Tuesday, 19 December 2017

2D or not 2D

Well, the answer is Not 2D. I had an old version of the file that was all in Russian and didn't seem to do very much. I looked around on the internet and found a newer version and an English translation on a Russian site, so downloaded that, but now my virus scanner won't let me open it. Not sure if it's because it's from a Russian site and it doesn't like it or if there's genuinely something up with the file, but it doesn't look like it wants to play nice. From what I saw of the early version, it doesn't look that stunning, so I'm not too bothered about giving it a miss. Next up on the Doom series is another slightly odd sidetrack, Doom the Roguelike! It's quite an old-school Roguelike, so I'm not sure how long I'll spend with it, but I'll give it a go. (I probably should have split these out from the official Doom series, but hey!) I want to try and get through a bit more of C5R first, though. I've made a bit more progress on the world map and have a couple more members in my party. I have to admit it hasn't really grabbed me yet, though, and I keep getting distracted by other things - I blame a reader of this blog for getting me a single, innocent pack of Magic cards recently, and getting me completely addicted to M:tG again through Forge. I'm hopeless!

In other news, I've also finished off a PlayStation Mini on the PS3 called Hero of Sparta. It's a cheap and cheerful God of War knock-off that first appeared on iPhone. You play a bloke (backstory unimportant) who needs to wander through various levels hitting monsters. At the end of each level you collect a new weapon or piece of armor, but to be honest they're all much for muchness. There was mention of weapons leveling up, but I never saw any evidence of this in the game. There were also various moves for each weapon, but to be honest, you could just hold down the attack button and have it auto-target the nearest fiend and belabour it. Every now and then (more now than then towards the end) you'd encounter a tougher monster that you could perform a QTE death move on to earn extra health, which was a pleasant enough diversion for a while. It's nothing special, a 4/10 game in almost every category, but what saves it is that it's easy enough and quick enough to consistently progress through it, and the environments and monsters are interesting enough to want to see more. There are a few boss monsters that are more of a challenge and keep you on your toes. The biggest problem was the ending, which was a massive let down - I didn't expect much, but I expected more than that. Ah well, onwards!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Finally!

Gosh, has it really been a month since my last post?! Final Doom is done and dusted. I actually finished it last week, but haven't got around to writing this yet. The game consisted of two self-contained parts, both 30-level Doom map packs, so it's been 60 levels of pure Doom overall. That's a lot of Doom. There's a few different graphics sprinkled here and there, but essentially these are just new maps built upon the old Doom 2 engine...but what maps. These are excellent in design and execution, and I'd probably put The Plutonia Experiment maps above those in the original Doom 2. They're harder, for sure, but have an amazing depth of innovation  and confidence in the engine. Never unfair (...okay, sometimes unfair), but always surprising, the levels build in difficulty, piling on traps, monsters and masterful scripting techniques to produce some of the best Doom levels I've ever played. Too many chain gunners, though. I hate chain gunners.

Of course, that's not the end of Doom yet, there's plenty more to come. Next up is Doom 2D, which I think is a homebrew 2D platformer take on Doom. No idea what it'll be like. I should really do a bit more of Challenge of the 5 realms first, though. I've made a start on it and have finished the first town and made my way out onto the world map.

In other news, I've also done with another couple of PS3 games. Snakeball and Sky Fighter.
Snakeball is some kind of futuristic sports game based on, you guessed it, the old mobile phone game Snake. You zip around the arena picking up coloured pods that are added to the tail end of your ship, making it more difficult to control without hitting things. You score by taking (or firing) these pods into the goals and score more points the more pods in your tail, so a little bit of a risk/reward strategy. There's more to it than that, but that covers the basics. To be honest, I didn't really enjoy it at all - it was hard to control and hard to see what your next target should be. It would be better with ore familiarity and more players, but my patience only lasts so long. Sky Fighter was a little better, and I actually finished the
campaign missions. It's a 2D arcade flight game set in a roughly WW2 era. You fly your little plane about, shooting down enemy pilots and bombing ground targets. You fly different planes depending on the mission, but I think there were only 3 or so planes in total - a light fighter, a heavy bomber, and a multi-role plane in the middle. There was nothing that exciting about it, but the game was fun enough and the missions were short enough that it was easy to fit in a quick blast every now and then, and to just about hit that "one more go" sweetspot.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Mastered

It's going to be slightly odd writing about level packs for Doom. For something like this, there is no narrative, nothing that holds the levels together or sets them apart. It's just 20 random game spaces to explore, all with the same engine and textures and all with the same objects and infestations. It's more of the same... But different. Master Levels for Doom 2 is a collection of levels by the leading lights of the community at the time, many of whom went on to jobs in the industry. They are all (mostly) well designed spaces, full of great engineering and scripting to build experiences that often go beyond those of the original game. A couple of them fall into the trap of just filling rooms full of high-level monsters to make them more difficult, but they generally set the bar very high. They were all fun to play through but sometimes a bit of a slog, and it's good to have them done. Next up is...yes, you guessed it, more Doom! This time it's Final Doom, which actually contains two full 30-level games. Not by id, but approved by them. I think they both have new framing stories, but otherwise are essentially the same.

On the PlayStation front, I'm done with Tank Battles. It's a very simple top-down single-screen game of little tanks driving about and destroying each other. It's obviously meant to be a multiplayer game, and would be much better for it, but there is a single player campaign that I worked through the majority of. There's no narrative to it, it's just a collection of maps slowly introducing all of the various power ups and abilities in the game. It generally works well mechanically, with my main complaints being twofold, first that the tanks are very slow to start maneuvering, so if you're stationary and there's a shell coming towards you then it's almost impossible to spin up and get out of the way. Secondly, every shell fired has the ability to bounce off one wall, meaning that you're never sure when there's a shell flying towards you whether it's going to explode harmlessly into the wall behind you or if it's going to rebound and hit you. You could easily argue that both of these things make the game more frantic and therefore more fun, and in a multiplayer game they well might. In the single player game, though, they just serve to make things much more frustrating when you are destroyed a) without knowing why, and b) without being able to respond. These could have been fixable, the status of a shell's rebound could have been communicated to the player or just removed altogether and relegated to a special ability rather than the norm, and the startup time of the tank could have been tweaked slightly to allow the possibility of escape. I realise it's supposed to punish you for standing still, but there's a point where punishment becomes unfair frustration. I reached that point before finishing all of the campaign missions, but there's no incentive to carry on. I'm also done with Catan, the computer
version of Settlers of Catan. It's pretty faithful to the board game version, which, as you can probably imagine, makes it fairly pointless as a single player game. I can imagine it would be more fun online, but let's face it, it would be most fun over a table with a few beers, which is where I'd prefer to keep it. Onwards!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Doomier

In a moment of synchronicity, I completed Doom 2 on Halloween. Doom 2 was very much of an evolution rather than a revolution. It's all in the same engine as the original Doom with one extra weapon (the good old Super Shotgun) and a bunch of new monsters to use it on. Also, this was the first of id's games to be fully commercial rather than shareware, so gone are the shorter, self-contained episodes, and instead we have one long campaign that you carry the same character all of the way through. That's not to say there's any particularly gripping story - this is still Doom after all - but it's nice to be able to play straight through without having to reset your weapons every 5 levels. And those levels are really the main dish here. You can tell that the designers had really honed their craft - these are generally well-paced, well-designed levels stuffed to the gills with monsters old and new and enough traps and secrets to keep you guessing to the end. There's much more mechanical variety on show here with levels that act and behave in different ways. Those new monsters also help, they're not just bigger and tougher (although they are that, too), but they also have different abilities, such as spawning other monsters, or resurrecting foes that you've already put down. Is it just more of the same? Yes, mostly, but 'the same' is so good to start off with, and there's just enough new stuff to give it a different feel.

Next up are a couple of official level packs for Doom 2. I don't have time to go through all of the millions of unofficial ones, but I'll give these two a go. First is Master Levels for Doom 2. 20 new levels chosen by the guys at id and created by community folks, many of whom who'd go on to get jobs in the industry.

I've not started Challenge of the Five Realms yet, but I am keen to...just got a bit more Doom to get out of my system first.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Doomed Planet

First the good news. I finished Doom, and loved every minute of it. It's hard to know what to say about Doom that hasn't already been said. It's the very definition of a classic for good reason. I remember it vividly from back in the day - trying to get the shareware version to run in the maths room at school while the teacher was out, setting up our first ever clunky home network so my brother and I could deathmatch, the way those cheat codes are soldered onto my memory. It's a game that was so much a part of my youth - a part of every geek's youth at the time. It's incredible just how much it gets right for such an early proponent of the genre (Wolfenstein was okay, but it just didn't have the speed, brutality and clinical execution of Doom). The map design is excellent (especially considering it's only '2.5d'), the weapons are excellent (especially the perfect shotgun), the monsters are excellent (and they build in power perfectly), the sound is excellent (ominous and memorable), the music is excellent (and I forgot how much there is of it). Everything just comes together beautifully. No wonder it changed the computing world in the way that it did. I'm a slow-paced RPG lover at heart, but Doom got its hooks into me and never let go. It's as fast, frantic fun now as it was back then, and nothing I've played since has tarnished it. One of the best showcases of gameplay trumping graphics - it's a pure, perfect burst of arcade adrenaline. I would say I can't wait to start on Doom 2, but I'm already 13 levels into it!

Not such good news for Scorched Planet. I think the curse of the dodgy rips has struck this one. I don't seem to be able to get any of the options to work, so it's stuck on mouse control and 'nuclear' difficulty. The game starts, but it's virtually impossible to control with the mouse, and the keyboard doesn't help much. I can move around a little bit, but then I seem to run out of fuel. I managed to shoot a couple of the flying enemies, but couldn't seem to control my turret, so could only fire at them when they flew straight in front of my guns. I think I lasted about 30 seconds each time I played. So, I'm going to quit this one and move on.

Next up on the randometer is...Challenge of the Five Realms! Ooh, interesting. This is one of those slow-paced RPGs I was just mentioning! I remember it well from mags at the time, and it was always one that I wanted to try. Very much looking forward to it.

I'm also sending another PSN title into the done pile: Uno! Yes, it's just the card game Uno. Nothing special about it other than the fact you can play it over the network. It does exactly what you think it would do and not much more. I won my first set of games, and there's nothing to pull me back to it.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

SackWar

EndWar didn't take as long as I thought. It's mostly focused on the multiplayer side, so the single player campaign isn't very long. It's a bit of an odd game. The main feature of it, when it was released on consoles, was that it was an RTS that you could completely control with your voice. You hold down a button and say "Unit 3 attack Hostile 5", and off it goes. They patched in mouse control to the PC version, which was lucky, as I couldn't get the voice control to work at all. I tried with two different headsets, but it just wouldn't recognise the microphone. Ah well, it would have been quite interesting to try it, too. The result is that the game just doesn't quite feel right with mouse and keyboard. It works fine, but you always feel slightly one step away from the action. Instead of an overhead map like a normal RTS, you instead have a unit's eye view of the battlefield, depending on who you've selected. If you have a command vehicle on the battlefield then you can get an overhead view, but you can't control units from there - apparently you can voice control them, and it was supposed to be a more strategic mode, but I couldn't get mouse control to work on the map. Anyway, you take hold of individual units (or combine them into teams) and set them off against the advancing enemy. There's no base building, but you can get reinforcements as the battle progresses (and as you capture uplink sites). Combat itself is a fairly simple rock-paper-scissors affair with helicopters beating tanks, APCs beating helicopters, and so on. There are more units than that, so it's a bit more complex than I'm making out...but not much. You can also earn money by winning battles then use that to upgrade units between battles. As far as I could tell, though, when you upgraded your units, the enemy instantly received the same upgrade, so it was a largely pointless exercise. Your units also get promoted every now and then if they survive battles, so it's worth trying to keep them all alive. The campaign's a bit of a weird one. It starts off in the 'Prelude to War', where you fight a few battles from the different sides, getting to know the ropes and with some exposition between each one pulling things along - it's the usual Clancy hokum story, but it keeps things going. But then, just as it gets interesting, the real war breaks out, and that's essentially the end of the story. The rest of the campaign is just you basically playing a multiplayer game against a couple of bots. You play a series of battles trying to gain control of either the most territories or the capitals of the other player's countries. It's slightly weird, though, as the war is fought on multiple fronts and you just select one of many battles to play each turn with the AI deciding the fate of the others. As a result, it seemed to me that the 'most territories' win was pretty much impossible because even when you were winning all of your battles, the AI was losing for you on the other fronts, meaning you never increased your total territories by much. In the end, I went for the capturing the capitals approach and won that way. I think I fought something like 24 battles all in all, and I only increased my overall territory count by 2 over that time. When you finish the campaign you don't even get a satisfying ending, as the story was effectively over long ago. You just get a little video of your guys raising a flag while some planes fly past. So, a bit disappointing. Maybe there's more to it if you finish with one of the other armies (I played Europa), but I doubt it. So, not a terrible game by any means, but not a very memorable one either. Voice control might have made it a bit more interesting, but without it, it was just meh. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Scorched Planet! It's a '90s 3D shooter from Criterion that I vaguely remember from mags at the time. Worth a look.

I've also played a bit more Doom, which is zooming by. I've completed the first 3 episodes without too much issue, so just one more to go. This is the one that was released later as part of the Ultimate Doom pack, so I'm not sure if I've played it before. I'm also going to clear another game from the PS3 pile - Sackboy's Prehistoric Moves. As you can probably guess from the title, this was a game made by Media Molecule, essentially creating a tiny version of Little Big Planet to be controlled with the Move controller. It's basically a tech demo, but not a bad one. It's a multiplayer version of LBP with one player controlling sackboy as normal, and the other player with the Move controller interacting with the level - moving platforms, pulling levers, and so on. It all works very well as a concept - I don't think they went any further with it in LBP, but I wonder if it inspired their Tearaway game? I was going to play it with Max, but he wasn't that interested, so instead I tried it with the Move controller in one hand and the standard controller in the other. It was fine for the most part, but didn't work terribly well when things got complicated later on. So, I didn't quite finish the game, but I got through 4 out of 5 levels, so that's enough for me.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Good 'Elf

Elfland 1 and 2 turned out to be pretty much two halves of the same game, and it didn't take long to plough through them. It was a shareware title, so the first game was originally given away for free, while you had to pay for the second game. Strangely enough, they actually re-released a tarted up version on XBox Live Arcade a few years back, which is bizarre. The game is basically a fairly simple platformer. You play as an elf (male or female) and have to save your village from disaster at the hand of trolls. In the first game, you travel through the left gate of the village to visit the wizard Gorgimer to get a potion that you'll need to defeat them. Once that's done, the first game is over and when you start the second game, you move out of the right gate from the village and go to visit the wizard's brother, Mortimer, to grab some armour to defeat the troll king. You can move around and jump about (jumping further if you take a running start) as is fairly normal, and you pick up flash berries that you can throw at creatures to stun them. That's one of the differences between this game and others, you can only ever stun enemies, never defeat them. You can pick up more powerful berries that stun them for longer, or take less hits to stun, or home in on enemies, and so on. It's sometimes quite hard to hit the enemies, but in general it works well. You can also find berries that replenish lost health, and even potions that add more to your total health bar. That's basically it, you traverse the platform worlds finding objects or keys to solve various puzzles/quests. At the end of each game, you fight a boss monster that tends to
be a million times harder than what you've fought so far - in the first game it's Gorgimer's pet...beholder?...and in the second game it's the troll king (there's also a giant bird, but you don't fight that as such, just lead it out of the way so you can sneak past it). These boss monsters are frustratingly hard compared to everything else, but the game allows you to save anywhere, so at least you're able to retry them as many times as you'd like. The games are nothing amazing - not hidden gems by any means - but for what they are, they're absolutely fine. Onwards!

Next up on the series list is another shareware game, but this one's slightly more well known. It's Doom! Man, I've played a lot of Doom and Doom 2 over the years. Not tried 3 yet, so I'm looking forward to that. I know the games pretty well, so it shouldn't take too long to get through the first two (in fact, I was so excited that I've already played through the first episode of Doom!). Very much looking forward to the series. I'll also try and get through a bit more Endwar. Can't say I'm enjoying it hugely, but it's solid so far.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Fourlout

I finally got to use that title! Fallout 4 is done and dusted - five months to the day since I finished Fallout 3...yikes! I'm never going to get through this backlog, am I? Did I enjoy it? Yes I did. It's a great game, but not without its flaws. First up, though, one thing that's absolutely flawless is the graphics. The game looks beautiful. I updated my graphics card a few weeks ago, and it looks stunning. New Vegas seems a long time ago now, but I remember when I started Fallout 4 up the day after finishing New Vegas I was absolutely struck by how far graphics tech had come on. So, a big tick in the graphics box. No problems with sound either...well, come to think of it, I didn't think the radio stations were anywhere near as good in this game as they were in the previous two games, which was a bit of an odd oversight. I think it's because they tried to have some quests bolted on to radio signals that you found - you had to lock on to the signal and then try and find the quest location by wandering about until the signal became stronger...which didn't work at all - which meant they didn't think you'd be listening to the radio so much. One of the main factions also communicated with you through your radio, so that meant you couldn't listen to anything else at the same time. Whatever it was, it generally felt like they didn't pay as much attention to it as much as in the last games. I certainly never found myself turning on the radio just to listen to it like I did before - quite the opposite, I spent most of the game with the radio resolutely switched off. There's also very little music in it - a phrase here and there at key points, but generally they've tried to keep the audio naturalistic, which works fine. Of other gameplay features, I didn't really care much for the settlements, they just seemed a tedious and irritating distraction. I'm not really sure who they're aimed at, but then some people like them, so they must just not be aimed at me. I can't think of anything worse than being deep underground halfway through a quest only to have a beeping pop-up tell you that some far away farmstead is under attack. You don't want to fail the quest, so you rush back to the exit (because, of course, you can't fast travel from inside) then jump off to the farm to find a few raiders being cut to pieces by the machine gun turrets you installed after the last annoying attack. Without you firing a single shot, the attack is over and you can go back and carry on with the original quest. A complete waste of time, but you just know that if you hadn't gone there - even though you didn't intervene at all - you would have failed the mission. In fact, the whole crafting element (which settlements were a part of) didn't really do anything for me. Heck, I love picking up random junk in games as much as the next guy, but not when it eats into my limited inventory. The last thing I want to be doing in a game is checking through all of the rubbish in a level to find the pieces which might contain the springs or nuclear materials that I might need to build a new scope for one of my guns. If we can agree to have magical fast travel in the game, then why not have magical fast shipment of crafting materials to my base? That would enable me to hoover up all of the junk and enjoy the crafting aspects without having to worry about the tedious inventory management. In fact, the inventory system as a whole was terrible. There weren't enough ways to sort or filter what you were carrying to actually find the bits that were most useful to you. In fact, I'm going to take a further step back and say that the whole UI was built around people navigating it through a game pad. You know, that's fine, I don't mind at all if you're going to optimise a game for the gamepad, but if you're releasing it on PC then please make sure that you optimise it for mouse and keyboard, too. The inventory system was something that continued to niggle at me throughout my whole time with the game, it was just badly implemented. Onto the game world itself, I have to say that it felt a little emptier than the earlier games. That's not to say that the world wasn't filled with places to visit, but each of those places felt like a carbon copy of the others - they were just empty shells for monsters to move around in. Sure, there were interesting stories to be read in terminals, but the buildings themselves should have told some of the story. Also, individual places very rarely had any meaning or pay-off. Now I think about it, there were actually very few quest-givers in the game. You'd visit the same people and they'd give you a quest to go to a location and find something or kill something - those were really only ever the two options. It occurs to me that it would have been much better to have attached more quests to the locations themselves - so you enter a building and trigger a quest somehow rather than having a boring faction leader set you another task. I know some of that's me - I'm much more of a lone explorer type; I like discovering and being rewarded for my discoveries - but I'm convinced it would have been a better game if there had been more variety of quests and the way in which they were given. That leads me on to factions. Just like with New Vegas, I really didn't enjoy the faction system. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against being a member of various factions and going on quests for them - in fact, I really enjoy that - what I don't like is the way that by the end of the game you always have to pick one side and destroy the others. I just don't enjoy that arbitrary 'choice' that I have to make. I didn't particularly like the Railroad or agree with their principles, but nor did I want to kill them all. So, when the Brotherhood asked me to do that, I said no. That immediately made me an enemy of the Brotherhood, who attacked me. That was hardly a role-playing choice consistent with the way that I'd played the game up to that point. Exactly the same thing happened with the Institute. Having no great universal enemy to attack also meant that there was no real resolution to the game. Sure, I destroyed the other factions so the one I 'supported' came out on top by default, but that was hardly a satisfying conclusion to 150 hours of gameplay. I hadn't made any difference to the game world or the people in it. Why not let me win by neutralising the Super Mutant threat, or the raiders, or find a cure for the ghouls' radiation sickness? Or, if you're going to force a settlement game onto me, then why not let me win by settling the wasteland? Those would have been much more satisfying endings where I had made a difference to the world I had been inhabiting for so long. As it is, I finished the game and the next second I was back in the wasteland fighting exactly the same enemies as if nothing had ever changed. "Oh, I know you destroyed the Institute, but there are still some rogue synths wandering the wasteland." "Oh, I know you destroyed the Brotherhood invasion force, but there are still some rogue units wandering the wasteland." So what did I do, exactly? And as for the main story...the less said, the better. It was supposed to be a more personal quest this time - finding your lost son. It started off well, but rapidly descended into just nothing. The reveal, such as it was, was terrible and completely unemotional. There was nothing interesting in the mother-son dynamic at all when they finally met, and what should have been the emotional crux of the whole journey was instead just hand-waved away, and made worse by the shoddy conversation system. The developers chose to go with a Mass Effect-style system of having four general flavours of reply that you can choose one of at each stage of the conversation. There's nothing wrong with choosing that method per se, but it means that you can never see exactly what your character is going to say - it's sometimes not at all what you expect - and you can never have nuanced conversations. I almost always found myself wanting to give a response that wasn't available to me. It was also very hard to revisit conversation options to ask about different topics. For example, when you meet the leader of the Institute, one of the first things I wanted to ask was why had he sanctioned the practice of kidnapping people from the wasteland and replacing them with synths. What was the purpose of this practise, and what happened to the people who were kidnapped? Those conversation options never appeared to me, and if they had been one of the branching paths, it wasn't a branch I took and I could never revisit them, no matter how many times I spoke to him. The whole thing was a bit unsatisfying. Oh, and companions, I can't believe I haven't mentioned them yet. I hated them. I didn't really like them that much in the last game, but at least they all had stories to tell. These were a complete step down. I tried a few of them, and played with Dogmeat for half of the game, but in the end it was the AI that killed it for me. In the last game, they'd at least stay out of your way so they weren't a chore to travel with - most of them time you could pretty much forget they were there. Here, they constantly wander in front of you, getting in the way of your shots and setting off ambushes. I wish there had been some way to tell them to always stay at least 10 metres behind me, and to only fire once I did. So, with all of that vitriol, did I think this was a bad game? Heck no, I loved it. It was great fun to play and to explore - I'm just listing all of these quirks in the vain hope that someone from Bethesda will read this and act on everything I've mentioned in order to make a truly, truly wonderful game. 

So, that's Fallout over with. There hasn't been a miss-step in the series, and it's been hugely fun to play through. Next up on the series list is Elfland, a complete step away from the first-person murderfests of Fallout to an early '90s platformer. Should be a refreshing change!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Landed in Monster World

Gosh, this gaming life is really going slow at the moment, isn't it? A lot of that's to do with busy-ness in home life and work life here, but I've also been completely sucked into Fallout 4. I've been doing my usual wander around doing side-quests for a while now, and now I'm fully on the main quest trying to finish it. I actually have no idea how long the main quest is (I don't really feel like I have a definite aim yet), so I've no idea if it'll be next week or next year...hopefully not next year. EndWar's going to be quite a time investment, so I don't really want to get into that until Fallout's out of the way. There are a couple of things that I've been doing on the side, though, so I'll get those out of the way here. First up is a new version of one of my favourite games of all time, Wonderboy 3: The Dragon's Trap. It was originally out on the Master System, and I remember playing it to death at school and afterwards through emulation. It was the encapsulation for me of everything that was right about 8-bit gaming - bright graphics, bouncy music (that I still catch myself humming 25 years later...eek!) and tight gameplay in spades. It is one of my most rose-tinted games, so when I saw they were remaking it, I was struck with both excitement and trepidation. I nervously watched all of the promo vids through development, and gnashed my teeth as it appeared on console first and I had to wait for the PC version, and when it finally came out I immediately grabbed it. It's one of the first games I've bought full price in many, many a year. And...? It's beautiful. It's clearly made by people with a deep love of the original, and most importantly, it actually is the original game at heart. They've put a gorgeous HD skin over the top, but with the touch of a button you can flick that away and see the original game running underneath. Everything's mapped 1-to-1 with just better graphics and smoother animation. This means that the most elusive thing - that most important 'feel' of the game - is exactly right. It's spot on because it is the same game. I can't stress how brilliant that is. If they'd done anything else with it, it just wouldn't have been the same game, but the developers' absolute respect and faith in the original game has produced something truly beautiful. It's a joy to look at and a joy to play (I did mention that this was my rose-tinted game, didn't I?). The only one change to the game play they've made is to remove the Charm Point system. In the original game, Charm Points were random drops from monsters and you needed to have a certain number of them in order to purchase certain equipment items. It was a huge and sometimes tedious grind to get them, so I can see why they removed them, but it did add a certain something to the characterization of the different monsters you play through the bonus Charm Points they'd receive - Lizard Man was an ugly mug who none of the shopkeepers particularly liked, while Lion Man was a suave so-and-so who could talk people into parting with their most precious goods. In the end, I didn't really miss them, but I did feel a slight pang of angst when I first noticed they were gone. So, that's the graphics and the game play, what about the music? Yes, they have painstakingly recorded new music with live musicians, beautiful rearrangements of the classic tunes...but I'm afraid they just left me cold. I was quite surprised that while I could happily accept the new graphics, the music to me was absolutely sacrosanct. I'm not normally that into the music in games, but these tunes were so deeply ingrained in me that it just felt completely wrong without them. Luckily, you can switch the music just as easily as you can switch the graphics, so I had my perfect version running with the original tunes and beautiful new graphics. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. My only slight concern was that it was much easier than I remembered! I seemed to whizz through it in no time at all...maybe it's all the practice I've had over the years.

Next up was a game I didn't enjoy anywhere near as much. A PSN game called Landit Bandit. As regular readers will probably have gathered, I don't really like floaty controls. This is a game that's completely built around floaty controls. There's some back story about you crashing on a desert island and building some kind of pedicopter that you use for ferrying passengers around islands, so you have a standard directional thumbstick and a button for power/lift. There are other controls that come into the game depending on the passengers you're carrying, but essentially you're juggling your direction and the judicious amount of thrust you're applying to gently fly about and land in the various environments. Thrust is exactly the game this reminded me of (or Gravitar, if you weren't a BBC fan). It's a very similar concept, but in 3D. The problem is that while with Thrust you always felt that you knew exactly how powerful your engines were, and you could precisely control your ship once you'd mastered it, with Landit Bandit you never feel that 1-to-1 connection between button press and result, so you never feel in absolute control. Unfortunately, that just completely ruined the game for me. If the controls had just been a little bit tighter, I could have really got into this - I absolutely loved Thrust - but as it was, it was just a purely frustrating experience. And it wasn't just the transition to 3D that did this - the worst levels (and the ones that I finally quit the game on) were the ones where it was transplanted to 2D in a series of precise caverns. That just highlighted even more the awkwardness and imprecision of this version's controls. It's such a fundamental thing for this kind of game, but it just felt wrong.

In some ways, these two games are quite good bedfellows - both harking back to earlier games, but while one precisely reproduced the handling and feel of the original, the other drifted too far away and lost sight of its inspiration. The result is one fantastic game that I love, and one forgettable game that I'm never going to play through.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Wave Goodbye

Is Crime Wave terrible? Why, yes it is. Access obviously made it with their tongue firmly in their cheek, but that doesn't really excuse the fact that it is a bad, bad game. It's a simple run'n'gun with digitized graphics and cringeworthy cutscenes. They actually verge on the "so bad it's good" side of things - the acting is totally over the top, and Access clearly knew that when they were making it. It's an '80s action movie wet dream of mirror shades and helpless babes. Unfortunately, the game they hung it on is just awful. The controls are dire, sluggish and unresponsive. Hit detection is a joke. Enemies spawn constantly and can hit you from anywhere, while they only seem to have an infuriatingly small hitbox. There's no variety to the enemies, you probably get a maximum of two enemy sprites per stage. There's no variety to the levels - I tell a lie, there is a slight variety in that on some levels you can enter doorways that take you to almost identical mini levels that might have an electrical floor. It's just terrible. There's no way that you can dodge the enemy bullets, so you end just bullet-sponging your way through the levels, hoping that the enemies drop enough health and extra lives to get you through to the end of the level. Luckily (?) they usually do drop enough items (at least they did on 'Beginner' level), so I managed to make it through the whole game without too many issues. There are two bosses in the game that show up unannounced at the end of their levels, but by that point in the game I had hundreds of missiles, so it was just a case of spamming those until the bosses fell over. It's a game I'm glad to see the back of.

Next up on the randometer is...Tom Clancy's Endwar! It'll be my first Uplay game, interested to see how it goes. I figure this one sits outside of the rest of the Clancy oeuvre, so it's okay to play standalone.

Monday, 4 September 2017

My way, please

So, Highway Patrol 2 is terrible. Really, really terrible. There are much better DOS driving games than this. Heck, there are much better BBC Micro driving games than this. It's even more annoying because it has some good ideas. You're not just here for the fun of driving, you're here to do a job. There are heinous villains who have performed terrible crimes who you need to catch and bring to justice before they can strike again. Feel the excitement of a compass that points in the direction of said villain, thrill at the wind rushing past you, your sirens blaring, as you chase (hq) down your foe... retch at the constant nausea of your spinning car, squeal as the foot-long spines of yet another cactus puncture your frail vehicle and send you into yet another spin, wonder at what the game might have been like if you could turn a corner without spinning out of control for the millionth time, dream of the fun you might actually have if you ever found one of these mythical villains, scream as the road takes you even further away from your foe and you clip a tiny signpost that sends you into another uncontrollable spin, actually vomit as the constant stupidly loud and strangely throbbing engine noise plays havoc with your inner ear... So yeah, what's the point of having all of these extra game mechanics if the central mechanic of driving is so terrible that you can't even reach the rest of the game? One thing I did find after a while was that speed here is a constant that you set, rather than a modeled value that degrades. What I mean is that in most driving games, you hold down the accelerator to go faster, then when you release the accelerator the car starts to slow down. Well, in this game, you use the accelerator to set your speed, then you let go of the key to continue to travel at that speed. If you want to slow down then you have to use the brakes. Before that, I'd been constantly holding down the accelerator, as you would in most games, but that was just sending me up to top speed and making the car impossible to control. Unfortunately, while my new-found skill meant I could actually approach and turn a corner at a speed that meant I'd survive it without spinning off the road, it also meant that adversary continued to get further and further away. So, no, Highway Patrol 2 is not a good game and I'm not going to be continuing with it. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Crime Wave! An early Access sidescroller that's renowned for being terrible. Yay!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Brainless Escape

I think I've gone about as far as I can with Mechanic Escape, and that's a lot further than I thought I would. The game's not terrible, it's just not really very good either. It's a speed run platformer with instant death and quick and infinite retries, very much in the vein of your Meat Boys and VVVVVVVs. It looks the ticket, too, with bright graphics and cartoony HDness, a nice change from the pixel graphics that usually accompany games of that type. But...and it's a great big smelly but...the controls are horribly imprecise, all floaty and slippery. If there's one thing that you need to be as tight as possible in these types of games, it's the controls, but here they've wilfully gone for something that just feels loose and horrible. I can see their thinking behind it - that it's a part of the game and learning to account for the floatiness is part of the skill, but it's just no fun whatsoever. There's absolutely no need for it, either. The game would have been much better for having tighter controls, end of story. Unfortunately, the poor controls are coupled with poor level design - it's just extremely boring, with very little difference between levels. Also, there are 80 of them...it's way too long for what it is. I got to about level 64 before giving up. The whole rubbishness is compounded by the fact that the viewport is quite zoomed in, so you can't see what's ahead of you. Not what you need in these kinds of games, but obviously designed that way to maximise the frustration. This is coupled with the fact that you usually have some kind of evil monster chasing you, so you're running at full tilt to escape it and blindly jumping into almost certain doom. There's no possible way of knowing what's coming up, you're expected to die and then know where to go the next time around, until you die again at the next trap. On a first run through, I think it'd be impossible to do most levels without dying 5-10 times, and that's just no fun. At least give me a chance to get things right the first time through! There's pretty much only one route through each level jumping at exactly the right spots each time. It feels like you don't have any agency whatsoever, you're just pressing buttons in exactly the sequence the programmer says you can, and where's the fun in that? It's essentially a Tool Assisted Speedrun, but you're the tool. Ironically, the 30-year old Monuments of Mars that I played a few months ago is a much better example of the genre than this. So, meh. It's boring, imprecise, spiteful, and makes me angry every time I play it. Sod that. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Highway Patrol 2! It's not one I'm familiar with. Looks like a Chase HQ pretender.

I'm also going to knock Brain Challenge on the head. This came out on the PS3 in the wave of post Brain Training DS games. It's a utility, I guess, rather than a game per se. It presents a series of challenges that you have to complete in a time limit, things like maths problems and logic puzzles. I do actually find these things quite fun, so I might keep it around on the PS3 to check in every now and again and see if it can increase my brain power - Lord knows, I need it. I'm going to count it as complete on the list, though.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

All peasant and correct

It turns out that Peasant's Quest was made by the people behind Homestar Runner (I never really watched any of it back in the day, so I didn't recognise Trogdor, etc.). So, it was pretty funny and pleasantly short. It's a spot-on parody of some of the tropes in the old King's Quest games. You travel across screens speaking to strange characters, finding items and solving quests. The graphics and text parser (yes, you have to type in commands, just like the original KQ) are present and correct, the puzzles are obtuse and there are terrible minigames that make the whole thing much harder than it needs to be. It's all good fun, though, and some of the text is genuinely amusing. It did at times reach the point where it was a step too far - e.g., ridiculously difficult arcade segments were an annoying feature of early Sierra games, and it's fine to poke fun at that, but that could have been done by the character acknowledging the ridiculousness of it and finding another way through. Just putting an annoyingly difficult arcade segment in your game that I'm forced to get through to proceed does nothing but make me annoyed. Anyway, other than that it was well worth a play through, and because it's Flash it's still available and easy to play on the Net (or at least it will be for the next couple of years before they finally kill off Flash...sniff!).

Next up on the randometer is...Mechanic Escape! Never heard of it, but it's on Steam, so I must have picked it up in a bundle somewhere. Looks like an indie platform game, so could be quite fun.

In other news, I forgot that a few weeks ago, before I went on holiday, I finished a game called Dream Quest on my phone/Steam. It's a bit like Desktop Dungeons mixed with a card game. The graphics are terrible - full on programmer art - but that fades into the background once the game gets its hooks into you. You choose a character from a variety of different classes (each with a special ability) and then move around a random dungeon fighting monsters in order to gain money and experience to gain more cards for your deck. It's not a massively strategic card game, but it's enough. The skill is in building your deck to give you the best chance of drawing your best cards. You can play as many standard attack cards as you have in your hand each turn, and then a limited number of spell and action cards depending on your spell/action points. Different character classes have different styles of play, so mages obviously have loads of spell points and cards for building up your spell point pool in order to cast powerful spells, while thieves depend on churning through action points, with fast decks full of cards that have small effects but then generate more action points and draw more cards so they can chain lots of small attacks together. Fighters, of course, have lots of attack cards, and also have an affinity with equipment cards that provide permanent abilities. There are loads of classes, and you unlock more as you play, so there are loads of strategies to try. Each game only consists of 4 or so levels, so it's easy to complete a quick game in a lunch break. It's addictive enough that I can see myself returning to it for a quick blast every now and then in future. Good stuff.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Dominotmuch

It's been a busy old month of work craziness followed by holidays, so I haven't had a lot of time for gaming. On getting home and fancying a game, I'm afraid Dominus just didn't really hit the spot. It looks like it could have been good fun back in the day - a mishmash of genres boiled together in a fantasy setting sounds right up my alley, but there's a lot to learn and the manual doesn't explain it very well at all. There's no denying that the developers threw a lot of idea into Dominus - you have to manage troops, defend your castle, wage war, research spells, talk with your generals, forage for components, build and set traps, send spies, capture invaders and torture them for information, summon monsters, cast spells, swoop down and go toe-to-toe with invaders... the list goes on. All the ingredients are there for something special in the vein of Master of Magic, but the end result just fell flat for me. I think part of the reason is that it's a much more defensive game than a pure RTS/Strategy game. You're always responding to invading threats rather than taking the fight to them (in as far as I got with the game, anyway), and there's no real world map to explore and war over. It also felt just a bit too fiddly. The trap setting didn't seem to work that well (at least outdoors, it may have been better in the confines of the castle) and my spies never succeeded in getting any information from the enemy. I also didn't really get a sense of any great narrative - I was just defending my castle, and I never really felt invested in it. It was a little disappointing really, the graphics were there and the setting was there, but it just lacked the spark of fun for me. As I say, though, it didn't really catch me in the right mood, so maybe on another day it would have been better. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Peasant's Quest! Hmmm... As you can probably guess from the title, it's a homebrew spoof of King's Quest. It'll be interesting to see what it's like, but hopefully it won't take too long.

In other news, I've decided to make more of a concerted effort to try and get through my PS Plus list of games. This is for a couple of reasons - first, they've just raised the price, and I feel like I can't really justify it anymore. Second, I have a feeling they're going to stop doing PS3 games soon, so I'm either going to be stuck paying for PS4 games that I can't play, or they're just going to stop the PS3 service altogether and I'll lose all of those games I've been paying for but have never played. This means that I'm probably going to be burning through them rather than spending my time trying to complete them, but hey, I feel like I've been doing that with most of the PS3 games I've played recently anyway. On that note, I'm going to wave goodbye to WipeOut Fury and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-powered Battle Cars. I've never been much of a fan of racers, so WipeOut was never really going to be the best series for me, and so I thought I'd just fire it up, do a lap or two, and shut it down. However, I surprised myself by slowly getting into the groove of it and really starting to enjoy my time with it. I wouldn't say I ever got that good, but I feel like I could have spent a lot more time racing and completing challenges, and that's not something I ever thought would happen. Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-powered Battle Cars is the
precursor to Rocket League, and is actually virtually the same game. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart. It almost feels like the developers were a bit miffed that their game didn't sell so well and so decided to re-release it with a more palatable name - and Rocket League went on to sell in the millions, so it obviously wasn't a bad decision. If you own Rocket League, though (as I do), then there's no reason I can see to go back and play this. It's still great fun...but why would you?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Unnatural

Unnatural Selection is pure Maxis, through and through; an open-ended sim that throws a bunch of tools (and a 134-page manual) at you and leaves you to get on with it. That's not quite true, there is some 'game' bolted on, but for the majority of it it's just down to you and those tools to make your own fun. And is it fun? Hmmm, I don't know. I enjoyed going through the manual and learning what you can do, but when the training wheels came off and I was left on my own, I just rapidly got bored and gave up. That might say something more about me... Anyway, what is this game? The idea behind it is that it's an artificial life simulator. You set a bunch of attributes for your nascent creature - physical things like strength and stamina, along with traits such as how much they like fighting or mating. You then throw a bunch of them down (the tutorial has you filling your pen with over 250 of them, so you can see the scale involved), then you start up the sim and let them go. As they go about their lives, you can influence them by adding mutations or culling the weak to try and breed the most powerful creatures that you can. There are only three base creature types, so graphically it's a bit boring, but the AI permutations are fascinating. So that's the science side, you sit in your lab and watch little clumps of pixels moving around a square. What's the game side like? Well, it's essentially the same, but this time there's a point to your genetic meddling. You'll be presented with an island where some of these creatures are running rampant, and you'll need to develop your own strain of creatures to combat them, then fly them over to the island in batches and make sure they're in the right place with the right attributes. You can also fly over things like food or aggression drugs to affect their behaviour. That's pretty much it. It feels a bit like the Creatures games, which fascinated me when I was younger, and it suffers from the same problems: the science side is fascinatingly complex, while the game side feels a bit empty. A shame. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Dominus! It's an early fantasy strategy hybrid game from US Gold. I vaguely remember it from back in the day, but don't know much about it. Looking forward to it!


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Phoning It In

So, it turns out that Expander is actually a phone game that's been ported to PC. It's a game that was clearly made for touch screens, and the controls on PC are pretty horrific. That's not quite true. It's not that the controls are bad per se, they're just nowhere near as intuitive as moving your fingers on the screen. Luckily, I got it for Android in the deal at the same time. Let me step back and describe the game a bit. You essentially control the size of a bar - think a Pong paddle. Move your finger to the middle and the bar gets shorter, pull your finger to the outside and it gets longer. There is a direct and tactile relationship between the position of your finger and the size of the bar - something that is impossible to replicate with a PC keyboard. The only other input that you have is effectively a jump button, performed by tapping on the other side of the screen (with your other hand). The game is played on two planes - by default, you're on the lower plane, and when you press the button you move up to the higher plane until you release the button to drop back down again. It reminded me a bit of Zaxxon to begin with - the simple, clean block graphics showing the planes and an isometric viewpoint. There are little cubes at the sides of the course - red on the lower level, blue on the upper - that you need to collect by hitting them with the bar. The screen scrolls past at a constant speed, and the sides of the course move in and out meaning that you're constantly readjusting the width of your bar and moving up and down to avoid obstacles or collect cubes. At certain points, the view changes, so you might be directly behind the bar or higher above it. The screen scrolls past at quite a lick, so you need amazing twitch gaming skills to collect the cubes and avoid the walls. Skills that I just don't have. I find this game pretty impossible. I've only managed a number of seconds before dying and having to start the level again. My poor brain just doesn't work that quickly. So, I'm going to move on from Expander for now. It's still on my phone, So I might go back to it for a quick blast another day. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Unnatural Selection! Ooh, I remember this one from back in the day (no, it's got nothing to do with the recent Natural Selection games). You have to breed your own army of creatures to fight the evil ones. Might be interesting.

In other news, we're into Steam Summer Sale territory...did I succumb to the torrent of 'bargains'? Of course I did, and I was griping about how rubbish the discounts were as I clicked the buy button.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Monumental

Well, that was more fun than expected. A very early platform game from Apogee, with some good old cga graphics. It's a shareware game, like most Apogee games of the time were, with the first level pack released for free and then having to pay for the other three. Each pack consists of 20 levels, each a single screen. The story doesn't really matter, you're playing through a series of levels looking for missing astronauts, whom you find on the penultimate level of each pack. Games made using this engine were notorious for having terrible hit detection, with massive bounding boxes around sprites. This game's much better than Pharaoh's Tomb, but it's still far from perfect. It means you'll often see cheap deaths where you'd quite clearly leapt over a set of spikes, but the game counted it as a hit. Monuments of Mars gets around this by offering you infinite lives. The downside of that is that the game then simply becomes a grind of repeating the same thing until you finally get it right. The levels themselves only take a couple of minutes each to play through, unless you get stuck. I actually found that the first level pack contained much better designed levels than the larger, paid packs. They had cleverer puzzles and took more thought. Compared to the first one, the remaining three level packs were surprisingly easy, and it wasn't long until I was picking up the final batch of astronauts and touching... The Face! These games remind me a bit of the modern(ish) indie trend for 'skill'-based frequent-death platformers like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. All in all, much more fun than I thought it would be, and kept me entertained from start to finish. What more can you ask for?

Next up on the randometer is...Peach the Lobster! Okay...never heard of that one. Apparently it's a platformer from the early '90s. Exciting!

And URGH!! Just...NO. That was terrible. An absolute turd of a game. It looks like it was made in a simple Game Creator style program, so it's more like a home brew. I guess that lets it off a bit, but even so, why the heck would you decide to release something as terrible as that? Have some pride, man! It's obviously supposed to be a bit like Sonic, but the controls are impossibly slippery, the movement is jankey, the jump is terrible, the weapon rarely hits anything, the level design is maddening, there's a crazy design decision where to jump higher you just continuously mash the three jump buttons (yes 3 buttons...I don't know why - at a guess, I'd say it was because they couldn't handle 2 keyboard inputs at once for jump and across, but actually that seems to work just fine. Similarly, I'd guess the mashing the jump buttons was a bug that became a 'feature'). The graphics are bad. It constantly crashes and glitches. There are no checkpoints (though there do seem to be infinite lives). Just all over one of the worst games I've ever played. I didn't make it off the first level, and I have absolutely no intention of trying to. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Expander! Never heard of it (I think something's telling me to go back to Fallout 4). I got it randomly in a humble bundle one day. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ascended

Well, that was a surprise. I set out to dislike Ascendancy. It was a deep, 4X strategy game when I wanted something quick and arcadey. It was mission-less and freeform when I wanted direct and easy to complete. It was something I'd never heard of when I wanted something familiar. But Ascendancy got its hooks deep into me. It epitomises the one-more-go appeal of these kinds of games. A true hidden gem for me. It begins, as all these games do, with picking a race. Here, though, there aren't the usual 3 or 4 races. Here there are 21 completely unique races, each with a different special ability powerful enough for you to build a strategy around. I, of course, chose the scientists, as I always do. The equivalent of mages in a fantasy game. I'm in it for the long game, I want to see everything that it has to offer. And so I sit in my little corner of the galaxy, hoarding science, tearing through the tech tree. I send out a scout ship as ambassador, offering peace to everyone I meet, biding time for my research work. There's a decent tech tree here - mostly incremental upgrades to existing tech, but also a bunch of new random stuff that can turn the tide of a battle. With my lizards' scientific nous, I'm soon way ahead of the other races in the research race - I may not have an army to my name, but I know things. I keep going until I know everything. There's no science victory here, so at that point I switch all my planets from science to production and start cranking out the biggest warships science has to offer. Enormous leviathans packed with the latest nanotechnology. I break my non-aggression pact with my weakest neighbour - a race of space amoebas called the Mebes, and the long war of attrition begins. I have better weapons, he has better numbers. In the end, it comes down to who can rebuild their destroyed ships the quickest. I just have the edge, and slowly but surely start taking his planets. As each falls, he loses the resources needed to maintain his huge navy, and my victories eventually start to snowball. I thought I'd have to keep at it until he was completely wiped out, but after capturing an insignificant planet about halfway through his kingdom, a message flashes up on the screen congratulating me for winning the game! Apparently I only had to own two thirds of the planets in the universe, and I'm amazed that I did. And what did I do after I completed the game? Why, I carried on playing it, of course. I wasn't going to let those darned Mebes get away that easily! Is it a perfect game? No, of course not, travel between systems takes way too long, and there's no way to select multiple ships so navigation and battle with a large fleet is way more tedious than it should be. For all its flaws, though, and for its time, it's an excellent game that I'm really glad to have discovered. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Monuments of Mars! Never heard of it. Apparently, it's an early Apogee platform game. Another hidden gem?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Tar-gone

I think I've gone about as far as I can go with Targhan. I'm not sure how you'd describe it - maybe an action-platformer? It's not quite either of those things. Whatever it is, it's definitely of its time. They don't make games quite like it, and for good reason. Although you can use the keyboard for Targhan, it's definitely meant for the joystick - luckily the gamepad works just as well. The controls consist of movement keys and a modifier (the fire button). Press a movement key to move in that direction, or press a key plus the modifier to swing your sword in that direction. The game starts off well enough (the story's in French, so I have no idea what I'm doing) - you move across the screen, jumping pits and climbing ropes until you encounter your first enemy: a lady with a bow and arrow. There's no block key, so you need to close the gap between you fast. I didn't manage to leap over a single arrow (not even sure you can), so I manfully ran through (while the arrow ran me through) and one hack with my mighty sword dispatched the enemy to the seven hells. All hail Targhan (am I Targhan?). Carrying on my journey, I encounter some kind of bat/bird creature. I can't slash upwards, so it's a case of timing my swing for the exact point in the creature's swoop where it's actually level with my blade. Not as easy as it sounds. The next challenge I face is s small step. Time your jump wrong, and you'll end up bashing yourself on the step and kneeling down dazed for a few seconds (much like real life). A few attempts later, and I'm away. The next foolish creature to stand in my way is a minotaur with an axe. I bravely charge forwards and -whack!- there goes my energy bar. Okay. A bit more cautiously now, wait for an opening, and... Aha! Take that, the mighty sword of Targhan. Oh, you did take that, and you kept hitting me with your axe. As far as I can see, the first enemy in the game is just there to lull you into a false sense of security. While that one only takes one hit to kill, every other enemy I've met takes a good 5-10 hits. That's not so good when they're hacking away at you at the same time. Rather unfairly, their hits are fast enough to get you into a stun-lock cycle where you can't actually move between hits, while your strikes only stun them momentarily, and they can still get in another hit before you can recover from your first. As far as I can tell, this makes the game impossible (or I'm just really rubbish at it). There are items that you can pick up along your way - shurikens that you can throw (and that don't appear to do a great deal of damage), and other things that... do something? I wasn't actually able to get any other item to work. So that's me and Targhan. I was about to dismiss it after a few minutes of using keys, but I switched to joypad and got quite a bit further. I was actually quite enjoying my exploration, but I was never able to actually do anything, and the story snippets that flashed up in French didn't give me any clues. Ah well, Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...F-29 Retaliator! Yay, a flight sim. One of my least favourite types of game. I'll take a look...might not spend too long on it. This one was quite heavily advertised back in the day. I really remember the box art...don't think I ever owned it, though.

Saved! The copy I have doesn't look complete and won't install at all. Next up on the randometer is...Ascendancy! It's a 4X game in space, apparently a bit like Masters of Orion. Could be fun.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Deconstructed

I think I'm done with Constructor. There is no campaign mode as such, so the only real option is to try and complete one of the 'mission' modes, which are just things like 'earn $1,000,000'. I think the real fun would have been in multiplayer - singleplayer just doesn't have the depth of, say, Civ or one of the other city builders. So what is Constructor? it's a city building sim where you have a city map made up of plots of land that you can purchase from the council to build upon. You can then build housing (of various levels) or  different commerce or manufacturing buildings, such as lumber yards or cement yards that both increase your resources and the amount of different building options you have. You can also construct specialised buildings such as communes that allow you to send hippies off to disrupt your opponent's building plans, or pizza parlours that allow you to buy the favours of the local mafioso. Yes, it's that kind of game - serious on one hand and comedic on the other. That kind of interaction is what would make it pretty cool multiplayer - including actually fairly decent (in a low-poly '90s way) videos for each building/person. As I say, though, go under the comedy and it rapidly reveals itself to be a fairly complex business sim with a lot of numbers to juggle in order to progress into the upper echelons of the game. I'm rubbish at these types of games, and don't really enjoy them that much, but I surprised myself here and actually felt like I was doing okay in the time I played with it.I know that I only scratched the surface, but I'm ready to move on.

Next up on the randometer is...Targhan! Never heard of it. Looks like a side-scrolling barbarian beat-em-up from 1989. Golden Axe crossed with Conan. Might be fun.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Fandangtastic

Turns out I didn't have quite as far to go on Grim Fandango as I thought. I finished it off today and watched Manny and Meche steam away to the 9th underworld (wherever that may be). I ended up playing through the remastered version (it was on sale a few days after I started the original, so I grabbed it), and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The graphics are slightly touched up, though it's nothing to really write home about, there's also an audio commentary, which was quite fun, but the biggest change by far was that they got rid of the tank controls and replaced them with a more normal point-and-click set up. That made the whole thing a lot easier to play through. Back to the game, though - even though I have played through the game before, there were a lot of parts I didn't remember, and some I remembered completely wrongly (for example, I was convinced that at the end there was a semi-action sequence where you have to shoot the bad guy, but it wasn't like that at all...I must have been thinking of a completely different game). The one thing that really struck me, though, was how hard it was. I was expecting to be able to breeze through the puzzles, but I found myself completely stumped a number of times. There are a lot of things that, by today's standards, seem criminally under-signposted or leaps of logic that seem impossible for your average brain - some of that may just be a result of the modern gamer mindset, but I thought parts were a little unfair. Let's face it, though, Grim Fandango isn't remembered for its puzzles, it's hailed as a classic because every other part of it is polished to perfection. The concept is just wonderful, and totally unique. The story draws you in and keeps you interested in the characters throughout their 4-year journey.The art is a thing of beauty. The voice overs are the best I've ever known in a game - flawless throughout. I can't think of a single voice that doesn't fit the character perfectly. The soundtrack captures the feel of the time and the place to a 'T'. I wouldn't say that there are particularly any stand out tracks that you'd whistle in the shower (well...perhaps one), but the soundscape adds so much to the ambience that it would be a completely different game without it. It's the work of a studio on top of their game, and it's absolutely criminal that it was also one of the last adventure games that studio produced. I'm pleased to say that I did my bit to try and keep them alive by purchasing the game when it first came out, but it just wasn't to be, and adventure games rapidly fell out of fashion as FPS games rose to the fore. I'll be very interested to play Broken Age one day and see how that turned out (it didn't review well, but it was never going to live up to the weight on its shoulders). It's still a fine game, though, and one that I recommend anyone - gamer and non-gamer alike - wander through the first few screens of, just to get a sense of the kinds of worlds of imagination that computer games can produce. The overall ambience (or sekaikan, to use a term I recently discovered!) is just stunning.

Next up on the randometer is...Constructor! Interesting. It's a city-building game with a dose of humour. Quite timely, as I think they're in the process of building a remake, but it's not really the kind of game I wanted to play right now. Ah well, a lot of people have fond memories of it, so I'll see how it goes.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Savagely bejeweled elephants

The kids have been on half term for a week (and still are today - thanks, inset days!) so no lunch times available for gaming. That means I haven't made as much headway as I'd hoped in Grim Fandango. I think I'm about half way through - just left Rubacava on my boat. Maybe I'll get through it this week if I have time. I'm purposefully avoiding Fallout 4 until I've got a few more games under my belt. That one will probably suck up the rest of the year! So what have I been doing? Not a great deal, but I have had a quick go on a few more PS3 games on weekend mornings that I'm going to call time on. First up is Elefunk, that I thought I'd signed off on years ago, but I can't find mention of it. It's a basic Bridge Constructor-style game, where you have to build a bridge between two sides of a chasm using whatever struts and supports the level provides you with. The odd title comes from the fact that when you've finished a level an elephant walks across it, and you pass the level if it makes it to the other side safely. I have to say that I am completely rubbish at this game (and all others like it). I obviously just don't have an engineering brain. But also think that maybe it's not all my fault, and that this game is incredibly hard. I can barely make it through the first level, and find the second level impossible. So, bah to Elefunk.

Next up was Bejeweled 2. Bejeweled is the godfather of match-3 games in the modern era, with Pop Cap taking the Puyo-Puyo formula and making it mainstream. This thing was massive back in the day. Bejeweled 2 doesn't bring much to the formula, adding a few different game modes and a couple of special gem types. Still, Max absolutely loved it, and it's easy to see how you could wile away the hours entranced by it. There are still a couple of game modes that I never unlocked, but I doubt they were *that* different to the standard formula. I also didn't get very far with the puzzle mode, which is as close as bejeweled gets to a story mode, but meh, it's Bejeweled, there isn't much else to see or say about it.

Finally, I played a little bit more of Savage Moon, and I think I'm going to call it a day for now. Savage Moon is a fun tower defence game that was one of the first 3D/HD affairs in the genre while most of the others were still on phones/in Flash. It's set in a sci-fi universe where you're protecting mining facilities on various moons against the rampaging alien hordes. It's a great example of the genre, but it doesn't really innovate much, and it is a little slow paced. I've got to the stage where each level takes about an hour to play, but there isn't really much variety between them. I feel like I've seen most of what it's got to offer and it hasn't grabbed me enough to play any further, so I think I'm going to call time on it. Too many other PS3 games to get through, but it's good to sign off a few more. Hopefully back to PC soon. Onwards!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Threelout

(Title obviously just setting me up for the next game.) Gosh, it's been a while. Almost 2 months since my last post. Been busy with lots of things, and (obviously) on the gaming front I've had my head stuck firmly in Fallout: New Vegas. I finally finished it off earlier this week, so it's time to sit down and say something about it. It's obviously quite similar to Fallout 3, but that's no bad thing. It has a different feel, being more wilderness & neon-based compared to F3's overly city-grey palette, but it uses a lot of the same assets. It looks great, but it did feel a little empty at times. It might be a reaction to the busy nature of F3 - bringing this closer to the empty nuclear wasteland of the original games - but it does mean that it's possible to spend a long time wandering around with nothing to do. I definitely don't need a super mutant in my face every 30 seconds, but I did miss the threat and immediacy of a good random encounter. In New Vegas, it's either a couple of radscorpions come to tickle you or a fully equipped Legion death squad, with nothing much in between.

The main draw of FNV is the writing and world building. It was made by RPG specialists Oblivion, with some fantastic pedigree on their staff. So, did it live up to that promise? Yes and no. There were a couple of memorable characters, but on the whole I didn't think it was fantastic. I wasn't really invested in the main story, and the central choice between who to side with didn't really grab me. I guess I'm not really a joiner, but I didn't really enjoy the 'pick a faction' aspect. The attempt to paint each faction in shades of grey rather than clear-cut black and white choices just felt really heavy handed to me. I didn't want to pick between the lesser of two evils, and I felt railroaded into making a choice that didn't really reflect my actions in the game. Dialogue is a difficult thing, and I can imagine how hard it would be to program an argument simulator into a game like this, but there's no point creating a morally ambiguous situation if you're only ever going to apply binary choices to it. "Some things that this person does are good, and some are evil. Do you like him? Yes, or no?" Well, I like the good things that he does, but I dislike the evil things. I don't have a binary response to that character. I want to talk to him about why he does the things he does, and see if I can rationalize his actions. If you're presenting me with fuzzy situations, then I want to be able to take a fuzzy attitude to them. So yeah, I found that a bit frustrating. It also doesn't help that some of these decisions are forced upon you by game logic. I'd previously read that Caesar - one of the main pro/an-tagonists was a well-written character, so I was looking forward to meeting him. When I finally did meet him, he had another character held captive and gave me the option of how that character should die. If I have the choice, I prefer to try not to kill people. The game gave me the option of freeing him, so I did. Immediately upon doing so, Caesar and his cronies attacked me, and in the ensuing battle he was destroyed. End of that character, without any dialogue. I didn't really have an option to roleplay the way that I wanted to. When I gave the guy the means to escape, I wanted to be able to say "wait until an opportune moment", not for him to immediately jump up and run off. Even with that happening, I'd have preferred him to have been immediately recaptured, or for him to be executed by Caesar's men and me to have been reprimanded for being weak. Anything that would have given me more of a role-playing choice rather than having that fight forced upon me. It's the 'Uncanny Valley' applied to morality - the closer we get to having lifelike meaningful choices, the more fake and forced they feel. Did I think it was a bad game? No not at all, I loved it and played it for 99 hours, but its greatness served to amplify its little frustrations.

My play style doesn't really help, I know. With these open world games, I like to explore the world first - I want to do everything that I possibly can before I proceed with the main quest. I don't want to feel that I'm missing anything, and I don't want to pass a point in the main quest where other avenues in the wider game become closed off to me. So, I played through all of the DLC and did as many side quests as possible before I finished the first main quest mission. This meant, of course, that I'd already hit the level cap before proceeding with the storyline, and some of the later quests were a bit of a push-over. My own fault, I know. It's a great game, though, and I'm very glad to have finally played it.

Next up is Fallout 4 (which I admit I've already downloaded and taken a peak at...looks amazing!), but first I need to take a Fallout break and get through a few palate-cleansing one-off games. I'm very much looking forward to getting back to the dulcet tones of Manny Calavera. I've played through Grim Fandango before, so hopefully it shouldn't take too long. It's not a game to be rushed, though...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Crashing Cows

Yup, it's another crasher. I'm not entirely sure that Crazy Cows was really much of a single-player game, anyway. It's a funny old thing, a turn-based strategy game a la X-com, but you don't get to choose your roles. Instead, you're plonked on the map with a group of cows. Each cow has one of three roles, normal, ninja (short-range sword attack) and soldier (long-range gun attack). As you travel around the map, you might find weapons on the ground - swords or guns - that allow the cow that walks over them to turn into the appropriate role. So, a standard cow that picks up a sword becomes a ninja. I think those are the only roles available. Otherwise, it's a fairly simple game - you begin in one area of the map, with the remainder of the map covered in a black fog of war, which is uncovered as you walk through it. As you reveal the map, you'll discover enemy cows (with exactly the same roles). I think that the object is to destroy the enemy base, but there appears to be a bug in the game where it crashes as soon as I kill an enemy cow...which kind of spoils it. So, unfortunately, I wasn't able to get off the first map. Apparently, a sequel was made a few years back, but luckily I don't own it. Onwards to something that maybe won't crash!

Next up on the randometer is...Grim Fandango! Ooh, there's something I haven't played in a while. I could have sworn I had the remastered version...Ah, turns out I do, but it's for Android. Maybe I'll just play the old version on PC, the box is around here somewhere.