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Boatz's blog

3:46 PM on 09.02.2009

Peniless? Cash flow trouble? Cheapskate? There are free games out there you know, and they're not all bad.

The world of video games is, let’s not beat around the bush, bloody expensive. Unlike music and films, the price of your disk can cost upwards of thirty-five pounds, and that’s not including the console needed to play it, and the inevitable DLC that might arise. So, it’s safe to say, the market of free gaming is certainly an attractive one for any prospective gamer, but the act of finding quality in such a game is akin to finding some shit in a bucket of crap. Hell, to even get some people through the door of a free MMO you need to wave a nice shiny laptop in front of their face.

Its true though, most are shit, but there are some which do deserve some attention, and one of the bigger companies who provide entertainment for us penniless gamers is Korean company Nexon, and it’s two of their games I’ll be cross examining for you now: side-scrolling MMO MapleStory, and the twitch-reaction shooter known as Combat Arms.

We’ll start with MapleStory. Developed by South Korean company Wizet and published good ol’ Nexon, MapleStory is about as simple as one can get with an MMO. You make a character, you give him a weapon, and you kill everything that moves in this 2D-world in a bid to reach the godly heights of level 120. Ok, so maybe there’s a plot attached – you are a new resident of the island of Erev and newest candidate to join the Knights of Cygrus, a crack team of soldiers designed to beat the Dark Wizard. You spend the first 15 or so levels on this island learning the ropes before you’re plugged into the main world, Victoria Island.

Earlier players of MapleStory, like me, might find that above explanation different from the experience they had, and they’d be right – this is the new Knights of Cygnus expansion pack, and it does give the first 15 levels and choice of class some structure, and also guides you a bit on main Victoria Island. Combat is done with hilarious ease – at first you just move, jump with Alt, and attack with Ctrl, later on you’ll receive other special moves relative to your choice of class. This simplistic combat, in addition to the wholly 2D side-scrolling world, makes the game exceptionally simple to pick up, and, even though the first few fights are just a matter of mashing Ctrl until everything dies, the addictive quality of the game already starts to become apparent. As you progress, new attacks and enemies are given to you and the difficulty curve rises rather nicely.

However, after the mid-20s you begin to see something pretty obvious – every quest you receive is either a kill X monsters, or get X items by killing Y monsters. And in between those quests you train up for higher level killing monsters. Yes, it’s well documented that MapleStory is very much a grind-fest, you’ll spend most of your time killing monsters. But, of course, the reason MMOs like this are so popular is exactly that – the drip feed of experience you will receive for killing the millions of monsters you will. Unlike World of Warcraft, where kills take at least half a minute, MapleStory could have you kill 20 monsters a minute, and you’ll receive XP for every one, not to mention money and loot. The simple act of hitting a monster, landing the killing blow, and picking up loot from the floor all feel very satisfying and it’s a good job too, because you’ll be doing a lot of it.

This feeling is thanks in no small part to the lovely graphics. The whole world is rendered in brilliant cutesy-anime style, character models all look precious with their oversized head-to-body ratio, and the background environments are also just as pretty and very diverse – you could be in a green leaved forest or a red-stone canyon, both as visually appealing as each other.

But this lovely facade is not enough to hide this game biggest flaw – you’ll only be killing monsters. Sure, you can join guilds, families, and even get married, but you won’t do any of that until much later into your game, and if you do play the game past level 60, you’ll find the experience needed to level is horrendously high. Not only that, the penalty for death is 10% experience loss – in later levels, this could be literally millions of experience points lost. The community is also a bit dodgy – there’s quite a lot of kill stealing and shit talk from the other players you’ll see, but a good feature of MapleStory is the ability to change server mid-game, without the need to log out, so if you’re being abused you can easily hop to another channel.

So, if I were to sum it up in a sentence: it’s got the looks and charm of a Japanese Castle Crashers, but the gameplay can get monotonous if you don’t see the appeal of experience gaining. Now, we’ll jump to the other side of the gaming spectrum: Combat Arms.

Combat Arms, is an online shooter, again published by Nexon but this time developed by the funnily named Doobic Studios. In the game, you shoot other people, and the people you have to shoot depend on what flavour mode you’ve chosen. Elimination pits team Alpha and Bravo against each other in a straight-forward Team Deathmatch, One-Man Army is the standard free for all Deathmatch, Search and Destroy is a shameless carbon copy of the Call of Duty gametype of the same name – one team plants the bomb, the other team tries to stop the planting of the bomb, and good ol’ Capture the flag. These are the bog-standard modes that come packed with almost any shooter, but Combat Arms comes with two more interesting modes, Spy Hunt, and Quarantine. Spy Hunt is a weird mix of FFA deathmatch and capture the flag – there are five intelligence cases scattered around the map, and if all of these are collected, your stats are boosted and you gain an big advantage. Quarantine is, of course, Combat Arms’ way of shoehorning zombies into their game to boost popularity. 2 players are chosen each round to be the first zombies, and the remaining humans must survive three minutes. For a free shooter, there are enough modes to keep you interested, and the winning of money and experience will interest you even longer.

Gameplay wise, it’s not unlike MapleStory, that is, it’s as simple as PC shooters can get. Aim with mouse, shoot with click move with WASD, change weapons with numbers. You shoot who you are supposed to shoot and they die within a reasonable amount of bullet hits. What nice about how Combat Arms works is that it treats every kill as a big achievement – your first kill will be displayed on the screen as 1 KILL!!!! in big stylised letters, and it counts up your kills such like for every kill you get. HEADSHOTS, DOUBLE KILLS and the infamous NUT SHOT are also dealt with in this manner, and it really makes you work for your kills.

Experience is tracked with a Call of Duty-esque military ranking system, and you use your money to rent new weapons. Yes, that’s right, you RENT weapons. Newbies get a free weapon pack, and you also get free rentals after achieving certain ranks, but apart from that, you need to earn money for your own rentals. You can rent them for as little as 24 hours or as long as 90 days, and the system does smack a bit of an injustice – the more skilful players will earn more money, and therefore have access to the better weapons, the rich will most certainly get richer here.

Graphics wise, the game looks okay. Not brilliant, not crap, but most certainly accurate. And that’s really as much as I can say about it, you shoot, there’s bullets, then blood, then death. And it all looks pretty meh-ish. But, with free games is usually the graphics that suffer, especially in 3D games. But is it worth getting? Certainly. The most fun is to be had with Quarantine mode – repelling zombies is always fun, and there’s `a real thrill in becoming a zombie, finding where the humans have hidden, and causing one more infection to fuck up everything and cause a mass outbreak is very satisfying, as is being the last man standing and hiding well enough to escape the infection. It’s a shame there is only one map for Quarantine, but you won’t find that problem with the other game types.

The game, in short, is Counter Strike on the cheap...well, on the totally free. Certainly for a free game it’s quite deep and there are plenty of guns to buy and maps to play. Most certainly worth a download.
So there you have it. I would give both games a 7, and, in my opinion, a 7 is as high a free game will ever receive. All free games will be built on a stringent budget, and so games like MapleStory and Combat Arms will probably never reach their true potential. But, to be honest, if you’re looking for free games with no strings, you’re gonna have to deal with a bit of a quality drop.

Or, you could just flash your Xbox and make your own pirate games. Your call.

11:17 AM on 08.26.2009

Review: Mass Effect DLC, Pinnacle Station

But before we get reviewing, WOOO my banner finally got there, and it only took 2 weeks after I submitted it. It looked far cooler in Paint, I'll tell you that, but minimalistic is cool these days. I know I'm right. Anyway, Pinnacle Station.

Pinnacle Station is the second slab of Mass Effect DLC, after the very competent Bring Down The Sky. Unlike Bring Down The Sky, which saw you fighting a new alien race to save a human colony from the brink of destruction (which, so it seems, Shepard does five times before breakfast), Pinnacle Station sees you taking on a far bigger threat - THE ULTIMATE EVIL OF VIRTUAL REALITY!!!!! The station itself is a top secret human facility, built for the training of the various races of Citadel space. You dock with the station, a big wig from the Alliance fleet introduces himself, a Turian soldier belittles your ability, and a salarian whizz-kid plugs you in to the simulation.

As far as story goes, that's pretty much it. There's no huge ties to the main plot and your squad doesn't even make an appearance until you get down to the fighting. So, you'd better do just that, plug yourself in and get fighting.

The simulator is designed for four types of mission - Time Trial, Hunt, and Survival and Capture. In Time Trial, your goal is to kill everything in the level - the faster, the better. Hunt requires you to kill as many enemies as you can within an alloted time, with each kill netting you a few more seconds. Survival is exactly how it sounds - wave after wave of enemies will attack, and you must hold out for as long as possible, and Capture tasks you with capturing three or four points around the map as fast as you can. These missions are played out on four different 'arenas': Warehouse, Volcanic, Tropical, and Subterranean, and give a maximum of 12 combinations of mission (each mission type supports three arenas each). Scores/times are recorded against your fellow NPC combatants, with your goal, obviously, to claim the top spot in each mission.

As far as gameplay is concerned, its your standard Mass Effect affair - you shoots teh gunz, and teh robots fall downz. Enemies are no different from normal (except they disappear in a Tron-like fashion when you slay them), you can pick two fellow team members, alls good. The mission themselves aren't particularly taxing to the mind - you either shoot fast, run fast, or shoot and run fast. Out of the four missions, however, I found Capture to be the most fun. The act of sprinting to a point, sticking yourself against some cover and holding off the enemies as best you can whilst the 'capture' bar fills up torturingly slowly is actually quite a satisfying one. Survival, however, seems a wee bit broken. The point of survival is to steadily raise the difficulty of your enemies until survival proves almost impossible (see Left 4 Dead for the perfect execution of Survival), but here at Pinnacle station, difficulty starts at medium-hard and sticks there like a magnet to a fridge. Its supposed to be a case of "its not IF you die, its WHEN", but in every instance of Survival I actually had to seek out my own demise after seven minutes of fighting.

Of course, perhaps this is because I was playing the game on Normal mode with full Spectre gear on a stat-maxed Rufus Shepard. As such, I found most of the missions unchallenging, with minimal problems taking the top spot on my first try for each assignment. I imagine that a lot of the missions would be a lot more challenging with a new character or on higher difficulty, and its something I strongly suggest if you don't want to be bored out of your skull. The final bonus mission for perfecting all the rest is a bit of a challenge, but again, I bested it on my first try. I'm yet to try it with my far weaker Zara Shepard, so I'll keep you posted on the difficulty there.

Barring the difficulty, there is one huge issue I have with Pinnacle Station - it just feels like a rushed money-spinner. The arenas are actually re-hashed parts of the main story planets, it doesn't take a genius to think of 'Survival Mode' and there is probably less than six minute of original dialogue in the whole 2 hour experience. Case in point - after you finish a mission, the Admiral in charge gives you a one-liner depending on your victory or defeat, and I heard the same line repeated 5 times. Come on, Bioware, there's only TWELVE missions, would it have killed you to think of TWELVE little one-liners praising a victory?

In the end though, its 2 more hours of Mass Effect for a meagre 400 Microsoft Space Bucks, and you'll certainly have fun for those two hours, so if you do have a copy of Mass Effect you want to dust off, I do suggest you get it. It just feels like such an arbitrary addition to a great game, and such a pointless thing to produce, especially this late after Mass Effect's initial release. But, hey, its five bucks. You could certainly do a lot worse.

In other things:

I'm resolute now that I will post at least one entry a week in this infernal blog, probably on a Wednesday. If you enjoy reading my drivel then do add me to your friends list, and I'll certainly reciprocate.

Also, I bought I MAD3 A GAME WIT ZOMBIES IN IT!!!11, and its pretty awesome, especially the song that plays throughout. If you've got change from your Space Dollars, be sure to pick it up.   read

10:31 AM on 08.04.2009

I suck at games: This game's loser!

It seemed like a pretty good proposal at first. I'd already had the day booked with a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet but, what with my brilliant quirk of always appearing at such events fashionably early, my friend Joe and I decided to head to our local game dealership and pick up a copy of Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Well, he picked it up. I watched. But we both agreed it was pretty awesome. What with all the hype the game carried on its broad shoulders, and with the fact that we had both shelled out hundreds of pounds on our beloved Wiis, we had no qualms with feeling excited with the prospect of beating eight shades of idiocy out of each other with our favourite Ninty mascots. So we (read: he) paid for the game and took it to the Chinese buffet, ate Chinese food with friends, and gaped over the shiny poster that came with the game. The excitement was palpable.

In the end, the buffet couldn't end fast enough. Some of us headed back to Joe's place to Brawl the night away (well, evening, I'm scared of the dark) and, we all agreed, it was pretty fun. For a night of lovely button bashy fun, it's quite enjoyable, and the fact that I was new at the game, and that one of my opponents was asian, and therefore particularly good at this sort of thing, excused the fact that I never reached the dizzy heights of first or second in any 4-player match we had. All's fun, all's good.

Since I knew SSBB was a multiplayer game through and through (I'd heard horrible things about The Subspace Emissary and the enigmatic Great Maze) I never picked up a copy myself, instead piggy-backing other people's copies to get my fix. Still, I couldn't break the ceiling separating third and second. I blamed it on many things, like the amount of vodka I'd drunk, the fact that I'd been forced to use the horrible classic controller, or that I hadn't read the instruction manual, and therefore couldn't compete with all of my sober, learned and Wii-remote equipped friends. But how could I excuse it when these conditions were filled? I read the booklet, I stuck to orange juice, I flailed around like a caught fish with the Wiimote, but still nothing was happening for me - third was as far as I was getting.

At the time, it was only mildly irritating. Most of the people I was playing with were seasoned gamers themselves, and I've never advertised myself as the uber-leet mega gamer who could kick anyone's butt at anything. My experience of the game was also lacking - others had bought the game long ago and had had the multitude of experience that the single player experience would give. So I kept my worries inside, not wanting to seem PMS-like in front of my friends.

However, the irritation grew. Casual gamers started beating me. Eight year olds started beating me. I couldn't even make the halfway point on the Subspace Emissary without turning it to the lowest level. I tried every character, trying to find one that might fit my style, eventually settling with Link, but I still lost every time. Things did look up slightly, however, in a 4-way Brawl on Pictochat I managed to score a second place, albeit only by one kill, and albeit preceded and followed by 4 consecutive losses, but second place is second place, and it cheered me up somewhat. But this wasn't to last. One night, I had stayed over at Joe's house, and he, being weak and feeble, had fallen asleep. This gave me the chance to commandeer his Wii while he slept, and I didn't sleep one minute that night, resigning myself to the practice mode with Link and learning every nuance of his fighting style, with the hope of being able to best my friends at the art of Brawl. I felt like I was learning, I was suddenly dispatching computer opponents with ease, with combos unlike that I had ever pulled off. I felt like I was ready, roused Joe at about 8 in the morning, and hoped that my new-found knowledge would see me to my first 1v1 victory.

It didn't. I lost. Badly. The same went for any 4-way I played, with more last places than ever.

I couldn't understand it. My last hope of attaining any competence at Brawl had gone, the well-worn phrase of "Practice makes perfect" had suddenly vanished before me. I ended up renting the game to practice on my own time, but it was doing nothing. I actually lost sleep because of it. I know, that's pretty sad and pathetic, but it's something that really got to me. I've been a gamer since longer than I can remember, and yet I could wrap neither my brain nor thumbs around this perplexing beat-em-up. Another nail in the coffin was that this was a Wii game - I sucked at a WII GAME. A console marketed for the young and the geriatric, and I COULDN'T DO IT!

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I didn't suck at the game, but the game sucked at me. Next to the other fighters that I'd played over the years, such as Tekken, Street FIghter and the like, SSBB was a totally different animal. Whereas in Tekken and SF, suckage could be explained by your choice of character, in SSBB, the fighting system was so simplistic that the characters were pretty much interchangeable (something else which put salt into the failure wound). I also took encouragement from the words of web reviewer and general criticism-monger Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, whose SSBB experience could be "accurately simulated by hurling the controllers down a flight of stairs". This gave me hope that maybe the game itself was flawed, rather than my hands and brains.

So I boycotted the game. I gave my rental back to the shop and turned down every opportunity given to play it. Even having the game on in the background annoyed me. It felt like all of Nintendo's mascots were laughing and mocking me, the crippled freak who couldn't handle the magnitude of the Brawl. It even affected the other Wii games I played. Suddenly I couldn't fix my patients in Trauma Centre, I couldn't pip Toad to the line in Mario Kart, and the Corruption proved to much to handle in Metroid. I assumed this was purely psychological, and that keeping away from the Brawl for a week or two would make it okay, but nothing changed. Suddenly all of the games I played on the Wii weren't even slightly fun, suddenly the movement-sensitive controls felt gimmicky and embarrassing. I had loved the Wii up until now, loving my slice of individuality next to all the other 'hardcore' gamers who had opted for Playstations and Xboxs, but now I was suddenly feeling what they were feeling. This is childish and stupid, and the games all drop down to random flailing at the screen.

The Wii was finished in my eyes. And all because of that stupid Brawl and my stupid incompetence. So, I sold it, and bought an Xbox. And I've loved every game I've played on it. In the end, sucking at SSBB helped me find truly brilliant games like Fallout, Mass Effect, Bioshock and Braid, all of which I'd have never experienced had I kept Ninty's box. And now I've realised that sucking at games isn't a bad thing. So there's your lesson, kids - if you suck, just ride it out, because a bit of serendipity might come your way.

Let's just pray against an SSBB release on the Xbox.   read

6:51 AM on 07.03.2009

Dtoid's GOTY 2007 - Bioshock. Its pretty good.

Copied and pasted from my GameFAQs account. And I know its a bit long. Aight?

What with all of the hype surrounding Bioshock prior to its release, and a full 12 months of my gaming chums telling me what an astounding game it is, I was expecting Bioshock to rock me to the core with infallible gameplay, beautiful graphics, a roller-coaster of a story line, and spine tingling atmosphere, from the first second to the last kill.

Well. Three out of four ain't bad.

Bioshock, the proud brainchild of 2K Games - developers of the critically acclaimed System Shock 2 and the brilliantly underrated Tribes: Vengence - is a game that truly stands out from the pack. But in a far different way than one might expect. Plot twists, gruelling violence, stunning artsy graphics, and tension up the wazoo - all tied together in the best 15 hours of single player FPS action you will ever experience.

The game starts with a plane crash in the middle of the sea, where you (you being main voiceless protagonist only known as Jack), are forced to swim to a nearby lighthouse as the sole survivor of the crash. Not noticing the weird happening of there being a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, you go on in looking for help. However, there is no crew manning this lighthouse, and the only piece of working technology nearby is a strange looking sphere, which looks like its travels one way - down into the ocean. There is no other survivors or rescue boats in sight - so you take your chances and jump into this sphere, which, sure enough, take you down into the ocean - to the city of Rapture.

Rapture was a city built purely for humanities best and brightest. The city's builder, Andrew Ryan, built Rapture for a place where "the strong would not be constrained by the weak." But as your vessel hits Rapture dock, and you look through its front window, you can clearly see that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Mainly because you see an insane lady disembowel a cowering man, using the two rusty hooks strapped to her hands. All this while the wall lights flicker and die and sea water leakage plagues every wall.

Welcome to Rapture.

Now, Bioshock is an FPS, and it works just how FPSs normally do. You start with a wrench, before moving on to a revolver and advancing to more powerful weapons such as a crossbow, a grenade launcher, and a classic 50s tommy gun. Just like in other FPSs, you point the shooty end of your gun at whatever it is you want dead, and press RT to fire. Simple.

However, what is DIFFERENT about the guns in Bioshock is that each weapon has two different types of ammunition, in addition to bog standard metal slugs. For example, the tommy gun has regular bullets, but also anti-personnel bullets, which give a damage bonus to normal human enemies, or anti-armour bullets, for armoured defences like gun turrets. Like wise, you have standard shotgun shells, but you can also choose from Exploding Shells, which can set the target on fire, or Electric Shells, which can stun the enemy with an electric shock.

I quite like this nice addition to the guns, it spices up the gameplay well, however, unless you look in every single nook and cranny of Rapture, you'll often have a distinct lack of bullets to use. For a game which is purely about killing and in no way encouraging you to conserve ammo, this is a bit of a flaw. Also, there is an aim feature on most weapons, wherein your sight zooms in, for a better shot at your enemy. But this is quite awkward, as this action is mapped to the pushing in of RS, and that could lose you a few precious drops of life in an important firefight. And, you can't change the mapping of the buttons at all - you either like it, or lump it.

So, weapons-wise, its your standard FPS. But what makes Bioshock not so standard is the additon of Plasmids, a special kind of drug that changes the genetic code of your body in order to do magic powers. (Hang about, what decade are we in again?)

Throughout the game, you can gain many powers for use against your enemies, from shooting bees at your enemies to setting them on fire with a click of your fingers, to throwing chairs at them using telekinesis. Or, you can enrage one of your enemies and have it attack someone else other than you. But, these little gems of power do not come under an unlimited tap - you need EVE, a special drug which powers up your plasmids, and appears as a little blue bar underneath your health. You can keep this topped up using the EVE Hypos that you can find on the corpses of dead bodies in Rapture.

My only issue with Plasmids is that most of them aren't particularly useful. The three mandatory ones that you get in the course of the story are the only ones that are useful throughout the game - and thats Electro Bolt (for shorting out gun turrets), Incinerate (for clearing ice from an entrance), and Telekinesis (for returning enemy grenades and using items as shields). These three attacks also have nifty little effects on the environment around you. See some enemies in a puddle? Use Electro Bolt and they're all toast. Is there an oil slick leading towards a gunman? Use Incinerate and he's...well, toast again. And Telekinesis? Well, everything around you can be thrown at enemies or used as temporary shields, should you need time to get to cover or reload. There are a few other plasmids in the game, but their uses are limited to very specific situations, and even then, once you've changed to the Plasmid you want, that situation will probably have passed - the citizens of Rapture are no slouches. In addition, these additional Plasmids all have one huge downfall each that make them very awkward to use in battles - for instance, Winter Blast, which freezes an enemy, kind of gives the same effect as Electro Bolt - a temporary stun. But if you kill an enemy who has been frozen, you smash him into a million pieces and get no loot. Just a tad silly.

Of course, you only get three plasmids from playing through the story. If you want some new ones, you'll have get your hands on some ADAM. And this is where the Little Sisters come into play.

You need ADAM to spend at Gatherer's Garden machines that are dotted around Rapture, and these machines can give you new plasmids, improved versions of old plasmids, or maximum health bar/EVE bar upgrades. But to do that, you'll have to find a Little Sister. The little Frankensteins of Rapture, these seemingly innocent little girls collect ADAM samples from corpses around Rapture. So they'll be full to bursting with the ADAM you need to buy some shiny new techniques. However, every little sister has a bodyguard - otherwise known as the Big Daddy. Big Daddies come in two flavours - Bouncer, who wields a huge drill arm and is a melee attacker, or Rosie, who sports a huge Rivet gun to do massive damage at long range. Only when you eliminate the Big Daddy can you get to the Little Sister, and thats no cakewalk. Big Daddies are tough, strong, and can whittle your health down quicker than child's teeth on Easter. But, if you do manage to beat the escort, then the little sister is at your mercy, and you can either choose to HARVEST her, for maximum ADAM, or RESCUE her, for less ADAM, but you'll receive the odd gift along your travels.

Gatherer's Garden machines can be used to trade ADAM for Plasmids, but you can also buy Tonics - passive abilities that improve your aptitude in battle. For example, you can buy SportBoost in order to run and do melee attacks faster. Another example is Electric Flesh, where you take less damage from energy based attacks. But the number of Tonics and Plasmids you can have equipped is limited - the right choices before battle could make all of the difference.

There are many other types of vending machines in Rapture as well. There is the 'Circus of Value', where you can buy First Aid Kits and food, the 'Ammo Bandito' for Ammo topups, and heal stations, which will heal you to full health. Of course, these things come at a price - but not ADAM this time, only dollars, and this can be found on pretty much every enemy you kill. Other machines on the walls of Rapture include 'Power to the People', which gives you a one-time upgrade of any weapon in your arsenal, and the slightly unnecessary 'U-Invent', which lets you create Ammo, items, or tonics from the raw materials you collect in the game. 'U-Invent' seems quite pointless, however - the ingredients you get from enemies is purely random, so you have no rock solid way of getting one particular material you need.

Any of the machines above can be hacked by you, in which you play a mini game not unlike the Arcade game Pipe Dream, in which you must guide the fluid through a series of pipes to get it to the exit. A successful hack on a machine will result in a price decrease of all the items in it - quite useful if you have a perpetual hole in your pocket. This mini-game is quite fun the first few times, but it gets quite boring and repetitive, and some of the endgame hacks are exceptionally hard. After 20 or so hacks, you'll probably want to pay the extra money for items just so you don't have to hack!

One more aspect of the gameplay is how death is dealt with. isn't. Vita-Chambers are dotted along Raptures streets - if you die, you'll respawn at the last one you passed, with half health and half EVE. This really makes dying more of a minor inconvenience than a real punishment, since nothing else respawns no matter how many times you do - for instance, if you fight a Big Daddy and get it down to half health when it kills you, it will still be on half health after you track it down for a second time. Very unchallenging - makes dying almost comparable to corpse runs in World of Warcraft. In fact there were even times where I thought ' You know, I would rather die and get revived than waste a first-aid kit here." That statement just SCREAMS bad game design.

Riiiight...that was 12 paragraphs on the gameplay. Yes, there are many things to do in Rapture and most of these twelve things compliment each other quite well, but the awkward switching between gun and plasmid and the fact that some plasmids are hardly ever useful don't work at all. Kind of like how cheese compliments ice cream.

BUT, like I said, this game will impress you in a very different way. After three hours of playing, you will be sucked into the wonderous world of Rapture and forget these minor gameplay flaws.

For starters, the story is masterfully woven, with plot twists and set pieces brilliantly choreographed. You can get a good chunk of the story just by playing through the with minimum diversion from the true path, but searching the nooks and crannies of Rapture can reward you with dicta phones of the old citezins of Rapture, which tell the secrets and facts about the city under the sea. In addition, every tape makes sense on its own - missing a tape every so often will not leave you with huge gaps in the plot.

The game is also very, very pretty. Especially in its water graphics (but what d'you expect, its set underwater!). The rooms and chambers of Rapture are perfect, and capture the 50s era in perfect style. However, I think the character graphics could've used more work. He we are, in a beautiful realistic looking city, and yet some of the characters look positively - comic book like. It kinds of puts a dint in the rest of the glorious visuals - but I'll be honest, its not much of a dint.

But, if there's one thing that puts Bioshock ahead of the other next-gen FPSs is simple - the atmosphere. Every room as flickering lighting, some has none at all, you can here the shrill cries of enemies from quite far away so you're always looking over your shoulder, and, even though there Vita-Chambers everywhere, the atmosphere alone makes you want to survive, and makes you want to not have to open those damn Vita-Chamber doors every five minutes. Even better is the fact that you hardly ever see any friendly characters - you only catch glimpses of your buddies over the radio - and this just heightens the tension further. Plus, the jolly and happy music of the 50s really does contrast beautifully with the violent slaughter and screams of dying people.

HOWEVER, there is one huge disappointment coming up. And thats the ending. I'll try and get through this paragraph without spoilers, but you really do have to be told. The time it took from the last bullet to hit the last boss, to me seeing the main menu again was a grand total of seventy seconds. SEVENTY SECONDS???? The last two hours of Bioshock are a pulse-racing thrill-o-rama, but this thrill is stopped dead when the end of the game comes so fast!! Its like trying to break a car going at speed, except you don't use the breaks, you use a wall made from iron girders. Seriously. Major disappointment. That right there lost this game a whole point.

AND, there are two different endings depending on how you treat the little sisters, an evil and a good one, but they differ so much, its like comparing Martin Luther King to Adolf Hitler. Its hard to see how 2K games will squeeze a sequel out of that.

Bioshock, then. It loses a point for the minor gameplay flaws, and it loses a point for the crashing-to-a-halt-super-quickly ending(s). Regardless, if you own an Xbox, then this is most definitely a must buy. Despite the flaws, it truly is a remarkable game. And, I think, its a huge step forward for FPS games in general. We've got the basic gameplay system of an FPS down now, all we need to do is make great stories for them, and we'll be up to our ears in masterpieces.

This isn't a masterpiece. But it brushes so close...I do feel sorry for it.

A solid 8 out of 10   read

3:47 AM on 07.02.2009

First Impression of a bunch of things, or, what I did instead of going to the prom

Because, as we all know, the prom sucks, and Xbox does not. Unless your a Sony fanboy. But no-one would want a Sony fanboy at a prom. Well, I definitely wouldn't.

Anywho, instead of prom-based activities I could've been participating in two weeks ago, I did what I did every night - stay up all night playing video games with pizza. Hell yeah, my prom pwns the snooty OFFICIAL prom. Of course, I meant to write up the shit two weeks ago, but I didn't, so I'm doing it now. Then I'll go have a bath. Wheeeeee!

Firstly, we have anti-hero city crawling freeroamer Prototype, which I had a lot of time watching my brother play before I had a chance to grab the reigns. The first thing I thought was "This is Spiderman." And it is. You jump around from building to building using various super shiny acrobatic moves, hell, you can even stick to walls to scale them. Although you won't, considering you can sprint up them at twice the speed. The only button you need for this rooftop motherfuckery is RT, which does everything you could ever need. It makes you sprint, run up walls, and if you mis-time a jump, and land in the streets below, holding RT as you run makes you jump over any obstacles you come across. Even though only one button is needed to traverse the entire playground, it still feels really satisfying to do. But trust me, its the only satisfying thing that can be done in Prototype.

I suppose I'll touch on the story before I lay into the horrid gameplay. You play as the delightfully cheery Alex Mercer, a dude who's infected with a virus that slowly working its way through Manhattan. He also has amnesia. So its your job to help him piece things together. To be honest, I couldn't give a crap about the story. The minute amnesia worked itself into it I pretty much tuned out the cutscenes altogether but no amount of tuning out could relieve me of hideous voice acting. Alex Mercer suffers from Albert Wesker Syndrome - everything he says is just so fucking hilarious, but only due to the crappy, gravely voice that spouts from his stupid, hooded face.

As for other gameplay stuff, well, Alex's trick is to shapeshift, so you can change his arms into claws, blades, hammers, whips, or other stuff. You can also consume any civilian or enemy around to regain health, or disguise yourself. Missions generally land into two categories - kill everything, or disguise as someone then kill everything. You're given the basic ways to kill everything in a very lovely and action packed opening sequence, where Alex can use all of his tools, but two seconds later you lose all of that stuff and have to be content with only your fists for a bit. Basically, imagine you're given one bite of a huge rump steak but then are forced to eat a plate of sausages instead. You want that steak back? Well, you're gonna have to work for it, sonny jim.

That's a lie. You don't have to work for it at all. I certainly didn't. I'd given up on the game right when I was supposed be destroying some water tower or something. Why? Well, its just not fun. It had all the ingredients of something brilliant - varied mission, cool ways to kill things, and the ability to free roam and massacre the innocent (which is always good for lulz). And yet, somehow, it just...isn't. Pretty much any human dies in one hit from anything, thus removing the challenge, but the challenge then comes back with the force of a frying pan to your skull, when the hunters are introduced. Basically, hunters are big ol' monster type things, with shitloads of health and the ability to hit you no matter what combo you might be doing. And he hits hard. Many times. And they never let up - one actually followed me to the top of the Empire State building.

The game tricks you into thinking you're invincible for the first few hours, then it just gets stupidly frustrating to do anything. The targeting system is god-awful, apparently deciding that an incontinent old lady is more dangerous than the huge tentacled monster of the moment, and all the military seem to have horrible long-sightedness, not spotting you after you've killed twenty of their comrade in front of them, but easily able to spot your big toe from the top of the Chrysler building.

Sure, maybe I suck at the game. But I've sucked at other games before and still had fun. I've tried again and again to give it my attention, but its just not doing it for me.

Wow, that went on for a while. Screw it, I'll just write about Dead Space and finish up, and complain about Quake Live tomorrow.

So, Dead Space then. Unlike the garbage I've written above, I'll actually give this one some structure and talk about the plot first. You play as Issac Clarke, an engineer who is sent with his team to a mining ship where his spouse once resided. They have to fix something or other. However, once they get on board they see its inhabited by monsters, crazy miners, and dangerous strobe lighting effects.

In a nutshell, think of Dead Space as the gameplay of Resident Evil, plus the brilliant storytelling of Bioshock, in space. If that didn't pique your curiosity, then you obviously have a heart made of coal. You walk around as Isaac through dimly lit corridors of the, frankly, HUGE ship, and shoot at the evil looking ghoulies that plague you. Two things differ from Resi Evil - you can move and aim, and you can melee when you want. However, one of the more interesting things is that these particular aliens are weak against limb shots, rather than head shots. Its a very curious mechanic that works quite well, although the form of the later enemies make it hard to determine where the limbs actually are. It also lowers the difficulty somewhat, as most enemies have more limbs than heads, so you have more places to shoot.

Don't get me wrong though, the game isn't easy. I'd say it had a perfect difficulty curve, again, akin to Resident Evil. You'll find the first few encounters to be hard graft until you're comfortable with the controls (although the stuff about going for the limbs wasn't really subtly implied - more pushed into your face like a custard pie of knowledge) and after that, the only difficulty is trying to keep piss and shit from leaving your body. Yes, its a scary game. I honestly haven't felt this scared in a game since Silent Hill 2. Isaac doesn't help with this either - if he's hurt, he stumble and breathe heavily whilst walking, and you'll be praying for no enemies to come out of that ominous vent in from of you.

What Dead Space achieves is an absolutely awesome sense of immersion. There is no HUD as such - health bars and other stuff is displayed nicely on Isaac's back (which you'll be seeing a lot of) and ammo counters come up as little projections on the guns themselves. The menu and inventory screen is also dealt with in the game world, with Isaac carrying a device similar which projects maps and inventory from his arm. All of this is done in real time, however, so be sure to clear the room of enemies before you go messing around with medikits and such.

However one criticism is this...remember how I said it was like Resi + Bioshock in space? Well, Dead Space takes an AWFUL lot from these games. A lot of the back story of the fate of the crew is told through audio logs found within the ships, and, apart from radio contact, you're on your own, with only fleeting glimpses of your allies. Isaac is also one of my video gaming pet peeves - a silent protagonist. All VERY Bioshocky. As for the gameplay, well, its just Resident Evil 4 with bells on. Isaac's manoeuvrability is very similar to Leon/Chris's, the movement of a tank, so to speak. The fact is that Dead Space is kind of a Frankenstien's monster of different games - sure, the setting and story are original, but its being told through very unoriginal ways.

That's not to say its bad, its actually really good. But I have my game critic pants on, so I have to dish out the bads as well as the goods. Its a game you definitely have to try.

Bleh, I've written lots here and I need to bathe. You'll hear about Quake Live some other time.   read

3:41 AM on 07.01.2009

Gears of War 2 Online - flawed, but fun

Didn't it look BRILLIANT?! Magazines and gaming websites across the globe who were lucky enough to have a crack of the Gears of War 2 multiplayer pre-release were jizzing in their pants before, during, and after. Its broken Halo's record for most consecutive online players, with a staggering 1.5 million players. And Epic certainly have been kind to it, with map packs, map packs, and more map packs on the way. Oh yes, only since Halo has an online component been given such hype. But does it deserve it? Short answer: yes.

Long answer: It depends. I'm pretty sure Epic wanted to change the fact that a lot of the games in old GoW1 were solved by shotgun battles, and they wanted a subtle and tactical cover-based shooter instead. When GoW2 was announced, with changes such as a less powerful shotgun and being slowed down by oncoming bullets, to stop endless shotgun rushes, its seemed like Epic were heading down that road. But something slipped along the way.

You see, you won't get very far in GoW2 just finding a nice chest high piece of rock, slamming yourself against it, and shooting at enemies with your Hammerburst. No sir. Nearly every gametype now runs on 'Execution' rules, meaning that downing someone is all well and good, but you can only finish off your downed foe from point blank range. To me, this is a bit of a silly set of rules. What's the point of even trying to kill your opponent from afar, when he'll go down only to be revived by an incoming team-mate, before you can claim your kill? What's the point, when you'd be better off running in to score a one hit kill with the shotgun? And, since falling to your knees makes you invulnerable to anything but a curb stomp or otherwise, the price for being downed isn't very steep, and the chances are you'll have a helpful teammate to help you up.

All these things are definitely not encouraging players to bunker down and pick of their targets, but to run in, shotgun or chainsaw aloft, and turn as many enemies into pate as they can. And it usually pays off.

This isn't the only problem. The weapons you'll find on the battlefield, such as the Boomshot and the Longshot Rifle, can pretty much all score one hit kills. Its not so bad with the aforementioned two weapons - claiming a headshot with the Sniper does require a great deal of skill, and the Boomshot is quite hard to handle in close or far distances. But other weapons such as the mortar and Hammer of Dawn can kill in one hit whilst totally bypassing any cover you might be hiding behind.

Yessir, you're not getting anywhere in GoW2 without mastering at least one form of one shot kill. Whether it be shotgun gib, rifle headshot, or laser-from-space obliteration, you'd better be ready to throw your Lancer away. Unless, of course, you want to use the one-hit kill chainsaw attack. <_<

All of this one hit kill nonsense is very much changing the game of Gears. Both teams are ignoring the capture point in Annex to fight over the Boomshot. Wingman is practically decided by which weapon you spawn next to - if you spawn next to grenades, then you're honestly screwed. I think Epic's grand master plan went a bit awry here, the constant scrambling for the power weapons is akin to Halo of all things, and we all know how that sucks.

Am I saying to abandon the Gears ship forever? Of course not. Its still as gleefully fun as ever it was, if you don't mind a bit of lag here and there, and the (FUCKING STUPID) fact that it still runs via host and not server. I just get the niggling feeling that perhaps, had it been given a few months thought, it could've been unlike and multiplayer experience in gaming. Now its just like all the others, where ROCKET LAUNCHER = WIN, and any amount of tactics you were hoping to implement are lying on the floor in chunky giblets - kind of like what you'll be like if you don't grab that Boomshot fast.   read

3:22 AM on 05.06.2009

A better introduction, with a fun little bandicoot.

Sorry about that rant before. It was originally posted on the Escapist before I posted it here, I wanted to see the reaction from a very more Left 4 Dead-y community.

But, it left me without a proper introduction. So, here we are. I'm Milo, I'm seventeen and I own an Xbox 360 and a Playstation 2. I've been gaming since I was six and whilst I probably wouldn't call myself a 'hardcore' gamer, I'd certainly call myself a veteran gamer. I'm currently in college and hoping to study maths at university.

But here's the thing. I traded in nearly all of my PS2 games in order to get a Wii. When I found out the Wii sucked noodles, I traded that in to get an Xbox 360, with financial assistance from my brother. Now, he has claimed rights to the Xbox 360for when I leave home, leaving me with a gameless PS2 to go to university with. I complained at first - I've stuck truckloads of time into my Xbox games and they are certainly the best of the generation, but now I'm not despairing. Y'know why? Because the Playstation 2 is probably the best console ever made.

So, I've been trawling eBay and any electronics shop I can find to re-fill my PS2 collection with epic games. And here's the thing. Absolutely brilliant games like Silent Hill 2? Shadow of the Colossus? The Prince of Persia series? All of them less than five pounds. No, I'm not sad at all now. On a student budget I would imagine the PS2 would be the console that gave you the most bang for your buck, and hey, Persona 4 proves that there's still life in the old girl yet. My only reservation was that my PS2 is getting on a bit, closing in on five years of constant use and getting a bit inconsistent with its disc reading. No matter now, Sony have given the PS2 a big ol' price cut, so I could easily buy a new own for peanuts. Less than peanuts, perhaps, depending on my haggling skills.

So what should come in this blog are reviews or just general impression of games of the last generation, or, if I feel like it, the generation before that. Which is where we are now.

Because I am currently playing through what I consider the best platform game ever made, and that's Crash Bandicoot 3.

I'm not exactly sure how popular the Crash Bandicoot series was in America, but here in Blighty, it was the game that got me and most of my gaming friends into the hobby in the first place. Crash Bandicoot 1 was the first 32-bit game I ever played, and, well, it was beyond awesome. Lovely looking graphics (at this time I had never really thought of a THIRD dimension in video games) very nice level design, and a fine line between a game beaten and a game completed. Plus, it had an instantly loveable main character in the form of Crash and the baddies and bosses were pretty good also.

Crash Bandicoot 2 upped the ante a bit with the inclusion of crystals, and whilst it lost its retro charm of 'getting to the end of the level will pretty much do', it certainly blurred the line between beating a game and completing it even further. Now, a lot of the gems required to beat the game 100% were fiendishly hidden, often making you kill yourself just to get to secret level of some kind.

Then, before any leperous retards over at Vicarious Visions got hold of the game, we were blessed with Crash Bandicoot 3. I'd say the third game of a trilogy would probably be the hardest one to make - people know the style of game and expect it. Keeping it the same would get you accused of cookie-cutter sequels, yet a complete overhaul would earn you the wrath of your hardcore fans.

Despite this, Naughty Dog created their third installment perfectly, keeping the old Crash style of run-jump-break box, whilst adding enough new additions to make it feel like a whole new game. Every time you beat a boss in Crash Bandicoot 3, you would earn a new power for Crash to utilise, whether it be a slightly longer spin attack, or a fruit shooting bazooka. This additions to Crash's arsenal didn't make him overpowered, since every 'special' attack had a downside - a longer spin resulted in a longer cooldown time, whilst using your bazooka would cut off all movement possible.

The level design and set pieces were also a good improvement - Crash's adventures took him throughout time, allowing for truly great levels and really good and clever obstacles of Crash to overcome. Plus, the constant variation between levels was brilliant - scuba diving, racing blue cars on a motorcycle, jet-skiing, riding a baby tiger along the Great Wall of china, riding baby dinosaur through prehistoric lands, flying a spitfire to take care of some nasty Cortex barrage balloons...all this could happen within an hour's worth of game play.

CB3 also added the Time Trial system to the levels - after you'd finished a level for the first time, you could try to run it as fast as you desired. This added a new level to the 100% completion - in old games, collecting gems wasn't too hard, as long as you knew where they were. To collect the relics gained from Time Trials, you need a very high amount of skill. This made, in my opinion, Crash 3 the most satisfying game to fully complete.

I'm playing through it now - and its still fun. I'm having as much fun as I would have blasting zombies in Left 4 Dead and blasting aliens in Mass Effect. Its stood the test of time well, and for 2.5D platformer of eleven years ago, that's certainly a huge achievement.

(No-one comment about my lack of banner - I'M WORKING ON IT DAMMIT.)


1:16 PM on 04.27.2009

A very whiny first post about Left 4 Dead

People should really take a competence test before they play Left 4 Dead.

Right, there are some, shall we say, idiotic scumbags within the populous of Xbox LIVE. And Left 4 Dead is a game where being an idiotic scumbag will definitely hamper your own and your teams chances of reaching that next safe room. So, for those idiotic scumbags with Gamertags like 'im awesome 808' or 'i pwn noobs roflsauce', then this rant is for you.

Firstly, if you are killed by a tank, don't be a baby and leave. C'mon, its a TANK! Have you seen the size of it? If you come face to face with it you're in for a beating anyway and even if you do die you'd probably get rescued in the next closet/saferoom. Leaving the game replaces you with an NPC. And that hurts.

Second, don't kick someone the second they've gone idle. I'm sorry if my bathroom breaks aren't EXACTLY synced with yours, but sometimes I'm willing to lose a medi-kit for the sake of not pissing myself. It can honestly be said that you can muddle through for a minute or so with an NPC, yes?

Thirdly, THE GAME IS ONE OF TEAMWORK. So if someone has been pounced/constricted/downed/fallen off edge, help them up! Don't leave them behind saying 'its their fault they got down' 'cause it seriously doesn't matter. You don't know HOW it happened, for all you know he got mobbed to high hell by 80 zombies, so never shrug off a down as 'they got what they deserved'

Fourth, ITS NOT A RACE. Sprinting from safe room to safe room will not end well. You split from the team, so you get pounced. The three people that have stayed together will be handicapped. Ergo, you will die, and no-one will care. And don't even think of complaining AFTER you've sprinted ahead and died. We would've helped you, good sir, BUT YOU RAN THREE MILES AHEAD.

Next, when playing as the zombies, its not whether YOU kill, its whether the SURVIVORS die. So, if someone as a hunter has pounced someone and there's a Boomer around waiting for his vomit to recharge, don't scream at him if he comes over to lend a claw. The Survivor is dying faster isn't he? Maybe it'll take you 2 seconds longer to get Dead Wreckening but you might just win the game. BUT -- don't pounce someone who's been constricted. that's just bad form.

DON'T ABUSE THE GLITCHES. I KNOW, if you molotov someone in the lift at No Mercy, they disappear through the floor and die. YES, you can block that very same lift as the zombies using the fork lift truck. Great. You are SO skillful, you can hit a STATIONARY OBJECT!

Lastly, just grow some brains. Some things which prove you have no brains are:

+++ Shooting someone in an attempt to get them to heal you/steal their health kit.
+++ Breaking from the group on purpose. NEVER. YOU WILL DIE.
+++ Hearing a horde at the start/end of a chapter, and locking yourself in a safehouse.
+++ Keeping a first aid kit at 80 health whilst your teammates limp around at 12.
+++ Shouting at someone for not keeping up when they are at 1 health.
+++ Teabagging of all kinds. ESPECIALLY teabagging a fellow survivor who has just been pounced and is in the act of being ripped to shreads. WTF?
+++ Running ahead and alerting the horde before everyone's ready.
+++ Taking a first-aid kit from a safe room, healing, and then taking another one.
+++ Shouting at someone who's FFed you with a shotgun. IT HAS A BLOODY WIDE SPREAD.
+++ Being younger than 11. One child in a game I was playing announced that he was captain of the world and that he could do anything, and proceeded to pick up all the molotovs and throw them, whilst we were all locked in the saferoom.

So, if you were gonna buy Left 4 Dead as a 'LOLOLOLOL I KILLDED THE ZOMBAHS' game, then don't. You need half a brain to play it, so if you don't, then go distract yourself with a nice colouring book.


That said, anyone fancy some Survival?   read

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