Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Now Playing: Lost in Space Engine

Space Engine. It’s not really a game. But it’s free, and it’s pretty damn amazing. Let me quote from the website -

SpaceEngine- is a free space simulation software that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, starting from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by human astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets!

The Universe. It’s big. Like, really big. And with Space Engine that sense of scale hits home hard. Space is vast and beautiful, and there are sights to see which will really blow your mind - watching a galaxy rise in the sky from the surface of a dead world on the dark edges of the void. Or advancing time and watching three stars engage in a deadly orbital dance that will last for millions of years.

If you have any interest at all in space, and if your system can run it, you should definitely check it out.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Long Watch

I haven’t been very productive these last few weeks. I guess because I’ve not focused my attention on just one or two things, but rather on lots of things, and as a result I’ve not made much progress in any of them.

On the writing side, I’ve got some good feedback on the first draft of WFTD. I’ve made a few pages of notes on things to work on. There’s a lot to do, but I’m going to take a break for a bit so I can go back to it fresh. I wanted to do some work on my other projects, but I can’t decide where to start. I’ve got drafts of three books in varying states of polish I want go back to, I’m just not sure which to go with.

I’ve also been decorating again. That’s taken up a chunk of time and there’s more yet to come. I’ve also not completed any new games recently. I had the urge to start a new Empire campaign, which then inspired me to return to Shogun 2 and finally play the ROTS DLC I downloaded over a year ago or something crazy like that. I’ve also still been playing Arkham City, hunting down the last of the collectibles, as well as starting a game of Dead Space and of course, CS:GO launched recently, so I’ve been playing that too.

So much for my efforts to cut down that backlog.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Now Playing: Arkham City

Arkham Asylum was excellent, and Arkham City is even better. It’s exactly what a sequel should be. It builds upon everything the first game did right and then gives us even more.

But there are a couple of things I think Asylum did better. One: Pacing. Asylum had a near perfect pace to the progression of the story and the unlocking of tools and features. Two: Plot. The plot of Asylum was a lot tighter and more focused. But Asylum was a lot more linear compared to City, so that’s not exactly surprising. While I love the large, open arena of Arkham City, which is absolutely packed with content, it does mean the main plot becomes a little overwhelmed by all of the additional content.

With so many distractions between plot locations, the story does suffer as you get caught up for hours hunting for collectibles, solving riddles, completing challenges or finding bonus missions and you sometimes stop and think ‘hang on, wasn’t there somewhere I was supposed to be?’

The story is good though, although I’d probably rate Asylum’s just a little higher as City’s seems to meander around a little too much in the middle. But like I said, this ‘negative’ if you can even call it that, is largely due to the content rich playground providing so much entertainment between mission objectives.

With more enemy types, an expanded range of quick fire gadgets, interactive environments and new combo moves, the combat system is as fluid and enjoyable as it was in Asylum, but much more tactical than before. But that’s not all. In Arkham City you can also play as Catwoman at certain points throughout the story, with her own enjoyable style of traversing the environment, her own combat style and even gadgets and stealth moves. It gives the gameplay even more variety, as if it didn’t have enough already.

And not only does City improve and add depth to the combat system, but it also gives us much better boss fights, which were the only real weak area of the original game. Music is great, VA is excellent, graphics are another notch up from Asylum. Even once the main story is complete there’s plenty of content to keep you busy, tracking down missing collectibles or playing challenge maps, even a New Game Plus mode. I couldn’t recommend City highly enough. It’s one of those few games that really deserves all those high scores it was lauded with in the gaming press.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Jet Set Radio HD

I was starting to wonder if this was ever going to be released, but it's now officially dated for September 19th. Hopefully the PC version will be as good as I hope. If not, well I've still got my DC plugged in for a Jet Set fix.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Now Playing: Crysis

In Crysis, a first person shooter originally released in 2007, you assume the role of Nomad, a special forces soldier equipped with a tactical nano-suit providing you with enhanced strength, speed, armour and stealth capabilities.

Literally dropping you straight into the action, the game opens with the occupation of a tropical island by a North Korean force, but as you quickly discover, there is a greater threat lurking on the island, something extremely hostile and alien in nature. The first half of the game is excellent, as you slowly advance further into the island, rescuing hostages and engaging the NKA.

The game looks fantastic and the combat is fluid and satisfying thanks to a decent range of weapons (with some nice on the fly customisation options) and the combination of nano-suit functions. The action builds at a fine pace, with battles becoming epic in scale and your individual actions becoming part of a larger objective. Thanks to the large, open maps and your suit capabilities, there’s a lot of ways you can approach mission objectives. Replaying certain sections always feels different depending on how you approach it and how the excellent enemy AI reacts.

But then you reach a point just over half way through the game where the alien force becomes the primary threat, and that’s where things start to get a little, well, bland. The game suddenly becomes a very linear, very forgettable shooter. The alien opponents are nowhere near as interesting to fight as the human AI, and battles with them quickly devolve into dull, circle-strafe fests.

Exploration, strategy, planning and precise execution are thrown out of the window in favour of uninspired static turret sections and a few vehicle shooting galleries.The levels turn into a series of large scale set pieces which, while enjoyable to watch and to a certain extent play, just aren’t very interesting compared to what came before, as you suddenly feel rather pointless in terms of your contribution to the action and your nano-suit practically becomes redundant.

It’s undeniably exciting at certain moments, but you become strangely disconnected from the action and it feels completely at odds with the approach to combat during the first half of the game. So yeah, first half: excellent. Second half: Uh, not so much. So would I recommend it? I think so. Even though the latter half is disappointing, it’s still enjoyable to play through once. If I was going to replay it though, I’d probably just stick to the first half.


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Double Star

So it’s done. WFTD is polished, printed and ready for feedback. It was something of a struggle the last time I checked it through. I think I hit a point where it was just too hard to step back and see the flaws, errors or ways in which to improve it further. So yeah, it’s going to be read as it is. I’ll get some feedback and then take it from there. I’ll probably let it sit for a few weeks though so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

But what will I do in the meantime? Well, I’ve got a couple of other projects I guess I can work on. I’ve got a MG/YA sci-fi already in a first draft state I keep meaning to go back to, plus a YA paranormal (second ? third?) draft which was fairly solid the last time I read it, but could probably use a little more work.

Aside from that, I need to keep whittling that backlog down, get some garden work done and maybe some more decorating too. I should really find a new book to read too. I can’t read a book while I’m writing one, it’s just something I don’t like to do. I guess I don’t want any other ‘voice’ in my head other than the one I’m writing with or something like that.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Now Playing: Chaser

Chaser is a first person shooter originally released in 2003. I actually bought this game on release but never completed it at the time. I can’t remember the exact details, but I hit some kind of bug late on that left me unable to progress. Recently the game was on sale on Steam for a quid so I thought I’d give it another shot.

Well, it hasn’t aged very well, I have to say that. Graphically, it’s not terrible to look at. In fact, it actually looks surprisingly decent in places. The shooting is solid, if unspectacular, and there’s a wide range of weapons with alternate fire modes. The levels are large and open, requiring a little exploration to progress and there’s a fair bit of variety to the environments too.

Negatives? Just about everything else, unfortunately. Enemy AI is awful, which utterly destroys any real challenge as it's so easy to abuse. They stand still and shoot, or they kneel and shoot. Sometimes they roll, but that’s about as advanced as it gets. The story is ridiculous and the characters are terrible.

VA is laughably bad, although it's clearly not helped by the badly translated script. Still, it does provide a lot of unintentionally funny moments during cut scenes. Music is decent but gets repetitive to the point of irritation during the long levels.

Overall, I couldn’t really recommend Chaser. The shooting mechanics are fairly solid, but it’s all rather basic and incredibly dull at times. I completed it this time around, but it was a bit of a struggle to care.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Merlin Series 5

I really shouldn't get so excited, but I can't help myself!