Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Clayton Awards 2012

Somewhat strangely, the best and the most disappointing games I played in 2012 are not ones I’ve yet covered on the blog.


 

 Most Disappointing Game of 2012 - Mass Effect 3


I’ll be covering both of these games in more depth early next year.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Now Playing: Dark Forces, TG,P! & TWD

Dark Forces (1996) is a FPS set within the Star Wars universe. Despite its age, DF is still remarkably fun and challenging in places. There are 14 levels, set within a variety of locations, many of which manage to capture that classic Star Wars vibe. The levels are not entirely linear and feature multiple paths and hidden areas. In fact, somewhat amusingly, the size of the maps would probably make quite a few modern shooters blush.


There are a few switch/ key code puzzles here and there, but nothing too tedious. The shooting may be rather basic, but you have a decent selection and the weapon sounds are top notch. Music and VA is also good. There are some decent cut-scenes between missions and the plot keeps you interested.

Overall, I was surprised how much I enjoyed playing Dark Forces. It was the first time I’ve played it and I honestly wondered if it would simply feel too dated for me to enjoy. But that wasn’t the case at all. Even today, DF is well worth your time, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan, or just a fan of shooters in general.

7/10

Time Gentlemen, Please! is the sequel to Ben There, Dan That! It’s a very solid, enjoyable point and click adventure. It’s an improvement over the first game, taking in more locations, characters and even more convoluted puzzles. I’ve said before I’m not a massive fan of these types of games, but the humour of TG,P! certainly won me over. If you are big adventure nut, this is definitely worth checking out.

7/10

The Walking Dead is a tricky one. It was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable titles I played this year but is it a particularly good game? Its ‘puzzles’ are basic. The gameplay is rudimentary and simplistic. There is zero challenge. ‘Choices’ have little to no impact at times. And yet, I’d still rate TWD highly. Whilst it may lack in some fundamental areas, it absolutely excels in others, most notably in story and characterisation.


As I said in my previous post, I hope many of my criticisms of the game are addressed in a sequel. Above all else, TWD is a memorable, engaging title. It gave me a reason to care and become emotionally invested in the developing narrative. It may not be a very good ‘game’ in the traditional sense, but it’s an extremely worthwhile experience and I’d certainly recommend it.

8/10

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Now Playing: Knights of the Old Republic 2

The original Knights of the Old Republic (2003) was a fantastic Star Wars game. But its sequel - The Sith Lords (2005) - was a buggy and practically broken game upon release. It seems that development was rushed to completion during its final stages, particularly affecting the game’s conclusion - which was butchered into a nonsensical mess. Spin on seven years and KOTOR 2 has finally been released on Steam. With the addition of a fan made restoration mod, the game finally feels fixed and complete - or at least as fixed and complete as it’s ever going to get.

As in the first game, KOTOR 2 begins with a rather tedious opening section, before setting the player on a quest to travel to four very different worlds. Each world contains a mixture of primary and optional quests which are undertaken to advance the plot, increase your level and abilities, gain new gear and recruit new companions.

Speaking of companions, their AI is just as bad as the original and they require constant micro management to be effective in combat. Some of them also feel rather pointless given how underdeveloped they are or how little they impact on the main plot (particularly at the end, but I’ll get to that later)


Although the worlds of KOTOR 2 are larger and contain more content than the original, that’s not such a good thing. Many of the optional missions are tiresome rather than interesting, and I was glad when I unlocked Force Speed in order to zip about from one quest point to another, because although the environments are bigger, they are also rather bland and empty. But when you finally do complete your missions on each world, that’s when things finally kick into gear.

Although the game becomes a lot more linear as you’re quickly transported from one mission critical location to the next, the action ramps up several notches and the revelations come thick and fast. The plot, which had been developing at a relatively sedate plod suddenly engages Ludicrous Speed. And then, just when things start getting really, really good, that’s when things also start falling apart.

Because even with the restored content mod, the ending of KOTOR 2 is still something of a buggy, disjointed mess. Some characters simply disappear entirely during the conclusion, others pop up in odd, random cut-scenes which don’t really lead anywhere. There’s very little in the sense of closure or satisfaction, and before you realise it the credits are rolling and its Game Over. Which is a darn shame, because KOTOR 2 had the potential to far surpass the original.


You see, the original KOTOR held very true to the nature of Star Wars. Jedi were good and Sith were bad. It was very basic, but it was pure Star Wars and I loved every minute of it. Okay, so it did dabble slightly with the notion that perhaps the moral nature of the Jedi and Sith were not quite so black and white, but for the most part, it stuck closely to the source material.

KOTOR 2 on the other hand breaks significantly away from the binary nature of Star Wars morality. It questions the core ideals of the Jedi and of the Sith. It makes the player examine both sides from the perspective of an outcast - an exiled Jedi. There is very little simple black or white morality in KOTOR 2, only shades of grey. It looks at the Force in a new, interesting way, and even in its butchered state, the ending sets up what could have been a fantastic new direction for the Star Wars universe and the future of the Jedi / Sith conflict. Unfortunately, it’s not something we’ll ever get to see.

Overall, KOTOR 2 feels like wasted potential. Even ignoring its technical and gameplay flaws (which are largely carried over from the original and are things I can certainly live with) KOTOR 2 fails to live up to the promise of the plot it slowly builds, ending on a disappointing and somewhat baffling note. It’s a case of what might have been, if the game had not been rushed out the door. My advice – play the original, and if you crave more, give KOTOR 2 a shot with the restored content mod. It’s certainly worth it, it’s just a shame it was never, and never will truly be complete.

7/10

Monday, 10 December 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD & SOV

Work on WFTD and SOV continues. My plan to have polished second drafts of each by the end of the year remains on schedule, even though I stopped work on both for about a week due to unforeseen family drama.

I have the first parts of both of them finished. Five parts remain for WFTD, three for SOV. It probably doesn't seem like the best idea, working on both at once, especially given how different they are. One is quite a dark, violent post-apocalyptic horror. The other is a lighthearted science-fiction adventure. Switching between the two requires a significant shift in my frame of mind. It helps that each story has what I think is a strong central character, and once I start reading in their respective voices, it's fairly easy to swap from one setting to the other.

In addition to completing both of these projects, I aim to knock a few more games off my backlog before the end of the year. I may also do a 'review round-up' of the games I played this year, including some I haven't mentioned in detail here on the blog.

I also discovered recently that some of my blog posts don't appear correctly formatted in Internet Explorer. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it's something to do with text pasted in from a document. They appear fine in other browsers, just not IE, so if you're using that and things look odd you'll know why.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Now Playing: Call of Pripyat

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. It’s an open world FPS combining elements of horror and survival. Set within the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone (or ‘The Zone’ as it’s referred to) you are sent on a mission to investigate the failure of an operation to recon The Zone, resulting in the crash of five helicopters.

The Zone is home to an assortment of factions – bandits, stalkers, mercenary groups, military and scientists, as well as a variety of dangerous mutants. There are also deadly anomalies to contend with and Zone wide emissions. It’s a hostile, compelling setting. Although external environments are a little ugly, internal ones are well handled. The game makes good use of lighting and sound to create a tense and oppressive mood.

COP doesn’t get off to the best start, however, dumping you into an ugly brown landscape with very little direction or information. As you investigate the crash sites, the story puts you on the path to two new areas of the Zone and increasingly dangerous missions. The story, told through incredibly stiff and awkward cut-scenes, is decent enough and gives you a reason to press on even if it’s not particularly exciting.


In addition to the main story missions, there are also a number of side quests you can undertake to earn extra money or supplies. The survival element feels a little wasted in the game. You require food periodically, but you’ll always have more than you’d ever actually need. Bandages and medi-kits are also plentiful and because they can be bound to instant use hot-keys (even in the middle of the fire-fight) it takes away any kind of challenge or danger to using them. It really feels like there needed to be a bandage/heal animation or timer so you can’t just spam them when things get tough.

The shooting mechanics are solid enough, and I liked the weight system which forces you to pick and choose your gear. There are also weapon and armour upgrades you can purchase to further enhance/customise your character. There’s a stealth system, of sorts (visibility and sound bars), although rather pointless as the game doesn’t lend itself to that type of play style. Although The Zone is a fairly large place, outside of the missions it feels like there is very little reason to explore. Or rather, exploration simply isn’t very rewarding.

There are artifacts to find, but very few of these seem necessary or even useful – I didn’t bother them during my playthrough at all. Money isn’t hard to come by, and you can find nearly everything you need out in the world. At one point in the game you’ll reach a location where you can repair your gear and be given ammo and medical supplies for free which makes the earning of money and gathering supplies rather redundant.


One of the best things about the game is its AI. The mutants and humans in the game are all largely non-scripted. They hunt, scavenge, fight, trade and explore the Zone on their own terms. As a result, traversing the Zone is always a random experience. You may come across roving mutants or fights between bandits and stalkers whose paths just happened to cross, or you may encounter nothing at all. The Zone feels all the more alive due to the unpredictable nature of the people and creatures that inhabit it. You’ll never be quite sure what you’ll encounter as you travel from one location to the next.

Overall, COP is a good game, but it falls just short of being great. It has a fantastic setting and a lot of good ideas but it’s all a little rough around the edges and feels underdeveloped in a lot of areas. It’s a difficult game to love, but I can understand why it has quite a cult following. I’m looking forward to playing Shadow of Chernobyl soon. Now I’ve had a taste of the Zone, I’m eager for more.

7/10