sobota, 7 maja 2011

Short Review #25: Kingpin - Life of Crime

Having just finished this after a few hours of gameplay, let me share my thoughts.

The game opens with one of the most unforgiving levels in a game, ever. Even on the lowest difficulty (on which I played), I had to attempt getting through it several times. You start off virtually unarmed, while your enemies are armed. Deal with it. It gets better later on, but the difficulty is still rather punishing - if the lowest difficulty wasn't a breeze, and it wasn't, that probably means the game is a bit hardcore. Either that, or I'm actually devolving in my FPS skills.

Outside of being a specifically themed (gangs, the city, street violence) game, Kingpin has three mechanics which have been rather innovative at the time of its premiere (1999). The first of these is the fact that you can have up to two companions who will help you out, and you can issue them limited orders (Follow or Guard, essentially). This would potentially work, if not for the very high mortality rate of the companions and their limited combat abilities. Sure, they can stand their ground, but a lot is down to chance. Sometimes they defend themselves for several minutes, sometimes they fall down right at the beginning of a battle. You can never know. This isn't a very innovative mechanic because Half Life did something similar before this game, but I figured I could mention it.

The other two mechanics are connected to weapons. The first one is the fact that if you do not have your weapon holstered, NPCs will react to a drawn weapon - either by cowering, or being aggressive, more often the latter. In itself, this is an ok idea, but the implementation is terrible. There's only a handful of situations when it pays to not have the weapon drawn, and the later you are in the game, the less sense it makes. Also, all it takes is to hold a crowbar or lead pipe out - so whenever I wanted to crack open a crate or box next to an NPC, I was attacked by that character. And putting the weapon down doesn't solve things - they will attack you until you're dead. I had to kill more characters than I wanted to because of that.

Finally, you can buy weapons, ammo, armour and upgrades at shops called Pawn-o-Matic. A good idea, but unfortunately, again, poorly implemented - there's not too much stuff to buy in the end, and the upgrades make no sense: there are 5 (or so) for the Pistol, another single one for the Heavy Machine Gun... and that's it. Why did no other weapons receive upgrade options? Why can you upgrade the Pistol, the weapon which gets useless pretty much after you get any other weapon? No idea, but it's textbook bad game design.

The weapons aren't anything special. The most interesting one is the Flamethrower, but unfortunately, despite being very impressive visually (same goes for rocket and grenade explosions, those look great despite their age), it's a weapon which ends up being insanely overpowered when the enemies use it (get hit and you lose around 50% of armour and Hit Points, no randomness here), but rather shit when you use it. I could never get the range right (it only hits at a certain distance), and while I was trying to douse an enemy in flames, there was always someone else pounding me to the ground with different weapons. Most of the weapons are criminally inaccurate, which makes fighting at long ranges rather tedious.

The level design is interesting because, and this is mostly true about the initial levels, and becomes less so the further you go, it's somewhat open-ended. There's a certain thing you have to do to progress, but you can navigate the location at your own leisure, of course taking into account the enemies. So you'll get some absolutely optional room or buildings to explore, and some alternative paths to take. Don't be fooled though, this is no Deus Ex.

The graphics engine has aged poorly, though I still have a certain fondness for the Quake 2 engine. As mentioned before, fire effects (explosions and the flamethrower) are quite impressive and nice to look at, but the character models are pretty much ugly and blocky. The environments are all kept in the same vein - brownish-grey streets and factories, with some overtones depending on the location.

Sound is alright, though nothing in any way worthy of mentioning. There's a lot of swearing, including phrases such as "F*** You, You F***!" etc. The music is all taken from a Cypress Hill album (or so I think), and it fits the setting, and some of the songs are even nice to listen to. However, the choice of tracks is very limited, so it gets boring rather quickly.

All in all, Kingpin isn't something I'd recommend. It was enjoyable enough, but just doesn't offer anything that other titles don't have, and has many flaws which most modern games don't anymore. Comparing this game to the terrific Soldier of Fortune, which was released only a year after Kingpin, it shows that the authors mostly wanted to hype the game with the unpopular theme and controversy. The gameplay doesn't offer enough to be very enganging, but I guess that if you're an FPS fan like myself, you might want to check it out. You can get a digital copy from Good Old Games ( Regular players and people who don't generally enjoy FPS games have nothing to look for here.

Final rating: 5/10. Very average game overall, but enough to be somewhat enganging if you're in the mood for some shooting.

Short Review #24: Call of Juarez

I won Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood last year at a convention, and so I reminded myself that I haven't played Call of Juarez, the first game. Found it in the local entertainment exchange and started playing it Thursday evening, completed it today afternoon. Short version: Call of Juarez is not without some unpolished, rough edges, but it's an all-around good game, verging on very good in certain ways. Read on for the long(er) version.

The game follows the story of Billy Candle, a young man finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Reverend Ray, who pursuits Billy after going through a major breakdown and deciding it's time to become God's justice, not just his shepard. You play as both characters, often going through very similar or identical locations you first visited as Billy, and then as the Reverend. The two heroes work completely different - Ray is an armoured gunslinger who can take a lot of punishment and deal even more due to his good marksmen skills, while Billy is an agile lad who has to sneak his way out of tough spots more often than not.

As both characters, you will traverse the beautiful world of CoJ, vast, spacious locations including forests, mountain ranges and towns. However, here's my first minor gripe with the game. The locations are big, that's true, but their size does not serve any particular role other than being pretty. What I mean by that is that a) the levels are still linear and there are rarely two or more ways of reaching a goal, and b) the extra space is basically wasted because you can explore it, but there are no secrets to be found in the nooks and unoccupied rooms, no item stashes etc. So it's basically there just for laughs, I guess. That was a bit of a disappointment.

The strongest part of the game is definitely the story. It's truly gripping, the finale is very tense and the plot comes together very nicely. There are no loose ends left by the end of the game, you witness a full, realised story line - and I have to commend the writers because of that. However, this great storytelling is a bit tarnished by the uninspired screens when you fail to do something. You just get a black window saying "You are dead." or "Time has ran out." or something to that effect - this is a lost opportunity for throwing some more character there.

The game has a really nice theme. Not only is it the Wild West, it's a warped version of it, grimmer and less idealised I guess. Everyone's a bastard in this game, in some way or another, and some plot twists really give you a serious feeling that this is not some black and white "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" setting. Plus, the Reverend is such an over-the-top character, balancing a certain strangeness and a real menacing aura with pure awesomeness. The guy wears a piece of plate armour, and confuses enemies by reading excerpts from the Bible for god's sake!

The music is also good. Not stunning in any way, it won't stay in your head for long or anything like that, but when it plays, it fits wonderfully. There are separate themes for tense sneaking, crossing indian country, frantic gunfights and everything else you'd expect from a game.

I've had a lot of fun with Call of Juarez. The length of the game is just right, and the balance of the levels is pretty good - even the sneaking sections were quite bearable for me, though at two or so points they were becoming frustrating. If anything, Call of Juarez is not perfect because of the different elements which are simply not polished enough - but as a game, it stands by itself and is very enjoyable. CoJ gets a very easy, and strong, 7/10, with a tendency toward 8/10. A highly recommended game, which, if polished enough, could have been a truly epic experience. As it is, it is simply very good, a definite must-play for FPS or Western fans.

poniedziałek, 2 maja 2011

Short Review #23: Shadowgrounds

Shadowgrounds is a short indie game by Finnish developer Frozenbyte. I got it as part of a Humble Indie Bundle, which I bought mostly because it had Trine. Shadowgrounds sounded interesting enough, but ended up being a study in generic-ness.

The game has a generic plot, generic characters, generic gameplay, generic weapons, generic enemies... I've played the exact same game developed by different people under a different name many times before. Shadowgrounds has enjoyable (though again, generic) graphics, two elements which are somewhat interesting (the flashlight, which is severly underplayed and not that important to the gameplay in the end - and an upgrade system for the weapons, but that one isn't as good as it could be) and a good twist ending, though that one you can kind of see coming.

It's an enjoyable enough game despite being a poster child for a top-view camera action game, but I have to say, if I paid any serious money for this, I'd be seriously disappointed. My short recommendation is - get it only if you can get it for free or for a dollar or something like that. It's really not that great a game, unless you're a fanatic of the genre - in which case go for it. But for your regular gamer, Shadowgrounds really isn't anything worthy of a purchase.

A 6/10 all the way. 5/10 for being a standard, generic game, and +1 for actually being fun.

Short Review #22: Dark Forces II - Jedi Knight

I'm a big Star Wars fan, and I count Jedi Knight II and Jedi Academy among my favourite titles. I remember playing the Dark Forces II demo to death in my pre-Pentium days, loving that one level and loving the lightsaber. Jedi Knight + Mysteries of the Sith (the expansion) was one of my charity shop / entertainment exchange buys, but I couldn't get it to run on my laptop for some reason, so I only played it recently on the "main PC". And I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed.

The FPS action bits of the game are quite enjoyable, though there are some weapons which are pretty much unusable (grenades which can't be thrown away for shit and proximity mines you plant RIGHT UNDER your feet and they are instantly armed), and others which are way better than others (there's no reason to use the pistol once you've got the rifle, and no reason to use the crossbow at all once you have the Repeater). But yeah, those bits, generally fun. However, once you get the force powers and a lightsaber, the gameplay starts becoming rather frustrating...

This is because this game was obviously less capable than the designers thought it was. Using the lightsaber feels clunky and clumsy, leaving little reason to use it at all unless you need to. The choice of Force Powers is very weird, some of them are useless (like Pull), others are really hard to use efficiently (Jump doesn't work nearly as good as it should), and generally I tried to avoid using them... which seems strange, considering how this is a Star Wars game with "Jedi" in the title. Worst are the lightsaber duels with the many Dark Jedi you encounter. You just can never know if you're going to hit the guy or not, and if yes, if you're going to damage him in any significant way. It's a total crap shoot.

The plot itself is pretty mediocre, you've got a group of Dark Jedi (where did they come from is anyone's guess), led by a guy named Jerec, who finds out the location of the fabled Valley of the Jedi and goes there to power up. Kyle Katarn's father is killed by Jerec, and so the ex-Republic Commando comes into action. The plot is presented via movie-like cutscenes, and boy, the term "ham & cheese sandwich" gains a new meaning with these! The acting is almost universally TERRIBLE. The delivery, expressions and dialogue is plain crap, sometimes so bad it hurts. Virtually all the characters are over the top, the only one being roughly ok being Jan Ors. Even Katarn is played with a lot of trying too hard, and the actor himself doesn't look right...

I haven't completed the game because I got stuck on the final boss fight and decided I just don't care much. I have the expansion, but don't plan on playing it. I could give a pass on all those previously mentioned flaws, but there's one other thing which drives me crazy about this game - the long, complicated and sprawling levels. I got stuck on a regular basis, having to resort to walkthroughs to continue playing. I think this is just a symptom of the broader problem - the game was simply on a historical threshold, a boundary between the old FPS games like Doom and Quake (and the first Dark Forces which was basically Doom with a Star Wars setting) and the new ones, the ones that wanted to innovate. Another game released the same year was Quake 2, and it was great because it didn't try to innovate, but instead went for improving the formula it knew and fell comfortable with. I have to congratulate Jedi Knight for trying, but ultimately, it's a pretty (not beautiful) failure.

My final rating is a rather weak 6/10. A game which I would only recommend to die-hard Star Wars fans. Nobody else should really care enough to play this game at this point.

czwartek, 28 kwietnia 2011

Short Review #21: StarLancer

For years, I remembered playing a demo of some kind of a space shooter game, which I remember I loved. The named escaped me more often than not, until I finally remembered the name, and remembered to keep an eye out for it - StarLancer, Microsoft's/Digital Anvil's predecessor to Freelancer, a very flawed, but still rather awesome game. Once I had the chance to buy it off Amazon, I did - old carton box, original CD's, the manual and a reference sheet in the deal.

My first somewhat sad surprise was that the game needed a joystick - no mouse support. Well, I thought, I was planning on getting one for Mechwarrior games, so why not, I'll play this once I have a joystick. And lo and behold, where I work they had a spare, a dusty old thing, hardly used by anyone. I started playing the game using that. Two weeks ago, my girlfriend got me my own joystick (in a rather depressing thought, I realized that by now the joystick is pretty much a dead peripheral - among the tens of different pads and several different steering wheels, there were only four joystick models) and so I was able to enjoy the game "on my own" as it were. How was it?

Well, StarLancer is definitely a mixed bag. It does some stuff really well, other reasonably well, and fails in other still. I think its best to present this as a short list.

- the dramatic feel of the game. This is probably its biggest strength. You fight a losing fight. There's a lot of losses you cannot help but take - capital ships, team mates, legendary pilots will die around you. And somehow, despite giving all of them minimal characteristics, you feel sorry even for the anonymous bomber pilots. They will scream while they die, they will call for help, they will curse you with their dying breath for not defending them. What is VERY important in this, the game doesn't arbitrarily finish when you flunk an objective. No, usually it continues. You hang your head in shame as the landing control tells you "What the hell were you thinking?" and the debriefing tells you how much of a failure the mission was. Sure, you can restart the level... but would it be as dramatic an experience?

- the fighting/flying. Yes, the game does that part pretty good. It's not as annoying as in Freelancer (which turns half-way into the game to an "I hope I have enough countermeasures or else the next missile that hits me will kill me" affair), it's not as impressive either, but it's solidly implemented. So the main part of the game, really, the "game" part of the game, delivers. It isn't mindblowing by any rate, but is decisively above average.

- the background elements. By this I mean the in-between-missions stuff. You get to walk from your bunk to the briefing room in a pre-rendered cutscene (one of several each time around). You can read up on the enemy and see debriefings of your missions. When you finish a mission, your performance can be seen by the reaction of the pilots in another cutscene. Sometimes they will cheer and high-five one another, or they can throw their helmets on the ground because of they despair and anger. You get TV reports on how the campaign is going which also give feedback on your actions. Most of these get old pretty quickly (especially the short "walking" and "running to fighters" cutscenes because they are only a few of those), but it's a very nice touch, making the game a little bit more than just fighting. Personally, I thought that if this was taken to a more RPGish level, this could be ever cooler. Sadly, 2000 was not a year for this idea to catch on, the trend came much later.

- the music. It's alright, nothing spectacular, but nice to listen to and sufficiently dramatic/combat like.

- the story. What little there is, really. There's a conflict between the Alliance and the Coalition (talk about original names, huh?). The Alliance are the good guys, Americans, English, Japanese, Germans, Italians etc., while the Coalition are the evil Russians (is anyone suprised?), Middle-Easterners and Chinese. The Coalition attacked the Alliance in a treacherous blow, starting the conflict, and from a losing position you're slowly gaining ground. There are some stronger parts of the plot, and some weaker ones. One GREAT scene is really underplayed later on - you are informed that two enemy ships carry prisoners of war, but if they are allowed to get close, they will endanger a crucial operation. The hard decision is made, the 20-odd captured Alliance soldiers die with the crews of the ships. There is a short commentary on that... and you'd expect a shadow falling over the rest of the plot, but no, this incident is NEVER mentioned again. Seriously. Not one mention. It's not even in the god-damn debriefing...

- too many systems. Seriously. This game has virtually all the keyboard keys covered with different options. Out of these, you only every use 10 or so (at least on Easy). Some of them are possibly useful, but not very. Others are completely useless, the biggest offender being the Eject button. Get this - if you get badly damaged, you can eject, and in theory that's to allow a Nanny ship to pick you up and save you. I've done this a few times, three, maybe. EVERY SINGLE TIME a pre-defined cutscene had me killed. This option, therefore, is clearly a cheap trick. The same goes for asking you to give the order to engage your Jump Drive every time, as if the game couldn't do it itself in a cutscene - especially since jumping out is ALREADY a cutscene. And landing. Seriously, you've got a com-link which has four options - two are useless (connected to your mates), and out of the two other one is used every mission (Permission to Land... again, nice of you to have me immersed in the game, but it could have been done automatically...) and the other (call for reinforcements) is NEVER used, and I think for a good reason. I have a gut feeling it's like the Eject button - technically does something, in practice, does absolutely nothing.

- the difficulty. Not the difficulty level, mind you. I played on Easy, and as far as I wouldn't call it that (more like Medium, at least... though it did allow me for some maneauvers which should technically end with my death), I had a hard time doing some of the stuff. The difficulty system is pretty much unfair because you will often receive orders which you have no influence over whatsoever - this goes for all "Defend squad X" orders. Seriously, not once did I feel that I was doing well enough to actually influence what was happening. I did a crappy job - nobody got hurt. I did a very good job - I lost the mission because all of the guys got killed. I did a so-so job, I passed the mission but with major losses. No idea what comes into play here. Some objectives also appear so rapidly, there's no chance in hell you'll be able to complete them during the first playthrough of the mission. Like when a cruiser appears right at the back of torpedo bombers you need to finish the mission, and blows them to pieces.

- you have to do EVERYTHING alone. Well, ok, not everything, but where StarLancer promised to be more than most squad-based games where the player does everything by himself anyway (Republic Commando, Call of Duty, the list goes on), it ended up being exactly that. Rarely does it happen that a small objective is completed by your mates, or that you see them killing enemies like it's not a problem. With big objectives, such as destroying a ships shield generator or engines, or defending vulnerable units - you're on your own, and it ain't a breeze to be everywhere at once, trust me. The worst offender by far is when the enemies launch torpedos at your capital ships and you can't lose them. Often there is a LOT of torpedoes. And ALWAYS I found I was the only one dealing with this threat, which is the MOST SERIOUS THREAT THERE IS IN THIS GAME. How come am I the only one doing it? Everyone else has something better, more important on their mind right now? What the hell?

- no saving during the mission. You know me. I hate this in a game. Here, at some times, I thought it was kind of fitting, it added to the dramatic struggle. But the game also had some levels where a quicksave or something was basically a necessity, and IT WASN'T THERE! There were several missions which were obviously divided into segments, with clear objectives for each one. Why not throw a quicksave there? WHY? So that, if I make a mistake and die (or the game crashes, as also happened a few times, see below) three minutes before the end of a mission I have to do the difficult 10 previous minutes AGAIN? I don't get it. Never did, never will. Oh, and also, unskippable cutscenes. Yes, this games has them. And boy, some of them just drive you nuts.

As mentioned above, I had performance problems with StarLancer. No, not the joystick issue, though I had to basically learn to use it from scratch (the last time I used a joystick was god knows how long ago, I can't remember having a joystick in my hand in the last 10 years, at least), but there's really nothing else you can do here. The game isn't very stable on modern computers. I had to exit to Windows after every mission, because apparently the game couldn't bother running longer than 30 minutes without a crash. Given the lack of a proper saving mechanic, this was a potential game-breaker for me... fortunately, the missions are short (a majority is under 20 minutes), so I could afford to finish a mission, exit the game, and turn it on again. The campaign is 24 missions long, which gives around 10 hours of gameplay, or maybe more if you count a bigger number of replays of missions. I haven't gotten the perfect ending, but I couldn't be bothered. Some of the perfectly well done missions are just out-of-your-mind hard to do.

All in all, I enjoyed StarLancer immensily, and it deserves an easy 7/10. It would have been an 8/10 at least if not for its shortcomings, and if it was even better, it could hope for a 9/10 even, I certainly saw the potential in it. As it is, the game isn't perfect, but it's definitely enjoyable, especially if you're a fan of the genre (and I'm not, not in particular). If you can find it, get it, I guess. It's goint to be very hard to obtain (as a 10 year old game which wasn't all that popular in its time), but I think it's rather worth it.

SPOILER: the game ends with a major Alliance victory, but nothing ending the conflict. I'm not sure why they decided to finish the game like that, but it works, from a dramatic point of view. I'm saying this, because in Freelancer - the direct sequel to StarLancer (at least plot-wise), it is established that the Alliance lost in the end, and had to leave our galaxy to colonize new planets... that's a very nice tie-in and it makes sense, making the struggle of the Alliance fleet even more dramatic.

sobota, 23 kwietnia 2011



As you probably noticed, I haven't been writing much in the past few months, and when I had, it was reviews. Simple reason - I started working at a video game company, and I'm pretty much rarely "in the mood" to write anything, really. I'm not closing down the blog or discontinuing it, just bear in mind that due to time constraits, I'll have to limit myself to Short Reviews and the occasional short editorial (if that happens at all). So watch the reviews amass and I'll see you around.

Short Review #20: The Suffering + Ties That Bind

I had high hopes for The Suffering. What I knew about the game offered a bloody, atmospheric affair with a lot of horror overtones and a good plot. I wasn't entirely disappointed on these points.

The Suffering is a TPP (or FPS, but really I prefered TPP this time around) action game. You play as Torque, an inmate of the infamous Carnate Island, and are about to be put in Death Row (for the murder of your own family), when some strange, horrifying creatures appear and wreak havok. Over time you will learn about the history of the island, and uncover why you're really here.

The game starts off really strong - the initial enemies are vicious and unnerving, you don't have much in the way of weapons and it's basically building a nice atmosphere of the horror-infested prison. However, the further you go, the less you can feel that certain awe, because you'll be doing a lot of killing in The Suffering, and the enemies will get more and more wacky as you progress. It's definitely not a survival horror game, but an action one, which just happens to have a horror theme. Which is fine with me, because while I wasn't really scared once (an achievement for me), the game still gripped me because of the atmosphere. Some ways it introduces the setting to you are great, others seem a bit tacked on.

The action part of the game is cool, but you often attend seemingly endless waves of enemies before you can progress to the next room. This seems, most of the time, to be a rather cheap and artificial way of holding you back. The variety of weapons is your usual fare - machine guns, pistols, shotguns, grenades and the like, but most of them are fun to use so no gripes here.

The plot is good, as Torque learns more about himself and the Island Prison, you get a feeling that the authors really had a good idea of what they wanted the player to see. However, a lot of stuff is left unresolved, and the most important of it is the riddle of how those hellish creatures actually arrived on the Island and why is it that apparently Torque has something to do with it.

The basic game gets a solid 7/10. Very enjoyable, good voice acting, nice graphics, no major gripes - but it just seemed to me it could have been better at points and maybe if they added a bit of the horror in a good way it would make for a more compelling experience.

Shortly about Ties That Bind, the expansion/follow-up to the basic game. It's roughly the same length (a bit shorter), takes place off the Island, in Baltimore, where we learn about Torque's dark past, and especially an old nemesis / patron of his, Blackmore. The game takes on a somewhat Max Payne-ish feel to it, because of the change of locales and some of the plot devices. The cities background is, as in the basic game, reflected by the enemies you fight, but this time they both went for overhaul, and haven't done enough. The overhaul is due to the number of enemy types, there's just a bit too many of them to keep a coherent theme, and some of them are very similar to each other. Given that I thought the basic game had a bit too little enemy types, they apparently just missed the sweet spot for that. And I say there's not enough background because of the VERY dark and interesting stories of racial intolerance and abuse bits in it are somewhat underplayed. For example, you meet two very dark personalities, but only confront one of them.

The game made changing into a monster its main mechanic. You could do that in the first game, but it was considered to bring you closer to the "dark side" as you embraced your inner demons. Here you HAVE to do it at certain points, and it's a question of being the "good" monster or the "bad" monster, which seems a bit silly. The mechanic doesn't add that much, but takes away a certain temptation that the first game had, and that was very thematic.

The ending is rather disappointing, I got a very short and lackluster ending sequence based on my actions in the game, and the game fails to explain some of the stuff the first one didn't bother to address. Yes, you learn more about Torque, but really it only gives you more holes in the overall thing than answers. Maybe if I got a different ending...

Some minor changes to the action bits - Torque can now carry only two weapons at a time, uses his Xombium pills (Max Payne-ish, haven't I told you?) the moment he gets them instead of having them on hand and regenerates a bit of health if he's down to a certain amount. Nothing ground breaking, nor game-breaking. Worked alright.

That's about it, really. Another 7/10, a worthy successor, but definitely weaker than that original game - for various reasons, mostly considered with theme. I can easily recommend both games to horror and shooter fans alike.

piątek, 11 marca 2011

Short Review #19: FEAR - Perseus Mandate

Perseus Mandate is the second expansion to the original FEAR, and one that is considered to be the weakest part of that first part of the FEAR franchise. Let's get this out of the way - yes, Perseus Mandate isn't as good as either the base game, or Extraction Point, but I don't think its as bad as some people are inclined to think. Let's see what are the games strong and weak parts.

Starting with the good stuff, Perseus Mandate is an ok tie-in with both of its predecessors. Some stuff which happens is directly linked to those previous games, which gives a nice feel of a coherent timeline. The plot itself is so-so, its main shortcoming being the fact that it doesn't really explain much. After two games you would expect another expansion would shed some light on what is really going on, perhaps give some background to the paranormal side of things (I still don't know the origins of a certain type of enemy, for example, and it feels like it's high time they addressed that) or give the player some new knowledge. Technically, it does that, but only by reinforcing directly something that has been implied indirectly before - and as much as important, it's not a groundbreaking twist in the end.

The new weapons are somewhat cool. On the other hand, the new type of enemy, the Night Stalkers aren't really that different from the Replica Forces. Also, for some bizzare reason, the enemy AI has taken a noticeable plunge in Perseus Mandate. I was playing on easy, true, but I did the same with Extraction Point and in that latter game the enemy would still behave as ingenously as in the basic FEAR. Here I found that I often enemies would just casually walk into my line of fire, and I could basically fight most of them using melee attacks - something I wouldn't even try in previous games because I wouldn't want to lose the time which could be spent on covering fire. The enemies also kind of stand around until you start shooting or come REALLY close. At certain times I would almost walk past an enemy, not seeing him, with no reaction whatsoever from that character. Also, there's an old-school boss fight at the end of the game which doesn't fit into these games in the slightest.

There are some good scares, but they are scarce. They seem to have focused on the combat bit of the game more this time around. What is there is cool, and one particular scare is very impressive, but sadly it's being overused a lot, which makes it a bit lame by the end of the game. However, most of the scares seem to lack that coherence they had in the previous games. Here it seems like the designers just thought 'Well, he had his fighting section, throw in a creepy scene now.'. They seem forced, artificial in a way, a 'whatever works' kind of thing. Also, none of them really surpass what has already been done before, though I have to admit, some stuff comes pretty close.

On thing that has to be addressed is that both the main character and some enemies can use that bullet-time ability from the previous games. Understandable, since combat can still be pretty cutthroat and without that ability it could end badly very quickly. But I thought it was well established that the main character from the basic FEAR and Extraction Point had this ability for A GOOD REASON, and it doesn't really make any sense that this nameless operative would have it too. Oh, and by the way, after getting through all three of these games I'm pretty sure that a silent protagonist is not the best solution for a horror-like game. Some radio chatter goes unanswered by the protagonist and that is just weird. In some other situations it would really pay well to add some commentary from the character to make the player even more scared.

Like in Extraction Point, some locations seem very much reused, which is rather lame. It isn't as bad as in the basic game (which is the biggest offender out of the three in that regard), but still deserves mentioning. On an unrelated note, the game offers some special timed missions after you finish the campaign (which is around half way between the length of the basic game and Extraction Point, so pretty good), but those are just more fighting and seem ill fit and rather pointless.

Summing up, Perseus Mandate is definitely the weakest of the three games, and is a fare which should be considered only by people who enjoyed the first two games and feel like they'd like more of the firefights and a tad more of the horror. I bought this as a separate game while I got FEAR + Extraction Point in a single pack and so I feel a bit cheated on this side, as the latter has a much higher value than Perseus Mandate solo. But hey, that's how it works. I had my fun, for the money I spent on this I enjoyed myself rather well, so there. 6/10.

wtorek, 8 marca 2011

Short Review #18 & #18.5: F.E.A.R. + Extraction Point

Not a very short review, but here we go...

As you probably know by now, since I had to mention it at some point, I am easily scared. I wasn’t able to finish Dead Space because of that. I was a bit scared of Doom 3 because of that, and that’s not a very scary game. I had to postpone playing The Devil Inside several years because of that, and from today’s perspective, that game is hardly scary at all! It was my decision to best this small problem of mine. To try and beat it into submission by experiencing scary games. Last summer I bought many different games at a very good price from one of the Polish electronics supermarkets, among them The Suffering, Condemned… and F.E.A.R., along with the Extraction Point expansion and the Perseus Mandate solo expansion (as two separate boxes). Having just finished the basic game and the first expansion, here are some of my thoughts.

Let me address that fear thing first, I mean, it’s in the title so I guess it should be the first order of business.Is FEAR scary? Well, yes, it is. Is it as scary as I thought it would be? No, not at all. See, the scary stuff is there, and sometimes shows itself in moments when you don’t expect it. But I thought it wasn’t nearly often enough for the game to be a true horror-themed shooter. Don’t get me wrong – I was happy that it wasn’t overdone, as I probably wouldn’t finish the game. But from different videos around the web, from how the game was regarded, I honestly thought I would have to play in small doses to make it bearable, while I didn’t have any trouble at all (well, ok, some, but nothing major) with getting through the game.

The atmosphere is built by using lightning – you’ll see many a long corridor with flickering lights and completely dark areas which only your flashlight will unveil. The sound design also adds to the creepiness, with ambient music and the fact that pretty much all you step on can roll or slide on the floor which makes the ‘silence’ even more unnerving. It’s more of the Doom 3 / Bioshock school of scary – stuff will jump out at you, you’ll get some sound cues which mark that something eerie is going to happen and all that… but it’s not ‘Dead Space scary’ (even though, as you probably know, Dead Space also uses those cheap scare tactics). The atmosphere in FEAR isn’t as smothering as in that game and this is actually one of its shortcomings.

See, in Dead Space or Bioshock, the eeriness and thick atmosphere go hand to hand with the fights. They are two sides of the same page, they compliment eachother. In FEAR it doesn’t feel like it. The two elements work together, but its not a match made in heaven. Something’s lacking, something’s not connecting exactly right…

The combat itself is terrific. Its very fast, very brutal and rich in environmental effects, such as explosions, smoke, and pieces of walls or furniture. You really feel these weapons do real damage, and shooting them is a lot of fun. You get to duck into and out of cover, use grenades, and try to defend yourself while the AI attempts to encircle you (all you’ve heard about the FEAR AI is true – they are crafty, sneaky bastards). You can use melee attacks of different types, though to be honest I haven’t done that much, preferring to use the game’s bullet-time… oh, right. That.

See, here’s the thing. This bullet-time mode (which the hero can use supposedly because he has very keen reflexes) is a feature of the game in a large extent. I dare anyone to get through this game without using the option once. I guess it could be doable, but VERY hard. Slowing down the action is about the only thing which gives you the edge over the enemies when you are outnumbered. If you don’t use it, you get shot down very fast. But I didn’t really think it really befitted the game. Here you have a SF/thriller/horror game, and the protagonist can do stuff straight from the Matrix? When Max Payne did it, it has sense in a way – it was a meta-mechanic, something that was there and wasn’t really explained, more a sort of a cosmetic solution than a plot one. Here, the explanation gives it sense, but theme-wise, it still doesn’t quite fit.

The theme in general is quite disjointed. Not as bad as in a certain game I played recently (ekhemhaloekhekh), but still. Get this – its obviously a modern setting, or if it’s the future, it’s not very distant. But you’ve got an army of clones telepatically commanded by a special individual… that’s the premise and by itself, it asks a hell of a lot of suspension of disbelief. But even when you accept that as a given, why are there robots in this game? And several types of them as well. And lasers. LASERS. I don’t know, it struck me as odd to match a modern setting with a SWAT-like special unit, add horror elements to it and say ‘You know what we need? Robots and lasers!’… I have the feeling that FEAR would work much better without those elements.

I have to mention something which is also a gripe many reviewers pointed out. The level design in FEAR is rather boring. You will spend the majority of the game going through very same-ish looking office spaces, unfinished buildings and warehouses. When the game throws you into a derelict building style location, it doesn’t keep you there long and the underground base you explore is pretty much a more high-tech rehash of the previous locations. If anything, this was a bit lazy – though it fits the story, and makes sense. At least this game doesn’t reuse the exact same locations as that * other * FPS did…

As for other stuff – the graphics have aged pretty well, though obviously stuff like Unreal Engine 3 blows this one out of the water, music is forgettable (some tunes are cool, but you can’t really recall them after you’ve finished playing), the sound design is good, but not ‘Company of Heroes good’ or even ‘Call of Duty good’… Voice acting was ok, some naughty swearwords added to the mature atmosphere of the game and fortunately weren’t overdone… it’s really refreshing to hear a solid ‘f**k’ in a game from time to time. There’s not a big choice of enemies, but the AI works wonders and keeps stuff interesting - while in other games fighting the same guys over and over again can become a chore, here it never becomes dull because of how ‘intelligent’ they are.

So yeah, FEAR is a solid shooter, but somehow it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. The scary sections are creepy and scary, if not outright terrifying (not much of them here, but they’re there), the atmosphere is great… and the shooting, action and combat are great as well, but the two don’t work that well together. I think it’s a matter of pacing – most of the game is fighting and after you’ve become somewhat tired of the Replica chatter, you get a scene or two to keep you on your toes, followed by more shooting. Those long action sections in the uninspired locations can become somewhat dull. However, the story is interesting and well told, and generally speaking the game holds up very well. This is a solid 7/10, a shooter all FPS fans should check out, though I’m not sure if it’s a good suggestion for people who are not fans of the genre, even if they like the horror atmosphere. Maybe it would be better if those people sat beside the FPS fans while they play this. This way, both parties can leave satisfied (as long as the horror fan goes to the kitchen to get a coffee or sandwich during the longer shoot-out sections).

What about Extraction Point? Most of the stuff I already said about the basic game applies, obviously, but some things are different. Most noticeably, the atmosphere. It is more scary and actually threatening than in the basic game, but it is different, more in your face, and less focused. There’s stuff happening which has you more interested in the plot, and some crazy stuff does happen – like when you can see a person basically being smashed around the room by an unseen force and then apparently devoured by some strange creatures. Extraction Point mixes stuff up, but unfortunately it’s not very good in telling its story. Some stuff isn’t resolved, though everything suggests that it should, and more questions are asked than answered. The story simply doesn’t add up in the end – you get a terrific, moving and autentically riveting final scene with Alma (seriously, I don’t remember being that moved by a video game for some time now), but when you try to track why that thing actually happened, you can’t – there’s no real sense to it, it just sort of happens. There’s also a certain type of enemy which is there for some reason, but you don’t really know why – it doesn’t seem to have any alliegance, but is blatantly supernatural, so * somebody * has to control it…

You get more types of locations here, so it's not only offices and warehouses, thought there is a good number of locations 'borrowed' from the base game. The scares here are better constructed than in the base game. They are also shown to you more often – not very much more often, but somewhat. If the basic game had this level and intensity of creepy stuff going on, it would be that little bit better. There’s still some strange discrepancy in the theme (you get to you a minigun and a laser rifle and fight against new types of robot enemies), but some stuff works very well. That Alma scene I talked about above is complimented by a great music background which makes it really cool. Some other tracks, however, are not that atmospheric and as far as they set the pace for the skirmish, they don’t really work for a wannabe-horror game. The game is also pretty short, at only around 5 hours. I guess that’s good enough for an expansion if you get it in a single edition with the basic game, but if I bought it solo I would probably be a little disappointed.

Anyway, Extraction Point deserves a 7/10 as well. It improves on some stuff which wasn’t quite as good in the base game, has an interesting story which actually has you invested in why certain things happen – even if it fails to deliver an answer in that respect, it’s still very enjoyable to watch its journey there. And the new scares are really spot on.

I actually didn’t enjoy FEAR that much when I started playing it, but once you get into the right mindset, it becomes a really good experience. Which is why I’ll attempt to get through Perseus Mandate over this week as well, just to get the first FEAR out of the picture. I’ll probably save Project Origin (FEAR 2) for another time – no point in forcing myself to play something if I can do it pretty much anytime. Still, I can’t say I’m particularly invested in the franchise – I know FEAR 3 is coming out, but I don’t think I’ll buy it before it gets really cheap.

niedziela, 6 marca 2011

Short Review #17: Grand Theft Auto - Vice City

After playing GTA3 I was somewhat disappointed with how many problems the game had. It was fun and all, but my enjoyment of it was hindered time and again by overly difficult missions, chance screw ups and, in the end, the general blandness. I was very hopeful toward GTA: Vice City, if only because of the terrific theme, taken straight from the cult TV series Miami Vice. This time around, I wasn’t disappointed.

The theme is Vice City’s biggest asset. Everything from the colour palette (a lot of pastel colours mixed with terrific light effects), through the character models, clothes, and cars, to architecture simply works. The great licensed soundtrack is also a very strong feature of the game. In GTA3 I found it hard not to listen to the MP3 Player instead of the radio stations, because out of the nine stations, three were unlistenable (drum&bass / trance / jungle music at its worst and bad hip-hop), four were ok but nothing special, one was a chat radio which was fun to listen but got old fast and the only one I actually enjoyed was the one playing classical music… but neither of these was actually enjoyable to listen to, which warranted a switch to my personal choice of MP3’s rather quickly. In Vice City I haven’t used this option once. Why should I, with such a great choice of listenable stations? Most of them are really great to have playing while you cruise around the city, if only because they compliment the 80’s theme so well. The choice of music is terrific. Even genres which I don’t usually enjoy, like hip-hop and pop, are so well represented, you just don’t mind it even if it’s not necesarrily your thing! Big kudos go to the rock / metal and the RnB stations. Listening to “And the Beat Goes On” by the Whispers while riding next to the beach toward the sunset? Awesome stuff. This game serves as a great guide to what 80’s music was all about, with a very good variety of music styles.

The humour in the game is also top-notch. Almost every dialogue line is funny in some way, even if it’s dark humour, the chats and commercials on the radio stations are both hilarious and, more often than not, ridicule a certain type of people or aspect of 80’s life in a very biting way. This makes the whole game a very tongue-in-cheek experience, which is good, because a ‘serious’ game about killing people and establishing a criminal empire would likely be a rather tough thing to swallow.

Gameplay wise things are also a lot better than in GTA3. There’s more stuff to do (even maybe too much to my taste, but then again I didn’t have to do all of it), and what you have to do to progress is much easier and manageable than in the previous game, which makes Vice City much more enjoyable. As you may recall, I haven’t finished GTA3 because the end-game missions are just ridiculously unfair. In Vice City they were somewhat challenging, but absolutely doable. My only gripe with Vice City on the gameplay side is that it took me ages to actually trigger the end-game, because as you get to a more open part of the game, you’re not really told what to do next. I spent time buying businesses and doing the side missions, but I then learned that I would have been better off saving that for later, and focusing on getting enough money to buy out the one location which actually matters. That, and there were some missions where a quicksave-in-mission would not go amiss, but since that’s outside GTA’s design philosophy, I can’t really hold it against the game that much (even though I still think that no quicksave or accessible saving in a 2003 game is just the designers being assholes). And yes, they didn’t exactly get rid of missions obviously based on luck (whether you get hit by a car or not, missions which are not really that dependable on your skills), but fortunately I could either get around them in some way or just don’t do them in most cases. Still, not cool, not in any way sensible.

Some stuff was carried over from GTA3 though, and one of them are the ridiculous physics. I have to admit, they have been improved from that game, but you can still spin out of control when slightly nudging another car, or end up on the car’s roof after a collision. Not to mention how you can apparently break through metal and concrete (lamps and streetlights) but not through wood (telephone line posts have you stop dead on them). The motorboats were not improved at all – they are as hard to steer as they were in the few on-water missions of GTA3 (and the protagonist STILL can’t swim). Some new additions include motorbikes, planes and helicopters. The former are fun to ride, but as little as a very slight hit on anything (and I do mean anything, maybe apart from the pedestrians, though that’s not a rule) has you ejected from the vehicle and into the air. The two latter have terrible controls which make them very hard to fly around, and take some of the real enjoyment you get from watching the city from above.

All the criticism aside, Vice City is a game very much superior to GTA3, in every way. A great setting, cast of actors, a lot of humour, terrific music and enjoyable gameplay make this game something everyone should play, even if the graphics haven’t aged that well (though they are still nice to look at). I’m not sure about San Andreas, as I haven’t played it yet, but from what I’ve seen (mostly gameplay videos), it’s theme is waaaaaay to serious to enjoy. Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t find afro-american gang wars very appealing or funny in any way. I’m going to guess that out of the three – GTA3, Vice City and San Andreas – Vice City is going to be the one I will enjoy the most. That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Vice City is a solid 8/10 and I heartily recommend it to anyone who hasn’t played it yet. Nowadays you can find a used copy in stores quite often, or Steam has it, and it’s often on sale. The few euro / pounds / dollars you’ll spend on it will give you more than 20 hours of gameplay for sure, and if you’re the completionist type, much more than that, I would assume.

piątek, 18 lutego 2011

Short Review #16: Halo - Combat Evolved

Halo. The shooter that is thought to have 'made' the Xbox platform. An ongoing series, extremely popular all around the world. A multiplayer phenomenon, a game which introduced new solutions to the FPS genre. Also, it's fun for around two or three hours, and then again for another hour, after which it becomes obvious it's utterly and completely rubbish. A piece of crap game, full of very bad design choices and mediocre gameplay. Also, I have heard several people state that this is the best game of the series...

Ok, so without getting into the plot or whatever, I'll point out what I actually liked about the game. The first few hours were a fun, although not a very riveting shooter. The music is good or very good throughout. The graphics are nice to look at, though obviously they aren't anything special today, but I can see how good they could have been considered when the game came out. The enemy AI is quite good, they dodge your bullets and grenades, run around to evade you. And of course, kudos for introducing the regenerating life thing, and grenades into FPS games, though Call of Duty 2 has done both waaay better. But Halo was first, I can dig that. Good for them. Oh, and the Flood 'spiders' were a really nice touch... for the first 10 minutes. They kind of loose their appeal after you've been killing them for several hours.

Now the bad stuff... this is going to take a while.

1) Lazy level design. I have never been so bored by a game's level design in my life. Halo reuses levels more than any other game I ever played. You traverse the same (well, not exactly the same, but pretty much) corridor and room several times IN A ROW, and then you go through them AGAIN AND AGAIN for three or four times over the course of the game. The same goes for several other locations. It's not that obvious in the first few hours of the game when you've got some good variation. But once you reach around the middle of the game, it's just copy+paste pretty much until the end (or at least for the several hours I actually played the game).

This is especially noticeable in the Library location, where you traverse pretty much the same level over and over again for around an hour of gameplay, all the time fighting off wave after wave of the exact same enemies. NO VARIATION WHATSOEVER except for some backup later on.

2) Retarded combat features. To this point: a completely useless 'basic' weapon, the assault rifle. You start several levels with it, and the pistol, you also have ample opportunity to pick it up later on. The weapon which spends its ammo very quickly, has almost NONE accuracy, and deals shit damage. Congratulations. Especially given the fact that all the other weapons (except the Needler) are pretty much all good, just dependant on the situation. Retarded combat feature

#2: enemies which insta-kill you. This includes guys with melee weapons which kill you the moment they reach you, and it doesn't matter how much shields or health you have. They are sometimes cloaked, and at other times they run at you from around a corner, so if you're not looking that way, you'll get backstabbed and won't even know what hit you.

Also, Missile Launchers. There are levels with several enemies close to eachother who have that weapon. One shot from it, and more often than not, you're dead. That's actually what made me quit the game.

3) It's a console game, so of course NO SAVING YOUR GAME EXCEPT FOR CHECKPOINTS. At the beginning, there was quite a lot of checkpoints, so this wasn't much of an issue. After that, this has become a true and utter frustration. That rage quit I mentioned above? Yeah, a guy insta-killed me RIGHT BEFORE A CHECKPOINT, after a good 10 minutes of a hard firefight. Doesn't that just make you want to play a game more?

4) Schizophrenia. This game doesn't know what it wants to be. It starts off as a run-of-the-mill SF story with humourous element to it (the basic enemies speak gibberish english, stuff like 'run away!' in squeeky comedic voices). It then, briefly, becomes a SF survival horror when you fight off the Flood (an alien life form which assimilates and mutates other life forms), although that part of the game has absolutely TERRIBLE pacing, which makes the whole thing (which could have been a nice refreshing of the gameplay) a dreary and tedious experience. Half-way through that Survival Horror bit you meet a character who acts as if he was a comic relief. Let me say that again - you fight with a terrifying enemy which sets you on edge, and then there's that guy hovering over you, cracking jokes and humming songs under his nose... uuuummm theme breaker, anyone? And finally, it assumes a very serious tone in the 'save the world' kind, of course without actually getting rid of the horror-like enemies, or of the comedic-relief enemies.

5) Repetition. #1: The enemies. There's only a handful of them, and you are actually fighting one type of them (the Covenant) for several hours, then you fight the Flood EXCLUSIVELY for another SEVERAL hours (and they have even less enemy types than the covenant), and then, for the remainder of the game, you get a mix of the two. What the hell?

#2: The weapons. You get introduced to most of them early on in the game, and use them for the whole experience. Around 10 weapons is usually enough for FPS games, but in Halo it just becomes boring very fast.

#3: Everything else. Seriously, the game is so god damn repetitive from around the half further, that it was a chore and I had to FORCE myself to play through it. Even the music has only a handful of tracks! They're good, as I mentioned at the beginning, but how long can you listen to the same stuff?

6) Vehicle physics. Ok, Halo had vehicles in. Great, congrats. Too bad they're shit to drive / fly around. Compared to the others, this is just a small gripe, as you don't even use vehicles that often.

And see, if Halo wasn't as long as it is, if they cut out around 30-50% of the game in favour of a shorter, more intense and varied campaign, it wouldn't be as bad. Sure, all the bad stuff would still be visible, but at least you wouldn't be able to say they screwed up the level design as much as they did. If it was like Call of Duty - short but sweet, it would be a decent game. As it is, it's tedious, boring, tiresome and bland for the most part. Once you enter the same location for the fifteenth time, fought the same enemies for several hours, you can't really care about the plot any more. These pacing issues, which are intimately connected to the bad design choices, had to be visible even 10 years ago... why then, god dammit, was the game regarded so good despite having pitfalls which most older titles never had? Remember Unreal, Quake 2, Soldier of Fortune, Serious Sam? Each of these games was different, but NONE of them had such pacing problems and crappy level design.

Halo is a 5/10 game. It may have been a 9/10 back in the day, though how it's problems weren't pointed out, I have no idea. I'd rate it a 4/10, but I have to give it credit for innovating the genre, and paving the way for truly great games like Call of Duty 2 (which had many of Halo's elements - regenerating health, grenades, rifle-butting enemies etc). As it is, this game is an utter waste of time. If you feel you should play it to 'know the classics', well, do it. But don't pay for this game. Rent it, borrow it, see it at a friend's place. Save your money. I had a chance to get this game for 5 pounds. I ended up getting it for 1 pound. I can't tell you how HAPPY I am that I only paid that much for it. I have to say, I had moderate fun with it for a few hours, but after that I was just forcing myself to advance.

Seriously, in the light of my Shogo review, I can see how crappy this game really is. Even Shogo, even though obviously not a very well designed game, was A LOT better than Halo, and a lot more fun to play through. If Shogo was 10 hours long, I'd probably hate it, but it was four of five hours long, which was just enough to keep it interesting and fun to play. If Halo was 5 hours long, I'd probably rate it at around 6, or maybe even 7/10. But what are initially minor grievances, grow up to be major problems once you start encountering them over and over again.

To sum up, AVOID this game. Don't believe your friends that this is worth playing. When they tell you that, ask them when they played this game the last time. If the answer is anything more than a two or three years, they are living off nostalgia, or clearly haven't played much FPS games. This is probably the worst shooter I ever played, and certainly the worst 'supposed to be good' game I ever played. Seriously, I got more fun out of Age of Empires 2, and that says something...

wtorek, 15 lutego 2011

Short Review #15: Shogo

Where I currently live (though not for much longer), Charity Shops and Second-Hand bookshops are quite common, so there's a lot of second-hand games to find here. I went down to a big used books place's cellar in search for something interesting, and there it was – an original, boxed copy of Shogo: Mobile Armor Division. I've completed it in a few days, and here's what I thought.

Shogo is a FPP from Monolith, released in 1998. Its main inspiration is anime, or more specifically, the type of SF anime which includes mechs duking it out. The plot is... there, but to be honest, it's too sketchy and not very well explained or presented. There's something about a corporation, a government, a terrorist group, then some aliens are thrown into the mix... But yeah, it's an older game, so stories weren't exactly that strong back then. There's more intrigue and plot than in most games of that time, however.

You have two types of gameplay in Shogo. You fight on-foot, and from inside a big mech. The two modes do not really differ, which is quite a change from some other, more simulation-heavy mech games. While a mech, you can transform into a vehicle (not very useful) and double-jump, and that's about it. Everything else, from powerups through weapons and movement works exactly the same, so it's very arcade-like. You get four mechs to choose from, but to be honest I see little sense in picking any other than the most heavily armoured but slowest one – it's still pretty fast, and the added armour proves very useful. The other choices suggest that Shogo can be played in different ways depending on your play style, but the truth is that the game is way too simple to leave any place for anything more than run-and-gun tactics.

The same argument can be made about the weapons. There's really no reason to use any weapon other than the assault rifle. Well, the grenade launchers can be useful some time, but the shotgun is pretty useless (because enemies tend to shoot at you the second you don't fire on them, the reload on the weapon gives them a chance to do that), the machine gun is only good until you get the rifle, and the pistols are only good until you find the machine gun (which is quite early). The same can be said about the mech weapons, although you use a bigger variety of them here, if only because you sometimes want to trade damage output for accuracy or damage for shooting speed.

The missions themselves feel pretty disjointed. There's a screen stating your objectives, and you get dropped right into the action, sometimes with an intro, sometimes not. The levels end abruptly, as you reach a door or a certain point on the map. Also, some of the levels are very short, lasting only around a minute or so. So those are some of the reasons why the story feels vague, as it's delivered in chunks, instead of a flowing narrative. Also, there are some bizarre things which feel like they don't really fit. You defeat a single character three times, but it is never explained who she is and why she wants you dead. One mission has you retrieving a cat from an old building full of homeless people, but before you are able to do it you have to find its squeaky toy. It was probably supposed to be a joke, but the hilarity was kind of lost on me. There are people you can talk to, and they deliver a single or two lines of dialogue, but they are not used to further the plot or anything, it's just a kind of a bonus feature. The good thing is that you can choose from two alternative ending sequences which differ completely, leading to pretty much the same ending, but through different events.

The combat is the strangest thing about this game. On one hand it's criminally unfair. Despite the Health and Armor meters going up to 300, it only takes a few shots from enemies to die. Sometimes the enemy will score a Critical Hit on you, as you can on them. This will, most of the time, kill you outright. Some weapons will do that no matter what. Enemies will often shoot you the second you enter a corridor or room, and its rather hard to tell where they shot you from, so it's all down to quick saving often and trial and error. On the other hand, the enemy AI is shameful. 9 times out of 10 they just stand there without noticing you until you start shooting or move closer. You can shoot at enemies from a distance and they will not react. While you are shooting at them, they cannot retaliate. There's no such thing as tactics, and the enemies almost universally do not pursue you after you shoot them. Add a very low number of enemy types to the mix, and you get combat which is both repetitive and bloody hard at the same time.

The graphics in the game are quite nice to look at. The interiors, mech design and weapon design are all good and quite true to the theme. The models, however, are horrific. The faces are something between a badly drawn anime character and a very creepy doll, while their bodies are unnaturally twisted or posed. The character portraits are very clearly drawn by different artists, which makes them look unprofessional and shoddy. The music is cool, but nothing too special, and the sounds are fine as well. The voice acting is ok, but the dialogues are pretty bad, taken straight from a B-class action movie.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Shogo is quite fun to play through. It's pretty short, at only around 4-5 hours (or so I guess), but if you're interested in the theme or you simply have no other FPS to play, this is a nice way to spend your time. It's not a good game, being too disjointed and following some pretty weird design choices (the laughable AI non-withstanding), but for some reason it is still good enough to be enjoyable. Maybe it's the weapons, the quick and brutal action and the original theme? At any rate, Shogo gets a 6/10 from me. Don't go out of your way to find this, but if you do and you think this may be your thing, go for it if it's cheap.

You can get this as a downloadable copy from I'm not sure if it's worth its price, you have to be the judge of that yourselves.

sobota, 29 stycznia 2011

Short Review #14: Mechwarrior 3

When I got a 'new', Pentium 2, computer around 1999/2000 I was re-introduced to video games. Before I only had an IBM 486 and, as you probably imagine, it wasn't able to run any new games of the period. Upon getting that new PC, I got three games. One was already on the hard drive (a left-over from the previous user), Quake 2 (a classic I still love to revisit from time to time and I'm currently eyeing the expansions for it), Colin McRae Rally and Mechwarrior 3. That, more than 10 years ago, was my first contact with that particular game and with the franchise. And I remember that I loved the game, but didn't get far into it, perhaps because of the control scheme, or perhaps, being a 12 year old, my attention span wasn't actually enough to finish a game once I started it.

I haven't played any Mechwarrior games until last year, when I bought Mechwarrior 4 and gave it a go. I did have a passing experience of Mechcommander 2, and I knew more about the Battletech setting than I did when I first played Mech3, so I knew it was something up my alley. I enjoyed the game and had some fun with it as you may have read in my first Short Review. I was instantly reminded of Mech3, and it was my no.1 lookout title in charity shops, entertainment exchanges etc. I finally got it this month via Amazon. The copy I bought didn't have a box, unfortunately, but I did get two booklets: the instruction manual and a 'Technical Reference' with 'Mech info.

First of all, it was bloody hard to get the game to work. Even when I did, it seemed to take pleasure is freezing and crashing on me in random moments during missions. Mech3 is one of the games where there's no such thing as a Save system, so that had me playing through some missions several times to finish them. So a word of advice for any of you who'd like to revisit or play it for the first time - it's kind of a bitch to run on modern PC's. However, as long as each session lasted, it was fun.

The Mechwarrior series assume you know your Battletech lore. There's no in-game encyclopedia, and the intro doesn't really explain much, rather it sets the scene for those of the players who know something about the setting. Well, I don't, to be honest, I have a very limited knowledge of it (mostly from the video games), so the plot here, however well executed, wasn't exactly clear to me at points. But the main gist of it is this: an operation to destroy Clan Smoke Jaguar has been planned, to punish them for some kind of offensive they took part in and to provide a warning to other Clans if they are tempted to do the same. The opening of the operation is disastrous though, with a large loss of personnel on part of the invaders. But you survived the drop, along with your Mobile Field Base, and you are hell-bent on completing as much of the objectives as possible.

This general vagueness of the setting in the game translates directly to the vagueness of some of the game's mechanisms. For example, you can equip items such as CASE, MASC, Artemis IV, ECM Suite... the list goes on. However, there's no explanation of ANY type in-game on what these items actually do. Luckily, I got the manual, so I could read into what each of them is used for. Woe to the players who don't have that option but still wish to play the game! Most of these are not things that are essential to getting through a mission, but a lot of them are quite helpful. The whole game has this underlying theme of complexity going on, which was, I think, somewhat dumbed down in Mech4 (or at least they had descriptions of the items in-game). Mech3 can be played as an Action Game, using a limited number of commands and controls, and this is how I played it. However there's no doubt in my mind that it's best when played as it was intended to be played - as a simulation game. Some games are flight simulators. This one is a 'Mech simulator. Basically the whole keyboard is used, and from what I know the game really benefits from having a joystick to play it with. I don't own one, though I'd like to get one just for Mechwarrior games (and a few space sims I'm hoping to pick up or play in the future).

Remapping the keys gives you an approachable control scheme, but it's not very satisfying, as you pretty much know that there's a large chunk of functionality you're just not using. On the Easy difficulty setting, the campaign doesn't present too many challenges with this scheme, but it's still interesting and rather gripping when the action comes in. Each 'Mech power-up detected' alert has you look at the radar searching for a new target, firefights are quite tense and sniping enemies from away with long-range lasers is very, very fun.

The graphics have, obviously, aged - but I think they aged pretty well. Sure, everything is blocky and there's no really shiny effects, but that gives the game a rough, bleak look which fits the setting perfectly. I could totally see, and play, an MMO game based on an engine similar to this one, and would not say one bad thing about the graphics. Looking at enemies from the cockpit gives a sense of immersion, while viewing your 'Mech from an angle with a cinematic camera just looks plain awesome. One gripe I have about the graphics is their poor variety in a way. During the course of the campaign you get through many missions divided into four chapters (Operations), but three of them look exactly the same: bleak, grey landscapes with clouded skies, some black and grey buildings and a tree here and there. I heard that many people said that Mechwarrior 4 was too colourful, but it's not the colour scheme that I found lacking. I think this totally fitted the game's themes and setting, but when it introduced snowy plains into the mix, stuff got interesting! Hell, even before, when the clouds parted to show a reddish sky and you heard thunder in the background, that was a nice mix of things! So it can be done, and I wish it was done more often with this game.

The sound in Mech3 is great, you can feel the stomping of the machines, and each explosion is quite satisfying, as are all weapon sounds. The music is also pretty good, but there's only a handful of tracks played at the beginning of missions, and when they finish, there's only silence to accompany you. Mind you, each missions doesn't take too long to finish. I think the longest I spent with a single mission was around 25 minutes, and that's only because I took my time with the advance. Usually, one firefight quickly brings you to another as you complete your objectives, so most missions take around 15-20 minutes. And there's only around 20 of them, so it's safe to say that the whole Mechwarrior 3 game can be completed in under 8 hours, provided you don't spend too much time agonising over different Mech configurations. To be honest, now that I think of it, it's not too bad, actually, but I could've sworn I've only been playing this game for a few hours before completing it... Well, at any rate, I had the feeling that the missions ended very quickly, and I was sorry each time I had to press Ctrl+Q to exit a mission once it was completed. Then again, without saving points, this is for the better I suppose.

In my opinion Mech3 is a game worthy of revisiting, especially if you're a simulator fan or if you found Mech4 to be too 'arcade'y'. I'm still hyping myself up for the upcoming Mechwarrior 5, since it looks great and the whole idea is still there. I'm kind of sorry that the multiplayer for Mech3 is non-existant, as it would be a lot of fun to fight a 3v3 or 4v4 match from time to time... Anyway, this is a solid 8/10, not taking into account the performance issues (because that may be only my laptop, who knows, and it is a 10 year old game after all). Play it if you like what Mechwarrior is, or if you enjoy combat simulators. And, of course, if you can run it at all.

wtorek, 25 stycznia 2011

Games to play this year, encore

This is a list of premieres that I'm waiting for, from the most anticipated one, to the one I'm just mildly interested in. Next to each title is a percentage of how likely I am to buy the game this year. Otherwise I'll do my best to play it at somebody's place or borrow it from a friend who got it.

1. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (100% - I pre-ordered the Collector's Edition)

2. Batman: Arkham City (95% - I'll do my best to pick it up the moment it's out, a slight chance for a Collector's Edition if it's good)

3. Total War: Shogun 2 (80% - not sure if I'll buy it soon after the premiere, but a good chance I'll pick it up until the end of the year, for example from a Steam special offer)

4. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (80% - was thinking about pre-ordering the Collector's Edition, but might as well pick it up later in the year, or just get the regular edition. Much depends on the reviews.)

5. Mechwarrior 5 (65% - provided it comes out this year, I'm willing to buy a regular edition unless the Collector's Edition [if there's going to be one at all] kicks ass)

6. Portal 2 (50% - not a very important buy this year, this can definitely wait until I can get it cheap)

7. King Arthur 2 (50% - much depends on the price and a bit on the reviews. The first part only recently had its price lowered.)

8. Space Marine (40% - not a big chance I'll try to get it this year, there's no rush, but I'm definitely interested in seeing it being played and trying it out)

9. Star Wars: The Old Republic (30% - being an MMO, I'm unlikely to try it right away unless it's going to be free to play which it almost certainly won't)

Also, I'm aware that I had to dust this blog before I wrote this entry. Sorry for that, I'll try to do better, though I can't promise much because... surprise, surprise, I may actually start working in the industry come March! But I won't spoil it by talking about it, anyway there's a good chance that the moment I get the job, I'll close down the blog or put it in 'hibernation' mode. We'll see.

Any games you're waiting for this year?

niedziela, 9 stycznia 2011

Ending the Gaming Diary

Yeah, so, as you can probably gather, the Gaming Diary format isn't exactly working out if you keep doing it for a month. Scratch that.

No King Arthur review yet, as I'm really not in the mood. But one's coming, I hope, some time soon.

In the meantime I finished Zombie Driver and installed and finished Zeno Clash. Both are indie games, both are quite enjoyable, with Zeno Clash having an original setting (with a punk / fantasy / tribal feel to it) but being very, very short (around 3-4 hours). Come to think of it, the campaign of Zombie Driver probably isn't longer than that, if at all that long. Both have additional modes, one I didn't try (Deathrace in Zombie Driver, my omission, but I can't fix that because, in my haste to create more disk space, I uninstalled the game shortly after completing it) and one I did try but didn't care about (Slaughter in Zombie Driver - a free-form run-and-gun on a preset level and seeing how long you can survive) and one I tried and may actually play some more (the Challenge mode in Zeno Clash).

I also played some more FEAR. I'm really liking it, but the horror / tension is right there on the border with me, so I've got to take it slow. Which means there's no way I'm going to finish it before Wednesday.

Also, GTA Vice City. Got to a point when I almost triggered the end game, but it seems I don't own enough businesses to forward the plot, so I'm doing small missions and making money off what I have (movie studio and print). Still having fun, but, again, the chance I'm going to finish it before going away is very slim. It's possible, but I don't think it's happening.

Summing up my plan for this month, it didn't work out. I got bogged down with some games, others I simply took my time with, sometimes I didn't feel like playing anything, I got back to older titles and installed some that weren't on the list... A good time was had, though I don't have as much reviews of games as I thought I'm going to. But well, I'm only human, and there's a whole new year to play games ahead of me...

sobota, 1 stycznia 2011

Gaming Diary - Day 25 (01.01.11)

Alright, so a new year has started. Yay, I guess?

I got through that pesky mission in GTA: Vice City. I tried out a method I haven't seen anywhere on video, and it worked. Easy as pie, really, but I still think that cutscene should've been a save point. The game branches nicely now, I'll enjoy some more tomorrow.

I also played a bit of FEAR, got to a rather scary moment and stopped playing. The ambience isn't killing me, but I can still take it only is rather small doses, but that's me. The game still isn't half as scary as Dead Space, it's more a Bioshock kind of thing with added creepiness in the hallucinations / visions you get.

Company of Heroes, I got through another mission and right now I'm at the last mission of the basic campaign. I'm hoping to finish it this coming week, and maybe move on to the Opposing Fronts British campaign.

No King Arthur today, I'll fix that tomorrow.