Friday, 29 August 2014

Strike Three

It's been a while and the amount of minutes I've played Ishar 3 can be counted on half a stumpy finger. Well, that's not quite true. I did pick it up again a couple of weeks back but the game crashed and I hadn't saved it, so it effectively meant I may as well have not played it. So, I'm calling it a day on Ishar. I am a bit disappointed with myself - I did really want to get on with the series. It was always something that I'd seen as a child and thought looked amazing, but it just wasn't to be. Every time I played it - any of the games from the series really - I just felt like I banging my head against a brick wall. I just didn't enjoy a second of my time with it. So that's that. I'm not so much of a masochist that I'm going to try and continue with it.

Next up on the series list is Unreal. I have Unreal, its mission pack, and Unreal 2. I'd always been a Quake boy back in the day, and had never tried Unreal, so I was interested to see what it would be like. From the reviews of the day I remember, I assumed it was going to be a lot like Quake just with fancy multi-coloured lighting all over the place. I played a bit of it last night, and that assumption is kind of right, but it makes it feel very different from Quake's relentless brown. What I didn't expect to find, though, was a story. I always thought Unreal was going to be just a stock shooter with a flimsy back story, like Quake, but was surprised to find log entries lying around and screens giving out pertinent information. It's all very welcome - I'll have to see how it pans out. One annoying technical issue is that for some reason it starts up and runs fine the first time I play it, but if I shut down Unreal then the next time I try and start it up it just completely crashes my computer. Not ideal at all! I guess it's some junk left in memory, or something, but I can't work it out. It is rather putting me off playing it, though, my poor old PC doesn't like that kind of stress.

In other news, I've only played the first mission of Pharaoh after installing it weeks ago, thought I'd get through Unreal first. It brought back some great memories, though. It has a beautiful intro movie and a really good sense of place that sets it apart from your standard SimCity-alike. Oh, but it has also got a horrible over-reliance on firemen. I forgot how easily fires start in the baking Egyptian sun! I've also been playing a bit more Mass Effect 3 and am making some headway. It's hard to know how far through it I am, as it feels like the earth's about to be destroyed any second from the very first minute you play. I've picked up a bunch of allies, though, and got a few war readiness points (or whatever they're called), so I think I'm around the half-way point. I'm still loving the game and the series, but there are a couple of niggles. First up is the way multiplayer is integrated - basically, if I don't play multiplayer (which I'm not going to) then I lose half of my war readiness points...That's just a staggeringly stupid design decision. Okay, maybe make it so you can gain a few more points by playing multiplayer if you really want to integrate it, but make me lose my hard-earned single-player points. Crazy. And they show you that information every time you start the game - look, you've lost 50% of your points - not the way to make me smile, Bioware. My other niggle is with the design of your ship (and it's lasted throughout the series). After pretty much every mission, you're recommended to travel through the entire ship talking to your crew to get their feedback on the mission, and it takes forever - literally half an hour of mostly sitting through loading screens. I don't even mind the talking so much, but when I'm done, why not let me call up the star map (to plan the next mission) from anywhere on the ship? Why do I have to run back to the lift, wait for the lift to load the next level, then run from the lift to the star map every time? Sounds small, but it bugs the heck out of me.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Axel: F. Must Try Harder

What do you mean, you don't remember Beverly Hills Cop: The VR Missions?? Yes, I couldn't resist giving it a quick go last night, and five minutes later, that was enough. Beverly Hills Cop is super glitchy running in DosBox. I probably could have spent a while tweaking the settings, but, to be honest, I didn't think it was worth it. There are four levels to the game, and luckily you're allowed to select any of them from the main menu, so I feel like I've seen all there is to see. The game is a weird mish-mash of all of the favourite genres of the early '90s. The first level is a side-scrolling brawler where you kick, punch, and roll your way through a warehouse full of thugs. Except there doesn't appear to be any kind of life bar, and I found myself dying inexplicably after a few baddies had passed. The second level is a driving game, which was way too responsive in DosBox, and the slightest nudge of the wheel sent me careering off the road. The view was a bit odd, too, you could see the interior of your car, but also see your car on the road in front of you (at least, I assume it was your car). The third level was a Commando-style shooter that sees you running up the screen and storming the mansion. Except, where on Commando you can see all the bullets and dodge them, here the bullets are invisible (yours and theirs) so you can't see either where you're firing or who's shooting at you, leading to some more inexplicable deaths. The final level is where it gets weird. Here, you're in the mansion looking for Mr. Big, but the whole thing is done as a wireframe FPS. You wander around the level shooting or avoiding the 'guards' (some spinning polygons) trying to find your way to the big bad guy. I never did find him - there were some lifts, but I couldn't work out how to use them, so I never got off the ground floor. So, an interesting game, but not one I'll be returning to.

Oh, and the music. Of course, you get to hear Axel F playing at the menu screen, though nowhere else in the game. Unfortunately, for such an iconic piece of music that's perfectly suited to the bleeps and bloops of early computer speakers, the developers instead chose to try and emulate a synthesizer sound. They did a passable job, but it just makes the whole thing sound really muddy and washed out, when it could have been a really clean chiptune. Bit of a wasted opportunity if you ask me.

Next up on the randometer is...Pharaoh! This is a Sim-City-ish game set in ancient Egypt. I've owned the boxed copy for years and used to play it quite a bit. It'll be quite fun to get back into it. Definitely Ishar first, though.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bodies Counted...About 3 Rats

Aaaannnddd...I'm not playing that. Operation Body Count is truly abysmal. I think it's up there with Bad Rats as one of the worst games I've played on this blog. I gave it a quick go after installing it just to see what it was like, and there's no way I'm going back. It's Wolfenstein-era graphics, but with none of Wolfenstein's charm and playability. The textures are awful and muddy, the controls are awful, there's no fine aiming so you just have to point your gun in the vague direction of the creature and hit the trigger, there's no indication that you've hit something until it dies, your gun graphic is so big that it obscures most of your view, the engine runs so shoddily that I had to ramp up DosBox to even make it playable...all in all, it was just terrible. The manual did actually have one intriguing tidbit - apparently there are AI allies that fight alongside you. That must be one of the first instances of allies in an FPS game, I've certainly never heard of it this early. Still, I had to laugh when I read that you could set the allies into different modes such as attack mode and follow mode... in attack mode they stand still and fire, and in follow mode they're so focused on following you that they can't fire (i.e., the AI can't handle both things at once!). Unfortunately, I didn't play the game long enough to find one of these allies. Hopefully you'll see what I mean from the screenshot how bad it is...the textures make it impossible to see any corridors, or indeed anything (and apparently there are 'hidden' rooms for you to find, too!). Anyway, that's enough for me. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Beverly Hills Cop! Yup, the game of the film, from 1990. Should be fun.

Rushed Through the Kingdom

Not a great deal to say about Kingdom Rush. I finished it last night, and it was a pretty standard tower defence game. There are only four basic tower types, but each has a split upgrade path, allowing a total of 8 different (but quite similar) towers. For example, your basic soldier tower can upgrade into either knights or barbarians, each with different abilities, and so on. It's originally an iPhone game, so that's the reason for its simplicity and for its bite-size level design, which suited me down to the ground. Actually, on that point, it would have been good if they'd included some kind of fast-forward option. As with all tower defence games, once you've got your initial towers set up, there's not much you can do until enough money rolls in to build a new tower, so fast-forward lets you zip through that downtime. To be fair, Kingdom Rush does introduce a couple of ways you can interact with the action during that time. First, you have a hero unit. The hero unit is under your direct control, so you can send him to trouble spots to help out. I did move my unit a couple of times, but most of the time I just left him by one of the monster spawning points and let him level up. The second thing is that you have a couple of powers on cool-down timers. You can use these powers fairly regularly to affect the action. The first power is a couple of bonus troops that you can place anywhere on the screen and use to bolster your defense in that area. These were incredibly useful, and I used them constantly throughout the game. The second power is a quick meteor shower that you can use to target troublesome enemies. I didn't tend to use this as much as I perhaps should, but it was good to have around in emergencies. I played through the whole campaign in casual mode. Each level also has a couple of extra challenges that you can do on it (usually adding a limitation to the map, such as only allowing you to use a single tower type), but I'm not feeling compelled to play through the entire game another couple of times just to get those achievements. It was a good game for what it was, and didn't outstay its welcome. There are better TD games around, though, and hopefully there are a couple of them on the list that I'll get to one day.

As a quick aside, this is one of the most up-to-date games I've played. The game is still in development (and still a bit buggy) and it was expanded while I was playing it with some new levels. From the empty areas of the map, I guess they're going to continue expanding it, but I don't think I'll be revisiting it.

Next up on the randometer is...Operation Body Count! Oh dear, I hadn't heard of this before, but it sounds terrible. Long-time readers (hey, there must be at least one) may remember Corridor 7, the not-so-good Doom clone that I completed a couple of years ago. Well, this is the game the developers made before that. It's another Doom clone, but purportedly far worse than Corridor 7 that succeeded it. Yay. I guess this is just what I need to force me to play Ishar 3! I did actually make a start on it and got as far as creating a new party before giving up. I'll head back into it as a priority.