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.