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12:13 PM on 04.28.2010

Boatz got his gaming crap back at Easter, part 1: Mass Effect 2

[WARNING: This article is packed full of yummy Mass Effect 2 spoilers, which, while high in fiber, will ruin your enjoyment of the game if you have foolishly not played it yet. Now eat your broccoli.]

So, I returned to university a few weeks ago, after having a very leisurely Easter break at home. It was, in fact, exceptionally leisurely, since my house contained an Xbox, a DS, and a fuck-tonne of cheap (but in no way pirated at all, honest), shiny, lovely current-gen games to work through. The crushing reality of me being back at campus, videogame-less, (crappy laptop that can hardly play Team Fortress at lowest setting notwithstanding) is just starting to hit home, but I figured I’d look back on that beautiful 3 weeks of lethargy by writing some crap about some games. One game literally blew my cock off, one of them was such a disappointment that my cock jumped firmly back into place, and two others made my cock slightly indifferent. This week, we’ll look at the penis-explodingly good example, which is Bioware’s Mass Effect 2.

Now, Mass Effect 2 was a game I was hideously looking forward too. The original installment would quite happily sit in the list of my favourite games this generation – sure, the combat was a bit repetitive towards the end, and it was very conversation-heavy at best and mind-numbingly boring at worst, but what cemented Mass Effect 1 as an awesome game for me was the brilliant new universe that Bioware had created. The beautiful environments, all the different alien races, and an optional expanded universe that you could lose Noah’s Ark in. It was a shining example of what most developers at the time were not doing – a new, imaginative IP in the midst of Sequel Town, USA.

This is what had me slightly worried about Mass Effect 2. Sure, I was excited to be able to jump into this universe again, but the fact that it wouldn’t be as new and exciting as in Mass Effect 1 gave me the feeling that Mr. Dodgy Combat and Mrs. Boring McChatty might just irritate me more than the story pleased me. Luckily, that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen a LOT. Mr. Combat and Mrs. McChatty had long since moved out of the Citadel, leaving a space open for Mr. Awesome Character Development and Mrs…er…well, tortured metaphors aside, it’s a bloody brilliant piece of game pie.

So, we’re back with everyone’s favourite gruff human space-man Commander Shepard. He’s been told to clear out the last of the geth (the main baddies of the last installment) from the universe, and that’s what he’s doing. Then, about five minutes later, a big ol’ ship appears out of nowhere and dicks them over royally, destroying the ship, most of the crew, and killing Commander Shepard. But of course, Shepard is humanity’s golden boy, so they find his mangled body, take some high-quality science and rebuild him Six-Million-Dollar man style, just in time for him to take on another “biggest threat to humanity”. As far as the plot goes it seems quite obvious that BioWare seem to be just killing time until Mass Effect 3 – a brand new enemy is introduced at the start and all trace of them is destroyed by the end, almost like a sitcom having plot points resolved within one episode to keep the status quo for the next one to begin anew. I was disappointed that Shepard’s fight against the Reapers had been put on hold despite him swearing vengeance against them at the end of ME1. That’s not to say it’s not good, not at all, the script is one of the best examples of video-game writing I can think of, and to drive the gameplay the plot works just fine, but I would’ve liked to see a bigger part for the ongoing fight against the Reapers.

One thing that is exceptional in ME2, and has no close rivals for any other story driven game, is the character development. The main objective in the game is to recruit a space-warrior super all-star tag team to take the fight to the Collector’s base (that “biggest threat to humanity” I mentioned before) in what is thought to be a suicide mission for all concerned. Each member of your team has a recruitment mission, as well as a mission to gain their loyalty, usually some kind of personal favour or helping them exact vengeance on an old enemy. Each mission fleshes out the character beautifully, and if you combine that with the optional conversations (and love stories) you can have with them, you’ll end up with a main cast that feels like family. You’ll meet some old hands from ME1, but most of your team will be brand new, and all of them have different personalities and characters, from fast talking genius Mordin, rage-filled biotic powerhouse Jack, all the way to adolescent test-tube alien Grunt. Not every character is interesting, however. Jacob and Miranda (the two human team members) are kind of boring, but hey, in a world packed with different alien races, humans are boring, and not even good writing can change that fact. This immensely powerful bond with your team hits critical mass when you reach the aforementioned suicide mission, and, while I only ending up losing one member of my team, I can honestly say I was shitting bricks throughout the whole mission, hoping and praying that the majority of my team would survive the ordeal.

Another thing that should be mentioned is, if you carry on the story by loading up your old ME1 Shepard, your choices from the last game carry over to this one. While it’s a nice touch in making you a bit more immersed, the difference it makes to the overall plot is mostly superficial, generally only being acknowledged with a quick mention of something you did back in the old days by one of your teammates.

While the great storytelling is one thing I wanted to be carried over from ME1, the repetitive and clunky combat is something I wanted to be changed quite drastically. Luckily, it was. The action-RPG formula of ME1 has been given a bit more of a nudge towards the action side of things, with the gunplay essentially being a cover based shooter akin to Gears of War. Gunfights are action-packed, streamlined and memorable, with the varied environments and sharpened enemy AI ensuring that the old ME1 repetitiveness is kept firmly at bay. Plus, it’s a lovely feeling to shoot a robot’s head off with a satisfying clunk, for the robot to then explode and take out half of his robotic chums. The RPG side of the game is also simplified somewhat from ME2. Each of the 6 classes available has 4 abilities to their credit, all of which can be upgraded and powered up with skill points. Obviously, you gain skill points by leveling up, and you level up by gaining experience points, but, perhaps a bit less obviously, you now don’t receive XP for each successful kill, instead, only receiving XP for successful completion of missions, which could be recruiting a team member, killing a bunch of dudes, or just helping out random folk in the many hub worlds with their slight problems. This new XP system struck me as odd at first, but on closer inspection, it is a good way to alleviate the level-grinding of other RPGs, and also means you must explore every corner of the universe in order to hit the level cap of 30, meaning the journey to max out your character is perhaps less grueling than in other RPGs.

The conversation wheel makes a return here as well, with you being able to tailor your responses to seem like Shepard the Holy Saint or Shepard the Asshat. Business as usual, this is a BioWare game after all. The format isn’t hugely changed from ME1, but subtle differences like slight camera movements, and the improved body language of Shepard and his conversationee do a lot to make the conversation process less boring, as well as being able to interrupt your conversational partner with special Paragon or Renegade actions, which could range from embracing a crying victim to kicking a dude out of a 5 story window. Still, a few problems from the old game still linger – people will reel off their life story at the slightest provocation, and, outside of your main crew, it’s generally not an interesting one. However, credit must be given to the sheer volume of voice acting work done, with 90% of it being very high quality (again, Shepard himself seems to have the emotions of a baked potato), as well as it mostly being very well written (but again, this is BioWare we’re talking about).

On the graphics side of things, it’s a very pretty game, especially the environments. Each place is new and exciting, balancing just the right about of gritty realism with shiny bloom effects. Gunfights as well look like the shit – bullets and sparks flying everywhere, realistic looking explosion, and all with very little framerate issues (although the game actually crashed during one of the busier battles, I’m probably gonna blame that on my aging Xbox). Character models, however, are a bit hit and miss. Models for all the varieties of alien look absolutely sublime - skin cells, scales, bug eyes, mouth feelers and silly costumes are all lovingly and beautifully rendered. However, this is in sharp contrast to the human models, which, in my opinion, look like Ken and Barbie models made out of low quality clay. Except for maybe the facial hair on the males. That looks sweeeet.

If you didn’t quite get my opinion of the game from the 1,630 words above, I’ll share this with you: after I beat ME2 for the first time, I had the choice to roll a new character, or play FFXIII , Arkham Asylum or Pokémon HeartGold instead. And I chose the first option. There really are no words to describe how good this game is (unless you count the words FUCKING MEGA CUNTING AWESOME), it is easily the best video game there has been for many years, and will please shooter and RPG fans alike with its tight gameplay its not too intrusive yet not too simple RPG elements, the return of the wonderful Mass Effect universe, and the outstanding main cast which holds the whole package together. Ten out of ten, five starts, A+, an absolutely sublime experience from beginning to end, and cemented in my mind as the second best game ever made*, it is something that PC and Xbox owners should buy…nay, MUST buy. Seriously. Go. Go buy it. Go buy it right now. Honest. It’s fucking awesome.

Be here next Wednesday where I’ll be talking about Final Fantasy XIII, and my resulting constipation troubles.[/i]

*Final Fantasy VII takes the top spot, but, to be honest, I don’t see anything beating that any time soon.   read

11:37 AM on 01.24.2010

The Future: Sonic The Hedgehog, an Obituary

[Authors Note: Whilst most of this doesn't fit my general opinion of recent Sonic games (I actually think most of the 3-D Sonics were quite good), I figured, given the general opinion on Sonic these days, this might be something quite interesting to write. And hey, interesting articles make the front page, right?]

Today, on Friday the 24th of January, 2020, we mourn the passing of a once great videogaming giant, Sonic The Hedgehog. Many remember him from his glory days from the fourth-generation 16-bit console the Sega Genesis (the last surviving, and working, version of which is now housed in the Museum of Science and Technology), however, many more will probably be knowledgeable of his infamous decline and economic failure within the video game world in the past few years, one which would eventually spell the end of Sonic Team and which almost knocked long-time video game company Sega off the gaming map.

Many will write this failure off as part of a new trend in the last decade of long-standing IPs losing audience and profit after the ninth-generation consoles hit the market, with big names such as Mega Man and Final Fantasy now only long-standing memories in the minds of the oldest videogamers, along with the steadly decline of Nintendo's mega-mascot Mario (Super Mario Galaxy 4 met with horrible sales figures and mixed reviews, most people citing the fact that the promotion of Toad to player character and main protagonist was a horrible decision on Nintendo's part). But others will believe this to be a tragic loss to the world of videogaming, a loss which will shake the industry to its very core and change the face of interactive entertainment forever. Come, as we pay our last respects to Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic the Hedgehog was born in April, 1990, commissioned by Sega and developed as a mascot for the company. The five-man team (known hereafter as Sonic Team) settled on Sonic as the mascot, an anthropomorphic hedgehog with the power to run at ultra-high speeds. The game was built and developed over a period of 14 months, with the end result being Sonic the Hedgehog, the inaugural game in what would become Sega's flagship videogame series. It stood out from other platform games at the time due to its emphasis on speed and style, with the ability to gain bonus points if levels were traversed quickly, and the inclusion of ramps, springs, and loop-de-loops as part of what would be the games signature aesthetic, as well as having a catchy and speedy soundtrack that many fans continue to listen to now. The game was met with critical acclaim and high sales figures, eventually leading to Sega's Genesis to outsell Nintendo's Super Famicom by almost two to one, and giving Sega 65% of the 16-bit home console market during the 1991 holiday season. The game sold 4 million copies, which would made it the second highest selling game on the Genesis ever (only being outsold by its sequel, Sonic The Hedgehog 2). Riding on the huge wave of success and acclaim that followed, Sega released three sequels of the game on the Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic and Knuckles, all three of which kept to the first games original formula of high speed 2D platforming, with loops, springs and ramps intact, whilst also allowing you to play as 2 new characters, Miles “Tails” Prower, and Knuckles the Enchinda, both of which had their own special abilities, whilst still reatining Sonic's trademark speed. Many spinoffs of the game were made, including Sonic Spinball, the cart racing game Sonic Drift, and puzzle game Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, along with many 8-bit iterationss of the original games on the Game Gear and Master System. The 32-bit generation also saw many games in the Sonic franchise, including Knuckles Chaotix and [i]Flickie's Island.

When the sixth generation of videogaming rolled around, the Sonic franchise made a move that many consider was an early start to his eventual downfall – the move to the third dimension. Hoping to follow in the wake of the success of Mario's jump to 3-D with Mario 64, Sonic Team released Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast in 1999, again, to huge sales (the game becoming the highest seller ever on the Dreamcast) and critical acclaim. Sonic's trademark speed and innovative gameplay had, according to critics, stuck the landing in 3-D, however, not all fans of the series agreed. Many were of the opinion that this was the worst move Sonic Team ever made with their franchise, with the speedy gameplay being difficult to control over three dimensions. Criticisms were also leveled at Sonic's ever expanding group of friends, with new characters like Amy Rose, Big the Cat, and the robot E-102 Gamma joining Sonic for the ride. Despite this, the profits and acclaim for the franchise caused them to develop Sonic Adventure 2, a game which, again, received critical acclaim and high sales figures, with many calling it “the last great game for the Dreamcast”. But again, hardcore fans of the original Sonic games found the same faults, with high speed platforming not working in 3-D, and the cast of characters being expanded still more.

As videogaming traveled through its seventh-generation, Sonic Heroes was the next game to be released in the franchise, and was the first in the series to be released across multiple platforms (what with the production of the Dreamcast having long since stopped). While the high sales still held, the critical acclaim had taken a slight dent, with the game receiving mixed reviews across all platforms – this game was where even fans of Sonic in 3-D were seeing the franchise go astray somewhat. This was not helped by next main releases in the Sonic series, namely, Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic 2006. Both games received, again, reasonably high sales figures, but both were critically panned, notably Sonic 2006, which was criticized for its horrible controls and outrageous plot. Fans screamed for a new major 2-D Sonic release, claiming that handheld iterations, which stayed true to the original series, were far better experiences, and pleaded with Sonic Team to see the error of their ways. And Sonic Team listened – a bit. New release Sonic Unleashed featured both 2-D and 3-D section to the main Sonic levels, and was met with high acclaim, with some claiming the gameplay as “the funnest Sonic experience in years”. But, what Sonic Team gave with one hand, they took with the other, with the addition of duel-world gameplay and the introduction of the near-universally hated Sonic the Werehog. The game switched between normal speedy Sonic play and slow, sluggish Werehog play, and whilst the faster Sonic sections were praised, the addition of the Werehog levels cause reviews of the game to be very much mixed.

Keeping with the seventh-generation, Sonic Team's next big release was Project Needlemouse (which was claimed to be a code-name, yet ended up being the actual title of the release.) The game went through heavy marketing pre-release, with emphasis that the game was a “fully 2-D adventure built from the ground up”. Its release in June 2010 signifies a landmark moment for Sonic fans – critical acclaim of the game was the highest of the entire franchise and was one of the most well-received games of all time, tying with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with a Metascore of 99 (with Jim Sterling of Destructoid keeping the game from a perfect 100 with the only non-perfect score of 9.5). Reviewers universally agreed that the old-school gameplay mixed with the picturesque HD-graphics was a flawless combination, with one reviewer saying: “Think of the best combinations that mankind has produced. Gin and tonic, peanut butter and jelly, fish and chips. All of these things pale in comparison to the flawless concoction that is Project Needlemouse.” Fans and critics alike agreed that this was the game that would reinvigorate the series, and that Sonic would again reign supreme over the videogaming world.

However, they were wrong. Despite overwhelmingly good write-ups, Project Needlemouse suffered from very poor sales, with many thinking that the generation of gamers that made up 80% of the market at the time wouldn't even consider a game that only worked in two dimensions, and would rather “not waste” their expensive console on such an archaic game. Others think that the fact that the game was overshadowed by the surprise announcement and release of Activision's Modern Warfare 3, which was released the day before Project Needlemouse. After a month on shelves, Project Needlemouse had only sold 50,000 copies worldwide, and eventually only sold 200,000 copies before SEGA stopped printing of new game discs. In the end, SEGA announced that the next game in the Sonic series would be back in 3-D, and not long after, nearly all employees of Sonic Team retired from their positions, leaving many to wonder as to whether SEGA had given the Sonic Team the ultimatum of “make it in 3-D or find new jobs”, a theory which was confirmed by ex-Sonic Team illustrator Yuji Uekawa in an interview with Gamespot: “Project Needlehouse was special, almost everybody who played it loved it, yet its poor sales caused the hot shots at SEGA to think that 3-D is the only thing that would sell. They said our funding for the next Sonic title would be cut unless we agreed to do it in 3-D, and many of us were very unhappy with that, so we left.”

In the end, SEGA replaced all of the missing workers from Sonic Team and work began on a new title, Sonic Rampage. In order to win back their lost fanbase from Needlemouse, heavy marketing was deployed, emphasising Sonic's return to 3-D and the introduction of five new playable characters, elements which correlated with the games previous high sales. In response to this, hardcore fans of Project Needlemouse organised a boycott and petition, which nearly 400,000 people signed (oddly, twice as many people as there were copies of the game sold). In March 2012, Sonic Rampage hit store shelves, and as SEGA had predicted, the sales figures improved upon Project Needlemouse, but not by very much. 150,000 copies were sold in the first month, with 400,000 being sold overall, again, one of the lowest sales figures for a major Sonic title. The game was also critically panned due to substandard gameplay, horrible plot, voice acting and new characters, the return of Sonic the Werehog, and a bad soundtrack which many reviewers considered was the first overly bad soundtrack to a Sonic game ever. Many reviewers also commented in their reviews about SEGA's stupid decision to force the development of a 3-D title just to improve sales, especially considering the overwhelming critical response to Project Needlemouse.

These poor, inconsistent sales led SEGA and Sonic Team to question the appeal of the orginal Sonic format, and whether they should experiment with the forumla. After these discussions, they announced Sonic: Code Blue, the first in a planned series of four Sonic RPGs. The press release talked of an “action RPG battle system in which Sonic and two of his friends fight enemys, with weapons such as swords, guns and explosives,” and “a mature, emotional plotline which might appeal to the now older patrons of the original Sonic games”. Response to the announcement was mostly negative, however many people were curious as to how the game might play out, whilst aware of the fact that the last time Sonic was presented in a more mature manner (namely, Shadow the Hedgehog) was a sizeable failure. Sonic: Code Blue was released on the 8th of November 2015, to mixed reviews and medicore sales, with the general consensus being that, while the RPG system was solid, it had been done far better in other games. However, the new plot was universally hated by fans and reviewers alike, as was the fact that Sonic's trademark speed was almost fully omitted, with only the addition of a “Quick Dodge” during fight sequences hinting that Sonic was ever fast in the first place. The next installment in the series dropped the Sonic moniker altogether, being released exactly a year later, simply called Code Yellow. The battle system underwent a complete overhaul, switching from action RPG to turn-based combat. The game was critically detested, scoring a pitiful 24 on Metacritic, one of the lowest in history. GameSpy were noted as saying “again, the RPG fighting is fine, but totally generic, but the criticism is why we're playing an RPG in the first place! Sonic's speed is not here, the plot is terrible, this is really just a standard JRPG with anthropomorphic woodland creatures replacing androgynous teenagers. And you know, if had just been a JRPG with androgynous teenagers I would probably be far kinder to it, but as it stands, its a testament to the phrase: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” And Sonic has fallen. Hard.”

Sales of the game nearly rivalled the economic failure of Project Needlemouse, and thus, SEGA decided to cancel the whole series entriely. Two years passed with no word from neither Sonic Team nor Sega, leading many to believe that the company had long since given up on the Sonic franchise once and for all. However, on Christmas Day 2018, Sonic Team announced that they had indeed been working on a new Sonic title in deadly secret, officially announcing it as Sonic Forever. Over the next few weeks, screencaps and viral videos depicting the new gameplay were leaked by the company, and from the footage and images, many believed that Sonic Forever would simply consist of levels not unlike the fast, daytime levels of Sonic Unleashed, and that this could possibly be the moment that Sonic claimed back his throne. However, a month after the announcement, the steady flow of screencaps and videos stopped, and Sonic Team again went silent for over two years. Then, on the 10th of January, 2020, Sonic Team had announced, that, due to staff lay-offs and lack of money (due to the economic recession of 2019), that Sonic Forever had been cancelled, and that the studio were to drop the Sonic series altogether, saying that “Sonic just doesn't have the same appeal that he had a decade ago, people are bored of him now. In the end, its just not economically viable to make any more game featuring Sonic anymore.”

Reception to this news was, like to many of the later Sonic games, very much mixed. Anticipation for Sonic Forever and love for the old Sonic fans led many to believe that this was the turning point that could kill the videogame industry, however, many other believed that this was the best decision SEGA ever made, and that Sonic was doing nothing but holding the company back. A week after the announcement, Sonic Team disbanded, and SEGA's dwindling funds almost sent them the same way. However, SEGA had gambled and pooled all of their resources into Bayonetta 3, which, after being released a week after the end of Sonic Team, went on to break sales records worldwide, saving the company from the brink of collapse.

So, after thirty years, half of glory, and half of shame, we pay our last respects to Sonic the Hedgehog. He will most certainly be remembered by the entire videogame community, for better, or for worse, and his influence on the medium of gaming is almost certainly rivalled by no other.

R.I.P. Sonic The Hedgehog, 1990-2020   read

3:19 PM on 12.06.2009

Boatz's review on this whole motherfucking debacle

So, Jim wrote a review of a game.
A lot of you didn't agree. Oh well. His bad review shouldn't alter YOUR perception of the game unless you are very insecure. So please STFU about it.

It is a shame though, because I REALLY liked Avatar too.

Incidentally, this is gonna look REALLY good on the weekend Cblog recaps.

Final Score: Finland/Norway   read

9:39 AM on 11.13.2009

RE: "No Russian" Rev Rant

[AVAST, there be spoilers ahead.]

So, Modern warfare 2 finally dropped. As it happens, most people think its a very good game. But one thing that dropped far before the game itself was the heavily violent and controversial level “No Russian”, in which you assume the role of an undercover CIA agent who is tasked with befriending evil Russian du jour Makarov by helping him massacre dozens of civilians at an airport. But obviously, most laymen heard the words “airport, massacre, and civilians” and of course jumped to the conclusion that Modern Warfare 2 could be re-named “Terrorist Massacre of Doom” and that it would be raising a new generation of blood-lusting mercenaries. So, the media got bitchy, Germany got censor-y, and Fox News got crappy. Regrettably, it was to be expected.

I for one wasn't really fussed by the gratuitous acts of violence on unarmed civilians. I thought the entire mission was an absolute blast, its truly a great piece of video game story telling and the subject matter it deals with just shows how far video games have come as an art form. Killing civilians has never been much of a problem for me too. Sometimes it happens by accident in a heated GTA gunfight on the street, or sometimes you want to silence the stupid beggar women in Assassin's Creed with a blade in the spleen, but it never really hurt me morally. The fact that I'm British also makes me less of a “OMG 9/11!!!!” than perhaps more than a few Americans are, so the terrorism aspect of the level didn't really affect me either.

But in this blog post, I'm not defending Modern Warfare's 2 grisly subject matter or violent nature, oh no. Today, I will be defending it from Anthony Burch, who's latest Rev Rant took the narrative and interactive components of this mission to town and gave them a thorough drubbing. I do respect Anthony's opinion and his points are certainly valid, but there were one or two things that I didn't really agree with and were probably a bit unfair towards the scene as a whole.

One of the first points he makes in the video is that, despite the lack of freedom in linear narrative games and the fact that you aren't allowed to do certain things in order to keep the game's story together, the concept of them still work, since generally, the things you aren't allowed to do are the things that you don't want to do in the first place, for example, shooting Alyx Vance in the face whilst playing Half-Life 2. This isn't allowed as it would butt-fuck the story no end, but since the game characterizes her well, its not high on your to-do list. He then goes on to criticize MW2, as he himself was forced to keep to the story of the game, not because he was doing something he wanted to do (like NOT killing Alyx Vance), but because he was being forced to do something he DIDN'T want to do, that is, killing the civilians and staying in character by Makarov. In the end, he tried to take down the terrorists and blow his cover but was angered that he was given a 'game over' screen when he did that urged him to stay in character.

He certainly implied that this scene was to blame for his urges of justice, and it certainly is, but not fully. Like Half-Life 2 giving Alyx Vance good enough characterization to make you NOT want to shoot her, Modern Warfare 2 should've been drumming into your head that staying undercover is of the utmost importance, so as to make you not feel like blowing your cover. This is not the scene's fault, this is more the fault of every second of plot prior to the massacre. Since the general plot has not done a good job of telling you that you 100% definitely SHOULD NOT blow your cover, you aren't as motivated to do so, just like if Alyx Vance had been a bitch in Half-Life, you'd be more motivated to blow her face off with a point-blank shotgun blast. Its not the scene that should be blamed for your selfless act, its most definitely the fact that the plot as a whole hasn't immersed you enough to make you carry out a devilish massacre. Maybe a better written and more immersive plot would have, but the point I'm making is that the “No Russian” scene shouldn't be fully blamed for this.

His next criticism was that the game forces you to play it in its way, and that this was “bullshit”. Er, what? As far as single-player campaigns go, the Call of Duty series would probably win awards for linearity, and yet Anthony seems shocked that doing something the total opposite to the objectives of the mission brought a game over screen to his face. Its a simple objective: “Follow Makarov's lead.” You shoot one of his buddies, objective failed, game over, just like how if the objective is “Protect Mr. X” and you shoot Mr. X in the face, you will also get a game over sequence. Anthony seemed to be livid that this scripted, linear sequence wasn't allowing him any choice, but why he would expect THIS one section of the game to give him choices where the other sections do not is puzzling. In the end, you go from point A to point B whilst following the objectives of the game, which is the basis of pretty much the entire Call of Duty series. Just because this time your forced to do something you perhaps have an issue with rather than killing unambiguously evil baddies, doesn't mean that Infinity Ward should break their whole philosophy of game design and give you the choice to perhaps alter the story entirely. And if you really, REALLY had issues with the slaughter of innocents, then maybe you should've taken the game's advice and skipped the scene instead.

Anthony also criticizes the end of the mission, saying that he felt betrayed by the fact that his playing of the part of terrorist did nothing to avert the threat of World War 3. Well, you should feel betrayed got betrayed. But had you played the game in the way is was meant to be played you might've found this twist like the rest of us – bloody brilliant and unexpected.

Anthony goes on about the nature of interactivity and such but I don't really think that's the point of this scene. This whole mission is, at its heart, a glorified cutscene. Had Anthony simply watched the massacre as if it were an FMV he might've found that it would've been very much more enthralling, but the fact that he himself was given the gun and chosen to be an actor in this scene rather than an observer changed the whole tone of it. Like he said, it was a SCRIPTED sequence, and he chose not to follow the script. What would happen if an actor didn't follow his script? They'd shout cut and start the scene again. Just like what happens with this mission. You can go ahead and ad-lib like Anthony did but then the experience isn't as good, yet following your lines to the letter let you take advantage of the brilliant writer you have on the staff.

Ok, I'm gonna cut that metaphor before it gets out of control, but hopefully a lot of you get where I'm coming from. With linear narrative games, you have to follow the linear narrative, you have to follow the script that the game has made for you, and that's just how it goes. As you can see with Half-Life, Bioshock, and other brilliant linear games, it quite often works.

It does seem like this is a personal attack against Anthony, but it isn't. I assume that there are others who also had an epiphany and tried to stop the massacre and failed, only then to find that completing the massacre ended in the same outcome. But had you just followed the plot of the game and “Followed Makarov's Lead”, then you would've had an awesome experience and a gave the game a pat on the back for such a brilliant twist, instead of the betrayal that you might be feeling now.

Basically, there are two types of people in this scene: those who play out the scene killing civilians or those who try to enforce justice and change the course of the game by trying to end the massacre. This is a message to those in the latter group: you're doing it wrong.   read

11:26 AM on 11.09.2009

Why Tails is blatantly better than Sonic

Miles “Tails” Prower is a character who's taken a considerable amount of flak since his conception. Charitably, people describe him as an annoying whiny bitch, and uncharitably, some people would describe him as someone who should die of a very painful and long illness. I know some Brits would probably have voted against the fox-hunting ban just to be able to unload a shotgun into his face, and pin his two tails on their wall as a sign of “saving videogames”. He gets in the way, he always gets kidnapped, he's Sonic's bitch, he never contributes – all accusations leveled at the yellow fox. Its safe to say, most people would choose Sonic over Tails every single time.

As such, most people are stupid idiotic morons.

Tails is superior to Sonic in near every respect and its surprising that the general populace are so blind and ignorant not to notice, let alone that they are moronic enough to make claims that he is infinitely worse. Follow me, kids, as I explain to your puny, mushy brains why Tails should be the subject of many fangirl's inappropriate crushes, rather than Sonic.

He's loyal

I remember a time where loyalty was rewarded with feasts and wine and prostitutes and special commendations from King Henry VII, but apparently Tails' loyalty to Sonic is not worthy of praise, but more worthy of comments of how he'd rather be inside Sonic rather than just running behind him. My point: what's wrong with a bit of bro-mance*? Regardless, no matter which path Sonic takes, whether it gets Tails gets crushed, drowned, spiked, burned, Tails will always follow behind, many times shaking off death itself just to stay with his friend. And is Sonic loyal to Tails? Fuck no. Sure, maybe he needs Tails' help to get to a higher place he can't reach, but after he's there he shoots off in a blue blur with neither a farewell nor tip of the hat, and certainly no gratitude whatsoever. Will Sonic ever save Tails when he hits a spot of bother? Probably, but he certainly wouldn't be happy about it, unlike Tails, who's always willing to lend a hand to his ungrateful hedgehog cohort.

*This statement is probably easier to agree with if you ignore the fact that both Sonic and Tails are both non-human, both different species, and both under the age of consent.

He's a brainbox

Tails is described as a mechanical prodigy who rivals Dr. Robotnik, and that certainly proves useful in the world of Sonic. He knows the logistics of Eggman's robots, he knows the working of engines and computers, hell, he built a bloody shape-shifting plane! Things like this might actually be able to combat a more violent foe – hey, if you were being oppressed by an army of robots, what would you choose, a shape-shifting fighter plane or the ability to run fast? Exactly. And its not like Sonic could come up with any clever plans or create robots, all he knows is “run fast, get rings, PROFIT” and half the time Tails has to pop down with his plane when Sonic “genius” plan ends up failing. Its a testament to real life, probably, the smart ones do the brunt of the work while the famous ones take the credit.

He can fly

When it truly comes down to it, flying is a far better skill than speed. Sure, with speed you can get places quick, but your run will come crashing to a halt if there's a tree 5 miles in front of you that you didn't consider, and then BOOM, good luck picking up those 150 rings you just dropped. Flying, on the other hand, is a much more enjoyable pasttime. You get to see the lovely environment, you get to see the lay of the land, or the position of your enemies, and obstacles are reduced to a minimum. And I can imagine the whole experience would be bloody relaxing. Sonic's run would stop the minute he reaches a coast or sizeable lake, whereas Tails could just hover over without a problem (although he'd probably need his plane for the sea.) And even if he didn't fancy flying, large bodies of water would hold no problem because...

He can swim

Tails can swim, Sonic can't. And that's useful considering how much water you encounter in the Sonic games. So, Sonic, you at the bottom of a well? That's a shame. You'll just have to chill down here for a bit, oh and did that last bubble of yours resemble the number five? That other one looks like a four as well, this is SURREAL. Oh no. Your dead. Conversely, Tails is not a retard and could simply swim out of the well like a normal anthropomorphic woodland animal would, leaving leaving Sonic's water bloated bluer-than-normal corpse behind. Of course, he would never do that. He's too loyal.

By the way, I'm omitting the fact that, in addition to the ability to fly and swim, Tails could also run just as fast as Sonic in earlier Sonic titles. Just giving Sonic fans a fighting chance to argue back.

Foxes are better than Hedgehogs

Have you ever heard the expression “as cunning as a fox”? Well there you go. You will also notice how you probably can't think of an expression of the form “as [adjective here] as a hedgehog”. And even if you could, it would be a crappy adjective. Foxes stealth around at night and kill chickens in near total secrecy, whereas hedgehogs walk onto motorway roads and get turned into a spiky red stain on the tarmac. Who would you rather be? Presumably, the non-dead animal would cater to your interests more. Plus, at least foxes can kill things. Hedgehogs get scared, they roll into the fetal position, and do nothing for 5 hours. Very cool.

I'm very aware that these characteristics are not indicitive of neither Sonic nor Tails' character, but it stands to reason that Tails > Sonic, since Fox > Hedgehog. Don't argue with the irrefutable logic.

Tails triumphed through adversity

It saddens me to say that Tails was bullied as a child, bullied for his freakish twin tails. But now he's got more friends than you could shake a stick at and is proving to be quite the successful little mammal. He didn't let the bullying get him down, is my point. Sonic didn't have to deal with all that shit, his blue fur and freaky trainers apparently met critical acclaim with his other animal friends. So its no surprise that Sonic is the hero of the land, but Tails reached second place in the hierachy even with a huge opening disadvantage. And it's always better to work for something than to have it placed in your lap, right?


I mean, come on. LOOK AT HIM. He's adorable, and, as much as I hate the use of the word, he's as close to kawaii as you can get. And you try crushing Sonic's head to get to the candy. You'd do yourself an injury on his stupid spikes, and even if you got to crush his head you wouldn't find candy. You'd probably fine heroin or something, which, admittedly, some might find better than candy. But heroin isn't cute. Candy is. Again, undebatable logic.

Sonic would probably be a wanker in real life

Suspend your disbelief for a second and assume that you and Sonic we're friends and went out to a club. You know what he'd do? He'd go to where three dressed-up sluts we're dancing and try to shag each one of them, leaving you at the bar looking awkward, slowly sipping your drink of choice. I'm not saying that the act of sexual intercourse with females isn't cool, but the act of screwing your mates over to do so is uncool in every respect. Now, go to a club with Tails, and he'd probably be considerate enough to introduce you to the girls he's been chatting too. And you'd feel wanted and part of the social group. Epic win, and maybe sex will be on the cards for you, good sir.

Well, I kinda digressed with that point a bit, but the main thing is Tails is just...nicer. He's considerate, kind-hearted, and he'll never let you down. Sonic, on the other hand, would screw you over at a moment's notice, probably even less than that if there's any chance to woo the hot chicas.

Yellow is better than Blue

Blue is associated with rain, cold temperatures, and sadness, whereas yellow is associated with the sun, warmth (but not uncomfortably warm) and custard, which is awesome. Again, not indicitive of Sonic's or Tails' characters, but Yellow > Blue implies Tails > Sonic. For the third and final time, don't even try to argue with my airtight logicality.

Tails would probably be a video gamer

Tails was bullied for his twin tails, he can't fly for too long, meaning he's not very fit, and he enjoys working with computers and machines. So, bullied as a youngster, unfit and unactive, can work with machines? Sounds like video gamer material to me. Ok, I'm stereotyping there, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason – because they generally fit the description. But he can also fly a plane too, so he'd be good with his hands. And he's smart, so he could blast through Portal and Braid in a second. Would Sonic play video games? Maybe, but he'd probably exclusively play games like Call of Duty 4 and be the person you immediately mute the minute the game starts. Plus, his speedy nature means he'd fuck up Left 4 Dead by going too fast and getting pounced in seconds.

Again, I'm digressing, but come on, Tails is closer to a video gamer than Sonic. And surely, since I imagine only video gamers will be reading this article, you can all respect that. And hell, even if he wasn't, if your gaming PC broke down he'd probably be able to fix it.

So there you go, 10 solid reasons why Tails kicks Sonic's arse to Death Egg and back. There's no need to thank me for freeing your from your bleak ignorance that your were surrounded in, just the fact that your mind is healed is enough payment for me. So go now, continue with your lives, safe in the knowledge of Tails' superiority, and the fact that he's probably more likely to save the world than Sonic, if he was give half a chance.

Milo Pilkington still checks his local GameStation often to see if Sonic Team have made Tails Adventure yet. He has also learned that searching for "Tails" on Google Images with safesearch off is generally a bad plan.   read

8:56 AM on 09.23.2009

The Forgotten: Team Fortress 2 in 2007

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: It might not look like I'm really on topic with this Monthly Musing, but I do have a point, so make sure you read until the end. Also, cocks. Tr00 dat.]

It stands to reason that, if you are even slightly interested in PC gaming, you will have heard of Team Fortress 2. Valve’s multiplayer magnum opus has endured critical acclaim and wonderful popularity, and rightly so, as it is one of the finest pieces of multiplayer gaming ever crafted, and the ability to tweak the game as you like and the constant influx of free updates by Valve have only served to enhance that experience.

Or have they?

Valve’s regular class updates and the ability to alter the rules of the game as you see fit via the console does add another layer of complexity to the game. But was it really needed? Have class limits and instant respawns tainted Valve’s glorious game mechanics? Have these class updates ruined the inch perfect balance that they attained with the nine classes available? Both have altered Valve’s near flawless creation, and that is what we’ve forgotten – Team Fortress 2, without addition or alteration, without mods, class updates and new weapons, is the best that is has ever been, and it’s a shame that we have all forgotten how that was.

First of all, a little history about the game. Team Fortress was originally a mod itself, based on the Quake engine. The signature cartoonish style of Team Fortress 2 was missing, but other than that, it’s business as usual – Red Team vs. Blu Team, go capture a point or capture the flag a few times to win. After being adapted for Quake, Team Fortress Classic was created as a mod for Half-Life, and became super-duper popular, with people still playing it this very day. Obviously, Valve liking the idea of making sequels to popular games, development of Team Fortress 2 began. First screens of the game were shown at 1999’s E3, a full EIGHT YEARS after the finished product made it into The Orange Box, but it was time well spent – Valve themselves said that “we quietly made three or four full games” before they hit what we know and love today.

Team Fortress 2 came out with The Orange Box and met with critical acclaim, holding scores of 92 on both Metacritic and GameRankings, with critics commenting on the good balance that the game offers. And they were right. Anyone who plays class based shooters will know that, without a balanced set of classes, the game will suddenly turn into a grief-fest. But Valve hit the balance right on the head – sure, the Heavy can turn anything that comes close into pate, but the slow movement speed makes him an easy victim for the headshot of a Sniper or the backstab of a Spy. Conversely, the Scouts quick movement and lethal close-range damage was countered by his low health. The class system was also good in that not doing the job of your class would make certain death and defeat an almost certainty. If a Sniper tried to join the main fight rather than sniping from a distance, he’d most certainly be turned into a red smear on the walls, whereas if he does his job and put his bullets through people’s eyes from the next town over, he’d score more kills and most certainly help out his team a lot more. Every class had strengths and weaknesses, and no-one class shone more than other. This meant that successful teams had to have players from all classes – despite common belief, a team of nothing but Spies and Snipers will most certainly lose.

As far as I’m concerned, the game was-near perfectly balanced (I’ll admit I had issues with the Spy, but hell, I’m pretty sure everyone does ). And then when Valve announced that the Medic would be receiving an update with some new Medic-specific weapons, I was intrigued. Hey, pretty much everyone was intrigued, but probably not in the way that I was. I was confused as to how one class can receive new weapons where the other eight do not, and how the game would stay balanced. So, update day rolled around, and, to be honest, I was amazed at what I saw.

The Medic’s syringe gun, most definitely the weakest gun on the game, was improved to heal the medic for 3 health each time one of his syringes hit his target. This, for me, was certainly a step in the wrong direction. The reason for the syringe gun’s horrible weakness was to make the Medic useless in a combat situation, so he would concentrate on healing his fellow teammates, but now, the Medic could hold his own in combat, and maybe even score a few kills. Worse than that was the ubersaw, the new melee weapon that filled the Medic’s “Ubercharge” meter (which would allow the medic to make himself and the person he is healing invulnerable, or, with the new update, score 100% critical hits). Before, the only way to charge up this meter was to heal, which would encourage players to do so – now, it would be quicker, easier, and a helluva lot more exciting to run into the fray and try to gain charge be bonesawing anything that moved. With this update, not only was the medic discouraged to stand around healing, he was also given a tool to make it that much easier for him to survive one-on-one fights – something he was never supposed to have.

All this did not sit well with me, and, come the next update (the Pyro) I was worried that the Pyro’s new weapons would also screw with his original role. While the Backburner (a new flamethrower that scored 100% critical hits if someone is attacked from behind) did fit in with the Pyro’s M.O. as a close-range ambush class, the Flare Gun was the polar opposite. It allowed the Pyro to burn his victims from afar, meaning that one of the Pyro’s weaknesses – his inadequacy at long range – was gone. More updates followed and the same things happened. The Heavy, who was pretty weak unless he had a Medic backing him, now had the ability to heal himself with the Sandvich. The Sniper was given The Huntsman, a bow which made him just as deadly at close range as he was from afar. The Spy, whose one real method of killing was to backstab, was given a gun that crits on a headshot, meaning that any good spy would rather lop off people’s heads from afar than being forced to get close. Last but not least, the Scout’s Sandman served the same purpose as the Pyro’s flare gun – made the scouts inability to hurt at long range much less of a weakness. During all of this, the Demoman, Engineer and Soldier all had to make do without updates, so their weaknesses stayed as weaknesses, whilst every other class seemed to drop them quite easily.

Not only were these updates upsetting the balance, some updates were more useful than others. Take the Sniper’s Razorback, a shield designed to block the backstab of a Spy. This new tool was almost made obsolete by the Spy’s new crit-on-headshot Ambassador revolver – any spy who spotted the wood on the Sniper’s back would just step back, decloak out of the Sniper’s view, make two shots at the Sniper’s head and cloak away again. I’ll admit that this is perfectly fine – Sniper’s are weak against spies and this is how it stayed – but Valve didn’t have to throw in the near-pointless Razorback to give Snipers the illusion of Spy safety.

Valve’s inclusion of the console system and the ability to change almost every aspect on a server also affects the game balance. Sure, it can be fun to use lightning on Counter-Strike or spawn ten Witches in the saferoom on Left 4 Dead, but on Team Fortress, the most used mods seem to be Class Limits and Instant Respawn. Class Limits limit how many people can choose which class, and sometimes takes a class out of the equation together. Just doing that affects the balance so much – imagine this: A game where Snipers have been deemed too powerful and have been banned. Now, Heavies will be able to attack with less consequence and Engineers won’t be able to start building their sentries without Spies bearing down on them, Spies who’d usually be after the Snipers. Now imagine that Demomen had been banned – good luck destroying that sentry around the next corner, away from the rockets of a soldier or the greasy mitts of a Spy. Instant respawn also affects the game. You may or may not know that TF2 implements a system called “momentum”, where the respawn time is different depending on how the game is going. A simple example is that an attacking team will have quicker respawns than a defending team – this is fair enough, it’s far easier to bunker down and defend than draw guns and attack, so death should carry a higher price on the defence. But with Instant Respawns this goes down the can. Defending teams will receive the same respawns as attacking teams, making defences harder to breach, and making final captures, which are often a stone’s throw away from the spawn point of a team, will be twice as difficult.

All of this sounds like digression from the subject at hand – remembering forgotten relics of games that people might not’ve appreciated. Well, that is exactly what I am doing. Team Fortress 2, one the finest games ever created in the history of gaming, was at its peak before the class updates and before Valve let people mess around in the console. But we’re all stuck in the mentality of “OMG THE SNIPER GOT A BOW LET ME PLAY” to remember just how great that was! Team Fortress 2, without updates, without new weapons, without class limits or instant respawns or anything like that, is The Forgotten. All of this new stuff and tweaked server rules have blinded us and made us forget just how good Team Fortress was pre-update. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still good and I urge you to try it if you haven’t already, but what was once a 10 out of 10 2 years ago has become an 8 out of 10 today. And it’s a shame that most people have forgotten the five-star marvel that Valve released in 2007. It’s a simple case of don’t fix what isn’t broken, and also of a simple case of don’t let the players decide the rules.

The irony is, the update-less, mod-less Xbox 360 version of this game that people have been whining about is actually a better version than what we PC owners have got. Play it with pride, Xbox 360 owners, your time with the perfect version of TF2, which PC owners have forgotten, is most definitely limited.   read

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

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