Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Quick Thought

I just realized something before. The Combine must have been using some really shit padlocks on their doors if Gordon Freeman can just whack them off with his crowbar. He doesn't even seem to be hitting them particularly hard, since it takes two or three good whacks to get through a wooden box. A good padlock would also be able to handle the handgun bullet, since the one you get in the game doesn't look *that* powerful. Anyway, I hope you found those three sentences to be quite enlightening.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Top 5 Anticipated Games

So, I'm currently writing an article for The Escapist, which means the blog might be taking a back seat for a while in favour of something that I might be getting paid for. So here's a quickie to keep all three of my readers happy: the top 5 games that I'm looking forward to playing in the near future.

5.South Park: The Game.
I'm a decent fan of the show, and Matt and Trey are actually working on the development team (rather than just handing the licence to an outside dev). I'm not a massive fan of basic turn-based RPG combat, but if it keeps the humour and personality of the show that should be enough reason to buy it.

4. Beyond Good and Evil 2.
Okay, I know this is a longshot, but there was a story up on The Escapist recently that BG&E 2 is still being made. Loved the first one, second sounds good too. You can read the story here:

3. Antichamber.
If MC Escher was a game developer who worked exclusively while on acid, the product would probably be something like this. Obtuse to the extreme and full of intriguing puzzles/mindfucks, this looks like an indie puzzler dream. There's a free demo kicking around the internet somewhere (from back when it was titled Hazard: The Journey of Life), so you should have a look for that.

2. Bioshock Infinite
The first Bioshock was a great game. The second not so much, but mainly because it was just harping on the first. But with a fresh new city (in the sky!) and a host of new plasmids (they're called vigors now but they are fucking plasmids) this new installment is set to rival the first.

1. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Oh man, where to even begin here. First, it's a horror game from Frictional, some of the best horror minds in the business. But even better, development has actually been relegated to Thechineseroom, makers of indie experimental darling Dear Esther. Now while Dear Esther itself wasn't a horror game, it did have elements that could have made it effective as a horror game if that had been the direction they'd decided to take it (Beautiful atmosphere, very subtle elements, a few mindfucks snuck in). And their previous game, a sourcemod called Korsakovia (look it up, it's free) actually was a fairly effective horror game with good pacing and atmosphere. AND this one is due for an October release. Considering the fairly ordinary line-up we've had this year, A Machine for Pigs could very well earn my Game of the Year award.

So there it is. If I find time later on I might do a Top 5 "Games that look like they'll be pretty crap" list.

Until next time.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Whatever happened to fun?

Okay, so the big gaming story this week is the official Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 reveal. Apparently it's set in the near-future, around about the same time Crysis was set (though apparently in an alternate universe with far less gameplay innovation (ooh, edgy)). Anyway, I was discussing it with a friend of mine who's into that sort of thing when this exchange took place:

Him: "I've always thought they should set a Call of Duty game in the near-future."
Me: "Will there be jetpacks?"
"Why not?"
"Because that wouldn't fit the Call of Duty gameplay style"
"It would be made more fun because there would be jetpacks"

My point is that Call of Duty gameplay is very, very dull. It's like someone took the Quake 3/ UT shooter formula of "Run, Jump, Shoot, Repeat" but then changed it to "Run, shoot, die, blame lag, repeat". I played about half an hour of MW3 during the steam free weekend which served to reinforce my opinion on that matter.But by setting Black Ops 2 in the future Treyarch have the opportunity to rectify this and make an actually fun shooter with awesome shit like laser weapons and jetpacks. But no, from what I can tell Treyarch is taking the old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" path (or in this case, the "it's not technically broke but it is a giant congealed brown mess that people keep giving us money for so let's make it again" path). They can have as many bloody armoured quadrotor killstreaks as they want, they're still just something else that flies around shooting ordinary old bullets into ordinary old non-flying soldiers (Though if Treyarch were to add an orbital laser cannon killstreak that would be a step in the right direction. At least that adds spectacle if nothing else).

If you asked me why I think Call of Duty exists as a gaming property I honestly couldn't tell you. It doesn't seem to be so people can have fun playing it, considering that every match plays out like a carbon-copy of every other match (unless everyone who likes it just slams their head in a car door between games to forget the last 15 minutes of their lives). It doesn't seem to be to provide the world with a realistic simulator of modern armed combat (unless the US army has some kind of "Suicidal Retard Squadron" that I'm unaware of). It's certainly not for an engaging narrative And it doesn't seem to be so people can have fun working alone or together to achieve some kind of goal, considering that pretty much no-one works together and the only measure of one's success is how many people they killed and how much dying they did/didn't do. So I really cannot comprehend why this property is considered to be gaming nirvana by the masses when it's compared to other games that have genuinely fun and involving gameplay or actual charm and character.

I suppose the obvious comparison to make here is Team Fortress 2. The gameplay is fun and caters to all flavours of the gaming spectrum (sneaky-pants stealth to capturing objectives to killing as many people as you can), you can switch styles whenever you want, the player-characters are actual characters and the visual design matches this well (and stops people from blending into the background). And that game is bloody free too! (even when it wasn't it was like $20 or something). I just really don't see how people can compare those two games and actually believe that Call of Duty is more enjoyable to play. 

So, the main point of this rant is to say that somewhere along the line we lost track of fun. We traded Half-Life for COD (Completely Obviously... Bad) and Super Mario for EVE online (Which is basically the space-themed version of Microsoft Excel). Why is this? how did this happen? When did we decide that cliche and repetition deserve our praise and money more than fun and imagination? I'm going to stop typing now so that I don't become any more depressed than that aforementioned half-hour of MW3 already made me.

*Footnote* Pretty much everything I've said about cod applies to Battlefield 3 too. I rank the latter as being slightly less horrible because I at least have the option of jumping in a car and running over every motherfucker I see.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Review: Lone Survivor

So, last week I was looking through the steam store and saw a game on the front page called "Lone Survivor", which touted itself as a "psychological survival adventure". I'm a big fan of survival horror and psychological themes in games, so this sounded like it was right up my alley. After playing it, though, I must say that it fails on those points (but it does almost make up for it elsewhere).

So basically you play as some dude, living in an apartment building in a ruined post-apocalyptic city ravaged by a strange disease that turns people into shambling monsters with a hunger for human flesh (sounds familiar, no?). Your main goal is to escape the city and find other survivors (if there are any). The game disappoints on the whole "psychological" aspect right off the bat by basically establishing that your guy is crazy from the word go. Pretty much the first thing you do in the game is go to your friend's apartment across the hall (didn't the game say there weren't any other survivors?) where there's a party going on. Next minute she disappears, the party's over and there's zombies in the room with no explanation of what happened. There is a mental health mechanic in the game, where apparently not eating random crap, not taking drugs, sneaking past the zombies instead of killing them and doing a whole heap of other arbitrary crap gets you a better ending. I played through doing what comes naturally (i.e. trying to play that way but then getting bored and failing miserably) and got a D+ for mental health and a pretty disappointing ending. I guess I could play the game again and try harder to get the good ending, but then the gameplay (while not completely terrible) wasn't exactly enthralling enough to warrant me doing that.

Gameplay consists of a fairly standard adventuring (find item, stand in the right spot and use it) with a dash of stealth in the form of avoiding the zombies (the game doesn't call them zombies but they are bloody zombies). The actual puzzles are disappointingly straightforward, so the only challenge comes from making your way back and forth between the zombies while you're trawling the map for every item you can find. This really becomes a chore before long, which is why i was so inclined to forget about the mental health system and cap every zombie I saw so that I didn't have to sneak around them the long way.You also have to eat food and sleep properly to stay alive, and you can cook certain kinds of food to make them taste nicer as part of that mental health thingy. This leads me to the only part of the game that I really liked, which was the characterization. At first the guy you play as came across as being one of those emotionless tossers you see all too often in games. The mask he wears has him permanently frozen in the same facial expression and his running monologue wasn't exactly enthralling me either. But he has just enough nice character moments (such as making friends with a shadowy figure, or being able to cook food when he finds the gas cylinder) to make me invested in his survival on a personal level. The fact that I was genuinely interested in finding out what would happen to him next is pretty much the only reason I kept playing. And thanks to the main character being insane there were enough entertaining moments to maintain my interest in the plot. So I guess this is proof that a good story can save a game from total damnation.

Anyway, I guess the only thing left to talk about it the horror aspect. Well, It's not scary. I was a bit surprised myself, since the (very) pixellated graphics and generally dark colour scheme give the levels a very gritty, oppressing feel. Unfortunately the other elements of the game completely ruin this feeling. For starters when you're so much as in the same room as a zombie this loud static noise starts up, which removes that feeling of uncertainty that is used to create tension in good horror games. As well as this even when you don't have your flashlight on the screen is bright enough that you can see the zombies on screen perfectly. So yeah, it fails as a horror game too.

Overall, not a great game. The story brings it up to a passable level (even if the actual gameplay was mostly crap), and it's smart enough not to drag on too far. The ending I got was a disappointment, but I guess it would be a bit mean of me to judge the game on that when there might be a really good ending tucked away somewhere else in my steam folder (though I will judge it for having a weird choices system in the first place). And the game didn't technically advertise itself as a horror game, so it would be unfair of me to deduct points from it for that. there's certainly worse ways to spend $10, but a much better way to spend it would be to go see Cabin in the Woods. Seriously, that movie was awesome.

Until next time.