Friday, 29 May 2015

A Town Called Malice

Yes, Prophecy of the Shadow does indeed contain a town called Malice. This one's full of mad monks, I'm not sure if it's the same one Paul Weller sang about. Anyway, I have finished the game. It's a bit of an odd one. It's presented as a bit of a 'starter RPG', with only a couple of stats for your character and a very short and straightforward quest. It was okay, but a little boring, and very, very slow...mainly just in the speed that your character walks. And, of course, there's a lot of backtracking across the map at this slow speed. There is a transporter system built in, but the gates themselves are so far off the beaten track that it's often quicker to just walk between the two points anyway. Bit of a waste - it would have been a great shortcut if it had worked. There's also a spell you can use to mark a place on the map and then teleport to that point at any time. This is good on the few occasions that you get to use it, but you only get to place one marker, which meant I tended to keep the one marker back in the middle of the map when it would have been nice to have a temporary one to be able to jump back to the start of dungeons after I'd finished them. The game also allows you to choose the path of a fighter or a mage (or both), and it kid of steers you toward mage being the one you were destined to take, but actually, mages are rubbish. Well, they might be good if the combat system gave you any chance at all of getting off spells before you're slaughtered. As it is, it makes much more sense to focus on being a pure fighter. That way you get a decent stat boost in your health/strength stat and you can actually hold your own in a fight. The couple of times you actually need to cast spells in the game can be done without much magic training, so there's little reason at all to follow the mage path. It's a shame, because there are actually some quite cool spells that are completely wasted. Oh, the story's also eerily reminiscent of Baldur's gate at the beginning...you live a sheltered life with your mentor until one day he's mysteriously killed and you have to head off on your own to find out what happened while being pursued by assassins...that's about as far as it goes, but it's enough to bring both games to mind.

Next up on the randometer is...Limbo! It's a beautiful looking silhouetted platformer from a few years ago. I played the demo on the PS3 a while back. Should be fun.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Snickers

I finally finished Marathon 2 over the weekend, so it's time for a few thoughts on the series so far. Generally, I'm a little in two minds about Marathon. I think I prefer my shooters a bit more visceral. I like the straightforward blasting of Doom over Marathon's slightly slower paced, and a little more cerebral side. In Marathon, it really feels like the levels are the stars of the show, not the enemies or the weapons. There's a lot more back story (which, to be honest, I didn't find that interesting), and it feels like you're progressing through something more epic rather than just mindlessly romping from one level to the next. In some ways, it's even the complete opposite of Bungie's later opus, Halo. Halo is more about the enemies, and wide open levels are built to exploit their AI, allowing them to flank you, etc. In Marathon there is no enemy AI (obviously there is, but it's basically just run towards the player and shoot), and the levels are much more confined with twisting corridors that loop around and over each other. In some ways this was necessitated by the technology of the time, but it's really interesting to compare the two games. All that sounds good, and there's no denying that Marathon is a good, solid game. There are things I don't like about it, though. I found it very easy to get lost in the levels, and the automap is next to useless. It's great that it's there, but a 2D map of a 3D level where higher paths almost always run over the top of lower ones was never going to be easy to read. This is made worse by the fact that there is a lot of backtracking. It doesn't have Doom's keycards, but it has switches, which are essentially the same thing - you still have to travel to point A to be able to open the door at point B. It's an obvious mechanic to push a character around a level in FPS games, but it's almost a little frustrating - it just feels like busy work. I know these games aren't supposed to be anything like real life, and this is just a snide remark, but come on, why would you have a switch on one side of a level that opens the door on the other side of the level? Anyway, the level design was one frustration. The other was the save system. Every level has save terminals where you can save your game as many times as you like - so far, so good. The problem is that you have to find these terminals, and they're not always in an obvious place. This leads to problems where, say, you have a terminal half way through level 1 where you last saved, you then make it to level 2 and spend half an hour wandering around before you die from falling into some lava. You then have to go all the way back to that previous save half way through level 1 and play through maybe an hour of content before you get back to where you were. I don't really mind the terminal system at all, but the one thing I really did want was an autosave at the beginning of each level. I don't think this would have harmed the difficulty balance of the game, but it would have eased my frustrations with it a lot. One of the main reasons why the Marathon games are taking me so long is because whenever I die, I really can't face going back and redoing everything that I've just done. Oh, and jumping, that's something that I know will annoy one of my readers. You can't jump in this game, you just automatically walk up small steps and your momentum will carry you across short gaps. The level designers will use this a lot, having chasms that you have to cross by criss-crossing between gaps, but it's really hard to judge how far you can actually 'jump', and it never feels satisfying. So that's Marathon. I've still got one more game in the series to go - Marathon Infinity (the name does not make it sound enticing to me). I think it's in pretty much the same engine as the other two - the first two games were also very similar (maybe because I'm playing remakes) with the second game bringing underwater travel into the mix...not something that I enjoyed at all! I've no idea what newness the third game will bring, but it'll be good to play it out and see where the story goes. I'll probably start it and pick up a level here and there, but I want to hit Prophecy of the Shadow next.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Baal Locks

So, Baal is pretty terrible. I had to slow things down in DosBox to make it playable, but that made the controls a little kludgy. To be honest, that could just be what they were like anyway. The PC port of the game is horrible compared to the Amiga version, but the basic gameplay is awful anyway. Apparently it's impossible to get to level 2 without cheating - needless to say I didn't make it that far. The problem is that not only is it very easy to die - touching an enemy, falling from a platform, stepping on a mine, etc. - but the game makes it very easy for you to become completely stuck at a dead end. You have a finite supply of fuel, and fuel pods don't respawn. So, if you use up all of your fuel and there are no fuel pods near you then it's impossible to continue. Great. And it's incredibly easy to waste fuel. Essentially, there are parts of the level where you have to use your jetpack to get from one pad to another, but you don't know where the other pad is (it could be anywhere on the massive level), and if you don't find it before your fuel runs out then you die. You're then teleported back to where you started from but with no fuel, so you're essentially stuck and have to start the game again. Ugh. I played it enough and got frustrated every time, so it's onwards for me.

Next up on the randometer is...Prophecy of the Shadow! Oooh, I always wanted to play this back in the day. It's an old SSI RPG, one of their first without the D&D licence and featuring digitised actors. I remember it looked pretty cool at the time. And I really must try and get through a bit more Marathon...never was a game more aptly named.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Scrolled

I had a couple more games of Scrolls over the weekend but for some reason the game just doesn't click with me. I've enjoyed most of the collectible card games that I've played (which is what Scrolls is), but this one just doesn't quite do it. The main difference with Scrolls to other card games is that here instead of defeating a single opponent's life pool, you instead have to destroy 3 of his 5 idols - with each idol having a set amount of health. When you play your own creatures to attack, you can play them into one of 5 lanes, so they can only attack one idol at a time. Also, by default, creatures don't deal damage when they're defending and they don't heal between rounds, so matches rapidly devolve into wars of attrition where you play a creature only to have it killed next go, so you play another creature and the same thing happens, etc., etc. You go on for a while doing this until a) you draw the right card to break the stalemate, or b) you draw the wrong card and die. You could argue that it's the same thing in most other games of this type, but with Scrolls there isn't really any other strategy, and the lanes mechanic really encourages the attrition mentality - you can't play it any other way except by dropping creature fodder. Obviously I didn't play it long enough to discover all of its intricacies, but those were my impressions. Presentation-wise, it's great, you get to see every monster attacking and the animations and art style are lovely, it's just not very interesting. None of the cards I saw inspired me or made me think about deck construction in any meaningful way - compare this with games like Magic, which has a mass of different mechanics and strategies. Sure, you can build some theme decks with synergies, like a rat deck or a knight deck, but you can't really mess with your opponent or react to anything they do (you can only play cards on your own turn), and I didn't see many 'meta' game cards. Maybe this stuff does exist and it's a better game than I'm giving it credit for, but the fact that this was the follow-up game from Mr. Minecraft, and the whole 'scrolls' thing with Bethesda gave it masses of extra publicity, and it still pretty much sank without a trace makes me think that actually my summation of it isn't that far off the mark. It's a perfectly okay game if you're bored and have nothing better to do, but mechanically it's just not very interesting at all. A bit of a disappointment. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Baal! It's a platform run'n'gun from Psygnosis in the late 80s. I don't remember the game at all, so it'll be interesting to see what it's like. I also noticed there were a couple of games I hadn't marked as complete on the list, so there's a bonus couple more on the stats page.

Friday, 15 May 2015

My Bullet Hell

It turns out I'm about as good at bullet-hell shooters as I thought I was...rubbish. Actually, I did really enjoy Jamestown. It's a good introduction to the genre with the main levels being more like traditional shmups before the true screen-filling bullety goodness of the bosses. The game has a system where to unlock later levels you need to complete the earlier ones at higher difficulties. My first reaction to this was pure annoyance at having content locked away and having to go back and redo levels, but it actually works out pretty well. The levels are all pretty short, so doing them again doesn't take too long, and it does give you the practice that you need to progress further in the game. So how far did I get? Well, I beat the final level and reached the final boss. I beat the first form of the final boss, but the second form did for me. I played it again a few times, but I haven't been able to even get back to the second form again, let alone beat it. I really have reached the limit of my twitch gameplay skills. Still, I was pretty happy that I managed to make it that far. I think I probably could beat it if I played nothing but Jamestown for the next few weeks, but that wouldn't be much fun, and it would really hurt my thumbs. You can also play the game multiplayer, which I think would be great. Have to give that a go one day. Oh, and the story and graphics are great - it's an alternate universe where we conquered Mars in the 17th century, so England and Spain are still at war with each other over the colonies. It makes no difference at all to the game itself, obviously, but it gives it a unique and really nice feel. Good stuff!

Next up on the randometer is...Scrolls! This could be a bit of a weird one. Scrolls is the card game that Mojang (creators of Minecraft) made. I played it a little bit before, but wasn't *that* impressed with it. It's all very well presented, it just felt really slow. Obviously there's no 'end' as such to a card game, but I'll give it a bit of a play over the weekend and see how I get on. Oh, and Marathon. I really must get through Marathon. There's stuff I want to say about it, but I'll save it for a proper write up.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Abused

I just finished Abuse - I didn't realise how close I was to the end after my last play session. Saying that, I don't think I got the perfect ending...maybe you have to complete it on a higher difficulty level?...but I'm not going to go back through the whole game again. In my version the main character dies at the end, but I've seen a YouTube video of him surviving. Ah well. Abuse is a fun game - it's one of those where your keyboard controls the main character, and the mouse aims the weapon. It was the first game I remembered playing like that back in the day. It was also released in the days of shareware, so you got a slice of the game for free and had to pay to get the rest. The graphics are very dark and gritty, and the game very much plays on the shock card, with aliens jumping out at you from walls when you least expect it. Oh, and when I say aliens, I do mean 'Aliens', the game really wears its influences front and centre. It's very fast-paced and fun to play, but the monster designs do get a bit samey - you're essentially fighting a single palette-swapped alien creature for the vast majority of the game, with a few other enemies thrown in every now and then. Your main guy has a bunch of weapons at his disposal and a few power-ups, such as fast running or flight, and these are used to navigate the levels. Most of the levels are pretty easy to find your way around (unlike Marathon...grrr), with destroyable walls being the only real 'puzzle' element. It's a great short and sweet blaster, though, and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Next up on the randometer is...Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony. It's a modern-ish shoot-em-up. Sounds like it has bullet hell elements, which rather terrify me. I've never been any good at those, so we'll see how this one goes.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Legend in My Own Lunchtime

I finished Legends of Valour at lunch today. At least, I think I finished it...there didn't appear to be any kind of ending. I summoned the demon and freed the king, but he just seemed to wander around aimlessly rather than knighting me, or something. No ending screen, nothing, which seemed like a bit of a gyp. Ah well. So, Legends of Valour is a bit of an odd game, not really what I was expecting at all, but I did start to enjoy it once I got into it. I assumed it was going to be a big open world game, which it kind of is, but you're limited to one (admittedly very big) city. Your quest is to become the head of 4 of the city's guilds, once you become the head you're given a clue to find the king and a skull (which you need at the end of the game). In order to become the head of a guild you need to complete 5 quests, which rise in difficulty. The first quest for a guild might be to collect a scroll from another house across town, and the final quest might be to go into the dungeons and defeat a dragon. It defies categorisation a bit. I think it has to be an RPG purely because I don't see what else it can be, but it doesn't satisfy some of the core RPG tropes - for example, there are no levels; there aren't really any weapons and armour (sure, there are weapons, but they're all functionally identical); there's no XP; there are no classes; there are spells, but the wizard and cleric spell sets (that you gain by rising in rank at the guild) are basically the same. But I think it has to be an RPG - you run around performing quests, fighting monsters and gaining loot - you couldn't really call it an action game, as it's too slow paced, and it's not really an adventure as such, as you're not really solving puzzles...yeah, it's an odd one. Technically, it's pretty ahead of its time with a 3D world you wander around, a proper day/night cycle with different things happening at different times of day - even a weekly cycle with different things happening on different days of the week (as an example, there was a shop I needed to buy something from for a quest, and I couldn't work out why it wasn't opening no matter what time of day I went there. I ended up asking a passer-by what day it was, and he told me it was Sunday so the shop was shut. I went to the nearest hostel and slept until the next day, and lo and behold the shop was open). There's a massive city that you'll be completely lost in for the first few hours of your game time until you finish mapping it and start to get your bearings, and underneath that there is a massive dungeon, which you'll continue to get lost in even at the end of the game! There is a city full of random people wandering about - all of whom you can talk to (though only with limited questions), vampires and werewolves that come out at night, and an amazingly overzealous city watch who will pull you up and throw you in jail at the most inopportune times for the most ridiculous things, like snooping (which, as far as I can tell, is triggered by looking in house windows as you walk past them...something you can't really avoid). It certainly has its frustrating moments, and I did get close to giving up a couple of times, but it also has a certain charm that gets under your skin the more you play it...I just wish there'd been some kind of ending screen. Ah well.

Next up on the randometer is...Abuse! Blimey, I remember playing this one loads, I can't remember if I ever completed it. It's the archetypal run and gun game. A total change of pace from Legends of Valour, which is no bad thing.