Monday, 30 July 2012

Now Playing: Super Street Fighter IV AE

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Now Playing: The Elder Scrolls V

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 23 July 2012

Damage Report

So the Steam Summer sale has ended, and my wallet can rest easy once again. I’m very pleased that the damage was nowhere near as extensive as the winter sale last year. With tremendous self control, I limited myself to only purchasing games on my wish list, and only then if the reductions were significant.

I was tempted by several other titles, but with steely nerves I resisted. My backlog was intimidating enough already, without making it even worse. So what did I pick up?

Well, I kicked things off with the Alan Wake Bundle. I’d already completed the core game on the 360 after a friend got it for me. I really quite enjoyed it, so I was happy to pick up the PC version with all the DLCs included and the American Nightmare spin off. Next up was Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. I’ve not played a Street Fighter game in years, but recently I had an itch to try out one of the new ones, and at 6 quid this looked like a great investment.

Batman: Arkham City was my next purchase. I thought Asylum was excellent, so I’m really looking forward to playing this. And to round things off I finally picked up Crysis. I played a demo of this back when it was released, but my PC at the time simply wasn’t up to the job of running it well even on the lowest settings, so I never got the full game. I always said I’d get around to playing it eventually though, and finally the day has come.

So yeah, it’s not as bad as I expected and I’m really looking forward to playing some of these titles. I really have to focus on finishing the draft of my book first though!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Now Playing: Deadly Shadows

Is Deadly Shadows a worthy entry into the Thief franchise? Definitely! Is it as good as the previous games? Nope! So let’s look at the negatives first. The levels of Deadly Shadows are very small and linear compared to the first two games, with few opportunities to approach missions in a variety of ways. They are still, overall, well designed and varied in content and location, but the size is an issue, especially when they are broken down into even smaller areas punctuated with irritatingly frequent loading screens.

What else? No rope/vine arrows! Climbing gloves seem to be provided as an alternative but are just plain rubbish. Length / challenge – Deadly Shadows is shorter than the previous games and feels less challenging. Okay, so what did I like about it? Well, as with the previous titles, the world, atmosphere, music, sound and VA is all top notch.

The story isn’t quite as good as the previous games, and the ending is a bit rubbish, but it does the job okay. I also loved the chance to actually explore the City between missions, finding side jobs and loot, and visiting fences and shops as I travel.

So yeah, if you liked Thief 1 & 2 you’ll definitely get a kick out of Deadly Shadows, even though it doesn't quite match up to them.


Friday, 13 July 2012

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD

So I’m half way through Part 3. It took a little longer than I expected to reach this point. I had a lot of unforeseen delays crop up which has put me behind schedule. I’m now planning to have the first draft completed by the 29th at the latest.

But at least Part 3 has developed better than I thought it would. I’ve got a few concerns about a couple of dialogue heavy scenes, but those will be edited down later. Better they’re on the page than just in my head though. At least I’ve got something to work with now.

I also keep wondering if the book as it is will be too short. It feels short, although I’m aiming for something like 70k words. I think it’s because the story is so fast paced. On the one hand, I like that and I hope it’s as gripping as I intended. On the other hand though, I hope it’s not so fast that people don’t get a good feel for the characters. Because if people don’t connect with the characters, they won’t care what happens next anyway.

Even once the first draft is complete there will still be a ton of work to do on it before I let anyone near it. Because it’s so different in style and tone to my previous stuff it’s hard to gauge how it will be received. I think if I’ve pulled it off right it should be pretty damn cool. If not…

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Now Playing: Far Cry 2

Everyone Hates You: The Game is pretty darn good. But my initial enthusiasm kind of waned over the course of the game. You see, Far Cry 2 does a lot of things right but it sadly falls short of greatness due to four unfortunate issues. Set in a large, fairly varied slice of Africa, you play as a merc for hire, with the overall goal of assassinating an arms dealer.

There’s a ton of content to be found in the game’s beautiful, open world even if you only focus on the primary missions. So let’s look at the positives. I found Far Cry 2 to have extremely satisfying, free flowing combat. I actually enjoyed the collectibles in the game and I liked the weapon upgrade/purchase system.

Enemy AI is also pretty decent, as they flank, take cover and even retreat in response to your actions. There’s a lot of little touches that I like in this game. I love the fact that guns can jam or even back-fire on you and I love the DIY surgery you perform to heal yourself.

Okay, onto the negatives. One: Everyone hates you. People will drop whatever they’re doing to mercilessly hunt you down. It feels a bit silly when some guy in a crappy car passes you on the road, immediately does a U turn and starts trying to ram your heavily armed assault truck off the track. Two: A very repetitive mission structure. So yeah, lots of content, but practically zero variety.

Three: Re-spawning guards. It wouldn’t be so bad if they re-spawned every few days of game time, but they literally re-spawn when you’re twenty feet down the road. Four: The lack of a decent fast travel option. Combined with the constant re-spawning and the angry NPC populace, and getting to and from mission areas becomes a really painful chore.

But you know, despite these irritating issues, I still had a lot of fun with Far Cry 2. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but the game did surprise me in a good way. It’s definitely worth checking out if you think you can live with the flaws.


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Rome 2 Announced

I think I need a new PC.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Now Playing: The Metal Age

Thief 2 is an excellent, engaging, atmospheric game. You play as Garrett, a master thief drawn into a conspiracy that threatens his world. The story is great, with better pacing than Thief 1 and a more menacing antagonist. The level design, overall, is also of a greater quality in Thief 2, featuring larger, more expansive environments. The supernatural elements of Thief have been toned down a lot in its sequel.

As a result, I think Thief 2 lacks the creepy, tense atmosphere of the original, especially during the later levels. I was also a little disappointed at how few of the levels are primarily about, well, theft. Garrett takes on an almost ‘secret agent’ type role over the course of the game, and stealing gold and trinkets becomes the secondary objective in many of the missions. I also didn’t find the mechanical creations as threatening as the ghosts, zombies or creatures of Thief 1. Like Thief 1, the final mission is also rather lacklustre.

But these issues are largely just personal niggles, and it’s still an amazing title. It combines great gameplay, sound, story, VA and music to create something quite unique and special. All that’s left now is to play Deadly Shadows to round off the trilogy.