Thursday, 26 January 2017

Panic on Motortron

It took a while to finally get around to trying Motor City, but it was always going to have a hard time convincing me to play it for long. It's just not my cup of tea. To be fair to it, it actually did feel like an interesting game if you were of that frame of mind...but I neither like business, or cars particularly, so it just didn't grab me. I also didn't have the manual, which for a hard-core German business sim makes things more than a little tricky. I did try, though. I found some hints that people had written in a forum years ago and used those to start, and it actually was kind of fun for a while. There's a nice built-in encyclopaedia of car history that was a good read, and the graphics are good and old-timey (with some bizarre old nude photos hidden in one of your office drawers!). The game also switched modes quite a lot, keeping things fresh - one minute you're talking to your foreman getting tenders for new parts, the next minute you're on a top-down view of your land plonking down buildings in an almost-RTS fashion. You also get to test-drive and race your cars in a simple driving game. Those are the kinds of things that lifted it above a full-on business sim for me and kept me going. It wasn't long, though, before I was hit by the full force of the numbers - stock control problems, advertising budgets, hiring staff, assigning engineers to develop new products (which could have been fun, but the head engineer won't develop anything that he thinks won't work, and I had no idea really what kinds of things I should have been developing, so it got into an annoying process of trial and error). What finally killed it for me was the time format. Each 'turn' lasts four weeks, but if there is a problem then you get warned about it every day. I had stock issues, which meant I needed to build a new warehouse to store everything in. Normally, new warehouses take something like 20 weeks, so 5 turns, to build, which wouldn't be too much of an issue. But, every time I ended the term, because I had a stock warning, only one day would pass, not the normal 4 weeks. So instead of the warehouses taking 5 turns to build, they would have taken 140, which is just way too much clicking when turns process slowly. By that point, I'd already run into issues of not really knowing how I should design and build my next car as well, which was frustrating, so it was time to stop. A good game for some, no doubt, but not for me. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Curse: The Eye of Isis! I don't really know anything about it. Looks like a fairly recent survival horror in the British Museum kind of thing. Might be fun.

In other news, I'm also proceeding with the great PS3 cull. Next game to be put out of its misery is Trash Panic. I played it for quite a while when I first got it, but never got very far because it's impossibly hard. I found that aspect of it hadn't really changed at all when I booted it up again. Essentially, it's a Tetris-style falling object management game. Instead of the rigid blocks and grid of Tetris, though, here you have freeform rubbish falling into a bin. If you can get the rubbish to fall in the right way onto another piece of rubbish, then it'll break, shattering it into smaller pieces. Different bits of rubbish have different properties, so some will be easy to break (e.g. light bulbs), some will be near impossible (e.g. dumbbells), some will be soft (e.g. sponges), or some might be bouncy (e.g. rubber balls) and cause other rubbish that lands on it to fly out of the bin causing you to lose a 'life'. All of that interplay of different materials does make it interesting in theory, but it very quickly just devolves into a panicked smashing things down as quickly as possible strategy as the rubbish continues to rise (the smaller fragments of rubbish don't disappear, they still build up in a general rubbish mountain at the bottom of the bin). In later levels you do get means to more easily deal with rubbish, such as setting fire to it, or a rubbish-eating fungus, but they come with their own dangers. Now I'm writing this, it sounds interesting enough to go and have another go, but I know I'd just fail on the first level on Easy, as happens 80% of the time. No fun.

Friday, 20 January 2017


It turns out that Daikatana is nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests. How could it be? But that's not to say it's a great game. Even I remember the amount of hype it had back then, and something that puffed up was only ever going to burst spectacularly. The problem begins with the first level. It's a terrible level. If they'd cut the entire first section and began the game with the second, it would have been much better for it. The enemies are evil and irritating - flies that buzz around your head, and frogs that jump along the floor - small, difficult to hit, and capable of dealing a lot of damage. Worse than that, the first weapon that you have fires bullets that bounce directly back off walls and hit you. So, if you miss an enemy, you're likely to hit yourself with your own fire. The first few games that I played resulted in me rarely getting out of the first area - I just couldn't get anywhere without dying. There were also numerous bugs causing me to get stuck in scenery and unable to carry on. I was all ready to quit on that first level and agree that it was in fact the worst game ever, but instead I went looking for patches. There's a community patch that improves the graphics, tidies up the level geometry - meaning less getting stuck in scenery, and removes some of those flies from the first level (amongst many other things). Honestly, it's a life saver - I can't thank the creators of it enough. It makes Daikatana a playable and - once you're off the first level - decent game. The time travel gimmick is a decent one in a game like this, providing a lot more variety to the levels and creating some really interesting spaces. There are a whole set of new enemies and weapons for each time period, which was a huge thing at the time, where most shooters were still confined to brown corridors with a few rote enemies (that's not to say that Daikatana is completely free from brown corridors, mind). You have two sidekicks who accompany you on and off throughout the story and help in firefights. For what it's worth, there's also a story - a bit too heavy on the long expository monologues, but still more than we ever had in Quake and its ilk. Unfortunately, even with the patch it's still not all peaches and cream. There are some fundamental design issues that stop Daikatana from being a great game. Let's start with the weapons. I mentioned that every has a full compliment of 8 or so unique weapons, so how many of those did I use? One. After the first section, you gain access to the Daikatana of the title, a powerful sword that gains more power the more people it kills. So, it's obvious that you're going to use the Daikatana because you want it to become more powerful. This is encouraged by the game - at the end of every level, you're given a read-out of the sword's current power level and how much you need to reach its final form. There were a couple of flying enemies that I used missile weapons on, but the rest all fell to the sword. All the rest of those weapons available to me? Pointless. Actually, that's not quite true - the big bad end of game guy didn't seem to take much damage from the Daikatana, but fell ridiculously easily to normal weapons - I'm not sure if that was supposed to be some kind of meta comment, but it seemed a bit lame to me. Secondly, the sidekicks are incredibly irritating. Their AI just couldn't cut it. While the patch improved the amount of time I got stuck in scenery, it didn't do much for the sidekicks, who were constantly getting lost or stuck miles back in the level, and I had to go back and nudge them along to get things moving again. (To be fair to the patch, it does apparently improve sidekick AI massively, but I never saw them without it.) It would have been much better if the game had just acknowledged that they sometimes got stuck, and either allow you to progress in levels without them, or just have a rubber banding algorithm that teleported them closer to you when they got too far away. Also, because of the aforementioned soul-drinking thing with the Daikatana, I didn't actually want the sidekicks coming along and stealing my kills, so I'd often leave them if they got stuck at the beginning of a level, go ahead and clear out as much of the level as possible on my own, and only go back and nudge them free when I couldn't proceed any further. So, not a bad game - once the patch is installed - and I enjoyed most of my time with it. Not sure I'd particularly recommend it, though.

Next up on the randometer is...Motor City! Looks like a hard-core German sim about running a car factory. Can't see this one lasting a long time, but I'll give it a go.

On the series front, I'm still slowly making my way through Fallout 3. The constant crashing is still sapping my enthusiasm somewhat, but I'm getting there. The game itself is good.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Hello, 2017!

A little bit late, but here it is, the traditional round up of how rubbish I was in the previous year. First, though, there is one more game that I finished last year that I never got around to writing about, so I'll just say a few words here. It was Flower for the PS3. I actually finished it years ago, but just returned to tidy up a few loose ends and hoover up a few trophies. Flower was another early PSN game to use the tilt controls rather than the D-pad, but here it never feels like a gimmick. It's a beautiful game by the same people that made flOw and Journey, and the control and feel of the game is wonderful. You play the part of a petal...or a flower...or the wind...or the dream of a flower...whatever - you play a thing that breezes across a landscape activating other flowers in the landscape and adding their petals to your own...tail. It's, umm, pretty hard to describe. Just play it, okay! It looks beautiful, it feels beautiful, it sounds beautiful - every flower you pass over has its own note that combine to form beautiful melodies - I can imagine it probably smells beautiful, too. If you're looking for ActionKillerStressRelief then this is not the game for you, in fact, you probably wouldn't even call it a game. If you're looking for an ambient, relaxing, thoughtful game, then Flower will fit the bill perfectly. That's not to say it isn't hard, or puzzling or downright scary, it can be all of those things at times, but at its heart it's about flight and control, and the peacefulness of nature. It's about wonder and the dreams of flowers. And what more could you want?

Onto the round up, then. I played a lot in the first half of the year in the dying days of my previous job, before starting the new one and being swamped with new things to learn and do. I settled down into a bit more of a rhythm, though, and I think got through a few things. It feels like the year's been mostly spent playing the Fallout series (which is no bad thing), but I'm sure there must have been more to it than that. Did I manage to stop myself buying a million games this year? Haha, of course not! But I'm hoping it wasn't quite as bad as it has been. Let's find out...

This time last year we started out with:
   Done: 462
   Total: 4070
   Completed: 11.3%

Here's where we stand at the start of 2017:
   Done: 531
   Total: 4353
   Completed: 12.1%

Which means, for all you maths fans out there, my totals for the year were:
   Done: 69
   Total: 283
   Completed: 0.8%

So, not too bad. I managed to finish about the same number of games as last year - with the usual caveat that a big bunch of those are games I couldn't get to work or that I just skipped over (especially on PS3); there's no way that I've actually played through and finished more than one game a week! The total new games purchased is down by about 60 on last year's number, but still completely ridiculous. As always, about 70 of those are PS Plus games, but I still can't quite believe I've bought another 200 games. What is wrong with me?! I was going to make my usual resolution to not buy any more this year, but I've already bought a bunch of Assassin's Creed games in a bundle this week, so bang goes my will power. It is silly, though, I really must try and curb the habit a little bit. Still, at least the total is moving in the right direction!

In terms of games - just looking back over the list - I actually still had the second half of the Tomb Raider series to play at the beginning of the year (I thought I'd finished more of them the previous year!) and they were great. The rebooted Crystal Dynamics series breathed new life into it and went out with a bang. I still haven't played the latest one, but I'm sure I'll pick it up one day. I also played a couple of the Lego games, which I really enjoyed. Max and I did start a few of the others, but he lost interest so I haven't been back to them since. There were a couple of surprisingly solid maybe double-A rather than triple-A games that I didn't know much about, but enjoyed thoroughly - The Last Templar and Mars: War Logs, one at the beginning of the year, and one at the end. Neither of them were spectacular, and I don't know if I'd particular recommend them over other examples of the genre, but they were fun surprises when I wasn't expecting much from them. Another pair of similar games that spring to mind are The Knights of Pen and Paper and Pixel Heroes, but this time I remember them for all the wrong reasons. They both started off well and seemed light hearted and fun, but soon turned into an evil grind-fest that sucked all of the fun out of them. Biggest disappointments? Dive Kick? Oof, I don't even want to think about it. Mega Man 9? I guess I can't really blame the game for how rubbish I am at it. No, the biggest disappointment has to be Inquisitor. Ack, I put so much into that damned game, only to lose the whole lot in a stupid crash. Arrgghh. I'm feeling the red mist creeping up again, I'd better think about something else. Best game. Cthulhu Saves the World? Great fun and light hearted, but a bit too samey. 10 Second Ninja? I think it's not so much that the game was good, but that I was so please with myself that I managed to get through it. No, the best game of the year has to go to Fallout. Or Fallout 2. Or maybe Fallout BoS? Oh who knows, I've enjoyed all of them. Fallout 3 is also pretty fun, if only it weren't for the constant crashing. Story of my (gaming) life...

It only remains for me to wish all of my faithful (two) readers a fantastic 2017. I hope the new year brings more time for family, more time for friends and more time for a game or two.