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New South Wales, Australia
Game Developer, Composer & Gamer.

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My upcoming reviews are subject to change & availability, so i won't be listing them anymore

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review #9: Syndicate


Platform: PC
Type of controller: Mouse+KB    
Install time: Approx 10mins  
Dependancies (Included in installation): DirectX, VC 2008 Redist
Notes about installation: This game is currently banned in Australia. I ordered this copy online from the UK through eBay, but this game cannot be legally sold within Australia because of the lack of the R18+ rating system.

Game website: http://www.ea.com/syndicate/    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicate (2012 video game) ----------------------------------------------------------------

Before i get into this review, i want to apologise for the lack of reviews recently. Having a full time job means that all of my hobbies and interests have been put on the backburner in order to progress in my career. I will try and post as many reviews as i can with the limited amount of time i have. I would also like to quietly note that i am developing a Video series of reviews for games, movies and possibly more!!!

My thoughts about the game;
Syndicate is one of those games where you can't quite put your finger on what is good and what isn't for the first hour or two of playing. I only discovered today that this game is using DICE's Frostbite 2 engine, which was not as big surprise considering how fluid it feels, and how the graphics are almost on par with the likes of BF3 or Crysis 2. That said, the mechanics in this game feel a bit 'too' tweaked, whereas the exact same mechanics are much more fluid in Battlefield 3, they feel a bit overworked in this, or have not had all the bugs ironed out as yet. Overall this game is everything i have come to love about first person shooters, science fiction and games in general. I am a sucker for futurist sci-fi so this review may be a little bias in the story and graphical points because i have to constrain myself in saying how much i've wanted a game like this for some time now.

The recent addition of Dues Ex 3 to the world of sci-fi gaming was a bitter-sweet one for me, on the one hand i really love the concept, but a story like that seems to be wasted on a video game, when if they had put the same amount of effort into a animated feature film it would of served the story's purpose much more in my opinion, this is where Syndicate fills the void for me, it is much more of a 'gamers game' than something like Deus Ex 3, mainly because it has streamlined the ideas of DE3 into a more fluid gameplay mechanic. You can still look around, pickup data logs and hacking into computers to gain non mission specific intel, but you can also get by just fine without knowing what Dr Mad [dead] Scientist had for breakfast yesterday morning before his wife was kidnapped by rebel scum etc, you get the point.

The one thing that stands out for me with this game is the solid gameplay. As many review sites have said, this game is everything you know and love about first person shooters, but done better with seamless integration of style and flair where other recent sci-fi shooters have failed terribly (Namely the likes of Hard Reset or Section 8)

Developer standpoint;
In this developer's standpoint, i have based my reactions and opinions around the fact this was built with an already solid Frostbite 2 engine. I have written this as more of a comparison to BF3 but only in the technical engineering sense. BF3 is a very very different game, however its built using the same sets of rules and using the same nuts and bolts as this game.

This is the one aspect of Syndicate i do not like at all, BF3 also suffers from this problem so it may be an engine related issue and not that of the game designers but the engine programmers. The difficulty is something that needs alot more balance, because 90% of this game is generally a nice, challenging yet defeatable difficulty, whereas the endzone boss fights are quite ridiculous the first few attempts at them. I think i have saved myself from hating this game by gracefully quitting after 5 or 10 retries of something, letting myself cool down and come back to it later. Some areas seem impossible at first, but as you play them over and over they do get easier or to be more precise, they get less frustrating as you figure out the areas of the map that work best to your advantage.

Animations and visual effects
Absolutely stunning, not as highly fluid and detailed as BF3 but just as awesome to the untrained eye. One thing that stood out as a problem was parkour vaulting over obstacles is much less fluid than BF3. Just the way the end of vault is animated is poor, could be another coding issue though, because during mid-vault, its fine, but as soon as the players legs get over the obstacle, you land above the ground, and the camera twitches a bit and goes inside the player model for a split second, its quite disorienting and i have found myself avoiding using it because it does break the flow of the game. One other thing worth mentioning is the Bulletstorm-esque slide. In theory this is a great mechanic if its done right, Mirrors Edge got it right, Bulletstorm, while heavily unrealistic, managed to make the slide an integral part of the game, and they did it very well, however Syndicate lacks the style and control compared to the aforementioned games. It too is a flow breaker, and something that needs alot of work to be usable outside of a simple puzzle scenario (which there are none to my knowledge for this specific mechanic), it appears to just be another dodging technique that isn't implemented as good as it can be.

Level design
The level design in Syndicate is fantastic. This is up there with the greats of Sci-Fi level design inspired by a multitude of recent and not-so-recent games. There are some things that the untrained eye may not notice that i noticed first play through, such as the mission where you are in a hovercraft helicopter sort of thing outside, and the music is suggesting 'what you are seeing is some big vista, be awe inspired' which was quite beautiful, but it was soon devalued by the fact they are using what i call the 'Silent Hill mechanic' of level optimisation, fog. You cannot see the city streets below because of a big thick layer of fog. I know that the developers are trying to convey a sense of height and depth with this visually, but technically it is just a cheap way to not have to design an entire street-scape. This was a bit disappointing to me because they could of done exactly the same thing, but at night with all the lights of the skyscraper buildings, but during the day this just looked really tacky. Another thing to note is the training levels, this is done in a very minimalist Tron style, and is perfect for teaching the player about new mechanics or unlocks they would be unfamiliar with.

Sound design
The sound design like any Frostbite game really shines above the rest mainly because of the rich programming that has gone into the audio engine. The DSP type effects are unparalleled and no other game engine has come close to the ability of what Frostbite is capable of, even in the first engine version this was a major feature (ala the 'War Tapes' audio setting in Bad Company 2). Basically this is a Next Gen HD audio engine, and in Syndicate, although the budget was obviously less than that of the Battlefield series, still holds up with excellent sound quality and clarity.

On a side note, dubstep is becoming increasingly popular for use in games, TV shows and movies, and especially in trailers. As much as i love dubstep, this may or may not be detrimental to the genre, but hopefully for every 1 mainstream artist like Skrillex, there are 3 underground artists striving to be better than that 1 mainstream artist who they dislike for being popular within the scene of music they enjoy making, but secretly love them because they can be a more pronounced musician. The reason i mention this, is because Skrillex produced a song for Syndicate under the same name. I've only heard this play once in-game, and that was during an intense action moment, that suited the game really well because i was too distracted by the action to care which dubstep artist was playing in the background.

Story and character development
The story is something in Syndicate that is definitely not new, i have not played the original 1993 game, but i am told it holds quite true to story cannon. That said, this is a pretty average run of the mill sci-fi story, so there is not much to say here. The character development on the other hand is quite deep, even if the game isn't. One of the main reasons this game was banned in Australia is the blatant disregard for human life depicted by your buddy 'Merit' who executes ALOT of civilians during the game without blinking an eye. This is quite powerful, and while alot of the current generation of gamers may be desensitised to such thing, i found it to be quite a good characterisation technique, albeit a quick and cheap one. Most of the other characters are forgettable to an extent, the main point of this story is the classic Corporations controlling the world, controlling the government, because of their contribution to society in this case in the form of the "DART" chip in the brain which has rendered all electronic devices obsolete. However saying that, this is yet another sneaky and cheap story telling device that makes the game designers job an easier one.

Closing statement
Syndicate is one of the games of 2012 that will hopefully grow into something much more than just a remake of a 90s tactical shooter game. There is alot of movie potential here aswell, but i mentioned earlier, this is the perfect 'game' for anyone who is into Sci Fi, but if you're just a gun ho, trigger happy COD fan than i would look elsewhere for your daily thrill of killing.
Overall this game is definitely worth checking out, if you like your shooters i recommend playing through this, and if you're into Science Fiction, then what the hell are you doing reading this?! You should be playing Syndicate right now!

Story: 6/10  
AI: 6/10
Sound: 7.5/10
Voice: 6.5/10    
Controls: 6/10    
Models: 7/10  
Level Design: 7.5/10  
Textures: 7/10  
Technical Complexity: 6.5/10    
Replayability: 5.5/10    

Total: 65.5/100

Thursday, February 9, 2012


G'day readers, it's been a while since i posted a review, mainly because i have been gaming less and less due to full time employment. I have written a draft review of Bulletstorm but i currently cannot find the book i wrote it in... So for the moment i will be reviewing the games i have been playing the last few months, including Saints Row 3, L.A Noire, Battlefield 3, NFS: The Run and Test Drive Unlimited 2 & Payday: The Heist. I have also played a fair few PSN Games like Renegade Ops, PAIN, Ragdoll Kung Fu, Joe Danger and more recently, the Tekken Tag 2 demo on PS3.

Be sure to stay tuned as i hope to write reviews for most of the games above, a few of them aren't really good review material, also there are others i didn't mention above such as Universe Sandbox that i have been playing, but simulators are difficult to review as their difficulty is in learning the way the game works and not programmed in as A.I.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review #8: Homefront


Platform: PS3    
Type of controller: Controller   
Install time: Approx 3mins  

Game website: www.homefront-game.com    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homefront_(video_game) ----------------------------------------------------------------

Before i get into this review, i want to apologise for my absence as of late, i've moved house a couple of times in the last 6 months or so, and haven't really had a chance to sit down and properly review a game. I do have a hand written draft of a Bulletstorm review that should be up in the next few weeks.

My thoughts about the game;
Without spoiling too much, Homefront is one of those games that sounds really awesome on its premise but only delivers about half of what you would expect from it. Basically its the future, Korea invades the USA, and you play a USA resistance member fighting to gain control of this one area back. I enjoyed this game but only to the extent where i knew if i had on PC i would still be playing it. First person shooters on consoles are just too varied to gauge a decent one. Some are too easy, others too hard, some the controls are brilliant but the level design doesn't compliment it, others the controls are horrid but the story is so engaging it's hard to put down. I'm afraid Homefront takes a little from all of those negative points of FPS console games, and doesn't really make it worth the price tag they're asking for it.
This game crashed on me so much, even after patching it on PS3 that it got to the point where i had to be conscious of not going infront of the person that said "FOLLOW" above their head. Because once you do start getting infront of them, the game seems to have a hard time comprehending your logic and crashed spontaneously.
I was really looking forward to this game for the only reason that i really liked Kaos Studio's last title, Frontlines: Fuel of War, which for me was amazing because it was pretty much a Battlefield 2 clone in the Unreal 3 engine, with more gadgets and what not, but their marketing absolutely failed for that game and the online servers were a ghost town. Funny enough the opposite seems to be true for Homefront, even though the game is average, their marketing was much much better this time, but they lacked heavily on the originality of the game itself. There isn't much that stands out in Homefront, and i only stopped playing it a couple of days ago and i've already forgotten the characters names.

Developer standpoint;

The difficulty of this game is pretty solid, not too easy, not too hard... However there are some parts that are incredibly frustrating where i would of died at least 15 times before figuring out what/who/where i was being killed from. The visual damage indicator (the blood onscreen) is little to no help in identifying where someone is shooting you from. This caused me so many deaths that i eventually had to take out enemies slowly, one by one, and really turn the volume up on my surround sound to hear where they were coming from. Games that do this are frustrating because i like to play through games on easy first, then if i like the game, or if the game is more rewarding on higher difficulties, i'll crank it up a notch (BAM!), however games that frustrate me due to their sporadic difficulty when set on easy need to be playtested a bit more.

Animations and visual effects
All the animations and visual fx are pretty solid. I don't really have much to say about this, the only thing that i guess fits into this category is the lack of no-clip through ally AI. I know that's not realistic, but the amount of times the game glitched out because i stood somewhere i wasn't supposed to, and got stuck between an ally and a wall or bin or door or something was ridiculous.

Level design
Level design for the most part was excellent, except i couldn't help but feel that I'd played alot of this before, it really struck me as being very similar to the urban sections of Left 4 Dead in daylight... Which is fine and Homefront certainly did an awesome job of pretty much ripping off other games for most of the levels, so there's not really anything interesting to talk about here. [Slight Spoiler] The part where you have to lay down in a mass grave to escape capture was pretty original, although not much of a level design element, it sort of is, and flows nicely into a cutscene...

Sound design
The sound design is pretty awesome in Homefront, however again, nothing really interesting here, the voice acting was pretty dull, the weapon sounds and fx were pretty run of the mill. Didn't really expect much from this end of the game, and Homefront delivered perfectly on that expectation.

Story and character development
Now as i mentioned earlier, the premise of this game is really interesting, and quite possibly never been done before in a video game (haven't researched that fact so i could be wrong), but because of the nature of the premise, it's no surprise that you play as an American resistance member, and not the invading Korean army. I found it really difficult to feel for any of the characters in this game, they kind of just throw plot elements in your face and expect you to feel emotion for the characters, without actually building on their development very much. This really makes the story feel forced, and quite frankly boring considering the unique ideas that were put behind it. There is this one scene where one of the fellow resistance members is killed, and one of your Ally partners is crying and yelling "WHY?!?", but not even 2 minutes later that particular partner is up and carrying on like nothing happened. This is the sort of sloppy storytelling that is throughout this game, and the premise aside, makes is seem very generic.

Closing statement
This game was hyped up to be alot more than it is, just another generic military shooter. It does have Sci-Fi elements, but i wouldn't really call it a Sci-Fi shooter, simply because the Sci-Fi elements aren't really expanded upon, nor are they any real significance to the gameplay or how the game progresses. I still haven't finished the game but i doubt that in the second half of the game that it gets any more immersive or changes it tone, it actually feels quite monotone throughout the whole thing, and while there are some jaw dropping moments (Such as the bus ride and subsequently the bus crash), there aren't many other memorable moments or things that really make you go "wow". Overall this game is a good time killer, and if you're into B grade shooters then you will enjoy this, but for the most part, the fact this game was advertised as AAA title makes it even more bland.

Story: 4/10  
AI: 5/10
Sound: 5/10
Voice: 4/10    
Controls: 4.5/10    
Models: 5.5/10  
Level Design: 5/10  
Textures: 6/10  
Technical Complexity: 4/10    
Replayability: 3/10    

Total: 46/100

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review #7: Battlefield: Bad Company 2


Platform: PC/Steam    
Type of controller: Mouse+KB    
Install time: N/A 

Dependancies (Included in installation): DirectX, Punkbuster, VC++ 2005 Redist  

Notes about installation: None   

Game website: www.battlefieldbadcompany2.com    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlefield:_Bad_Company_2 ----------------------------------------------------------------

First of all i hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year!
I know i did, and infact i will be moving house soon so there may not be a review for March as with January, i will be much too busy to sit down and review games. But do not fear, my game reviews will continue to be monthly after i get settled into my new place, who knows, i might even be able to write 2 big ones for March because this year is going to be a big year for gaming :D

NOTE: Ok much like Yahtzee (the game critic), i think a game should stand up on single player alone, Multiplayer should be more of a bonus feature than a focal point of a game, but i digress, this review will be mainly concerning the Single Player campaign of Bad Company 2.

My thoughts about the game;
Originally i was hesitant about the campaign in this game, because i owned the first Bad Company on XBOX360, and did not have access to XBL at that time, all i played was the single player campaign. The story was fairly decent and i did play through it about 4 times over the course of about 6 months, while the visual style and effects were impressive the story somewhat lacked replayability, however it did have enough depth for me to be actually interested in the characters because of how they were treated by the military but also by their fellow soldiers.
I wish i could say the same for Bad Company 2. The story, what's left of it, and the characters more importantly, are so different to the first game. In Bad Company 2, they are treated more like Special Forces soldiers and not some B Grade B company doing all the dirty work and being blamed when shit hits the fan. In this one it seems the Single Player was slapped in after the Multiplayer, because although the scenery is amazing, there isn't much atmosphere for the story to feel engaging enough. I was really disappointed at this because i had been playing Multiplayer for about 10 or 15 hours straight before i played the single player campaign.
I also played through the Medal of Honor (2010) campaign and found it to be much better than Bad Company 2's campaign.

The first mission gets a really good pace set for the game, without spoiling too much, it's one of those "play as some dude in the past and have the game refer to those moments later on in the present day story" types of campaigns, and believe me you need to pay close attention to the story or hardly anything will make sense later on in the game.
My first run through the campaign was exactly that, i didn't pay close enough attention to what was being said and implied, i just run and gunned my way through and totally missed huge chunks of the plot because of it.

I can't help but think as i'm playing this of "because the plot said so" kind of moments, like the Russian colonel you fail to eliminate not once but twice... the first time sure but the second time is a very "because the plot says so" kind of moment. I mean anyone with a gun at that point had the shot at him, because he comes right up to you in plain sight and brags about something, and just runs out the door? Seriously that right there was a turning point in my opinion of this plot. It's all too... 'setup' for my liking.. and don't even get me started on the end of the final chapter... Stories that follow the 3 act method of beginning, middle and end should not have a setup for a sequel at the end, and if they do, it shouldn't be anywhere near as obvious as the one in this game. Honestly folks if you haven't finished this game, prepare yourself for the ending, because i could see alot of people getting pissed off about it.

Developer standpoint;

Ok well as usual i played through easy first, and medium/normal second, and honestly there wasn't that much of a difference. I wish more games would actually change the AI when the difficulty is changed, not just the amount of health you and the enemy have, and how much damage each shot does, because having the same AI with slightly more health and bullets with slightly more damage doesn't actually make it any harder, just makes it either shorter or longer depending on the players skill level.
So as for the difference in difficulty, there isn't much between easy and medium, however the consistency of the difficulty is quite good, you can slowly tell that it becomes more challenging towards the end of the game, which is good and what games should be about.

Animations and visual effects
This one is hard to comment on, because while face value of both animations and visual effects is quite impressive, if you know what your looking at and actually really look closely at them all, you will see that infact there are alot of shortcuts being used to give the illusion of it being much more complex. That said, some companies go for that, because it enables the game to gain more popularity quickly for something that looks more impressive than it actually is. The animations can be jittery and or buggy which is noticeable in the first mission's in-game cutscenes.

The damage "physics" is another thing i should mention here because it falls under the VFX category. Now just to clear this up with people... The damage is NOT dynamic. If you want to see proper dynamic damage, go and play Red Faction 3, because that is one of the only examples of realtime dynamic destruction and damage to buildings. The buildings in Bad Company 2 and also the first one are not dynamic. They are infact predefined places of buildings, and also predefined pieces that fly off when you blow it up. In the first Bad Company this was very obvious to me about the second time i ever blew up a wall, however this is more carefully disguised in Bad Company 2, because they have increase the size and amount of dust and debris that fly off when the wall actually explodes, it's still a predefined position and number of pieces of debris, but the cloud of dust and smoke is much larger which gives the illusion of the explosion/destruction being more damaging. To their credit i thought that was a clever way of getting away with it, but i still can't help but see through the charade.

Level design
The level design for the most part is excellent. The sceneries and vistas are stunning, the foliage and amount of detail models are done very well however, it is quite sloppy, and feels very rushed. This is especially noticeable in multiplayer, where in nearly every single map i have found at least 1 static model floating above the ground, and i haven't even been looking for them either, just stumbled across it while moving around the map normally.
Another thing (related more to the visual effects) is when a mortar or any large explosion originates from the ground, it creates a crater where the explosion happened, this also appears to be dynamic at first but i have a sneaking suspicion it too is also predefined at certain areas of the map. The problem though is if a crater forms at an area where there are static objects on the ground, such as rocks or junk piles, often these static props stay in their original position, obviously because they are static, but leave a huge gap under them because of the newly formed crater, surely they could of had some way of deleting any static objects in the area of the craters, after they are formed because the amount of dust and debris would mask the obviousness of the object vanishing...

Sound design
The sound design is probably the strongest point of this game for me, apart from the multiplayer. When set to "War zone" setting in Options, the sound of this game is absolutely incredible, especially on 5.1 surround sound. Not only do you hear the shell casings hitting different sounding surfaces, if you are in a room with any sort of close range acoustics, you can actually hear the echo of the shell casings (known as reverberation). This is an incredible aspect of the sound design and makes it so much more immersive. I know other games have had this sort of HD audio but i struggle to think of any other game with sounds this good.. possibly Medal of Honor but that's kind of par for the course because of it being same designers, same engine and also more recent.

Story and character development
I won't go into much detail here because of what i said in my thoughts about the game, however there are some moments that i thought could use a mention;

Normally i wouldn't review multiplayer of a game, but because this game has such a solid multiplayer platform, and it appears to be the main focus of the game, it more than deserves a mention.

As mentioned earlier, i played the multiplayer component before playing the single player, so in hindsight that may have been for the best. I was interested in multiplayer more anyway, simply because of what i read to be a vast improvement of the Bad Company 1 MP. This is also the closest thing available in the next gen market to Battlefield 2 which was a classic MP game, that is of course until Battlefield 3 comes out in the next few months, the only other game like this at the moment (with vehicle warfare, gadgets, ranks and XP) is Frontlines: Fuel of War, which was a huge flop in marketing aspects for multiplayer, and a huge flop for single player campaign.

There are alot of flaws with Bad Company 2 MP aswell, some of them i thought worth a mention.
First of all the 3D Spotting system while a good system and a good idea, i think is a bit too easy and a bit too spammy for my liking. Apparently there will be changes to it in Battlefield 3 so hopefully it will be better, but for the meantime in Bad Company 2, you can pretty much just camp with sniper, look around the map slowly while spamming Q, which is the "spot" button for spotting enemies in the distance. On non-hardcore servers this means a big orange triangle appears above their head (that only your teammates can see). This means that if there isn't anything in your way between you and the enemy (might be some bushes or trees but regardless of those) you can pretty much shoot at that orange triangle and hope for the best you get a little white cross come up in the middle of the screen to indicate you hit an enemy (anyone familiar with Battlefield 2 should know what i mean).

Ok secondly there is a huge bug with zooming, it doesn't happen with every map, doesn't happen with every gun, but the people i have talked to who play multiplayer have experienced this at least once if not multiple times in one match let alone their entire multiplayer experience. This usually happens to me when using a gun with a red dot scope, a sniper rifle scope or even when using the ironsights on pistols. This can for the most part be extremely annoying, but there have been one or two times when this has happened and worked in my favour. For example, i was a sniper and was at the end of a tight lane way sort of thing, and i zoomed in just an enemy came across the screen infront of me filling my whole scope up with just torso, at that exact moment the zoom bug happened where it completely zooms back to normal view but the scope is still active while im still holding the zoom button, so i was able to take the shot with alot more accuracy because the huge scope filling torso is now much easier to hit because of the zoom bug (this all happened in the blink of an eye but it did work in my favour and i probably would of missed the shot if it didn't happen).

Lastly there is a much more annoying bug possibly to do with the level of detail for shadows, many people i know with very different specs to each other experience the same black screen bug, it's strange because the whole screen doesn't go black, all the HUD, '3D Spotting' (the orange triangles above enemies) and the overview map all stay onscreen, just everything inside the 3D world goes completely black, the only way to fix this is to turn shadows to medium or low, having them on high seems to cause a very high rate of this black screen bug thing... Also it doesn't matter if it's ATI or nVidia either, for those fans of you out there for one particular brand jeering the other one down for this problem, you're out of luck because it happens on both.

Closing statement
Well there isn't much else to say about this game, i picked it up for 12 bucks so in my eyes i definitely got my money's worth, however if you don't have the patience or time or courage to play online and just want a Single Player experience, i would personally recommend getting Medal of Honor instead, because Bad Company 2's Single Player campaign is much less exciting that the first game, or the aforementioned MOH.

Story: 5.5/10  
AI: 6/10
Sound: 10/10
Voice: 7.5/10    
Controls: 8/10    
Models: 7.5/10  
Level Design: 7/10  
Textures: 7/10  
Technical Complexity: 7.5/10    
Replayability (SP): 4/10   

Replayability (MP): 9/10   

Total (SP): 54.5/100

Total (MP): 59.5/100
Total Avg. Overall: 57/100

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review #6: Christmas Indie Games Special


Platform: PC/Steam    
Type of controller: 360 Controller/Mouse+KB    
Install time: Various  
Dependancies (Included in installation): DirectX, VC Redist 2008 etc  
Notes about installation: None    

Game website: http://store.steampowered.com   

Well hasn't this year gone by fast again... seems to get faster and faster as you get older!

This month's review is going to be a little different from the last, instead of reviewing one game i thought i would review 10 indie games instead!

Now because of the amount of games in this review, and because of their nature i won't be doing the deep review type stuff i normally do with the bigger name games, instead i will just give a brief synopsis of the game, what i found fun and not fun, and whether or not it was worth buying.

Ok for first up we have Chime.
This game took me by surprise, i was disappointed with the small amount of levels, but i really enjoyed this. If you have ever played Lumines or Tetris and enjoyed them, you will most likely find this enjoyable too.
Basically this is a beat/music game but like Lumines the beat of the music and the matching of blocks is not critical to the game, it's more of a secondary background feature.
Also it has a the Portal theme song as the final stage, which when you have the rounds set to 11 mins, can actually go for up to 14mins!
Overall this game was definately worth the couple of dollars i paid for it, which i got more enjoyment out of than say a cup of coffee (and i love coffee so that's saying something!)
Total: 7/10

Second on my list is The Undergarden.
No beating around the bush here, but this game is shit. Well to be fair the developers have done a good job on the art style, but my fairness ends there. This game was probably made for kids, which also makes it worse because the actual gameplay objective is still something i don't quite understand. I think you have to grab these glowing plant parts to use as weights with this bubble thing that grows around you when you press a button so i guess you could call this is a physics puzzler but i was so bored by this i gave up after the first 2 or 3 levels. This probably wasn't worth the couple of dollars it cost me.
Total: 3/10

Third one on the list is Zombie Driver.
I've actually had this game for quite some time now but it has been in my "pile of shame" for months and months, i didn't even open it up until a few days ago when the Steam Treasure Hunt objective came up i thought it would be a good chance to check it out.
The one thing i have a problem with in this game is the view, more times than i would like to admit, i felt that queezy motion sickness coming on and had to stop playing for 5mins and get my bearings. If you could imaging an RTS diagonal top down view fixated on your car, that is what the view style is on Zombie Driver. You speed through the pretty awesome environments splattering any zombies that get in your way, rescuing survivors from arbitrary numbers of zombies is a specific area. That's pretty much all there is to it, if i could get past the motion sickness feeling it might be a much better game!
Total: 5.5/10


Alright fourth one down we have The Polynomial.
Now this game is one for the trippers! Haha..
It's hard to actually class this is a game, it's more of a hybrid between a simple space shooter in 3D and a fractal generator/3D visualiser.
I have mentioned to a few friends of mine this game would be perfect for VDJing, because you can turn off all the 'game' elements and you fly around the awesome fractal visuals in first person.
As mentioned previously, you can also generate and save your own fractals as rendered images. Overall this game is hard to say if it was worth buying, if i ever had a party i would definately put this on a big screen and load the playlist of songs inside the game :)
Total: 6.5/10 (Hard to score this, i would say as a game itself 4/10 but as 3D visualiser 9/10)


Number five on my list is Droplitz.
This game was hard to get used to at first, but it's reminiscent of some games that have "hacking" puzzles to open doors and stuff, and by hacking i mean plumbing skills.
Basically you rotate discs on the board to get the balls to flow from the top 2 output pipes to the bottom 3 pipes. Once you have successfully made a connection, it locks those discs and once all the balls reach their destination, those discs are eliminated from the board and more "drop" down in a bejewelled type manner.
This game was alright i guess but overall not very entertaining and i would probably play it only if i had nothing else to waste time with.
Total: 5/10


Ok up next for number 6 we have Poker Night at the Inventory.
This is basically a celebrity poker game with 4 different video game celebrities from 4 different aspects of video gaming. You have Max from Sam & Max, Strong Bad from the Homestar Runner web comic series, The Heavy from Team Fortress 2 and Tycho from Penny Arcade.
This game is difficult to score because first impressions were awesome and the novelty of the dialogue between the characters wore off more and more as i played it more and more. If you can afford to spend the money to buy this game i would say its worth it just to hear all the banter between the characters once, but as a poker game itself it's not the best out there. I love Texas Hold 'Em poker but this game makes that style of poker look too easy. The computer characters hardly ever bluff, they are way too predictable but at the same time they can throw a curve ball and be very unpredictable, that would be ok if there was more of that unpredictable type stuff but it doesn't happen too often, and when it does no doubt you have bet all your money on your hand without realising that (most of the time Max) has a royal flush or something crazy and rare like that.
If you asked me to review this the day i got it i would of given it alot of praise, but after a while the dialogue repeats itself too much. (I want DLC characters for this!)
Total: 6/10

Seventh on my list is Bejewelled 3.
This is the superstar of all things Indie. I"m not sure if you could class this as Indie anymore, when bejewelled first came out the small Brittish studio/website Popcap were only just finding their feet in the casual market, now Bejewelled is their biggest seller and a multi million dollar franchise. I've only put this game on the list because it's basically the AAA version in the Indie game category.
If you have played Bejewelled, you will know what to expect from this. I will say that the new things they have added have been given alot of thought and they are executed well. The addition of being able to swap gems as the next lot of gems are falling has given the game a new "speedplay" angle where you are matching gems faster than the game can restock the board with them. There are some other gameplay modes added, like a campaign/quest mode, but i think this was added purely to bring people back from Puzzle Quest, which is my favourite derivative of Bejewelled (It's also made by Aussie developers -- "Infinite Interactive" !)
Overall this game was worth the money, even if i won't play it all the time, it's a great time waster and very addictive once you get started.
Total: 7/10


Ok number 8 we have AaAaAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity.
This is a strange game. The objective is to free fall through plates and rings until you reach the bottom, it reminded me alot of Pilot Wings on N64 but without the terrible graphics and handling. I'm not sure if i get this game, it's attempt at humour while sometimes amusing can be too obvious and it literally has signs saying "LOL LOOK HOW FUNNY WE ARE!!!111!ONE"
Ok fair enough i'm paraphrasing with that last one but they use that internet vernacular that some of us have grown to hate over the years, so be warned that this game is set for that special group of people who find that stuff funny or else you're going to be rolling your eyes more often than not.
Humor aside, the gameplay is good but the objectives can be very challenging and the controls don't help much either.
This is a game for people who love to fly through rings and stuff and play a whole game based around that concept, or else you won't find this very enjoyable.
Total: 4/10


Alrighty second last on my list for number 9 is Bob Came in Pieces.
Refer to my Undergarden review above. No actually to be fair this is a bit better than The Undergarden, at least this is slightly more challenging and visually simplistic and the goals are clear. You fly around in this little space ship, in a platformer type world, collecting parts for your space ship that you can interchange to help solve different physics puzzles in the levels. That's about all there is to it, and like The Undergarden, is probably aimed at a younger audience.
One thing i should mention was while using the 360 controller for this, my mouse was very buggy ingame, because when you try and attach or detach ship parts, you can't use the 360 controller, and the mouse was all screwy at the ship upgrade screens.
Total: 4.5/10


Ok last on my list is Shatter.
I think it might be best to break this mini review into 2 pieces, one for the story mode and one for the bonus mode.
As with most of the game above, i bought this game because of the Steam Treasure Hunt. Now i'm not saying that i bought all of these games simply to get the objective, but it was incentive to dive into the Indie game scene and checkout some of the lesser known titles. That said, the objective for this game was so 'balls ina  vice' difficult that i gave up after about 115 attempts, so in that respect it wasn't worth buying, however;

Story mode: This was pretty awesome, i have to say i'm so glad the game made you play through most of the story mode to unlock the bonus mode, or else this would of been a very short and derogatory review. The story mode in this game is basically like Peggle/Pong but with a twist, each level is designed very nicely, and the "balls" (i've heard them referred to as 'Spermoids') obey gravity and can be slightly controlled after you bounce them off the paddle. The graphics are quite good, almost like Geometry Wars but with solid textured objects instead of wireframe. The levels are challenging but not too difficult, and overall it was quite fun.

Bonus mode: Ugh well i really have to hold back with the swearing here, because this bonus mode is nothing short of ridiculous. Basically there are no blocks to 'shatter', and you start with 3 balls that get faster and faster with each paddle hit, you get 100,000 points for each time one of the balls hits the paddle, but because the paddle is curved, and because the balls obey gravity, soon enough you have this mess of speeding balls that you have to be so good with reflexes, but also your cognitive abilities need to be quite high to be able to track and predict where each ball is going to bounce, and where its going to be in the paddle end. Some people may find this thrilling and some may find it fun but the majority of what i've seen and read, most people find this frustrating and alot of those people are screaming on the forums that it's all down to chance/luck. In the game's defence, that's not entirely true, and also the people who are actually good at this mode claim it's all about reflexes which isn't entirely true either. It's a combination of your cognitive processing abilities, your hand eye coordination, luck and reflexes thrown into one, which for the average gamer like myself is too much to handle. I think Steam set the bar a little too high with the objective for this game, as 11 million points spread across 3 different maps with 100k per hit of the paddle sounds easy enough on paper, but that means you have to score an average of about 4 million points per map, which is 40 hits of the paddle. After about 20 hits the balls are going so fast that 98% of the time for me, i lost 2 or more balls around that 20th hit.

If you are going to get this game, disregard my Bonus mode review, and don't play it. Story mode is where the fun is at, and is the main feature of the game.
Total: (5/10 for story mode, 1/10 for bonus mode) 4.5/10

Alright that brings me to the end of this mini review set and to the end of the 2010 reviews from me.
I would like to also mention that i have been playing Metro 2033 lately and could possibly be my first review for 2011, we'll see.
I have also just purchased Bad Company 2 and a couple of other games during this Steam Christmas sale, and that i might be also reviewing them next year.

2011 is going to be an awesome year for gaming so i can't wait to review things that i am actually looking forward to, like Homefront, Brink, Deus Ex 3, Future Soldier and more!

I would also like to give a special thanks to Steam/Valve for making quite an innovative scheme with the Treasure Hunt, it has been a good excuse to checkout some of these Indie games, some of which i was quite pleasantly surprised with.

Also a special thanks to all my readers, have a safe and awesome Xmas, and hope to see you in the new year!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review #5: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2010


Platform: PC    
Type of controller: 360 Controller (Recommended)   

Install time: Approx 25mins  
Dependancies (Included in installation): DirectX9c,10,11, VCRedist 2008 

Notes about installation: Originally i thought i was having problems with the installation of this game however it turns out it was Win7 caching things it didn't need to. So aside from those problems on my end, installation went smooth.

Game website: http://hotpursuit.needforspeed.com    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need_for_Speed:_Hot_Pursuit_(2010_video_game) ----------------------------------------------------------------

My thoughts about the game;
Arcade racing games are the hardest to review i find, because they generally don't have a central story or even characters, and all that is left is basically the gameplay and presentation, so this week i will be omitting the 'Story & Character development' part of my review.
The very first thing i found strange about this game was there is no intro movie (However it does feature a cinematic teaser for Shift 2 -- set to come out in Spring 2011). For a game of this calibre, especially since the last official Hot Pursuit game was more than 8 years ago, i found the lack of any cinematic "FMV" to be quite strange.
The game shares alot of similarities with Burnout 3 and was heavily inspired by the original 3DO version of "Need for Speed".
If you have ever played a Burnout game before, you should know what to expect, however being one of those people who has played (many) Burnout games in the past, i was actually expecting a little bit more than what is offered. This isn't a huge problem, however the lack of any sort of Boost Chaining made me a little disappointed and the fact that they removed the option to turn off Takedown mini ingame cutscenes (which was in Burnout Dominator) was also disappointing and can make the game frustrating at times.
The range of cars in this game is also a bit what the fuck, because there are 51 "racer" cars, which are your typical run from the cops type of supercars and muscle cars, however the police car lineup is what surprised me, there are 49 total police cars to unlock in the game, which puts to shame any other game featuring playable police vehicles in the past...
This is bitter-sweet however, because the actual range of cars, while the selection is massive, the diversity of cars is lacking somewhat, and you can only use certain cars in certain 'event types'. This also bugged me a fair bit, while it makes sense to have the cars in some sort of category, you don't get much diversity in specs when you have to choose a car, for both racer and police career modes.. That basically means you can pick any car, and if you have enough skill, you will win the race regardless of what car you choose. I found this to be a too balanced portion of gameplay, where inbalance makes things more interesting.

Developer standpoint;

The difficulty in this game is (pardon the pun) difficult to judge. There is no difficulty options before events, and it seems that the grid of cars is split into different difficulty groups, which is randomised at the start of every race. As mentioned beforehand, you can basically choose any car and win the race if you have enough skill and it especially helps if you know the tracks and how the AI acts.
Some events are alot more difficult than others, for example in the Interceptor events (you as cop verse 1 racer) the time limits vary but are usually Gold: around 3mins Silver: Around 4 mins and Bronze: around 5mins, now with enough skill and decent timing, these Interceptor missions can be over in less than 1 min, however in the events called 'Preview' events, where you test-drive a car you don't own yet, you have to reach the finish line before the time runs out, and there are penalties for hitting anything... They can be the most difficult events, and the first time i played one it took at least 4 retries to nail the event and barely get a silver... It took another 4 different Preview events for me to actually get Gold... Like i said, some events are much easier than others, so expect to be restarting a few events simply because you were 0.75s behind in the time trails...

Animations and visual effects
The visual effects of this game are quite impressive, however the first thing i noticed was while driving a police car, and you have the emergency lights flashing, they will only light the world around you while at night, or if you are inside a tunnel, this causes some weird lighting effects when it's daytime, and you come out of a tunnel with almost blinding flashing red and blue lights into nothing, its like they are triggered to go from actual lights into just sprites as you exit the tunnel, which i found quite annoying (but you do get used it eventually).
The other visual effect i thought was impressive was if you scrape a car or a wall at night (or in tunnels -- see above), is there are orange (invisible) lights that strobe on the side of car where you are scraping a wall or something, i thought that was a good looking effect.
The one thing i don't like about this game that i thought could of been much better is the damage, its the one thing i liked about Burnout: Paradise, however they seem to have backtracked to an earlier technology because i've seen better damage on PS2 versions of Burnout (or even Flatout).
The other visual effect i thought was quite tacky but looks good at night, is the actual smoke from a burnout, you can tell they have gotten the idea straight out of GTA4 because you can even hold Brake + Accelerate to do the same wheel spin type thing, however the actual sprites of the smoke are good but the look of it seems cheap and tacky.

Level design
The level design in HP2010 is very impressive, however an old foe of mine is back again, clipping. Before i praise this game for how impressive the levels look i have to talk about how bad fucking clipping is getting in games. I have probably mentioned this in nearly every review i've done so far, but come on seriously i shouldn't have to mention clipping because as a hobbyist developer myself, clipping is the one thing that i would want to get done right, not just done. I wouldn't care about it so much if they had a better way of hiding the invisible walls, but nearly every developer these days don't bother with something to actually hide the fact there is an invisible wall there. For example i was taking a shortcut through this hotel thing i don't know, anyway there was a small gutter on the left, and i thought i would cut across it to save time but also because it appeared that the racing line went that way anyway, but no clipping had other plans for me, i slammed into the invisible wall right above the gutter, and proceeded to lose control and crashed, i also lost that race, so i went back to that spot, and what a surprise, the gutter would of only been about 3 inches high if that, and the bumper of my car was at least another 2 or 3 inches higher than the gutter, so basically they couldn't even be bothered to either put a higher wall or actually let me drive across the small piece of sidewall.

Now onto my praise of these levels, wow just wow, these are some very good looking maps, well to be more precise, it is just 1 big map, actually reminded me of the Just Cause 2 map, crossed with Burnout Paradise, and basically all other Hot Pursuit games aswell. There is something familiar about all the landscapes yet fresh and very good looking. I want to make a special mention of the waterfalls here, because they are some of the best distant waterfalls i've ever seen in a game, for a few moments when i first came around a long sweeping corner and saw that beautiful backdrop landscape, i thought it was a video texture for a moment, but it wasn't until i started getting closer that i realised it was some sort of particle emitter, i was actually able to get close enough to see what it was made of, and believe me it looked 50 times better from a distance than up close.

Sound design
Haha well the sound design in this game is quite over the top, i mean everything sounds great, however i suggest you turn down the volume in options before playing, at least to about 80-85, because if left default they are somehow louder than any other sound on your computer...
The amusing part about the sound design of this game seems to be almost a tongue in cheek response to something the community may have said to Criterion about their previous games, or more simply Criterion just have a fetish for 'whoosh' sounds for every single moving thing in the game and menus lol.
I am not exaggerating here, i suspect this game has at least 10,000 sound files if not more, because everything has a sound effect, and while that might have been what they were aiming for, it gets a bit old fast.
The music of this game is something that disappointed me aswell, while it was good to see local lads Pendulum get a couple of tracks on there, that's basically all i can remember, and the other tracks just scream of generic rock/metal.. I mean even Burnout Dominator on PSP had a much bigger and better selection of music than this game does, and Burnout Dominator is 15 times smaller than this game in MB size.
Also, where is the custom tracks feature? I don't get why something like this was removed, because it was a faily big feature of both previous Hot Pursuit games and Burnout games. Music is essential to the atmosphere of a video game, regardless of the genre, and it's something i feel Criterion have overlooked.

Misc stuff
Because there is no point in including a 'Story & Character development' section for this review, i thought i would put a 'Misc stuff' section because i still have some more miscellaneous things to say about the technical stuff in this game.

I hate being forced to watch every screen.. and this game excels at that and then some. Yes you can skip the opening cutscene from every event thank god, however what you can't skip is things like unlocking new content, which you will do alot of, and you also can't skip or disable the takedown cameras (as mentioned previously). If i was able to skip these screens and forced cutscenes it would shorten the time i play this game in a session, and personally i would feel more immersed in the game if all i had to wait for was loading screens.

Another thing that really bothered me considering this is a AAA video game title made in 2010, is that there are only 3 views for racing, bumper-cam, hood-cam or rearview-cam. The lack of a cockpit cam seems to be almost a deliberate move, i suspect because it would of been too difficult to design interirors for the police vehicles, so to only have cockpit view on racer vehicles would of seemed bias and unfair, so it was most likely removed for those reasons, because i know from experience that coding additional views for a racing game is quite easy if you know what Vectors are.

I should also mention that i played this in offline mode, because my internet was disabled for undisclosed reasons. This meant that i couldn't check out the Autolog feature, which is a big part of the game, and also that Free race mode is completely pointless in offline mode. This bugged me alot, because not everyone who buys this game is going to buy it exclusively for MP, personally i have always enjoyed the SP careers and free race events in racing games before, and MP is just a bonus to me, however this game is heavily centred around the Autolog feature and it's online modes, so excluding something like AI from free race is just silly, because i was really looking forward to just cruising around as a police car and arresting random racers, with no real objectives, however that's not possible in offline mode, and to make it worse, the game mentions nothing of this, so you might be cruising around for 45mins before you realise that you aren't going to get to chase anyone because it seems to be an MMO mode for online players.

The exclusion of any sort of vehicle upgrades or aesthetic addons (like vinyls, or body kits etc) was disappointing aswell, i was kind of expecting not to have any performance upgrades because they seem to have forgotten or stopped caring about that aspect of the Need For Speed series, which is also a big shame because that is an extensive and awesome feature of the NFS Underground games.
You can't even have custom colours on your car, you can only choose from the 6-10 presets they give you per car (which also change depending on the car).

The last beef i have with this game is the notable absence of any Ferrari's. For an EA published (and probablt funded) game, i don't see how they couldn't afford the license for the cars, so that's probably not it, maybe Ferrari didn't want their cars to be involved with a cops & robbers type game, who knows.

Last but certainly not least, i would like to give credit to Criterion for finally adding different lights & siren options that have been badly needed in Hot Pursuit games for a long time. Unfortunately i think they may have stolen this idea from a mod for GTA4 called "ELS", which enables similar siren options with police vehicles (actually ELS has alot more options to do with the lights aswell as the sirens).
There are basically 3 modes with an additional short burst siren. With the 360 controller you hold the Y button to disable/enable the lights & sirens, when they are active you can press the Y button again to cycle through the 3 different siren modes, additionally with them all off and disabled, you can tap the Y button and it will do the short burst siren which i thought was pretty neat. The other cool thing they added which also seems straight from GTA4 is the ability to turn your headlights on and off, it is nice to have a whole button dedicated to this (X on 360 controller), however it seems like a waste of a button, which could of been used for other things like i don't know, say holding it enables your emergency lights with no sirens or something, that would of been nice.

Closing statement
Well it's hard to really say much more about this game that i haven't said above, however i would like to commend Criterion for having the balls to go back to NFS's roots and create a very familiar yet somehow refreshingly new NFS expereince.
Lots of future games could learn alot from this game, however i think that Criterion should also learn that "going back to your roots" doesn't have to mean you somewhat limit the gameplay options you implement. I'm also struggling to think of a score for this because usually i rate it out of 100, with broken down sections out of 10 (as shown below). As i haven't fully finished the game yet (i've completed about 27% of the total game, played about 6 hours worth but that also includes driving around in free race for 50mins looking for any sort of opponents and realising that there weren't any).
The other thing i wanted to say was that for a gamer like myself, living in Australia definitely has alot of downfalls, because from what i can work out, the Online part of this game, which is a big chunk of the game, is hosted on 1 central server, or possibly 1 regional central server, meaning that even if there was an Oceania server, it would most likely be hosted in China or Japan, and for an Aussie like myself, that's not good for online. So even if i was able to test the online capabilities, i think it would be alot like NFS: World was online, laggy, unresponsive and almost impossible to actually enjoy a decent match even against local friends.

Story: NA/10 
Handling: 6/10
AI: 8/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Voice: 5/10    
Controls: 6/10    
Models: 8.5/10  
Level Design: 9/10  
Textures: 8/10  
Technical Complexity: 5/10    
Replayability: 6/10    

Total: 68/100

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review #4: James Bond 007: Blood Stone


Platform: PC
Type of controller: 360 Controller
Install time: Approx 15mins  
Dependancies (Included in installation): DirectX 9c 

Notes about installation: Installation was quite unique for this game, well as unique as an installation can get. A Flash video plays in the background while installing, complete with sound. It is quite artistic (its an "infinite fractal zoom" technique going from one concept art to the next by zooming into the center of the frame). Other than that, setup went quite smoothly.   

Game website: http://bloodstonegame.com
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Stone_(video_game) ----------------------------------------------------------------

My thoughts about the game;
I didn't have high hopes for this game... considering the Bond Game track record, i was expecting a mediocre game at best, a complete flop at worst.
I was pleasantly surprised after playing this game for a little while... my initial impressions weren't too good, which they probably should of focused on a little more, but the game gets better as you continue playing and learning more about the core gameplay.
First off i recommend this game to anyone who enjoys the Splinter Cell series of games, there are countless moments throughout the game that reminded me of Splinter Cell, and a little bit of Syphon Filter aswell.

This is also an original story created by the developers in conjunction with Ian Flemming and MGM Entertainment, therefore the developers have had alot more time to work on the story and gameplay instead of rushing to get something done for a tied in movie release. This really shows in the game because eventually about 45mins into the game i actually felt like i was playing a Bond movie... there have only been 2 Bond games that i've played that truly felt like that, the obvious being GoldenEye 64 and the other being Everything Or Nothing on Gamecube (which coincidently was also an original storyline created by the developers of that game).

It took me approximately 7 hours to complete on easy, however i was interrupted several times on Steam while playing, and that time is including watching all the cutscenes aswell, so my guess is around 5.5-6 hours worth of gameplay, which isn't too bad for this kind of game and considering the movies only go for about 2 hours each.

Developer standpoint;

Although i haven't tried the other difficulties yet, easy was quite exciting enough for me to not be bored with enemies, i died a few times here and there, some parts i had to restart (a mission or two failed because i didn't know what to do) but on the whole it was challenging enough to play through on easy the first time around.
This is one of the only games were i was impressed by the enemy AI, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it's also not as broken as many other games especially stealth games in the action genre. The only thing that is missing is the enemies ability to hear you, but that would make the game much more bias towards the enemies and honestly that might have ruined the experience. Enemies for once have a proper "cone" of vision that they can see, and although the player cant see that cone, i could tell alot of effort was put into getting that part right, and it really does work well.

Animations and visual effects
The animations in this game were also very impressive, aside from the lip/mouth movement animations which were a bit dated, but overall most of the animations were very well done.

Visual FX in this game were kind of all over the place, you have the intense action sequences, that are quite impressive, however you have things like fire, dirt and dust that look like they were made back in 2003...
That was the only real issue with the VFX, the particles.

Level design
Some of the levels in this were Modern Warfare level of impressive. Some areas i deliberately took longer to finish just so i could soak up the atmosphere. I haven't been this impressed with level design (in a Bond game) since GoldenEye 64, these were truly great atmospheric environments, with some places feeling like a movie (Construction site in Istanbul, the rainy rooftops of Bangkok back-streets and the Siberian biochemical refinery -- all top notch design).

Sound design
The sound design is something that doesn't really need to be mentioned, it's a Bond game, the voices are acted by their real life counterparts (Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench as M, Joss Stone [who sings the theme song] as the Bond girl & a sort of sidekick Nicole Hunter).
The sound FX and music were also great quality as i expected with a Bond game, like i said, this sort of thing comes with the territory, i would of been very surprised if the sound design wasn't top notch because of the franchise popularity.

Story and character development
Well as previously mentioned, because this game is an original storyline (possibly based off one of the many books, but not based off a movie) the developers actually had ample time to get the story & character development right, and they did.
Just a brief synopsis of the story;
The player teams up with Nicole Hunter (hired by MI6) to stop a plot involving biochemical WMDs. Set across six locations: Athens, Istanbul, Monaco, Siberia, Bangkok, and Burma, you fight a group of terrorists led by a man named Pomerov. Later as the story progresses, you find that there is a deeper scheme going on here, and while Pomerov is your first target (and where i thought the game would end) it turns out that he is only a stepping stone to a bigger target (which i won't spoil). There are decent car & boat chase scenes, awesome rooftop chases that if done right, has some of the best melee combat in a game since Colosseum: Road to Freedom (PS2 gladiator game).

Closing statement
This game is definitely worth playing, however i don't think it's worth the 90 dollar price tag. Personally i think it's worth about 1/3 of that price (it has Multiplayer aswell, 3 different game modes like TDM, CTF and objective based [not exactly co-op but more like Gold rush from Bad Company -- 1 team tries to obtain an objective, the other tries to stop them]).
If you enjoy a good stealth game, you should enjoy this. You may need to give the game a chance though, because the earlier levels aren't as impressive as the later ones, especially when the stealth kills become increasingly difficult to achieve, but are very possible.
That's another thing i wanted to mention, the animations for Takedowns (one button melee kills) change all the time, depending on your stance and the enemies position at the time, i counted at least 40 different takedown animations throughout the game, which was impressive because they didn't get old watching the same one over and over.
To put this simply, i enjoyed this game alot more than i enjoyed the previous title i reviewed, Singularity.

Story: 6.5/10  
AI: 7/10
Sound: 7/10
Voice: 8/10    
Controls: 5/10    
Models: 5.5/10  
Level Design: 6.5/10  
Textures: 6/10  
Technical Complexity: 6.5/10    
Replayability: 4/10    

Total: 62/100

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review #3: Singularity


Platform: PC    
Type of controller: Mouse+KB    
Install time: Approx 14mins  
Dependancies (Included in installation): PhysX, DirectX 9c 

Notes about installation: Installer was laggy, heard windows error sound early during installation, no progress shown until after waiting 7mins on a black screen.   

Game website: http://www.singularity-game.com    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singularity_(video_game) ----------------------------------------------------------------

First and foremost, why do games these days insist on installing pre-requisites when i already have them? (PhysX, DirectX), surely the developers could easily code something to check and see if i have the latest version, therefore skipping that part of the installation....

My thoughts about the game;

This is another recent-ish game that i've steered clear of trailers & previews not because i was looking forward to it, simply because i had a hunch that it wasn't going to be very good, and surprise surprise, that hunch was spot on.

This game is trying so hard to be scary that some parts are actually laughable, "BOO" scares may have worked 10 or 15 years ago, but these days i can't help but laugh when a game tries to be scary by doing this.
It also tries to make the player care about the 2 main characters aswell, by dropping (less than) subtle hints to the player about these 2 persons life before the game story starts...

Basically, this game is like TimeShift + Fallout 3 + Half Life 2 + S.T.A.L.K.E.R + F.E.A.R...
I know what you're thinking, but i loved those games (or at least some), why is that a bad thing?
Well it wouldn't be so bad if the whole plot and mechanics were different from those games, but the game manages to rip off ideas from F.E.A.R within about 5mins of playtime.
When F.E.A.R first came out, the whole switching from one dimension to another, usually with Alma being in the room and with a heavily colour corrected overlay, was infact scary... it was a fresh idea on setting atmosphere to be frightening and fearful.
Now that i and most other gamers have at least played F.E.A.R once, you won't be really frightened or scared by this tactic anymore, because in this game, that mechanic doesn't work as well as F.E.A.R did and therefore isn't scary and comes across as a direct rip off.

So basically the plot is the US military spots a electro magnetic disturbance over some part of Russia (yeah i know, yet another sci fi/horror game set in Russia),
You and your team are sent in (actually just 2 of you) to investigate... i'm probably missing central plot points at the moment but to be honest i was kind of bored with the opening cutscene because it's filled with scientific inaccuracy. That would be ok if the game was more Sci-Fi than anything else, which i would normally let slide and just enjoy the fiction, but they try so hard to be a horror game that the Sci-Fi elements come across as them trying to make it sound real, which ruins the whole "Fi" part of "Sci-Fi".

So your helicopter crashes near the disturbance, you wake up with the whole surrounding area covered in flames, which i must add was quite a cheap and tacky effect, i've seen better fire FX in games that this game is ripping off.. at least have the decency to create some different or better than what you are ripping off, anyway this is where i started to really get an idea of how non-original this game was going to be, and i haven't even got a weapon yet!.

One thing that really really annoyed me about this game, and so many other games before this, is clipping.
Yes those invisible walls that are in painfully obvious places, that restrict the players ability to actually explore anywhere, are littered throughout this game.
Near the start, while i was walking around trying to find what to do, i came across at least 3 major clips that are so obvious they might aswell not be invisible. The developers should at least try and cover up every clip with some sort of obstacle... instead of going for "Looks > Gameplay".

The clipping wouldn't be so bad if this game wasn't so linear... I don't mind linear games, take HL2 for example, which has the same level of linearity but is executed much better, the clipping is much cleaner and less noticeable and over all a much better story and characters aswell.

The characters is this game were quite strange aswell, after 2 hours of playing i still wasn't sure if i was rooting for the good guys or bad guys or what... the game struggles to establish any real relationship with the 2 other lead characters, one being your team-mate who you meet up with shortly after the crash, and the other being the scientist who invented all this technology that you slowly start to learn about and using during the course of the game. I can't really mention the main antagonist because he is only seen once within the first 90mins of the game or so, and therefore i'm only assuming he is the antagonist because *spoiler alert* he executes your team-mate in front of you, and is a typical cliché Russian general, who replies to the line your team-mate says "What about the Geneva convention?" and the general shoots him execution style in the forehead and says afterwards "I threw that book away years ago" or something to that effect. Which pretty much established his character as the antagonist and actually one of the only characters i was actually interested in, which is unusual because he had no setup and no mention prior to that point, or maybe once in one of the hundreds of pointless "notes" you find on the ground.

That's another important part i should mention i was pissed off with, these so called item pickups...
Seriously game, if you're going to copy something else like Fallout 3, at least have the balls to be different, there were times when i would of liked to explore around for some of these items, but the game is so linear and some parts are filled with AI enemies that you don't have the time or health to wonder around and collect these much needed pickups (there is a cash type system in the game too and that's the pickups i'm talking about, the notes are 99% useless and some were just downright stupid).

Developer standpoint;

This game's difficulty is not something i have much to say about, if you've played any Unreal Engine 3 game before, you should have a general idea of what difficult means in that engine.
There are really bad hitboxes for enemies, the weapons you use have a drastically different effect depending on what weapon it is, what distance you are from them and if the game feels like giving you a headshot kill or not, when you've aimed for their head with 5 shots, and 4 have hit their legs or something silly like that.

Overall in the 2 hours or so that i played this game, enemies were defeatable, but some were challenging which is a good thing when it's set on "easy", some of the puzzles were quite easy and the direction of the game well that's a whole other paragraphed rant!

Animations and visual effects
The character animation in this game was quite good, however some other things, like the animated fire effects was quite dodgy and overall looked very dated amongst the rest. There isn't much more to say about the animations, they are good but not great.

Level design
The level design is probably the strongest point of this game, and considering i know some of the level designers from my days back at a certain unnamed mapping forum, i would say that this game has had the most attention put into the level design.
Unfortunately, this game is just another inclusion to the list of games that have great level design but the rest of the game is poorly designed or in this game's case, just not up to the same level of detail as the level design is.

Sound design
This is a hard one to judge, if i was commenting on just the clarity and volume of the game's sound, this would get a 0/10 because i had to turn my 5.1 Home Theatre speakers to double what they normally are, and take it from me, that's very loud. It was still a bit low even after cranking the system right up, which annoyed the hell out of me because whenever i would get a message on Steam the sound would be very very loud.
The actual sound design though i suppose is pretty average, there isn't really anything bad about it, just that i had a bad first impression by it and struggle to praise it at all.

Story and character development
As mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the character development is barely non existent... Like i said previously, the game is trying too hard to make you care about the characters but it just doesn't work for me... Maybe if i wasn't going to review the game, and i was drunk i might not have cared and just played it for fun, but i can tell this is one of those games that you're supposed to take seriously, and it struggled to really pull me into the story of the game at all.

Closing statement
Overall, the game tries too hard to be something it's not, it tries too hard to immerse the player in a beautifully crafted environment but has nothing to keep the player interested once in that environment, as a level designer myself, i was kept interested by the level design alone, but once the novelty of that wore off as the copy-pasta effect started to become obvious, but that is not enough for any other non-designer player to be interested enough to play this game.
It had alot of potential from what i can see, especially with the almost Modern Warfare quality of the level design, but is held back by obvious clipping, inconsistent visual effects & generally a forced atmosphere with no real character development or relationship with the player.
I applaud Raven Software for their attempt to stop into the AAA market with this title, it was an ambitious move, and one that i hope they learn from, that is of course if the game is a flop, and they lose money from, or else just like EA, they think the success of their first mainstream title means they have made something worth basing all future games off, which would be very bad for their company but especially bad for all us gamers out there, which we will suffer from the same cliché gameplay and design from them for years to come.

Story: 3/10  
AI: 3/10
Sound: 2/10
Voice: 4/10    
Controls: 6/10    
Models: 6/10  
Level Design: 9/10  
Textures: 5/10  
Technical Complexity: 6/10    
Replayability: 1/10    

Total: 45/100

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review #2: Darkest of Days

Platform: PC    
Type of controller: Mouse+KB    
Install time: Approx 5mins  
Dependancies (Included in installation): Prereqs  
Notes about installation: Originally this game didn't work in my version of Vista (nVidia OpenGL driver kept crashing. However it works flawlessly in Windows 7)

Game website: http://www.darkestofdays.com    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darkest_of_Days


My thoughts about the game;
Darkest of days was something that i had been interested in play for a long time, however because it didn't work on my 64bit Vista i haven't had the chance to play it for over a year....

That aside, first impressions of the game are quite good, from what i had heard and read you are sent back in time to "correct" the mistakes of history. You fight in olden day battles with either period or futuristic weapons.

This game delivers exactly on that promise, however don't be fooled into thinking that there are going to be a variety of different time preiod battles to fight. The story is set out like a tree based story, meaning for the first few chatpers you choose whether to fight and look for someone in the American civil war, or look for a different person during the first world war (Russians vs Germans -- You are posing as russian soldier)

The game doesn't stray from these 2 time periods very often, which is a shame because there are many other great historic battles that would be awesome to fight in but probably would of made the game take alot longer to develop and also much larger in terms of GB size.

One thing i must mention before i get into the technical stuff about the game, the first surprise was the "leader" of the group you work for seems to be a computer by the name of "Mom". The voice of this computer is actually an Australian woman who the voice of i knew immediately but couldn't think of her name... It turns out this actress is actually the voice on the government phone line of "Your call is important to us, please hold and an operator will be with you shortly to take your call".. Not sure how she landed this job i mean the developers aren't Australian and frankly it's a weird choice for the character aswell because it just doesn't seem to fit the profile of this computer. I won't spoil it but you will find out what i mean if you play through the game...

Developer standpoint;

The difficulty in this game is quite good. I play most games on easy, not because i suck but because i like to progressively finish a game, if it's worth it. First i'll complete the story on easy, then medium, then hard. However it's rare these days for me to go back to even finish it again on medium.

Enemies on easy are still challenging on this game, but not so much that it becomes bullshit for an "easy" difficulty like many other games do these days.
Even on easy, you will still die occasionally and the game is kind of punishing if you go in guns blazing and rush everywhere. Some missions you can do this others not so much.

Animations and visual effects
The animations are top notch... well right up until the characters actually stark speaking... then you will see the lip syncing in this is horrible.. But the actual character design and the way they move around the world is quite good. Another thing this game's engine was designed for was rendering hundreds of AI characters onscreen at once, all with their own individual AI and pathways... Considering this game doesn't lag at all (on my i7 i have everything on max and @ 1080p) is a real testament to this engine.

The game shows this off in a subtle way aswell, with the American civial war parts especially...
At Custer's Last Stand you get to be in a massive row while you line up opposing the rebels on other side of a ditch in a cornfeild.. that part for me was like i wanted to clap for the developers for doing a great job. They also disable the ability to run around at those points and just enable you to look around which i thought was another nice touch to make it seem more historically accurate.

The visual effects are also pretty impressive, the environments suit the time setting and the explosions and debris are about as good as you would expect from a not-quite AAA title.

The environments for me worked very well, parts where you're chasing indians through a gulley and in creeks was very immersive. The forests and cornfeilds and even the trenches in the WW1 scenarios were all very well made. I don't think i noticed anything "wrong" with the environments at all, i thought everything was quite well designed.

One thing i should note about the environments, especially the "headquarters" part which is in the present timeline, is bloody clipping. Yes for those of you who read my Kane & Lynch review you will know that i hate it when developers just slap in player clips around the world and expect you to just not walk there..
The main one that annoys me in this is at the friggen headquarters, i mean that is where the player is going to spend the most time... And they cant even fix the little pad thing where the big time bubble thing appears before every mission.

For those of you who haven't played it, the time bubble thing is in the center of the very small HQ room, sitting ontop of a circular platform which has 3 steps going to the top of the platform at 4 sides of the circle... Now you would think you can just walk up those steps, oh no you have to fucking jump up every time... i found that the most irritating part of this game..

Sound design
The sound design in this game (with the exception of the voice of the computer), is also very well done.
The period weapons actually sound like period weapons, and the futuristic guns have that distict futuristic style that many of you may be familiar to from games like HL2 or Halo...

The one sound that i thought was really awesome and actually has scared me on occasion, was the "snap" of the time bubble thing appearing... You never know where its going to exactly appear at the end of a mission, and sometimes you go to where you think it will appear and it snaps right behind you and makes you jump (especially if you have loud surround sound like me lol)

Story and character development
To give this game credit, time travel stories are always going to be full of plot holes and parts that don't make alot of sense.
This game has those same problems but overall masks them fairly well. The main problem i have with the story is it's quite cliche however i give it credit for being an original time travel idea, albiet a pretty corny and cliche one but original none-the-less.

The character development in this however is not quite up to speed and i've struggled to find any sort of caring for the main character. Like some other games such as Half-Life, the main protagonist is mute, at least for most of the story. You are a "Mystery of time" like other members of KronoTek (the organisation you work for).
There are some great original ideas for the consequences of going back in time and changing things, however they don't exactly make alot of sense and the consequences aren't that drastic.
In relation to the above, the way the game handles these history altering actions is quite original however the way it punishes you is not as drastic as you might think. All that really happens when you kill someone with a historic importance (they have a blue aura), is a couple of time travelling soldiers appear and then try to kill you. Now if you do this early on the game they will most definately kill you. But in the later stages of the game, you are given the ability to kill these soldiers because of some intel you have obtained. So if you have any futuristic weapons and you kill a historic VIP and those soliders appear, you can just kill them and take their guns, leaving no consequence for your actions apart from a descreased number of XP at the end of the mission.

Closing statement
This game is worth playing however i wouldn't pay too much for it. I would say this game is worth about 15-20USD at the most, but it's definately entertaining and fun to go back in time and fight in olden day battles with both period and futuristic weapons.
One last thing about this game that is unique and that i found to be a little confusing at first but when you get used to it you will probably think its a nice addition;
The reload system. It's a little difficult to explain but you know those quick time events some games have where you have to press a button at a certain time when a bar reaches a certain spot? Bowling games and sports games have this alot.. well the reload system in this game has that, it's a radial green bar in the middle of your screen, and when you press reload, the bar starts to fill and you can press Mouse1 when its at a certain spot and it will reload quicker than just pressing reload and not worrying about the bar.
However if you do press mouse1 and its not inside the little spot the gun will jam for a short time and you wont be able to fire at all, so make sure you practise with this mechanic at times when you wont be shot to peices because of a gun jamming.
All in all i would say it only takes about 3 or 4 missions to nail this feature and you wont need to worry about jamming again (it's not like FarCry 2 thank god)

Story: 4.5/10  
AI: 4/10
Sound: 7/10
Voice: 6.5/10    
Controls: 7/10    
Models (Characters): 6.5/10  
Models (Props): 8/10  
Textures: 7.5/10  
Technical Complexity: 6/10    
Replayability: 5.5/10    

Total: 62.5/100