Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Clayton Awards 2012

Somewhat strangely, the best and the most disappointing games I played in 2012 are not ones I’ve yet covered on the blog.


 

 Most Disappointing Game of 2012 - Mass Effect 3


I’ll be covering both of these games in more depth early next year.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Now Playing: Dark Forces, TG,P! & TWD

Dark Forces (1996) is a FPS set within the Star Wars universe. Despite its age, DF is still remarkably fun and challenging in places. There are 14 levels, set within a variety of locations, many of which manage to capture that classic Star Wars vibe. The levels are not entirely linear and feature multiple paths and hidden areas. In fact, somewhat amusingly, the size of the maps would probably make quite a few modern shooters blush.


There are a few switch/ key code puzzles here and there, but nothing too tedious. The shooting may be rather basic, but you have a decent selection and the weapon sounds are top notch. Music and VA is also good. There are some decent cut-scenes between missions and the plot keeps you interested.

Overall, I was surprised how much I enjoyed playing Dark Forces. It was the first time I’ve played it and I honestly wondered if it would simply feel too dated for me to enjoy. But that wasn’t the case at all. Even today, DF is well worth your time, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan, or just a fan of shooters in general.

7/10

Time Gentlemen, Please! is the sequel to Ben There, Dan That! It’s a very solid, enjoyable point and click adventure. It’s an improvement over the first game, taking in more locations, characters and even more convoluted puzzles. I’ve said before I’m not a massive fan of these types of games, but the humour of TG,P! certainly won me over. If you are big adventure nut, this is definitely worth checking out.

7/10

The Walking Dead is a tricky one. It was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable titles I played this year but is it a particularly good game? Its ‘puzzles’ are basic. The gameplay is rudimentary and simplistic. There is zero challenge. ‘Choices’ have little to no impact at times. And yet, I’d still rate TWD highly. Whilst it may lack in some fundamental areas, it absolutely excels in others, most notably in story and characterisation.


As I said in my previous post, I hope many of my criticisms of the game are addressed in a sequel. Above all else, TWD is a memorable, engaging title. It gave me a reason to care and become emotionally invested in the developing narrative. It may not be a very good ‘game’ in the traditional sense, but it’s an extremely worthwhile experience and I’d certainly recommend it.

8/10

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Now Playing: Knights of the Old Republic 2

The original Knights of the Old Republic (2003) was a fantastic Star Wars game. But its sequel - The Sith Lords (2005) - was a buggy and practically broken game upon release. It seems that development was rushed to completion during its final stages, particularly affecting the game’s conclusion - which was butchered into a nonsensical mess. Spin on seven years and KOTOR 2 has finally been released on Steam. With the addition of a fan made restoration mod, the game finally feels fixed and complete - or at least as fixed and complete as it’s ever going to get.

As in the first game, KOTOR 2 begins with a rather tedious opening section, before setting the player on a quest to travel to four very different worlds. Each world contains a mixture of primary and optional quests which are undertaken to advance the plot, increase your level and abilities, gain new gear and recruit new companions.

Speaking of companions, their AI is just as bad as the original and they require constant micro management to be effective in combat. Some of them also feel rather pointless given how underdeveloped they are or how little they impact on the main plot (particularly at the end, but I’ll get to that later)


Although the worlds of KOTOR 2 are larger and contain more content than the original, that’s not such a good thing. Many of the optional missions are tiresome rather than interesting, and I was glad when I unlocked Force Speed in order to zip about from one quest point to another, because although the environments are bigger, they are also rather bland and empty. But when you finally do complete your missions on each world, that’s when things finally kick into gear.

Although the game becomes a lot more linear as you’re quickly transported from one mission critical location to the next, the action ramps up several notches and the revelations come thick and fast. The plot, which had been developing at a relatively sedate plod suddenly engages Ludicrous Speed. And then, just when things start getting really, really good, that’s when things also start falling apart.

Because even with the restored content mod, the ending of KOTOR 2 is still something of a buggy, disjointed mess. Some characters simply disappear entirely during the conclusion, others pop up in odd, random cut-scenes which don’t really lead anywhere. There’s very little in the sense of closure or satisfaction, and before you realise it the credits are rolling and its Game Over. Which is a darn shame, because KOTOR 2 had the potential to far surpass the original.


You see, the original KOTOR held very true to the nature of Star Wars. Jedi were good and Sith were bad. It was very basic, but it was pure Star Wars and I loved every minute of it. Okay, so it did dabble slightly with the notion that perhaps the moral nature of the Jedi and Sith were not quite so black and white, but for the most part, it stuck closely to the source material.

KOTOR 2 on the other hand breaks significantly away from the binary nature of Star Wars morality. It questions the core ideals of the Jedi and of the Sith. It makes the player examine both sides from the perspective of an outcast - an exiled Jedi. There is very little simple black or white morality in KOTOR 2, only shades of grey. It looks at the Force in a new, interesting way, and even in its butchered state, the ending sets up what could have been a fantastic new direction for the Star Wars universe and the future of the Jedi / Sith conflict. Unfortunately, it’s not something we’ll ever get to see.

Overall, KOTOR 2 feels like wasted potential. Even ignoring its technical and gameplay flaws (which are largely carried over from the original and are things I can certainly live with) KOTOR 2 fails to live up to the promise of the plot it slowly builds, ending on a disappointing and somewhat baffling note. It’s a case of what might have been, if the game had not been rushed out the door. My advice – play the original, and if you crave more, give KOTOR 2 a shot with the restored content mod. It’s certainly worth it, it’s just a shame it was never, and never will truly be complete.

7/10

Monday, 10 December 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD & SOV

Work on WFTD and SOV continues. My plan to have polished second drafts of each by the end of the year remains on schedule, even though I stopped work on both for about a week due to unforeseen family drama.

I have the first parts of both of them finished. Five parts remain for WFTD, three for SOV. It probably doesn't seem like the best idea, working on both at once, especially given how different they are. One is quite a dark, violent post-apocalyptic horror. The other is a lighthearted science-fiction adventure. Switching between the two requires a significant shift in my frame of mind. It helps that each story has what I think is a strong central character, and once I start reading in their respective voices, it's fairly easy to swap from one setting to the other.

In addition to completing both of these projects, I aim to knock a few more games off my backlog before the end of the year. I may also do a 'review round-up' of the games I played this year, including some I haven't mentioned in detail here on the blog.

I also discovered recently that some of my blog posts don't appear correctly formatted in Internet Explorer. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it's something to do with text pasted in from a document. They appear fine in other browsers, just not IE, so if you're using that and things look odd you'll know why.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Now Playing: Call of Pripyat

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. It’s an open world FPS combining elements of horror and survival. Set within the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone (or ‘The Zone’ as it’s referred to) you are sent on a mission to investigate the failure of an operation to recon The Zone, resulting in the crash of five helicopters.

The Zone is home to an assortment of factions – bandits, stalkers, mercenary groups, military and scientists, as well as a variety of dangerous mutants. There are also deadly anomalies to contend with and Zone wide emissions. It’s a hostile, compelling setting. Although external environments are a little ugly, internal ones are well handled. The game makes good use of lighting and sound to create a tense and oppressive mood.

COP doesn’t get off to the best start, however, dumping you into an ugly brown landscape with very little direction or information. As you investigate the crash sites, the story puts you on the path to two new areas of the Zone and increasingly dangerous missions. The story, told through incredibly stiff and awkward cut-scenes, is decent enough and gives you a reason to press on even if it’s not particularly exciting.


In addition to the main story missions, there are also a number of side quests you can undertake to earn extra money or supplies. The survival element feels a little wasted in the game. You require food periodically, but you’ll always have more than you’d ever actually need. Bandages and medi-kits are also plentiful and because they can be bound to instant use hot-keys (even in the middle of the fire-fight) it takes away any kind of challenge or danger to using them. It really feels like there needed to be a bandage/heal animation or timer so you can’t just spam them when things get tough.

The shooting mechanics are solid enough, and I liked the weight system which forces you to pick and choose your gear. There are also weapon and armour upgrades you can purchase to further enhance/customise your character. There’s a stealth system, of sorts (visibility and sound bars), although rather pointless as the game doesn’t lend itself to that type of play style. Although The Zone is a fairly large place, outside of the missions it feels like there is very little reason to explore. Or rather, exploration simply isn’t very rewarding.

There are artifacts to find, but very few of these seem necessary or even useful – I didn’t bother them during my playthrough at all. Money isn’t hard to come by, and you can find nearly everything you need out in the world. At one point in the game you’ll reach a location where you can repair your gear and be given ammo and medical supplies for free which makes the earning of money and gathering supplies rather redundant.


One of the best things about the game is its AI. The mutants and humans in the game are all largely non-scripted. They hunt, scavenge, fight, trade and explore the Zone on their own terms. As a result, traversing the Zone is always a random experience. You may come across roving mutants or fights between bandits and stalkers whose paths just happened to cross, or you may encounter nothing at all. The Zone feels all the more alive due to the unpredictable nature of the people and creatures that inhabit it. You’ll never be quite sure what you’ll encounter as you travel from one location to the next.

Overall, COP is a good game, but it falls just short of being great. It has a fantastic setting and a lot of good ideas but it’s all a little rough around the edges and feels underdeveloped in a lot of areas. It’s a difficult game to love, but I can understand why it has quite a cult following. I’m looking forward to playing Shadow of Chernobyl soon. Now I’ve had a taste of the Zone, I’m eager for more.

7/10

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Beyond This Horizon

The second draft of WFTD is nearly finished. It really should have been done by now, but I changed something at a pivotal moment in the story – I thought for the better – and then realized it just didn’t work, so I went and changed it back again. WFTD is probably the most tricky project I’ve worked on. Hopefully it’ll all turn out good once I finish the final revisions to this draft.

I’ve also been working on a second draft of another novel – SOV. The original draft of SOV was written over a period of about three weeks a couple of years ago. It’s something I’ve always wanted to get back to at one point or another, and after taking a little break from WFTD, I decided to do an initial edit and revisions to that first draft. My goal is to have both novels polished and complete by the end of the year.

In other news, I just completed the final episode of The Walking Dead game. After a somewhat uneventful third episode, the developers really stepped up for the last two. Despite its rudimentary gameplay and the somewhat questionable value of the choices in the game, it was still a great experience

I’ve not played many of the new releases this year, but of the ones I have, The Walking Dead was probably my favourite. A good story and characters that we care about can make a big difference in a game. It doesn’t apply to all types of games of course, but the games in which we can form some sort of emotional attachment in whatever form are usually the ones we remember the most fondly.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

War Z (ALPHA)

Buying a game before it’s even finished? Not really the best idea, is it? Why? Well - 1) There’s no guarantee you’ll enjoy the product in its current state 2) Even if you do enjoy the current product, you may disagree with the developmental direction and therefore - 3) There’s no guarantee you’ll enjoy the final product.

Will it all end with broken promises, buggy content, rampant hacking and a rapidly declining player base? Will it be a familiar story of unfulfilled potential? It’s too early to say how War Z will ultimately turn out, but it’s sure been a hell of a lot of fun so far. In fact, it’s probably the most enjoyable multiplayer experience I’ve had since Red Dead Redemption.

War Z is an attempt to cash-in on the success of the DayZ ARMA mod – a zombie survival MMO. I found myself quite hooked just watching streams of War Z, and at fifteen quid, I figured it was worth the risk. I actually persuaded a friend to pick it up too so we could bro-op, which is enjoyable in an altogether different sort of way than playing solo.


Playing alone is extremely tense. You’re on your own, no back-up. With another player at your side you know you can trust, you feel safer, more bold, although you still have to keep your guard up. Although the game is still in early alpha it plays fine and I haven’t hit any serious bugs or encountered any of the hackers I’ve seen others complaining about (at least not that I’m aware of). I guess I’ve been lucky on that front though and it’s just a matter of time.

There’s still a lot of content planned, but not yet added, but even as it is, I’ve really enjoyed my time with the game. It’s still not quite the perfect zombie survival game I’ve always dreamed about, but it’s close enough for now. Hopefully it will continue to improve with time and see a great deal of support, patches and new content. It’s got promise, now we’ve just got to see if the developers can follow through.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD

I had planned to have a second draft of WFTD completed by the end of October. That’s not going to happen, but I’m not too far off the mark. The short break I took from the work helped. When writing a first draft, I can sit for hours, hammering away at the keyboard for days on end. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly healthy way to do it, as you emerge weeks later into the light, a withered, pale husk of a person. But a withered pale husk with a shiny new book!

But I can’t handle new drafts or revisions in the same way, I just burn out too quickly. I find it important to set restrictions on what work to do each day. So today for example, I plan to work on five chapters, and five chapters only. There’s always a temptation, if I finish earlier than I expected, to press on and keep going, to do five more. But it’s important to stop, take a break, or just, if I do want to keep writing, work on something completely different. Because I know if I do press on, I won’t be able to approach those next five chapters with the same level of quality or enthusiasm that I did the first. My attention will begin to fade, I might start to rush things, and I just won’t be happy with the end product.

You know, I’d love to be able to finish a draft, and then immediately wipe my memory of it once it’s done, so I can look at the work totally objectively. That would help a lot. But that would also make me forget all the fun I had writing it, which…wait, fun? What the hell am I saying, writing is a bloody nightmare!

I’ve now written over fifty posts on this blog. I never expected to do more than a couple before forgetting all about it, so I guess that’s something.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Now Playing: Dishonored

Dishonored is an excellent first person stealth/combat game. Set in a city in the midst of an industrial revolution, you assume the role of the bodyguard to the Empress. Framed for her murder, you escape captivity and set about restoring the rightful heir to the throne.

The setting is a wonderful mix of steam-punk science and forbidden magic colliding in a world rocked by a terrible plague. It’s a fascinating world, with a lot of history and subtle depth. The story itself is fairly straightforward and predictable, but it is engaging enough to compel you to play through to witness its outcome.

Its cast of characters (with good VA) are all varied, interesting people, but like the setting, the characterisation is incredibly subtle. This is because the player has the freedom to immerse themselves in this world as much or as little as they choose.


Talking to characters, playing audio logs, using the Heart tool and reading the numerous books scattered throughout provides more details and insight into the story and its characters, and also into the world, its history and culture. Its graphical style is reminiscent of Bioshock, which may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I found it quite fitting (although that shouldn’t excuse some rather shoddy textures in places) I also get quite a Half-Life 2 vibe – a city falling into ruin ruled by an oppressive regime. And a plucky resistance movement relying entirely on the actions of a mute weirdo.

Dishonored is split into eight levels, with a small hub section between most. It’s a game with two primary mechanics – combat and stealth. You can play to one extreme or the other (and doing so affects the ending cinematic and a few subtle changes to the game world during levels), or with a mixture of both.

Although you are an assassin, it is possible to complete the game without killing or alerting anyone to your presence. Or you can plough through as a murderous brute. Either way is extremely satisfying (although not particularly challenging – but I’ll get to that in a moment) thanks to the varied range of tools, weapons and supernatural abilities at your disposal, many of which can be used in conjunction in various ways.


The player is given a remarkable degree of freedom in how they choose to approach each mission. Will they use non-lethal stealth? Lethal stealth? Brute force? Or a mixture of all three? There are multiple routes to each primary target and solutions as to how you can choose to deal with them. There are also a number of optional side missions and plenty of collectibles, some for fun, others for upgrades. Dishonored's biggest flaw lies in its difficulty.

I’ve always thought of challenge as an integral component of this medium. I think it’s important a game, no matter what it is, presents some level of challenge to the player. Balancing a range of difficulties to cater to various skill levels can be tricky, I understand that. But challenge is important. It serves as an incentive to keep the player hooked, to improve, to win. Victory feels rather hollow if it isn’t earned.


But even on its hardest setting, I found doing a non-lethal/no alert run relatively easy, simply due to the fact that the player character is simply too powerful. Abilities such as Dark Vision totally breaks any tension from a stealth run. Blink, although smoothly integrated into the environment, really needed to be more restricted in its use, at least on higher difficulties. Possession seems balanced about right in terms of cost and duration, however. Slow time is undoubtedly fun, but makes combat runs way too easy, as you can calmly dispatch multiple attackers at your leisure.

I appreciate the variety of abilities available and having the freedom to use/combine them how I see fit, but it does seem like they needed to be toned down, or more restrictive in their use. Sadly, the only real challenge in Dishonored will come from player set restrictions.

Overall though, I’d still highly recommend Dishonored. It may not be groundbreaking, but it’s an excellent game with plenty of replay value and is certainly going to be in the running for a few Game of the Year awards.

8/10

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Between Planets

Progress on WFTD has stalled slightly. I’m currently working on part five and I’ve already made some extensive revisions to this section, but I’m still not convinced I’ve got it right. I know I can always push on and return to these scenes later – they won’t affect how things play out during the Exciting Conclusion – but I feel like I need to get them right before I can continue on. What I really need is Thinking Time.

So I figured I’d take a short break, step back and work on something new for a bit. If I ever feel a little creatively stumped, then looking at another project is always a good way to snap myself out of the funk. And I certainly don’t have a shortage of other projects to work on.

I’ve also been keeping myself busy with the recently released Dishonored, as well as continuing my ongoing Skyrim game. Dishonored, although not groundbreaking, is still very impressive, but I’ll talk more about that soon.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Now Playing: Rise of the Samurai (DLC)

Rise of the Samurai is a DLC mini-expansion to the excellent Shogun 2. The core Total War game play mechanics remain the same – turn based map strategy combined with real time tactical battles. Compared to Shogun 2 and its other, larger expansion - Fall of the Samurai - ROTS feels rather basic and doesn’t really add anything new to the formula.

It’s still pretty good though. I probably prefer the campaign side of ROTS to the battles, which get a tad repetitive due to the limited unit roster. I tend to only play the ‘key’ battles and let auto-resolve take care of the rest. Like Shogun 2, ROTS features a Realm Divide mechanic. I don’t hate the concept of the Real Divide, it certainly makes end-game more interesting than the slow steam-roll of the previous TW titles, but I don’t think it was particularly well implemented.

Although I can only play on medium settings because my PC would melt during the larger engagements, the game still looks really good, and it continues the trend of the excellent ‘art driven’ approach of Shogun 2, something I hope the developers continue with in Rome 2.


I’ve been a fan of the Total War series since the original Shogun, and I thought it was great that they essentially remade the title for the tenth anniversary of the series. It’s a series that I think has consistently improved, expanded, refined and gained more depth with each successive title. There have been bumps in the road (Empire on launch) but overall, I’ve been pleased with how the series has evolved.

I’m really looking forward to Rome 2 next year, although I think I’ll be needing a new PC for that. In the meantime though, I’ve got to finish this ROTS campaign, and I’ve still not started a proper FOTS game either, so there’s plenty to keep me busy.

6/10

Monday, 8 October 2012

WFTD: Structure

Work continues on the second draft of WFTD. One of the major things I’ve been looking at is the physical structure of the story and how it is presented to the reader. I originally structured WFTD into three parts, but that has now expanded to six. The question is: does it need to be divided into ‘parts’ at all? Well…yes and no.

You see, I’ll often break down a story into more manageable ‘chunks’ when I’m working on a draft in order to better plan my work schedule. Each part is saved into a separate file which I can then focus on independently. I prefer working like this rather than from a single, massive document. But WFTD wasn’t just split into parts because of my process, but because I saw the story as having three very distinct thematic acts. But some of the changes I’ve made - in particular to the chapter structure in the first part – means that’s not quite the case any more. The chapters are fairly short, especially compared to my last novel. I just hit chapter thirty seven and I’m barely into the third act. So I see the new split of six parts as the ‘real’ chapters of the story, simply broken down into many smaller pieces.

How and when to begin a chapter, or more importantly end a chapter, is one of the key things to get people to keep turning those pages. I don’t think pace is simply determined by the writing, but also by how the chapters are physically structured and presented. It obviously varies depending on the story and style but - too much, too fast and you can exhaust the reader. Breaking things down appropriately into bite size chunks can help keep the reader hooked, their attention never fading because every chapter is short and snappy.

As I said, this doesn’t work for every story. My last novel wasn’t broken into parts and the chapters were two or three times as long as those in WFTD. For now, I’ll stick with the six part structure until I complete this new draft. But once each piece is reintegrated into the whole, I’ll get a better idea of how the overall structure should work.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Now Playing: Jet Set Radio HD

Jet Set Radio HD is a wonderful update of one of my favourite games. Aside from some minor flaws and a few design decisions that may irritate the newcomer, JSR is damn near perfect. It’s not, I concede, as good a game as its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, but even today, JSR has a freshness and a coolness about it that’s never really been matched.

It was the first game to really use cel-shaded graphics, a style that perfectly suited its wacky hyper-comic world and characters. It also has a fantastic, varied soundtrack, that not only complements its gameplay, but is seamlessly woven into it.

If you’ve never played JSR before, you may find the controls fiddly, the time limits irritating and the spray mechanics annoying. JSRF pretty much removed these issues altogether, but personally, having played the original on release, I don’t really mind them.
 

The game has a certain ‘score attack’ vibe to it, as you endlessly replay levels to attain the highest ratings and unlock an extensive collection of extra characters. This new HD version of JSR looks great and includes some nice little bonus features – some music tracks from JSRF (hopefully an indication a HD remake is in the works) and a short, but good documentary about the making of the game.

Jet Set Radio is a fantastic, funky blend of varied gameplay, music, style and art. It’s just pure video game joy.

8/10

Monday, 1 October 2012

Eurogamer Expo 2012

So I’m back from London and the Eurogamer Expo. I arrived on the opening Thursday at around noon, and there was still a queue to get inside even then. That didn’t take too long, thankfully. I went with a friend, and after getting through the doors, we took some time to look around, get our bearings and decide where to start. Although it was very busy, there was enough space to move and stand and check out the games being played, which was nice. But actually playing the games involved queuing up, sometimes for upwards of two hours. That wasn’t so fun.

Our first stop was at the Aliens: Colonial Marines booth. The queue wasn’t too bad, but it still required a forty minute wait to have a go at a five minute multiplayer demo. I came away quite positive from that. The videos I’d seen of Colonial Marines had all looked a little meh, but hands on, it played a lot better than it looked.

Having actually managed to get on a game, we were both ready for more, so we immediately headed over to the Nintendo booth to give ZombieU a try. Well, that was the plan. We queued for about an hour, which wasn’t too bad - we got to try out a tech demo with the WiiU controller while we waited and I was surprised at how light and comfortable it felt. But then we realised that the start of our queue was just the end of another queue, and we’d have another hour or so to wait before hitting the demo pods. We gave up, ducked out and headed back into the show.
 
We decided to go check out Dishonored (long, long queue) AC3 (long, long queue) and…yeah, they really should have sold official ‘I queued at Eurogamer’ merchandise. If I go again in the future, I’d definitely go better prepared. We tried to stop for some lunch, but the queues at the food places were as bad as the games. We ended up heading out and getting something outside.

My advice: arrive early, head straight for the most popular games first, and take food and drink with you. Even then, be ready to spend most of the day standing in line if you want to play stuff. I don’t mind waiting that much, I think I’m pretty patient, but some of the queues barely moved and the organisation wasn’t great from what I saw, particularly at the Nintendo booth. Overall though, we did have a good day out at Eurogamer. It’s a shame we didn’t come away with more free swag though.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Now Playing: Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is a solid first person shooter. It has a unique setting with some good atmosphere and a decent - if rather muddled at times - story. It looks great, and I like the little details throughout the game which create a bleak, realistic world that draws you in.

The characters, unfortunately, are all rather short lived and forgettable– it’s a shame there’s no people you can ever connect to throughout the story, and as a result, its hard to ever really care about exactly what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.

It’s got some tense moments and is a little survival-horror like in many ways. The game is primarily set in the underground network beneath Moscow. I was worried that the environments might get a bit, well, repetitive after a while, but the game regularly mixes things up and it’s never really an issue.


It’s not very long, but I’d say it’s long enough for what it needs to do. It’s extremely linear, but it’s well crafted and it’s got some nice little touches I like, such as the non-existent UI, the gas masks, the wind up torch, and the journal. VA is also good throughout. There’s not really a lot of replay value, but it was certainly worth the few quid I paid for it in a sale.

I didn’t find it particularly engaging personally, but if you’re looking for a solid shooter it’s definitively worth checking out. I’d love to play something similar but with a larger environment, more exploration and...hang on, don’t I have those two STALKER games in my backlog?

6/10

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Have Space Suit – Will Travel

Work on the second draft of WFTD hasn’t exactly progressed as quickly as I’d planned. I wanted to get cracking on it after finishing up some more decorating, but then I made a list of all the other little odd jobs I’ve still got to get done before winter really starts to bite, and that ran to nearly two pages.

But I have started, at least, and I’m hoping to get at least the first part done before I go away next week. I’m heading down to London to attend the Eurogamer Expo. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get into the Creative Assembly developer session so I can see Rome 2 in action. I’m also looking forward to giving Assassin’s Creed 3 and Dishonored a try, as well as the new WiiU.

In other news, a friend recommended I give Guild Wars 2 a try, which I did. Probably not my best idea as it’s another distraction from my work and my backlog. It seems pretty good though, although I’ve only sunk a few hours into it so far.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Now Playing: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is an episodic adventure game split into five parts, each a self-contained story but part of a larger, ongoing narrative. At the time of writing, only the first 3 episodes have been released. The actual interactive elements of The Walking Dead are extremely basic. It’s a combination of some very simple point and click puzzles and quick-time events (which sadly always uses the same pattern) but, uh, that’s about it.

Whether they’ll add a little more variety to the gameplay in the final two episodes remains to be seen, but currently, you’ll spend more time watching cut-scenes and listening to dialogue than you will ‘playing’. And because of this, The Walking Dead game just wouldn’t work if it didn’t have a compelling story, setting and characters. Fortunately, they pretty much nailed all these elements.


You play as Lee Everett, a man who finds himself plunged into the nightmare world of The Walking Dead. Joining a handful of fellow survivors, you guide Lee throughout the story, choosing how he’ll respond to certain situations and making hard choices. At the start of every episode you are reminded that the game is tailored according to how you play and the choices you make, and to a certain extent that is true.

Characters may live or die depending on your choices, and people will react differently to you according to how you dealt with them in the past. But, as you’d expect, there are limitations to this system, and some story points (including character deaths) are inevitable regardless of your actions, which does make your choices feel rather hollow at times.

I thought the first episode was okay, the second great, but the third was a little disappointing, not so much from a story perspective, but from the perspective of player choice. I played through each episode twice, making different choices, and the third plays out practically identically regardless. You get the feeling the developers wanted to tie together all the current major story variations and start fresh with the last two episodes.


But The Walking Dead has a great cast of characters with good VA and a compelling story that makes you want to play on to see what happens. You become attached to the characters to varying degrees and genuinely concerned about their fate.

Whatever happens by the end of The Walking Dead, I’m hopeful we might see a second game, perhaps with more variety and challenge to the puzzles and gameplay and with a deeper, more branching narrative that reflects multiple decisions in a more meaningful way.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

WFTD: Second Draft

Okay.

Here we go again.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Now Playing: Lost in Space Engine

Space Engine. It’s not really a game. But it’s free, and it’s pretty damn amazing. Let me quote from the website -

SpaceEngine- is a free space simulation software that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, starting from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by human astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets!

The Universe. It’s big. Like, really big. And with Space Engine that sense of scale hits home hard. Space is vast and beautiful, and there are sights to see which will really blow your mind - watching a galaxy rise in the sky from the surface of a dead world on the dark edges of the void. Or advancing time and watching three stars engage in a deadly orbital dance that will last for millions of years.

If you have any interest at all in space, and if your system can run it, you should definitely check it out.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Long Watch

I haven’t been very productive these last few weeks. I guess because I’ve not focused my attention on just one or two things, but rather on lots of things, and as a result I’ve not made much progress in any of them.

On the writing side, I’ve got some good feedback on the first draft of WFTD. I’ve made a few pages of notes on things to work on. There’s a lot to do, but I’m going to take a break for a bit so I can go back to it fresh. I wanted to do some work on my other projects, but I can’t decide where to start. I’ve got drafts of three books in varying states of polish I want go back to, I’m just not sure which to go with.

I’ve also been decorating again. That’s taken up a chunk of time and there’s more yet to come. I’ve also not completed any new games recently. I had the urge to start a new Empire campaign, which then inspired me to return to Shogun 2 and finally play the ROTS DLC I downloaded over a year ago or something crazy like that. I’ve also still been playing Arkham City, hunting down the last of the collectibles, as well as starting a game of Dead Space and of course, CS:GO launched recently, so I’ve been playing that too.

So much for my efforts to cut down that backlog.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Now Playing: Arkham City

Arkham Asylum was excellent, and Arkham City is even better. It’s exactly what a sequel should be. It builds upon everything the first game did right and then gives us even more.

But there are a couple of things I think Asylum did better. One: Pacing. Asylum had a near perfect pace to the progression of the story and the unlocking of tools and features. Two: Plot. The plot of Asylum was a lot tighter and more focused. But Asylum was a lot more linear compared to City, so that’s not exactly surprising. While I love the large, open arena of Arkham City, which is absolutely packed with content, it does mean the main plot becomes a little overwhelmed by all of the additional content.

With so many distractions between plot locations, the story does suffer as you get caught up for hours hunting for collectibles, solving riddles, completing challenges or finding bonus missions and you sometimes stop and think ‘hang on, wasn’t there somewhere I was supposed to be?’

The story is good though, although I’d probably rate Asylum’s just a little higher as City’s seems to meander around a little too much in the middle. But like I said, this ‘negative’ if you can even call it that, is largely due to the content rich playground providing so much entertainment between mission objectives.


With more enemy types, an expanded range of quick fire gadgets, interactive environments and new combo moves, the combat system is as fluid and enjoyable as it was in Asylum, but much more tactical than before. But that’s not all. In Arkham City you can also play as Catwoman at certain points throughout the story, with her own enjoyable style of traversing the environment, her own combat style and even gadgets and stealth moves. It gives the gameplay even more variety, as if it didn’t have enough already.

And not only does City improve and add depth to the combat system, but it also gives us much better boss fights, which were the only real weak area of the original game. Music is great, VA is excellent, graphics are another notch up from Asylum. Even once the main story is complete there’s plenty of content to keep you busy, tracking down missing collectibles or playing challenge maps, even a New Game Plus mode. I couldn’t recommend City highly enough. It’s one of those few games that really deserves all those high scores it was lauded with in the gaming press.

9/10

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Jet Set Radio HD


I was starting to wonder if this was ever going to be released, but it's now officially dated for September 19th. Hopefully the PC version will be as good as I hope. If not, well I've still got my DC plugged in for a Jet Set fix.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Now Playing: Crysis

In Crysis, a first person shooter originally released in 2007, you assume the role of Nomad, a special forces soldier equipped with a tactical nano-suit providing you with enhanced strength, speed, armour and stealth capabilities.

Literally dropping you straight into the action, the game opens with the occupation of a tropical island by a North Korean force, but as you quickly discover, there is a greater threat lurking on the island, something extremely hostile and alien in nature. The first half of the game is excellent, as you slowly advance further into the island, rescuing hostages and engaging the NKA.


The game looks fantastic and the combat is fluid and satisfying thanks to a decent range of weapons (with some nice on the fly customisation options) and the combination of nano-suit functions. The action builds at a fine pace, with battles becoming epic in scale and your individual actions becoming part of a larger objective. Thanks to the large, open maps and your suit capabilities, there’s a lot of ways you can approach mission objectives. Replaying certain sections always feels different depending on how you approach it and how the excellent enemy AI reacts.

But then you reach a point just over half way through the game where the alien force becomes the primary threat, and that’s where things start to get a little, well, bland. The game suddenly becomes a very linear, very forgettable shooter. The alien opponents are nowhere near as interesting to fight as the human AI, and battles with them quickly devolve into dull, circle-strafe fests.


Exploration, strategy, planning and precise execution are thrown out of the window in favour of uninspired static turret sections and a few vehicle shooting galleries.The levels turn into a series of large scale set pieces which, while enjoyable to watch and to a certain extent play, just aren’t very interesting compared to what came before, as you suddenly feel rather pointless in terms of your contribution to the action and your nano-suit practically becomes redundant.

It’s undeniably exciting at certain moments, but you become strangely disconnected from the action and it feels completely at odds with the approach to combat during the first half of the game. So yeah, first half: excellent. Second half: Uh, not so much. So would I recommend it? I think so. Even though the latter half is disappointing, it’s still enjoyable to play through once. If I was going to replay it though, I’d probably just stick to the first half.

6/10

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Double Star

So it’s done. WFTD is polished, printed and ready for feedback. It was something of a struggle the last time I checked it through. I think I hit a point where it was just too hard to step back and see the flaws, errors or ways in which to improve it further. So yeah, it’s going to be read as it is. I’ll get some feedback and then take it from there. I’ll probably let it sit for a few weeks though so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

But what will I do in the meantime? Well, I’ve got a couple of other projects I guess I can work on. I’ve got a MG/YA sci-fi already in a first draft state I keep meaning to go back to, plus a YA paranormal (second ? third?) draft which was fairly solid the last time I read it, but could probably use a little more work.

Aside from that, I need to keep whittling that backlog down, get some garden work done and maybe some more decorating too. I should really find a new book to read too. I can’t read a book while I’m writing one, it’s just something I don’t like to do. I guess I don’t want any other ‘voice’ in my head other than the one I’m writing with or something like that.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Now Playing: Chaser

Chaser is a first person shooter originally released in 2003. I actually bought this game on release but never completed it at the time. I can’t remember the exact details, but I hit some kind of bug late on that left me unable to progress. Recently the game was on sale on Steam for a quid so I thought I’d give it another shot.

Well, it hasn’t aged very well, I have to say that. Graphically, it’s not terrible to look at. In fact, it actually looks surprisingly decent in places. The shooting is solid, if unspectacular, and there’s a wide range of weapons with alternate fire modes. The levels are large and open, requiring a little exploration to progress and there’s a fair bit of variety to the environments too.


Negatives? Just about everything else, unfortunately. Enemy AI is awful, which utterly destroys any real challenge as it's so easy to abuse. They stand still and shoot, or they kneel and shoot. Sometimes they roll, but that’s about as advanced as it gets. The story is ridiculous and the characters are terrible.

VA is laughably bad, although it's clearly not helped by the badly translated script. Still, it does provide a lot of unintentionally funny moments during cut scenes. Music is decent but gets repetitive to the point of irritation during the long levels.

Overall, I couldn’t really recommend Chaser. The shooting mechanics are fairly solid, but it’s all rather basic and incredibly dull at times. I completed it this time around, but it was a bit of a struggle to care.

4/10

Friday, 3 August 2012

Merlin Series 5


I really shouldn't get so excited, but I can't help myself!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Now Playing: Super Street Fighter IV AE

I’ve not played a Street Fighter game since Street Fighter 2 on the Mega Drive. I sunk countless hours into that title, but I never played another dedicated SF game again until I picked this up in the recent Steam sale.

I’ve never been a massive fighting game fan. SF2 was the first I really got hooked on. I later quite enjoyed Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn, Marvel vs Capcom 2 on the Dreamcast (probably my personal favourite), and Soulcalibur 2 on the GameCube. There were others, but those are the few that stand out in my mind.

So what about SSFIV:AE? Well, it’s actually pretty darn good. It looks fantastic. It’s vibrant and sharp, and a real joy to play. Despite not touching a Street Fighter title for years, it’s amazing how familiar it feels to play.


I’ve only sunk a few hours into it so far, but I can see this as a title I’ll be playing regularly for the foreseeable future. I’m pretty rubbish at it right now, I admit. It took me a while to find a comfortable pad configuration (and I’m still not 100% happy with it) but I’m learning. I’m going to focus on one or two characters at a time and slowly work my way up through the difficulty settings.

It’s tougher than I thought it would be, even on the lower levels. It’s a game that requires a little patience and dedication to improve at. I’m looking forward to sinking more hours in and seeing just how far I can go.

8/10

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD

Huzzah! I actually finished the first draft! It’s pretty rough and shoddy in places, but it’s done. It clocks in at around 70k words or so. I’m aiming for 75k to 80k once I go through it and flesh things out a little more. Then, once I’m happy with it, I’ll see about getting a little feedback from people.

My original plan for Part 3 didn’t really work out the way I hoped. Well, it was okay, but it just didn’t feel natural in terms of certain choices for one of the main characters. As a result, I went back and rewrote a couple of chapters, which held me up a little and I thought I might miss my self imposed deadline. But, remarkably, I somehow pulled it together, knocking out about 14 pages in one afternoon to get back on track.

Things are a lot better now. Well, I hope they are. I’ve not read through the last 3 or 4 chapters since I finished. I’ve been taking a little break from the novel for a few days, just trying to knock a few more games off my backlog before diving straight into the edits. Overall, I’m fairly pleased how quickly I got the first draft done. I would’ve liked to have arrived here a lot sooner, but a number of delays, some expected, some not, held me up quite a few times. Still, it’s not too bad, I guess.

Well, I guess all I can do now is start working on a few edit notes. I’ve already got a list of things I need to tweak, fix, rewrite or cut. I’m looking forward to having a polished draft ready to read soon.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Now Playing: The Elder Scrolls V

I don’t want people to think I dislike Skyrim. I do like it, but I’m also rather disappointed by it. I guess I was expecting more from it, not in terms of the amount of content, because Skyrim is packed full of it, but in terms of the quality and variety of that content.

When I think about many of the features in the game (graphics, combat, magic, stats, quests etc), I struggle to consider them in any other terms than ‘they do the job’. They’re not bad or anything, they’re just, well, average or okay at best. And when you combine all these elements, the game, overall, is good. I found it a really enjoyable, addictive experience. In fact, I’ve clocked more than 200 hours in the game since release and I’m sure I’ll double that thanks to the extensive modding community and future DLC.


In terms of value for money, Skyrim was an excellent purchase. So I do like Skyrim. I think, overall, it’s very good and I’d certainly recommend it, but I’d hesitate before calling it great. One of my major issues is the quests in the game. I found the main quest line pretty bland and uninspired and the guild quest chains are extremely disappointing.

The Civil War chain is more interesting in terms of story but not in execution. The world is vast and fairly varied but the locations quickly become repetitive. Less is sometimes more, and I would have happily settled for half the number of dungeons if they offered a greater variety of design. Your actions also feel incredibly meaningless within the world, as NPCs show zero reaction to your status within it and nothing ever changes.


There are no consequences to any major decisions. The world remains static throughout. I should also touch upon the combat. It certainly does the job, but it all feels rather basic. There’s very little nuance or depth to the combat. In fact, there’s very little depth to most of the game and I think that’s my real issue with it. Everything feels incredibly simplified and superficial.

As I said, I think Skyrim is a good game but it feels like it could have been so much more and that’s what disappoints me. I probably shouldn’t have started playing it again though because it’s really going to put a dent in my efforts to whittle down my backlog.

7/10