill in all that time, and now I'm considering restarting because I want to actually complete the drowning villagers mission properly. I came pretty close to just giving up and throwing the game in the done pile last night, but I'll give it another go tonight and see if I can make any progress with it.

In other news, I finished Puzzle Quest Galactrix, and also added Puzzle Kingdoms, which I finished years ago but hadn't marked it off. Too drained to say much about them now. I loved the Puzzle Quest games, but found Galactrix just a little too random for me. In the first Puzzle Quest you only have new gems dropping down from the top of the screen, so although it can feel random and unfair when something goes awry, it's at least manageable, and you feel like you can strategise a bit by arranging blocks favourably on the lower half of the screen. Galactrix is played on a hexagon with gems falling from all sides, so you never really feel like you have any control over the board, and the randomness of it all really hits you. It still scratched an itch...but only barely.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Not Much Cop

Well that didn't take long! Not only was Robocop 1 buggy, but Robocop 3 was, too. As mentioned before, Robocop 1 crashed as soon as I tried to fire a gun, which is something of a problem in a Robocop game, so that was out. I have played it before, though (on someone's C64 at school, I think), so I know a little about it. It's a pretty basic Ocean side-scroller, which falls into the template all of the games of that ilk seemed to - you walk right and you shoot things. One of the biggest innovations of Robocop (that I recall) was that it allowed you to fire straight up and diagonally up. What I remember most about it was the goofy pose that Robocop stands in when firing up (and when getting hit). I also vaguely remember some kind of photofit minigame, but I didn't get to see that here. It's a shame, as I quite fancied giving it a blast.

Robocop 3 is a completely different beast. This one was made by DID (who made a bunch of well-respected flight sims), and their pedigree shows here. It's a completely 3D shooter, which I remember being wowed by at the time. The game has a movie mode that follows the film and links together a set of action set pieces with some cut scenes. The whole thing looks great, and does a good job of drawing you in. I got to play through the first two sections before the game crashed (I tried two different versions, and it did exactly the same thing). The first section was a 3D driving segment, with me chasing a stolen van, only to receive a call that my partner was in trouble and I needed to help. It gives a location, but I've no idea how I was supposed to find it on the map (unless the manual contained an annotated map?). Anyway, after driving around for a while, I found the right place and rushed in to help my partner. Here, the game cuts to a first person view of Robocop and you stalk through the building shooting goons and avoiding innocents. It all looks great and plays well, so it's a real shame that after the next cut scene the game crashes. Ah well. It was all quite well timed with the release of the new Robocop film, too.

Next up on the series list is one I'm definitely looking forward to, the SSI Buck Rogers games. I used to have the first game back in the day (another one from the Middle-Eastern bounty of George's dad, I think), and I played it to death, completing it a couple of times. It's the standard SSI gold box engine, but all set in the TSR Buck Rogers game world. I can't wait to give it another go, and I'm looking forward to trying the second game, which I haven't played yet.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


The Paladin games are both incredibly similar to each other, and they share the same issues, so I'll cover them in one post. They're turn-based strategy games in the same vein as UFO, but a lot more basic. They're set in a fantasy world, and you play the titular paladin who takes on quests along with a party of like-minded individuals assigned to you for each adventure. The paladin is the only one who matters, though - he carries on between quests while the rest of the party are just expendable. The party differs in size and composition, and you control everyone individually, turn-by-turn. It's a hard game, too. At the start, you'll often find yourself missing every attack while enemies ruthlessly slaughter your party. It's quite satisfying when you engineer your group into surrounding a lone enemy and manage to destroy him without taking a hit, but the biggest problem I had with the game was its speed. The whole thing (this goes for both games) is just sooooo sloooow. Your guys can walk a fairly decent distance in a turn, but you have to do it one screen at a time (about 5 squares), so it's 'click', wait for the screen to scroll, 'click', wait for the screen to scroll, 'click', etc., etc. And, of course, on every map you can almost guarantee that you'll start in one corner and the map exit's in the other corner...And you have to get every single member of your party to the exit. When you have 8 members in your party, that takes a long, long, long time. So long that I couldn't take it any longer and quit. Actually, that's not quite true. I was attempting to stick it out, and I'd completed three quests before I used a sphere of fireballs and accidentally aimed too close to my paladin (it was the first time I'd used one) and ended up killing him. Not too bad, I thought, I'll just start the quest again...which was when I realised the game had permadeath and when my paladin had died it had wiped the game file. There was no way I was going through all that again.

Paladin 2 is much the same as its predecessor. They've fixed a couple of the issues, such as moving diagonally and allowing you to draw paths for movement, but the game is still glacially slow. If possible, it even feels slower than the first game. There's no story to speak of in either game, each quest stands alone (there are a couple that are linked, but only with each other, not in a greater arc), and when you complete a mission your paladin usually only gains a point or two of accuracy meaning he hits more often and does a bit more damage. There's not enough to keep me interested and the time it was taking totally put me off. Onwards! Next up on the series list is the Robocop games. I only have 1 and 3 here. I'm not sure if 2 was even released for PC. I had a quick look at the first game, but although I can run around quite happily, as soon as I hit fire the game hangs. I'll see if there's a way around it, otherwise I'll be moving straight on to 3.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Darkstone Shattered

I finally finished Darkstone over the weekend. I guess there must be something really compelling about these Diablo clones, because I can't imagine why I'd have stuck with it otherwise. Well, that's perhaps a little unfair to it. The game gets a lot of love from its fans, but the experience was ruined by some bugs/emulation flaws. First up, the graphics looked awful. It's an old game so I wasn't expecting modern shininess, but there's quite clearly a bug with the rendering (sounds like it's a driver issue) that means all the graphics are incredibly pixelated and blurry and the text is unreadable. Not the game's fault, but still. (Even worse, this was a GOG game that I'd paid for, not just a random naughty download.) The other thing was the crashing bug. When I say it crashed, I don't mean every now and then, I mean literally every few minutes the screen would freeze and then kick me back to the desktop. As I think I mentioned before, there's a handy 1-button quick save function, so as long as I remembered to hit that every time I did anything noteworthy then it wasn't too bad to reload and pick up again, but wasn't exactly conducive to a smooth gaming experience. Combined, those two bugs pretty much ruined the game for me, but I still stuck with it until the end it. That's got to say something for it!

It is a pretty standard Diablo clone. The main innovation was the fact that you could have another character along for the ride, but I found that he just got killed so often that I tended to just leave him dead and go solo. Another conceit was that the quest structure was randomly generated, so out of a pool of 21 main quests, each time you start a new game it will pick 7 of those for you to encounter, so you kind of have a different experience every time. I *think* the dungeon design is randomly generated, too, but I'm not about to play through it again to check. That randomness is all well and good, but none of the main quests ever really felt that different - they're all just 'go into dungeon and kill stuff to get crystal' - so having a different set of quests to play through isn't that exciting. The other problem is that the dungeons all look exactly the same, and they're all incredibly dark, so you never really get a sense of doing different tasks in different areas. You also get given side quests by villagers, but then those villagers are never marked (and I never wrote them down) so when you return from a dungeon it's a right pain trying to find out who gave you the quest in the first place (you can't ask them, they all just give the same response, so you have to 'use' the quest item on each villager until one acknowledges you). One thing I did quite like was the videos. Graphically they weren't all that, but I thought they were quite nicely directed and animated. Anyway, it's finally another one down, and it feels like the first singleton done in a while. So, without further ado, next up on the randometer is...Black & White. Hmmm...mixed feelings about that. I bought it on disk in a rush of excitement when it first came out, but I couldn't get into it at all. All the mags were raving about it, and I was a big fan of Lionhead, but...meh. Hopefully time's improved it (or mellowed my disappointment in it!). I might hit the Paladin games first, though.