Friday, 2 December 2011

Modern Warfare 3 lasts six hours? *sadface*

Every Easter at least one person you know will exclaim that Cardbury’s Cream Eggs have gotten smaller. It’s probably true and is yet another thing that can go on the depressing list of things that have cheated me in life. The thing that worries me is that this subtle shrinkage will start happening to games.

I would argue that this has already happened at least once before, as I swear that an eight hour game was not the norm in my Nintendo 64 days. Yet today we seem to accept it as a good length, having caved into the trend that most single player games have enforced for several years. Whilst I don’t always think eight hours is value for money, especially when you compare it to 100 hours of Skyrim, I can just about stomach it.

Having read reviews of Modern Warfare 3 I am increasingly disheartened that its campaign is between five and six hours long. Really? That short? I haven’t played the game but if it’s true then I might just chew my foot off in sadness. I’ve never thought that the raised RRP of Call of Duty was value for money, but I’m now even more against the series if the campaign is only six hours long.

Activision seems to be taking the piss out of me. I don’t know if I’m alone in thinking this, but they are very keen to undo just about every staple of a game that I enjoy. Reduced freedom to explore, enemies that won’t stop materialising until you cross an invisible thresh hold and repetitive arena based deathmatch multiplayer are all steps in the wrong direction. The significantly shorter single player portion is just the dog turd icing on the cake.

Ultimately, it’s all of these things which take Modern Warfare 3 off my Christmas list. I know that most people would argue that the real value of the series is multiplayer, but I find the chaotic, seemingly random, bullet lottery gameplay boring. I fell in love with the Call of Duty series for the campaigns, which have all been brilliant up to World at War. The mangled game beast it has become now fills me with disappointment and fuel to power my frustration of this sequel obsessed time we live in.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Four years of Player One Start

Today is a happy day as Player One Start is now four years old. What started as my personal playground of writing fun on the Internet has, well, not really changed. It was never meant to be more than my own space in this mental digital age we live in. But it has persevered and stayed updated whereas so many other blogs have ended up neglected and abandoned in the cyber-cold. That’s something to be happy about.

So what’s happened in four years? Well, the world has been collapsing economically and some unlikeable politicians have been replaced by more unlikeable politicians. But as far as games are concerned there have been some big developments.

There have been some cracking titles released in the last four years, including Grand Theft Auto 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Portal 2, Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction (well I liked it). Of course, the worrying trend here is that all of these critical successes are sequels, although in their defence, the original Uncharted, Portal and Mass Effect only just miss this four year window by a few weeks as all were released around this time in 2007.

The point is I’m struggling to think of an original, break through title that has enjoyed the same level of critical acclaim over the life of this blog. The one that springs to mind is Batman: Arkham Asylum, which really took the world of Batman and applied it successfully to a game. At the moment we are in a climate where new ideas are serious risks, especially when you can re-tread old ground with an established IP and find success. It’s a real shame that Bulletstorm didn’t sell well because that was a great game with a new setting and character set. Possibly not the most original idea in the world, but it was still brave enough to try and be different.

Call of Duty has crumbled for me over the life of this blog. I loved Call of Duty 4, a brilliant game with fresh ideas and incredible set pieces. Then came World at War, not quite as good, but it had a flame thrower and Kiefer Sutherland. Modern Warfare 2 had the appeal of a microwave meal being reheated after its initial zap and Black Ops lost me completely. I try not to hold grudges, but a regurgitated Modern Warfare just doesn’t interest me.

But oh well, I’ll stay optimistic for the future. I’m already planning what sequels I’m picking up next year, such as Prototype 2 and Mass Effect 3. Until then I’ll still blog, trying to ask and answer all of the great questions out there, such as “Will Hitman Absolution be good?” “Does Half-life 2 Episode 3 exist?” And “What does the soldier on the cover of Battlefield 3 have in his left pocket that is so hot it has caused him to smoulder?”

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mass Effect 3 - Too good for multiplayer?

Mass Effect 2 was more addictive than cigarettes and sweets when it first landed in my disc tray. It must have stayed in my console for about two or three weeks straight as I battled to complete it. Most of my free time was eaten up by the captivating campaign. I was even allowing my Xbox to shut down for 15 minutes every two hours, just to ensure it didn’t cook its components and red ring on me.

This leads me to assume that Mass Effect 3’s single player portion will do exactly the same, as it ends Shepard’s tale and hopefully leaves the universe that little bit safer. In an attempt to keep up with the crowed and expand the game’s replayability, Bioware are also adding a multiplayer component for the third game in the series. I can’t help but think how this might interfere with the main game.

Assuring us that the multiplayer isn’t just a bolted on afterthought, Bioware has said that it will contribute towards the single player campaign in some way. A galactic control system records your progress in multiplayer and adds to your galactic war readiness rating in the game’s single player campaign, but apparently you can still achieve the game’s best endings without the multiplayer. That being said, this means the system must be balanced so that overplaying the multiplayer doesn’t just make the single player campaign’s best outcomes easy to attain.

My concern grows out of one of my biggest and possibly worst gaming habits. I like to complete the single player portion before I move onto the multiplayer. To get the most out of Mass Effect 3, it sounds like I’ll have to break this convention.

Unfortunately, if the game is just as compelling as the last two entries in the series, I’m going to find it very hard to break away from the campaign and hit the co-op arena to ensure the galaxy is as ready as it can be for all-out war. My fear is that I’ll get to the tipping point, eager to push the story forward, only for my completion senses to kick me in the brain and force me to play the multiplayer component for hours.

This may turn out to be a very welcome and fun break from the main game, but on the other hand the suspense could just as easily hold me by the balls and slowly squeeze until I can no longer bear the dull ache.

So my chief concern is that Mass Effect 3’s campaign will be so good that the multiplayer component will be pointless, at least on the first play through. Hopefully the multiplayer will be implemented in a way that makes it just as compelling as the main story. One way to do that will be to allow access to the online co-op features through the main game, and not a lifeless menu option. Making it a seamless transaction like that will help blend the two modes together and really make it something special.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Gaming when you're not gaming

I generally disapprove of Facebook games. They look too cutesy, encourage you to spam your friends with virtual crap and usually want you to exchange real money for virtual funds that give you a significant edge over non-paying players. However, I do have one guilty Facebook secret that has had me hooked on a daily basis for two years.

MouseHunt does fall prey to being slightly cutesy, but it has its own unique, hand-drawn art style that immediately separates it from the plastic looking, copy-and-paste-a-like anime visuals that companies like Zynga seem to be pumping out. What initially drew me to MouseHunt was that it looked different from everything else I’d seen on the out of control social network monstrosity. It didn’t look like a dress-up doll simulator, or one of the millions of Flash games I’ve played over the years. But visual individuality does not make a game good. It was the gameplay that really intrigued me.

As the name suggests, you hunt for mice in MouseHunt. You set a trap, arm it with cheese and then wait for a mouse to come along. The mice have a degree of obsessive compulsive disorder and will check out your trap every hour. Sometimes you will catch the mouse and sometimes you won’t. Mice caught give gold and points which are used to buy new equipment and level up.

The concept is really simple and may sound quite boring. The maximum interaction you can exert is commencing a manual hunt for mice every 15 minutes, and this is just a single mouse click. As such, the game cannot eat up hours of your time in big chunks. The true genius behind the game is that it lets you play it completely passively.

I think passive gaming is a brilliant concept as it allows you to enjoy reward based gameplay without actually playing. Sure, you’ll make progress quicker by keeping a very close eye on it, but you don’t have to be super active to get far.

The only other example of passive gaming I can think of is the brilliant skill system in MMO Eve Online. You don’t earn new abilities by blowing up spaceships for hours on end, but instead you simply wait for a skill to finish. If a particular ability takes one hour to learn, you can tell your character to start learning it, and then leave the game for an hour. Your character will have learned the skill upon your return.

Passive gaming is an excellent way to keep up a gaming addiction without actually having to play a game. It might sound like the gaming equivalent of taking methadone to tackle a moreish heroin habit, but it works really well. Making progress in a game without actually playing still gives you the rewarding buzz of knowing that the next level or new piece of gear is just around the corner.

Or maybe I’m just a bit mental and enjoy hunting pretend mice over Facebook a little too much.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Battlefield 3 campaign train

The thing I like about rail journeys is that they usually get me where I need to go with the least amount of hassle and effort on my part. You just get to sit back and enjoy the ride until you eventually get off and then continue with life. On-rail shoot ‘em ups are typically like train journeys designed to entertain. You wave a plastic gun at pixels on the screen and have a great time pretending you’re John McClane or Rambo.

Time Crisis arcade cabinets and home console editions are classic examples of this done right. They walk the player through an action intensive environment and ask you to shoot the pop-up gallery style villains using a fun peripheral. Unfortunately, not all on-rail shooters can capture the feeling adequately, especially when they don’t intend to be on-rail shooters.

I don’t understand why Battlefield 3’s campaign got as much praise as it did. Don’t get me wrong, I love the multiplayer and have managed to play a little bit every night since its launch weekend. It’s just the campaign seems so funnelled and guided. You might as well be following a track through each linear mission. Battlefield 3’s campaign mode is a dull corridor shooter.

Okay, the corridors are riddled with some of the best graphics seen in games and are mostly disguised as wide-open areas, but there is only one route through each mission which will periodically throw bad guys at you in all the obvious places. I was not pleasantly surprised once going through the campaign and found it very disappointing.

Modern Warfare 2 is guilty of exactly the same thing, but I had already dismissed that in my head. I had the hope that DICE was going to try something different in Battlefield 3, which since its announcement has been widely hyped as the Call of Duty killer. However, the campaign had gone down the exact same route as the Modern Warfare series, only keeping everything that bit more dull, clichéd and realistic.

You might as well be pushed around the levels in Battlefield 3 as there is only one way to go at any opportunity. The only level that offered any freedom was ‘Rock and a Hard Place’, and even straying too far from the determined path in this area would most likely get you killed. I don’t understand how early reviews of Battlefield 3, which were mainly based on the game’s campaign, scored so highly. The campaign is boring, short-lived and unimaginative.

Like a train journey, it just felt like you got on, travelled through several areas and finally disembarked at the other side. It had no excitement, no element of exploration and felt quite clinical in its execution. You didn’t even get a plastic gun to wave at the screen.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Guerrilla Gaming

We all find ourselves moving about more than we’d like at times. Visiting loved ones can really eat into your ‘free’ hours. Perhaps rotating shifts at work are messing with your natural man-clock and preferred hours of gaming. Or maybe there is housework to do after your neglect of the hoover has resulted in dusty smog clouds being jettisoned from your carpet with every footstep. Whatever the reason, sometimes it just isn’t practical to sit down and play Uncharted for five hours or commence a genocidal frenzy in Call of Duty.

Fortunately, the rise of indie games has finally given us an amazing selection of bite-size titles that can provide five or ten minutes of entertainment when only a small window of play time presents itself. A few years ago I might have turned to a slightly naff flash game to try and find a quick gaming fix, but now I just need to have a gander at my Steam game’s list and pick one of the many brilliant mini titles on there.

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity is one of my favourite examples of a quick fix game. For those who have no idea what it is, AaAaaA! (I won’t enter the rest of the ‘A’ characters to prevent eye strain), is a deceptively basic and trippy base jumping game full of obstacles that you need to fly close to in order to score points. Each course can usually be completed in under a minute and it is very replayable when chasing high scores.

It sounds like the kind of thing that might entertain you for 45 minutes in total, yet according to Steam I’ve managed to sink 18 hours into it. I don’t know how many times I’ve booted it up, or the number of machines from which I have played it, but it’s a tiny game (251 MB) you can take with you and play anywhere.

Another effective and enjoyable time sink I have found is Braid, the time manipulating puzzle platform game. It’s not quite as easy to play Braid in small chunks, but it fits the other criteria of guerrilla gaming well. It will run on most semi-modern typewriter grade laptops (that I’ve tried at least) and can keep you enthralled for hours. However, each level segment is quite short, so you won’t lose much progress should you need to pull out mid game.

I was quite sceptical when the slew of indie titles first started to appear, and couldn’t quite comprehend why people would buy them over ‘proper’ games. I think I’ve finally found where they lie in my life and now really applaud the dedicated teams behind some of these gems. Whilst indie titles may face financial, man power and distribution restrictions not encountered by most major publishers, many turn these problems into innovation.

A lot of people say that PC gaming is dying, but I think it is merely changing. One and two man indie development teams are really producing excellent results. It’s almost like a throwback to the Amiga days of garage based game devs, which is definitely a great thing.

If you want to get into the indie gaming scene then there is a lot of choice out there, but I’d particular recommend you keep an eye on the Humble Bundle website, which often offers fantastic collections of indie titles on a pay what you want basis. Some of the money (or all if you want it to) goes to the Child’s Play and Electronic Frontier Foundation charities. Knowing you have helped a charity definitely makes playing the games feel like less of a guilty habit. Everybody wins.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hitman: Absolution - It'll be good, right?

IO Interactive has released a 16 minute chunk of gameplay from Hitman: Absolution, and my first instinct as a fan of the series was to whine and complain in comment fields. I’ve stopped my sadness induced hyper-ventilating and will now attempt to look for the positives in the latest stab at the Hitman series. It’s no secret that I love Hitman: Blood Money and that I would be happy with more of the same. The initial words and footage of Absolution suggest a bit of an overhaul, pulling a Splinter Cell Conviction on the series, with new abilities, mechanics and motives. It’s not all bad though, right?

We begin with a dramatic entrance as Agent 47 crashes through a window on the upper floor, just as the police kick in the doors to the library where the barcode branded assassin is taking refuge. The first thing he does is hang from the ledge and drop down. It isn’t a scripted movement like climbing and hanging has been in previous games, which suggests an increased amount of manoeuvrability.

Later on in the video, 47 hangs, climbs and shimmies around more ledges above his eye level. He’s not as nimble as Ezio, and doesn’t look to be leaping down on enemies for slightly ridiculous airborne assassinations. As long as it’s just used as an optional way to navigate levels, I have no issues with its inclusion. It will dishearten me lots however if it turn into Hitman’s Creed.

Another feature is the improved hand to hand combat. In Blood Money, fisticuffs could be used to wrestle a gun from an enemy as a last resort. It was a nice touch, especially as the gun could sometimes go off during the struggle, forcing you to adapt to the situation or reload a previously saved game. Absolution takes unarmed combat further and introduces a sleeper hold.

Previous games allowed you to knock people unconscious with a sedative syringe. It was efficient, but you could only take two syringes into any mission, meaning their use was fairly limited and an extremely tactical decision. A sleeper hold that gives you as many takedowns as 47’s arms can muster will make non-lethal mission approaches much easier, but is there a risk it can become too easy? We’ll have to wait and see.

And finally, the walkthrough gives us a glimpse at how 47 can deal with suspicious AI. It looks like the days of standing in a pile of corpses with the magic disguise that grants you immunity are gone. It’ll be interesting to see the new disguise mechanics displayed properly. If they can be worked into any gameplay scenario then it could be brilliant. If these are scripted sequences only triggered in certain areas then it might be a lousy gimmick. But I’m staying optimist in this post, so I’ll put on my happy face and assume it will be good.

I’m going to be watching Hitman Absolution like a robotic sentry hawk on guard duty. I love the Hitman series and really want the next instalment to be just as good, if not better than the last.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Battlefield 3 is not Modern Warfare

You know a game has left a good impression when it makes me blog about it two days in a row. Battlefield 3 is good enough to warrant a second, praise filled mention on its own merits, but I also feel a slight need to stick up for it based on the lunatic ranting that clogs the official forum. Each trip to the message board seems to yield another nutter who compares the game with Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Yes, both games are set in modern times and focus on warfare, but that’s where the similarities stop.

A major difference between the games for me is the respawn behaviour. The thing that really tugged at my anger strings in Call of Duty is the sheer randomness of spawn points. In theory, this meant that members of the opposite team couldn’t sit in your spawn area and constantly pop you in the back as you rematerialize into life. The downside to this is that you reappear anywhere on the map. This is disorientating to say the least and usually means you have no idea where the frontline is, or where the enemy might appear from, potentially putting random death behind any corner.

Battlefield 3, for the most part, applies fixed spawn locations which allows you to think about enemy placement and strategies in the midst of battle. Enemies can still surprise you from behind, but you know that this was due to their own movements and not a result of the respawn lottery. Mobile spawn points can still be placed in slightly troubling areas that can make spawning an issue, but nowhere near the randomised enemy placement problem in Call of Duty.

Another minor point are the knife kills. I can remember how much fun it is to run around the map on Call of Duty and just tap a button when up close to instantly stab and kill an enemy. I can also remember that it was more annoying than a wasp swarmed picnic when I was on the receiving end of the insta-death stab attack. Battlefield 3 has taken the middle-ground and gone for instant kills from behind. Fortunately, these attacks are not as instant as the Call of Duty wrist flick and expose your attacker for the duration of his reach around heart stab.

By far my favourite feature in Battlefield 3 is an omission from Call of Duty and what so many other multiplayer games have tried implementing as of late. There are no killstreaks, and that makes me a happy non-camper. The ground will not be pummelled with random missile strikes from off-screen predator drones. Sentient helicopters won’t circle the battlefield, tearing up turf and tarmac with heavy machinegun fire. Nuclear missile strikes won’t descend on the arena and wipe out all life, yet mysteriously secure a victory for the man who ordered the random mass execution.

Whilst there are no killstreaks, bigger maps that accommodate vehicles may bring down just as many seemingly unfair deaths upon you, but the difference here is that you witness the other player do it to you. It was at least partially down to their skill which resulted in your demise. It wasn’t an automated bonus of unstoppable death and mayhem.

I’m really happy with Battlefield 3, especially based on this open beta which is running an early version of the game. I’ll admit that there are still plenty of bugs that need to be ironed out, but there is definitely a fun game underneath the few issues. To close I’d like to draw attention to these few flaws in particular, as these really need to be ironed out before the game is released. Hopefully they will be, but it still doesn’t hurt to spread the word and hopefully catch DICE’s attention.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Battlefield 3 beta impressions (rant free!)

The Battlefield 3 beta is currently drawing in opinions from all over the web, with the epicentre being the Battlelog forum. Of course, the loudest hive mind voice to be heard is the one that’s complaining about how Battlefield 3 simply isn’t Battlefield 2, or that X is overpowered and Y breaks the game. At the moment the forum appears to be a hornet’s nest that is busy stinging itself to death, so I thought I’d liberally spread my feedback on the game’s open beta here.

Most complaints levied at the game seem to be muddied by a lot of fanboyism and comparisons to Modern Warfare. There are so many threads popping up that are titled “I’m unhappy, preorder cancelled” or words to that effect, but I really can’t believe that these people are genuinely not going to buy the game. Compared to a lot of semi-realistic shooters, such as last year’s Call of Duty offering, Battlefield 3 plays brilliantly.

One mistake that I think EA have made with the beta was the map selection. A lot of the more legible criticisms seem to be about Metro, a Battlefield 3 map that does not feature vehicles at all. As vehicles are a predominant feature of the Battlefield series it seems strange to omit them from this public taster session. The absence of vehicles has also lead lots of people to draw the comparisons with Modern Warfare which may or may not have put them off Battlefield 3.

The game mode was also not the most inspired choice. Whilst I believe that the rush mode is best suited to the Metro map, for me, Battlefield 3 signalled the return of conquest as the main play mode. It’s not that I dislike rush mode, it’s just that I heavily associate it with Bad Company and not the core battlefield titles such as 1942, Vietnam, 2142 and of course, Battlefield 2.

Even with these factors however, I think Battlefield 3 is bloody marvellous from what I’ve played so far. I’m especially surprised by Battlelog. Launching each multiplayer game from the web browser seemed most strange to me at first, but the system has started to grow on me. There doesn’t seem to be any extra delay at getting into a game, and in many ways it’s made the process faster.

So, screw the haters and play the game if you haven’t already tried it. I’m definitely getting Battlefield 3 and am hoping it will rekindle my love for online gaming. I haven’t been this excited by an online game since Counter-Strike.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Taking on the horde and moaning about it

It is scary how fast time moves. I was happily minding my own business, not playing with much since completing Deus Ex Human Revolution, and then Gears of War 3 suddenly appeared. The game’s September release has always seemed miles away, and so when the week leading up to release day finally arrived it came as a surprise. Needless to say, I rushed out to my nearest supermarket (because specialist game retailers can sit and swivel on their prices) and picked up a copy on day one.

Having beaten the campaign I decided to place a quivering toe into the personally unknown waters of Gears multiplayer. And then the next thing I knew, it was Monday. I’ve really taken to Gears of War 3’s multiplayer and can finally be happy that the extortionate cost of Xbox Live might actually be slightly worth it for once (although online gaming should be free). My highlight is probably Horde mode. But as much as I like fighting off the hordes of running, screaming meat targets, I can’t help but feel the mode is poorly designed.

To avoid facing the inevitable noob abuse on my first go, I looked up some tips so it would at least appear like I had half a clue what was going on. The very first piece of advice I read was ‘go to the toilet before you start’. This is probably the single best tip I can pass on. A proper game of horde mode will last for hours. I’ve only managed to get up to wave 30 at the moment, and that took me and the random Internet folk I was playing with about two hours. The 30 second window between waves is certainly not adequate enough for an accurate wee. The most you can hope for is minimal collateral splashing should you attempt a mid-match toilet sprint. Even then you might return to your console and find your gear avatar bellowing “Revive me!”

Players are also far too eager to quit. The mode is designed for five players to tackle, but in most games, someone drops out after 10 or 15 minutes, immediately extinguishing your hopes of setting a new record. The reduced man power hits hard as every enemy starts gunning for you, like a herd of bulls that have seen red in a china shop full of matadors with haemophilia. Funnily enough, co-op multiplayer modes aren’t fun with fewer people when the difficulty curve assumes you have a full team.

A game mode that demands a large time commitment from five people who probably don’t know each other is asking a lot. I always feel guilty if I have to leave any game, and that guilt often keeps me in play for a few extra rounds. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the mind set of everyone. However, I do accept that emergencies crop up and people have to prioritise real problems over virtual genocide.

Epic Game’s could easily solve this issue if they added a matchmaking option that allowed players to join games in progress. This way you can continue playing after someone has dropped, as another player can drop in behind them. The only thing this might upset are the horde achievements related to completing waves, but to be honest I couldn’t care less about Gamerscore if a fix to the issue can be found. Actually, I couldn’t care less about Gamerscore if I tried.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Getting to the Heart of the Swarm

As the foundations of the gaming world are yet to be shaken this summer (at least until Deus Ex drops through the door), I’ve still been going through games I’ve had kicking around for a little while. Stepping away from consoles for a little while, I’ve been putting a lot of time back into PC gaming, especially now that my rig is capable of running games at a higher setting than ‘ultra low.’

One game that I’ll mention and not dwell on is the single player portion of Modern Warfare 2. Wow that game was short. I think I’ve had meals last longer than that overhyped behemoth of boredom. It was finished within the day and definitely not worth the 10 gigs or so necessary to install the damn thing. Fortunately I also had StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty on my playlist, which was able to fill in a lot more than the two play sessions it took to finish the retarded campaign of Modern Warfare 2.

Personally, I’m not a great fan of Blizzard and I dislike Activision with more intensity than a smirk and stare combo from Anne Robinson. Having said this, I genuinely believe that StarCraft II has the greatest single player campaign of any real-time strategy game. The storyline isn’t exactly inspired, with a standard triple threat of protagonists being at the blood spilling heart of it all, but it is brilliantly told through decent cutscenes and a series of interactive intermission environments.

These separate environments are where some real brilliance lies, with the game shifting to something you’d expect to find in a futuristic Monkey Island game rather than an RTS. As well as serving as a convenient break from the often hectic action found throughout each mission, it allows you to upgrade your units and structures with new or improved abilities. This addition gives you some customisation options that sit alongside the usual slew of missions that slowly bleed new units into your arsenal. Wings of Liberty did this fantastically, but can the Zerg centric Heart of the Swarm follow up in an equally impressive fashion?

It looks as though Blizzard is running off in a different direction to Wings of Liberty, bringing the customisation options closer to the core game and making each upgrade decision less clear-cut with many different combinations being viable. Another major difference will be the presence of Kerrigan – the main protagonist of the sequel – on the majority of the campaign missions. The campaign focuses on the evolution of Kerrigan as she gains control over Zerg forces. Unlike hero units in Wings of Liberty, Kerrigan can be resummoned at a hatchery if she dies, making her a feasible combatant that won’t cost you the mission if she gets nailed into the ground by big scary men.

Heart of the Swarm is supposedly meant to play in a similar fashion to an RPG, but I am very positive that this refers to the control and manipulation of Kerrigan and not the core StarCraft gameplay established in Wings of Liberty. This excites me like a dog on bonfire night, especially if they add significant depth to the already brilliant upgrade system that Wings of Liberty fastened in place.

The game is still off the radar, with Blizzard dropping no hints as to when Heart of the Swarm will be surging from the depths other than the mention that it will not be seen this year. Another expansion to the StarCraft II single player universe is more than welcome in my books, and definitely on my must buy list for whenever is burrows itself into retailers. It’s also been said that the game will be priced as an expansion, which could mean anything in this age of DLC and Activision’s recent trends of setting prices higher than anyone else. If this comes out at around the £20 mark then I’ll be chuffed to smithereens.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Coping with the early summer game drought

Droughts are only good for one thing; they make you consider your options. Of course in a desert this is never fun as you can only drink sand for so long until you begin to cry and attempt to lick sustenance from the few tears you might be able to generate. However, droughts in video game land allow us to go back over our collections in anticipation of sequels or just let us relive the good times.

My first trip down semi-nostalgia lane was Red Faction: Guerrilla. After playing the demo for Red Faction: Armageddon, I came away from the experience disappointed, a bit like visiting a friend after he had all of his fun and limbs surgically removed. It was an uninspired corridor shooter that took the best bits of destruction from Guerrilla and left them unattended on a train somewhere. It was so boring and it made me miss the mass destruction of its prequel.

Red Faction: Guerrilla on the other had is fun with a capital FUN. You can knock down buildings, punch through walls and create general chaos. I’ve yet to find another game that lets me climb inside a robot suit and plough through a building’s delicate infrastructure with robot arms flailing like a pair of demented Catherine wheels. It is so entertaining to smash up buildings to accomplish mission objectives. I even rescued some hostages (well, most of them) by driving a dumper truck through a wall and killing the majority of the hostage takers inside. Of course it could have gone hideously wrong, but even when it does it’s funny. Definitely my favourite physics model in a game.

Next on the list is Twilight Princess on the Wii. I love a good Zelda game and thought that now was the perfect time to relive some of those memories before Skyward Sword appears. Unlike Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, I have only completed Twilight Princess once before, and so I decided to remedy the issue. I’m currently up to the Lakebed Temple and have enjoyed it so far. It doesn’t quite have the magic of the first playthrough tied to it, but that’s something that so few games of this nature can recapture. It’s still a fantastic game.

The final title on my current playlist is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, the game with the most hostile virtual environment I’ve ever come across. Everything is out to kill you, from hideously mutated wild beasts to invisible hazards that hang in the air, just waiting to explode when you stick your nose out too far. You get the hang of it eventually, and with better equipment you can adapt to most hazards. But those first couple of hours can be very frustrating. I was chased into a house by a pack of wild dogs on my first explore. I thought I was safe until my suit burst into flames and I died.

Anyway, what really prompted me to delve back into the harsh lands of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe was the new PC that now adorns my desk. I’ve finally been dragged kicking and soiling myself into Windows 7, and while I still have a lot to learn about it, I can now look forward to games that will refuse to run on DirectX 9; in particular, Battlefield 3.

And that’s about it for now. I almost picked up Duke Nukem Forever when it was £12, but I think I’ll hold off until it appears in the digital bargain bin of wonder that a Steam sale will inevitably bring our way. I’m currently looking forward to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which according to the guys at PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine is pretty damn good.

Friday, 22 July 2011

What do you mean I can't load my game?

Apologies for the slight lack of blog posts lately, but real life has been selfishly trying to wrestle my time away from video games to deal with allegedly more important things. Having said that, I have managed to come across something that I believe is whinge-worthy enough to deserve its own post.

I know I’ve moaned a fair bit in the past about stupid games that decide to buck the trend and not include an auto-save function, forcing you to make the effort to record your progress manually. That’s frustrating, yes, but it’s not really game breaking. It just makes you feel stupid if you have a momentary brain fart and forget to press a button. My latest issue is far more severe.

On my travels through Europe in turn-based strategy title STORM: Frontline Nation, I’ve found that it is a good idea to save every turn or two because most countries seem to declare war on you randomly, like they have some kind of anti-diplomacy Tourette’s. Whilst still getting to grips with the game I started to poke the cluster of enemies on my boarder just to see the scale of attack to expect. Needless to say, every soldier I sent to investigate was unnecessarily sent to his death.

Armed with the knowledge of hindsight, I attempt to resurrect my forces by reloading the game. Here’s the really stupid thing; the pause menu has no “Load Game” option or equivalent. I had to quit to the main menu to load the game again, enduring the long load times that I assume wouldn’t be necessary if I was just rewinding a move or two on the game’s map. This seems like too much of a glaringly obvious mistake to be a simple oversight.

If its absence is to stop people like me cheating death, then why is there a save system at all? What’s the point in saving a game if I need to quit it to get back to the position I want? It makes experimentation with the game mechanics very frustrating and long winded, not the kind of thing I want to encounter while trying to learn.

Another game I reviewed earlier in the year also had the same problem. Zombie RTS Trapped Dead had a checkpoint save system, but again, no way to access it from the game’s pause menu. I can’t think of a reasonable explanation as to why there isn’t the option there. It’s bloody maddening to say the least.

Anyway, rant over. Please look forward to some proper content coming soon.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

DLC rant number 183

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the industry’s newest money vacuum, downloadable content. The three letters it is usually abbreviated to just make me cringe whenever I see them crop up, increasingly so when you hear them mentioned before the game they shall be bolted to is even released. I can’t help but feel incredibly cheated when you know they are making content that they don’t intend to put in the game unless you pay even more of a premium.

I remember when DLC was simply a few new maps that were the bright sparks of wonder nestled in amongst the latest patch notes. Now they are by and large the same thing, only they get applied in their own separate update which costs £10 if you want the pleasure.

The only time I will ever purchase a Call of Duty map pack is if there’s a new map based around large effigy of Bobby Kotick that players are encouraged to throw tomahawks at until money falls out of it, like a big corporate piñata. Well, I say that, but I would only buy such a map pack if I also buy the edition of Call of Duty it is tied to, which by the series’ current standards I probably won’t be doing.

Mass Effect 2 recently convinced me to spend the best part of 2100 Microsoft monies on its various DLC offerings and I have mixed feeling about it. While I did enjoy the new missions, I’m not sure that I enjoyed £15 worth of content. For arguments sake, let’s say that the base game originally cost £35. My vanilla playthrough took me about 24 hours to beat. For £15 I’d at least want a pound to hour ratio similar to that of the original game. I reckon it took about five hours to get through Kasumi, Overlord and Shadow Broker.

While they were fun to play through I can’t help but feel the price is a little unfair for the length of the content. I kick myself for missing the Bioware half price DLC sale that I swear they had a little while ago. Having said this, I still think that the Mass Effect 2 DLC I got was a million times better than the content I’ve seen in FPS map packs. It really bugs me how many people are happy to fritter their money away like they were feeding it to ducks in the park, just for the sake of two or three new maps. These things used to be free!

In my opinion it has lead to a very lazy market to bleed money from games that have already been released. New maps are hardly creative stretch on anyone’s imagination; at least Mass Effect 2’s aftermarket extras had some decent narrative and mission variety to them.

I can’t help but feel the position that game devs take on DLC is completely wrong. Seeing as the industry is obsessed with sequels at the moment, how about using DLC to drive excitement towards the next game? Release a free or at least reasonably priced extra chapter for the previous game in the series that leads up to the events of the next game. That way you get a nice publicity package that encourages players to go back to their old games and get enthusiastic about the next chapter in the series.

Dead Rising Case Zero touched on this idea and is widely regarded as an industry success. Okay, it wasn’t free, but the 420 or so points it asked for seemed like a very reasonable deal for what it was; a lengthy game demo with some exclusive content that leads directly into the next game.

I’m tired of DLCs just being fairly insignificant updates to server map rotations or the odd new costume. Give us some real content for the money please. If you need any ideas of what to include, just look at what expansion packs used to be.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Wii U be getting one?

We’ve had just over a fortnight now to slowly let the idea of Nintendo’s new console completely digest. Lots of developers are interested in it and the tablet-esque design of the controller has potential, but will it be enough to bring back the buzz that the Wii seems to have lost?

I really can’t make my mind up about the Wii U. Isn’t it just a massive DSi where you have to supply the top screen? I know it has raised graphical power over the Wii, but isn’t this mostly technology that we’ve seen from Nintendo before? It’s meant to be able to stream the game image from the TV directly to the controller, just in case your inconsiderate other half decides to clean your house while you sit there and play games, but there are some issues that I can’t get my head around at the moment.

With the main game’s image streamed to the controller, what does this mean for the touch screen control elements? One of the impressive things about the Zelda tech demo was the inventory screen being plastered over the controller. What happens when you want to change items if you’ve decided to put the main battle on the controller’s screen? I find it frustrating enough juggling windows on my PC; I don’t want to bring that sensation into console games.

Graphical power is another concern. There’s a lot of talk about it equalling and maybe even surpassing current gen consoles, but what happens two years after Nintendo have finally caught up to the rest of the world when Sony and Microsoft play their gargantuan hands? You can guarantee that they will produce something big and stupid, but capable of forcing sensations into our eyes that feels like a vigorous mint and tea tree oil scrub. Nintendo will get left behind again.

Where will this leave all of the promised third party support? We’ll fall into the same cycle of having a game that looks very similar on the Sony and Microsoft consoles with an inferior or possibly even non-existent Wii U edition. I still can’t get over what I saw the other day in Game. Even the box art for the Wii version of the Green Lantern movie game is of naff quality compared to the 360 and PS3 boxes. That’s honesty cranked up to 11.

The Wii U is still miles away and we’re yet to see any proper game footage so it’s meaningless to start passing judgements now. I’ll definitely keep an eye on it but I think the tipping point that everyone wants to know is the final price. If Nintendo can play this off as a cheap next gen console then they could be sitting on another gold mine.

Well, I say that, but Nintendo already know they are sitting on a gold mine. The Wii has built up a following similar to the mindless hordes that Apple likes to herd into its iBoat. The Wii U will sell by the trough load no matter how good or bad it is. I can’t quite imagine Nintendo pulling another Virtual Boy fiasco.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Electronic Entertainment Expo Reflection

In keeping with this blog’s usual pattern of timeliness and up to date views, I’m going to tell you all about my opinions of E3. Unfortunately I cannot say that my slightly late reaction time to the event is down to my slow recovery time from a shock and awe induced coma. Quite the opposite I’m afraid. E3 2011 just didn’t excite me all that much.

The major platform holders really didn’t inspire me this year. If I had to pick a winner, I think I’d back my earlier predictions and say Nintendo took it again. The WiiU Zelda tech demo was amazing, especially with the inventory on the controller’s screen. They would have to be on the Kerry Katona scale of crazy not to make a full Zelda title that looked like that footage.

I’m struggling to remember anything of interest that Microsoft brought up. I know that we all learned Mass Effect 3 will support Kinect. Now you’ll be able to say the voice commands to pick dialogue options, and the ominous Kinect bar of wonder will translate that to the game. I can’t help but ask; wouldn’t a microphone do exactly the same thing and not require the purchase of a £100 piece of equipment?

Halo 4 was also teased, but that just made my trousers go slack. I’ve never seen the appeal of Halo. To me, it’s a series that has never really progressed much. What people see in the green armoured genocide fetishist is beyond me. The remake of Combat Evolved would have interested me, perhaps have filled me in on what all the hype was about. That was until I found out that they are going to slap a £35 or so price tag on it for a game with no original content and some pretty graphics smeared on top. No thank you.

Sony’s conference doesn’t conjure up any exciting memories either. The NGP is now the PlayStation Vita (I still think it sounds like a bottled mineral water more than console) and Uncharted 3 looks good. That’s about it off the top of my head. I’m still looking forward to the Vita, but only if it is affordable at launch and has a good selection of games. The $249 WiFi model sounds nice, but you can just tell the price conversion will not be favourable to the pound.

I was far more impressed with what third parties had on offer. I’m very happy with what I saw of Hitman: Absolution. The level looked very impressive, especially how the room of police reacted to their colleague being a hostage. I just hope that the similarities to Splinter Cell: Conviction that the Internet is crying about stops at the UI. I want to go through the game and get a perfect silent assassin ranking like I did with Blood Money, Contracts and Silent Assassin.

Other than that, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations looks pretty sweet, although I’m not sure about the Abu Hamza tribute hook replacing one of the hidden blades. Lara’s new adventures also look very good, even though they have the distinct scent of Uncharted about them.

Even though E3 was ultimately disappointing, it still looks like a good year for gaming, even if it is mostly made up of threequels rather than new concepts.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Electronic Entertainment Expo Excitement

What? It’s June already!? Well then, that must mean E3 is almost here. Yes, the gaming Christmas that is a sweaty bitch to professionally cover returns again for the third year since its restoration to public spectacle. What is there to get excited about this year?

I suppose the big news is that Nintendo definitely have something huge to unveil. A new console from the innovative bods that will hopefully one-up all current gen machines with something more than just fancy graphics. Can Nintendo re-invent the Wiimote? Stirring rumours suggest the new console will have a high definition touch screen built into the controllers. It sounds exciting, but if true that’s going to make local multiplayer damn expensive.

Can Sony and Microsoft top that? Based on their performances last year, you’d have thought that the other big console dogs will be out to sink Nintendo this year. It’ll be interesting to see how they step up their game.

Sony will probably break out the NGP, which may possibly have had its name changed to PlayStation Vita. I suppose that’s better than Next Generation Portable, but to me it sounds more like a Sony brand of bottled water. I’m very interested to hear more about this new handheld. The reveal alone made me hold off on instantly purchasing a 3DS. Well, the reveal, and the lack of launch games. I just hope it doesn’t rely on that gimmicky rear touch pad. A gentle caress is not a suitable control scheme replacement for buttons.

More rumour mill grindings have suggested a new console from Microsoft. Last month it was reported by an industry insider somewhere that the innards of a new Microsoft console were at a games studio housed in a PC case. It’ll be interesting to see something come of that. I don’t care what Microsoft say about the future of their motion control peripheral. As far as I’m concerned, Kinect has failed. It certainly hasn’t enticed me with the wonders of arm jiggling.

I’ve already said that the game of E3 that has my knickers twisted into a wreath is Hitman: Absolution. Other than that it’s probably a mix of the usual excitement list. Uncharted 3, Gears of War 3, Bioshock Infinite, Mass Effect 3 and Zelda: Skyward Sword are all high on my list of things I want to know about. High in the ranks of my hyper-optimistic surprise appearances are Halflife 2: Episode 3 and Metal Gear Solid 5, both of which have been confirmed as no shows. Ah well, I can always hope that Gabe Newell and Hideo Kojima are just hideous teases.

I’ve just realised the especially sad detail that every game I have listed is a sequel to a series that already has at least two entries. Some more originality would be nice to see again.

Roll on June 7. It’s been a good year for gaming so far, and from what I can tell, it’s only going to get better.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Crossing platforms with Portal 2

Cross-platform play is cool. I finally got around to going through the Portal 2 co-op campaign and I must say, I’m very impressed by the way I did not notice any odd behaviour or glitches caused by my partner who played on his Steam enabled PS3, while I sat at my faithful PC. Obviously then it must work exactly as intended, but I can’t help but ponder why this co-operative black magic isn’t employed more.

I know that I will open a big can of angry, opinionated and juicy worms when I say this, but cross-platform play might not be as widespread as a perfect world would allow due to the superior speed and accuracy of the computer mouse. I know there are probably those out there that could beat me in a mouse versus gamepad duel with one thumb gnawed clean to the boned, but it’s a simple fact the mouse is better.

Camera control might be better suited to the precious right thumb stick, but aiming and shooting accurately is a whole different story. It’s even been suggested that Microsoft killed Windows to Xbox cross-platform play because the console gamers “got destroyed every time”.

So that puts a hole in the hope for competitive games getting more cross-platform functionality, but I can’t see why it can’t happen with more co-op focussed games. Portal 2 has proven that it can work near seamlessly. Okay, there are a few arguments that the PC version has been slightly ‘consol-ised’, but aside from the “Do not turn off console” warning you get when saving the game, it’s not abundantly different from what I’d expect from a PC interface. There are certainly more obvious console ported PC titles out there.

With Steam now on PS3, it would be great to see more cross-platform titles emerge that can bring gaming communities closer. It’s a positive step towards the one console solution. Of course that’s probably an argument that the major hardware manufacturers would argue against, but for consumers it’s a good thing.

My faith in Valve keeps on growing, probably not quite as fast as Gabe Newell’s wallet girth does, but pretty damn close.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The return of Agent 47 is finally official

It may have taken five years, but the moment I have been avidly chewing my socks for has finally come. Hitman: Absolution has been officially confirmed and revealed. Well, I say revealed, but I actually mean that it has been cruelly teased. IO Interactive has waved a shiny token through the bars of my metaphoric cage of ignorance, like a drunk prison warden dangling keys in front of a prisoner. I’ll only find out more when they let me.

All we’ve really seen of the game is the teaser trailer, and even that reeked of cock tease. All we got to see was Mr 47 tightening a suppressor onto one of his trademark Silverballers, followed by a barcode that illuminates six digits that indicate the first day of E3. So basically what IO has done is reveal the reveal date. I’d much rather IO Interactive teased me about my height or jawline, rather than the game I’ve wanted for years.

Hitman: Blood Money ranks as one of my favourite games ever. No other game has let me put a dog to sleep with a sedated sausage or kill a man and then make it look like suicide. If they just take the formula that was perfected with Blood Money and simply build on it in Hitman: Absolution, then I will be a happier than a bunny watching Firefly (before he realises that there are only 14 episodes of it).

That’s not to say that I am completely without my concerns at the moment. Since the release of Blood Money, IO Interactive has made two messy third person shooters. Whilst I did enjoy bits of the Kane & Lynch games, I can’t exactly say with great enthusiasm that I am likely to revisit them anytime soon. The critics were nowhere near as passive in their dislike for the game, with both titles receiving reviews that were harsh enough to make Simon Cowell wince. It’d be nice to see some of the lessons learned from Kane & Lynch included in Absolution, mainly the ones that taught the bods at IO what not to do when making a good game.

My other concern came in quote form from IO game director Tore Blystad. He said, “For the first time we are taking Agent 47 on a personal journey which allows us to explore other parts of the Hitman fantasy.”

I don’t want my favourite bald headed cold killer to go on a personal journey. I want to guide him through anonymous assassination jobs that he deals with efficiently and with a disturbing lack of emotion in his face. Hitman has never been about personal journey; it’s been about getting the job done in the most creative and stealthy way possible. The random assignment aspect of the game gave the perfect excuse to go to different locations and environments. As soon as some kind of personal structure is introduced, this gets lost and there has to be a reason invented as to why he is going places.

I won’t even get started on the rumour I think I read, but frantically hope was a fevered nightmare: Hitman as an open world game. That would be the complete opposite of good and worse than the word “bad” can adequately describe. That would be shit.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why Brink is going to be awesome

I really don’t understand how people get addicted to the point of neglected loved ones over multiplayer games like Halo and Call of Duty. I understand the temptation of playing through a ringing telephone or putting off a spot of form filling until you’re finally happy with the pixels that represent a good kill/death ratio, but I don’t understand how people have the enthusiasm to play them for hours on end, week on week.

My problem with these games lies with their heavily repetitive nature. I will more than happily materialise with my hands around a man’s neck before cracking it to one side for that last gurgle of virtual life that sends someone back to the respawn screen, but after a while it all feels the same. I’m just tired of games where it’s one team against another, with the one force driving everyone forward being the frag count.

Sometimes things will get spiced up with the addition of a capture the flag or hold the zone objective, but nothing that really takes away from the overbearing message that really, at the end of the day, it’s your personal kill counter that gauges how well you’ve done. Not to say that I’m one for peace in videogames; not at all. I just want something a bit more meaningful. I think that the best thing in Team Fortress 2 is the fact that the scoreboard keeps track of all positive actions you have performed while publically displaying none of the individual actions of each player. This castration of the frag tracking e-peen is a real sign of progress for games. Not that many others followed its example.

Then I spotted Brink on the horizon. I’ve been terrible and not really followed it until recently, but the more I see it now, the more I want it. The objective driven gameplay looks like it will offer the exact variety in an online shooter that I have been clawing the imaginary walls of my satisfaction over for years now. It’s from the guys that gave us Enemy Territory, the World War II shooter that had players building bridges, fixing machine gun nests and trying to blow through doors over an intense, multi-map campaign of attackers versus defenders. It worked well and looks like a few of the same tricks have bled their way into Brink.

I suppose the multiplayer mode I am really craving after is something akin to Unreal Tournament 2004’s Assault mode. Now that was a brilliant time for all. In a crushed up, instagibbed nutshell, it was a collection of attack and defend objectives that offered huge diversity between each map. In one you’d start off in a spaceship, strafing a space station to take out its shields before boarding and taking down everything inside. Another had you restoring a junked vehicle for use in a daring prison break. So much variety. So much awesome.

I’m really looking forward to Brink, mainly for the objective lead gameplay, but also because it just looks a bit different. Throw in the Mirrors Edge like level navigation and I really can’t see how the critics will have anything overwhelmingly bad to say about it tomorrow, when the review embargo lifts.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Sony's massive cock up

Games are once again being shunted in the headlines but for once it’s not because Grand Theft Auto is molesting the nation’s children, or that Call of Duty is actually an al-Quaeda training facility. Even more interestingly, it’s also drawn the support of gamers to cry out against one of the industry’s super giants. Of course I am talking about the current PSN outage.

Sony’s small faux pas in this international stage play is simple. They took the PlayStation Network down without providing a decent reason before telling everyone a week later that all of their data might have been stolen. Please excuse me while I go and change some passwords, monitor my bank account like an obsessive compulsive hawk, and make sure that my bike is still chained up.

It’s one thing to have all of this information nicked, but to not tell anyone about the possible damage for so long is really dodgy. It probably won’t affect the majority of people, but it’s still wise to take the appropriate actions just in case the bastard hand of fate decides your life could do with an extra speed bump.

This is before you start thinking about how upset PS3 users are that they haven’t had the opportunity to sample Portal 2’s online co-op play yet, or enjoy the new SOCOM game in the way it is clearly meant to be done. Many have perceived the PSN to be slightly behind other online gaming services up until recently, so being crippled with no conceivable end in sight will certainly not do anything to sway that popular opinion.

It’ll also be interesting to see how this has affected other game developers. No revenue from digital content for them or Sony for every day the service has been down must be mounting into a big pile of wet, slippery unhappiness. I wonder if subscribers to PS3 MMO DC Universe Online will get any kind of compensation for not being able to play what they have already paid for on a monthly basis. What about those that have paid for a PSN Plus subscription? Bet they can’t be happy to see how their shiny e-coins didn’t go towards protecting against long term outages.

Hopefully services will resume to normal sometime soon, but it would be nice to know a few more details about what has happened. I can only hope that it is something as entertaining as the work experience boy pulling the wrong lever in a massive control room at Sony HQ. He’d certainly get an interesting reference from it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

AAAARRRGG at the Portal 2 ARG

I’m usually the first one to excitedly jump up in the air, giggling like a school girl who’s been drinking liquid helium when it comes to saying how much I love Valve. With the release of Portal 2 frustratingly still a few hours away, I can’t help but feel that the (apparent) final part of their ARG has been one massive cock tease and a bit of a dick move.

For those not in the know, the ARG (or alternate reality game for those not in the know) has been some sort of crazy metafiction revolving around Portal 2 and potatoes. People have been collecting potatoes from hidden Aperture Science login screens from a collection of thirteen games while trying to piece together exactly what the hell has been going on.

Then a mysterious countdown screen was discovered. There was loads of flimsy and some slightly stronger theories that when the countdown expired, Portal 2 would get an early release, and all of that mad potato hunting would have been worth it. Instead what we got was simply another countdown. But all hope was not lost! Apparently if we played the same indie games for long enough then our gracious Aperture Science overlords would be able to awaken GLaDOS early for a slice of early Portal 2.

About 76 hours later and we still haven’t unlocked Portal 2. I think at the very most we’ve made it release four or five hours early. Four or five hours despite the collective wealth of Steam’s awesome user base putting hours and hours into hunting for potatoes with a passion that borders on deranged.

I don’t mean to sound like a really ungrateful sod, but promising that working hard will get Portal 2 released early, and then not really delivering on it in any real way is just mean. A lot of us will have a fair day of work before we can play, so get no benefit of an early release by a few hours at all.

It would have been better to have delivered a new awesome trailer or something at the end of the initial countdown, not buckets and buckets of false hope peppered with the glittering ashes of fresh optimism. Valve isn’t new to this kind of fan service, so you’d have thought they would have been able to work it so we had a weekend release or something (if they were serious about giving it to us early).

Still, it could be worse. Those who want to feel the hardened skin of a boxed copy (as opposed to merely sniffing data packets as they download over a wireless network) will have to wait until Thursday. I honestly think I would have exploded by then.

I really doubt the game will be unlocked tonight, and if it does I will happily chew on my own fingers that have typed these words, but I really think it would have been a lot better to have not hinted at an early release at all. There was even a clue in the ARG that literally translated to 4/19/11 at 7am (Portal 2’s official time of release) = 4/15/11 at 9am. How else can that be interpreted?

The other thing that really bothers me about this whole thing is that the pirates already have the game and have spoiled the ending for hundreds of devoted Portal 2 fans hunting for clues on forums. It’s such a shame that those trying to help the ARG effort have had a twist straightened out for them. I’ve been on a complete forum black out for fear of spoilers since last Friday.

Ah well, hopefully in 24 hours this’ll all be over and Portal 2 will happily be humming away in my hard drive. Of course knowing what Steam is like on a big release day, it’s quite possible that their cloud servers will start raining hot shards of angry shrapnel.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The state of multiplayer games today

I think I’m just about ready to give up on finding hope in multiplayer first-person shooters. The fun factor seems to fluctuate more than an indecisive metronome from round to round and it’s the little things that are really killing it for me.

For starters, where the hell has the frontline gone these days? Why are we randomly dropped around the map in a place where the game has decided is sensible? I really miss fixed spawn points because at least then you know the rough direction the enemy might be meandering his way to your position from.

Nine times out of eleven I am shot in the back, usually after chasing an enemy down in an attempt to kill them. Enemy placement is hellishly sporadic and so you just end up creeping slowly everywhere, like you’re on the lookout for the Predator’s tri-laser sight of doom to show up somewhere. Any mad sprint to re-unite with your team is usually met with an anti-social enemy sniper letting you know he has spotted you with punishing accuracy.

As there is no central “your team appears here” place, sticking together becomes a lot more challenging and very often more hassle than it is worth. Of course when you then decide to go lone wolf it’s a pair of hostile buddies you run into who merrily shoot your teeth into the back of your brain.

Personally I think it’s why Bad Company 2 works so well in multiplayer. You’re constantly in amongst your teammates because the game actually drops you into it together. You’re in the thick of action with fierce firefights over key areas allowing for more strategic play then the random carnage of Call of Duty. I think it’s a real shame that Crysis 2 went with the sprinkle spawning option.

I’m really trying to get into Crysis 2 multiplayer but there are so many things that have started to put me off. Focussing on the spawn problems alone, I rarely seem to end up anywhere near my fellow comrades. I actually spawned immediately behind an enemy the other day (and merrily bagged the cheapest kill of the week).

I really hate Call of Duty for what it seems to be doing to the industry. So many games these days have a multiplayer component tacked on that attempts to copy and paste the foundations of Modern Warfare rather than come up with something completely new. Maybe I’m just noticing it because I have the gaming prowess of a paralytic sloth at times, but the majority of deathmatch type games give you a lifespan of under two minutes, with all the grenades, rockets and random death that seems to fly around.

Take me back to the days of Counter-Strike, with tense waits, slow advances and reason to actually value the life of your virtual avatar. The pacing of that game just seems better than the hideous cluster mess that competitive multiplayer is these days.

I just hope that Battlefield 3 is planning to kill Call of Duty by going back to the days of Battlefield 2, Vietnam and 1942, and not jump into the same chud boat that the masses seem to like for some inexplicable reason. Oh yeah, and screw killstreaks as well!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

What Crysis 2 learned from its little brother

Having resisted the eye popping allure of Nintendo’s latest portable stunner, I settled for something a bit more skin tight and figure hugging with the nanosuited escapades of Crysis 2. After running, jumping, sleuthing and stabbing my way through it over the last week, it’s been nice to see where it has learned lessons over the 2007 original.

First of all it seems that the new streamlined suit is much more at home in the concrete playground of New York. The jungles of Crysis had the Predator feeling (sans-shoulder cannon) down, but at times the lack of solid stuff to hide behind and the complexes in the middle of nowhere meant that there was a lot of hopping in and out of hot spots. New York just feels like a more naturally consistent environment to roam around.

Speaking of the streamlined nature of the nanosuit, having everything assigned to different buttons was a smart move. Even though it looks like a gimp suit covered in artificial muscles and consumer electronics, you do feel cool jumping between invisibility and man tank modes when ploughing through the clusters of bad guys that seem to be very unfortunate in meeting you.

The transitions between the suit modes in Crysis 2 means there’s a much greater level of fluency over the original’s awkward suit function wheel of misfortune that meant a crafty fiddle was required to switch abilities. Appearing from thin air with full armour right in front of an enemy never failed to get old, especially when you could vanish again just as quickly before his mate noticed.

Introducing a consistent bi-pedal form to the aliens also went miles to pitching this one over the original. They are actually more amusing to fight now, even if it means that they share a very close resemblance to fighting the human enemies you encounter. It’s perhaps a bit of a shame that the main challenge the aliens pose over regular enemies is their uninspired bullet sponge properties, but they are still a conservative leap in the right direction.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with Crysis 2 was the silent protagonist appearing about as charismatic as a washing machine that has never been used. While the mute man syndrome worked wonders in games like Halflife, there seem to be too many direct questions posed at the games’ hero, Alkatraz, to really warrant his non-answer. It just goes to distance you from the story.

At least in the original Crysis the suited and booted grunt, Nomad, had a few things to say, confirming that he was flesh and blood. Speaking of the guy, it would have been nice to know what happened to him, seeing at the end of the original he was flying back into the alien invested oblivion of an island he just fought tooth and nano-limb to escape from.

Crysis 2 was a very good game though and I’m looking forward to see if the multiplayer will grab me by the competitive plums the way that Halo and Call of Duty have so far failed to do so. I want my Xbox Live Gold membership to see some action damn it.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Call of Fight Club Now: Redux

Trailing behind just about everybody else who has the game under their console, I finally got around to playing through the single player campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops. It’s very nice to see that the writers of the series’ plotlines are still drunk and like to pinch their ideas from multiple sources. This blog definitely will be spoiler centric, so if you don’t want to know certain bits about the ending, close your eyes and click optimistically for something else.

To mention anything would be quite a major spoiler as the game seems so random in its route through the story that the destination is not clear at all. I can’t believe that there was anyone sitting there thinking “I know exactly where this is going”. This statement is not to be mistaken as praise.

Unpredictability and plot twists are all good things to have in a story, but they need to make sense in order to be truly appreciated. During the course of Black Ops it would not have been out of place for the fantastic moustache of Captain Price to suddenly swoop down from orbit and get slapped across Gary Oldman’s forehead. This may be down to the fact that Gary Oldman’s character (whose name I forget) turns out to be your imaginary friend for the majority of the game, and everything that he has supposedly done past a point was actually you.

Now this seems fairly bonkers for a game series that has tried to at least pretend it meant serious business and put action heroes in a plausible setting. Perhaps they were trying to distance themselves from the ‘serious’ vein of story flowing through Modern Warfare 2, where all of Russia suddenly goes to war with the US because they find a dead, slightly guilty looking American in an airport full of dead, slightly guilty looking Russians.

I honestly believe that the stories for these games are the result of a night of drinking followed by frantic fever dreams induced by leaving whatever late night film is running on the SyFy channel on a TV screen in the same room. They make as much sense as cross breeding chickens with icing sugar and chocolate to try and get the distressed animals to lay Cream Eggs.

The ending sequence was what took it over the top for me though. Maybe I’m being a bit pedantic and SCUBA diving nerdish here, but to escape, the protagonist ascends through about fifty metres of water in 25 seconds. Considering that a safe ascent from depths shallower than that should not exceed 18 metres per minute, with a three minute stop five metres below the surface, it’s incredible that he doesn’t immediately die of decompression sickness, an arterial gas embolism and exploded lungs.

And what greets him at the surface? Five warships that can’t be parked more than 20 metres away from each other, each facing the opposite direction as if they rushed into the middle of the sea to find you. If the wind picks up it would be very easy for these things to drift into each other, not to mention the smaller craft weaving in and out of them.

The six aircraft that fly low over the top of you in synchronisation might as well be dragging a banner that says “America wins!”

I know I’m picking holes in the very serious case of a videogame storyline, but I can’t help but feel that Black Ops was actually a parody of the Call of Duty series. I thought that EA’s advergamesment Duty Calls was being a bit extreme in its piss taking, but I think the ending of Black Ops possibly out did it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Enemies that aren't fun - Dead Space 2

I was going to write a different blog today, but sheer anger and sock chewing anger has prompted me to write this one instead. I have been raging like a tiger blood fuelled Charlie Sheen over the final chapters of Dead Space 2. I won’t drop any spoilers mind, not unless you are really sensitive to frustrating enemies that pop out of nowhere with very little explanation and the stubbornness of a toilet stain after chilli and beer night.

For the most part I loved Dead Space 2. It was fun, seemed a bit different, and whilst the scares became predictable after 20 minutes, it was enough to establish the desired atmosphere. It was frustrating then that the last 40 minutes or so were spoiled by this undesirable cretin.

Whoever it was that thought it would be fun to have a regenerating, invincible, bipedal cockroach monster chase you through the last two chapters of the game needs to be pushed down some stairs – metaphorically of course.

Whilst it does put pressure on the player to keep moving and up the challenge, it’s just frustrating when you’re in a room that requires puzzles to be solved. It means that every time you need to do something you run to one side of the room, wait for the ugly menace to toddle over to you right before mutilating his limbs and putting him in stasis so you can attempt to figure out what you need to.

The real kicker though was putting him in a room where there is a save point. Considering the save game panel has a two to three second animation that opens up a menu during which time you are helpless to do anything, it just seems mean to put a flesh hungry, unkillable monster in the room with it. I was in a foul mood over this creature and it wouldn’t even let me save my game so that I could walk away and clear my head.

In a game where ammo conservation is a real issue, putting a creature in the middle of it that just acts as a frustrating bullet/buzz saw/javelin sponge seems like bad game design.

Anyway, after a few attempts I finally slipped passed it and finished the game, but the really sad thing is that I’m glad that it’s all over. That last part felt like a real slog, and more of a chore than a fun, joyful gaming experience. Maybe it was the mood I was in at the time, but even if it was, it’s the games fault for putting me in that place.

Ah well, Crysis 2 next week. Yay.

Monday, 7 March 2011

I miss proper expansion packs

Personally, I love a good expansion pack. This may sound a bit silly and redundant (as surely nobody would love a bad expansion pack), but I genuinely feel that game expansions have come under a bit of threat in the last couple of years. Fortunately it seems that Relic haven’t lost their touch, with the fantastic Dawn of War II: Retribution that dropped through my post hole last Friday.

As you may or may not know, Retribution has finally opened up the single player experience to five additional races on top of the vanilla space marine man tanks we have been steering through the campaign mode so far. Okay, the storyline has taken a slight hit so that the other races’ individual plots can be shoe horned into the same selection of maps, but hey – it adds variety. There’s certainly a fair amount of meaty, man shredding substance to it.

My real gripe with the current generation of game expansions lie with the three letters that I have now programmed myself to completely ignore: DLC (downloadable content for the three people out there who’re not in the know). It really bugs me when a developer thinks they can squeeze a extra few quid out of me in exchange for a new dog, a couple of maps or fifteen minutes of extra gameplay. The minimal change that the majority of DLC offers really grinds my rusted, cynical man gears.

There is so much cheekiness being passed under our noses in the world of DLC that I really can’t understand how people willing hand over their money like it were bottle caps or naked lady playing cards. I know I’ve said it so many times that my brain has managed to scratch it into the walls of my skull, but I remember a time when map packs were free.

Now we have games like Call of Duty and Halo that feel they can get away by charging close to £10 for a set of three maps. Personally I think this is daylight buggery, but many coin tossing shoppers will retort my sentiments by saying that they were getting bored with the original maps. Considering that maps in most games are mashed up areas from the single player mode, surely that just says the developers were lazy when they originally designed the multiplayer mode?

I think the absolute worst thing about DLC is that many companies seem to plan for it ahead, before the actual game is released. To me this just says that devs are now releasing games that aren’t even finished, that don’t include all the content of their original vision. The worst example of this in my swirling vortex of hate cloud is Bioshock 2. That game actually shipped with parts of the DLC content on the disc, with the actual purchase of the DLC merely unlocking files you had already bought.

I wouldn’t mind it so much if downloadable content actually offered more content, something that adds a radical change to the formula we already have. I’m curious about the Dead Space 2 mini-campaign that was released recently. That one actually sounds like it adds a little more than a funky haircut and a new skin for the protagonist’s crotch plate.

Monday, 28 February 2011

One month to go, but is the 3DS for me?

With the 3DS selling out faster than anti-zombie pheromones would in Racoon City, it’s fairly safe to assume that the portable console’s launch in Japan has been a success. 400,000 units were shipped for day one, with the majority disappearing from shelves in 24 hours. I’ve had eight months to drool over the 3DS and now have one more left to wait until the UK release, but I have no idea if I want it or not anymore.

I was fairly euphoric and overly excited upon first hearing of Nintendo’s magical console that offered goggleless 3D gaming and a serious power boost over the original DS. I saw Ocarina of Time was to be re-mastered and a Resident Evil title that looked almost as good as the home console variants. With treats like a new Starfox game, Pilotwings and even a new Kid Icarus announced, how could any games fan not feel warm and gooey in all the wrong places?

Then the news broke that it would cost around £230 on launch day. This may seem a bit pricey, but for a new console boasting technology that not many people will have had the joy of experiencing; it could have been a heck of a lot more painful for your back pocket.

Mulling it over now though, is the 3DS really going to be the all singing all dancing gameplay revolution that we all saw back at last year’s E3? For starters I’m not even sure that I am in the target market.

We have all seen Nintendo’s advertising campaigns that show slightly famous people relaxing in their living rooms and playing on the DS like it was an alternative to reading or knit work. Looking at reality though, I rarely sit down to play on a portable console when I’ve got my PC or games console in the same room. It’s gone with me on buses, trains and nights away, but I’ve never seen it as a major games platform. I’m not sure if the 3DS can convince me to play it a huge amount at home, especially with Crysis 2 being released on the same day.

An absent feature from the 3DS is a second thumb stick, an issue that pretty much crippled the PSP in the eyes of many. Where Sony learned from their mistake and corrected it with the NGP, Nintendo has decided to debut its portable thumb stick console with only a single nub. Where as many would argue the touch screen can stand in for all the analogue nubs in the world, it does not sit very well in every type of game. Call me old fashioned but the touch screen still hasn’t convinced me that it’s a decent control method.

Then there is the distant call of the aforementioned NGP, or the PSP2 as I like to think of it. It looks like an impressive bit of kit with an equally strong game line up announced for the machine’s early life. Even though it is most likely still over a year away, it looks like an interesting option to wait for.

Last June I probably said I would get a 3DS on launch day, or something crazy like that. Knowing Nintendo’s fetish for undersupplying consumer demand, I can say for a fact that this won’t happen now. In fact I can probably wait until closer to the NGP’s release. Who knows, maybe Ninty will feel like knocking a few quid off the RRP in the spirit of competition?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

"One of the best games ever" gets a reboot

Teasing us like a fine Las Vegas stripper covered in Mini Cheddars, Official Xbox Magazine has mentioned on its ‘Next Month’ page that “One of the best games ever made is reborn on 360”, with details supposedly in the next issue. The wonderful world of publisher deadlines however has meant that this intriguing reveal is put on hold, with OXM editor Jon Hicks stating the big reveal “is very unlikely to appear in the magazine for the foreseeable future”.

The CVG comment forum started to light up with speculation as to what series might be getting rejuvenated, rattling off titles like a house losing masonry in an earthquake. It wasn’t long before Mr Hick’s shed some interesting light in a follow up story, mentioning that the mystery title had already been guessed correctly by one of the bees in the comment swarm – and that the game isn’t the Halo Combat Evolved remake.

So, the long list of possibilities that this mysterious rebirth could be is as follows. Deep breath now. The game could be: Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Elite, Knights of the Old Republic, Rainbow 6, SWAT, Jade Empire, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy VII, Q*bert HD, Counter-Strike, Theme Hospital, Blinx, X-Com, Syndicate, Beyond Good and Evil 2, Perfect Dark, GoldenEye, Battlefront or Sim City.

From that list (helpfully composed and shamelessly nicked from forum user ‘Slick Loose’) I think we can rule X-Com out for starters, having already been announced with game footage. I’m also not convinced that we’ll see another GoldenEye reboot seeing as the Wii got that treatment late last year.

The immediate buzz was for Rainbow 6, with the ‘Next Month’ page teaser image being of a floor plan that looks vaguely reminiscent of the game’s maps. The other running theory based off of the image was that Syndicate could be a likely contender, seeing as the box art for that game is very similar to the teaser pic, only green.

Personally I’d love to see a properly executed Perfect Dark sequel, or a new Star Wars: Battlefront game. Final Fantasy VII remade sounds nice in my head, although perhaps that one is best left planted in the beautiful and tranquil meadow of nostalgia – it doesn’t need digging up. Having said that the promise of “One of the best games ever made” is often applied as a tag line for the seventh entry in the Final Fantasy series. It was also pointed out by another user that the teaser image could be the Shinra building hall map.

Could it be a new Counter-Strike to update the aging but still ever so popular shooter? A new Theme Hospital would certainly get me hot under the stethoscope, not to mention the tingling sensation in my mind when thinking of skin tight rubber suits (Metal Gear, obviously).

Whatever it is you can colour me a pink shade of excited, for the time being at least. By the sounds of it we have to wait until April to find out whatever it is, if not longer. A lot of rebirths and sequels happening lately though - wouldn’t it be nice for a few more original “triple-A” titles?