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.