Thursday, 21 February 2013

Work in Progress: HS & TJ

I’ve completed an initial edit of the first quarter of HS. It still needs a lot of work, but I’m pleased with what I’ve done so far. In addition to this, I’ve also been working on an edit of a short novella - TJ. I wrote it a few years ago, more as a writing exercise than anything, an attempt to try something a little different. I was pleased with the result, and I recently thought it would be good to edit the work into a more polished state.

I’m thinking about releasing it as a free e-book once it’s finished and I’m happy with the content and quality. It will give me an opportunity to check out the procedure of releasing an e-book and all that entails, which is knowledge which may serve me well in the future.

It will also give me an excuse to finally update the Books page with something. I should really do that soon.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Now Playing: Mirror’s Edge

Mirror’s Edge is a first person platform game set within a bright, vibrant world. It’s a game with a lot of style, a game that, particularly today, stands out - at least in the sense that it’s not afraid of primary colours.

In terms of gameplay, Mirror’s Edge reminds me of the Sonic franchise because it’s a game about speed and momentum. Like in a Sonic game, ME is all about going fast, about achieving a ‘perfect’ run of every level, and therein lies the challenge. Unlike a Sonic game, there’s no score or rings to collect, but the goal is the same - a perfect run. No slips, trips, stumbles or falls.

It can be a wild, exhilarating experience, and even the subtle, yet clearly defined limitations of the path before you does not dampen the sense of freedom or the rush you feel when you pull off a perfect set of jumps.

And freedom is what ME is really all about. You play as Faith, a runner in a dystopian future society. Beyond the sleek, colourful aesthetic lies a black, corrupt heart beating at its core. Faith lives on the edge of the law, a ‘runner’ delivering packages between...uh, revolutionary type groups, I think? Or something like that. The game isn’t really about that though.

There is a story, of sorts, told through animated cut scenes. It’s decent enough, dealing with the typical conspiracy stuff, but with a bit of a personal investment, as Faith attempts to unravel the mystery of the murder of an upcoming politician and clear her falsely accused sister’s name.

Despite spending so much time in Faith’s stylish shoes, it’s a shame we never really get to know her very well, or see much of her relationship with her sister. There are supporting characters, but these too are rather undeveloped.

It’s not a particularly big deal, but as is usually the case, I always prefer to care about why I’m doing something, and a lot of the time in ME I just didn’t. But unlike another game with the same problem (Metro 2033) ME draws me in thanks to its superbly executed, unique form of gameplay. Is it entirely perfect? Well, no, not always. Sometimes you’ll miss a ledge, or perform a fatal jump you never intended as the controls go a little wonky. It’s rare, but it’s irritating when it happens.

There is combat in the game, but it’s rather basic. The ‘Blues’ who chase you frequently throughout the game are well armed, but fortunately they share the accuracy of an Imperial Stormtrooper. Provided you can isolate one or two at a time, it’s fairly simple to knock them down with a combination of kicks and punches, or if you’re feeling cocky, disarm them and turn their own weapons upon them.

Shooting Blues doesn’t really feel like Faith’s style, but it’s certainly an easy way out of some tricky situations. Combat is all handled through a combination of timing, movement and a single mouse click. It looks and feels incredibly cool, especially when you hit slow motion (a limited recharging ability), disarm a guy by kicking him in the face, flip the gun into the air, catch it, and then blast his friend in the chest, catapulting him several feet…mmm, maybe I shouldn’t enjoy that so much.

The music is fine, the VA is good. Graphically the game looks great, with a very sharp, vivid style. I love being able to look down and actually see my flailing limbs as I crash to the earth and I really wish more games did this - it’s so much more immersive. The feelings of weight, speed and momentum are finely balanced. You feel connected to Faith when you play, unlike the odd disconnect of a floaty ghost with a shadow in a typical first person game.

The story takes around 6 hours to clear, longer if you try to hunt down the collectible packages scattered throughout the levels. There’s also a time trial mode, speed run mode, and some bonus features of artwork, scene unlocks and music, which is always a nice touch. My biggest criticism of the game is really the limitations and linearity of the levels. Although they appear wide and open, there is often only one ‘correct’ path to take.

Overall, Mirror’s Edge is a slightly flawed gem, but it’s certainly a one of a kind experience. Whether you’re leaping from the top of a crane, jumping from a building onto a helicopter, or sliding down the side of skyscraper (!) Mirror’s Edge is a fantastic rush.

I’d love to see a sequel one day, with a more fleshed out story and characters and with multiple routes throughout the levels. Or even just a big open sandbox with primary and secondary missions. If you see it on sale, give it a shot, it’s totally worth it.


Friday, 8 February 2013

Not Playing: Mass Effect 3

Remember when I said I was going to play Mass Effect 3 next?

I'll get around to it soon. Valve soon.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Blog Update

In December last year I discovered that the formatting of certain posts was not displaying correctly in Internet Explorer. Images and text were badly misplaced.

I’ve now gone through and edited every wonky post, hopefully fixing the problem. Everything should display properly now in IE. I've also updated a lot of the 'Now Playing' posts by breaking up the text more so they're a little easier on the eyes to read.

I’ve also changed the archive links so they don’t take up half the page.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Now Playing: Fall of the Samurai

FotS is a standalone expansion to Shogun 2 set during the period of the Meiji Restoration, as pro-Shogunate and pro-Emperor forces clash for control of Japan. It’s set across a much smaller time frame than both the base game and the Rise of the Samurai DLC campaign, with up to 24 turns per year.

The expansion brings with it a selection of new features and improvements both to the campaign and battle modes. The game, even on medium settings (I really need a new PC for Rome 2) still looks rather fantastic, particularly the combat animations, and the new 40v40 unit battles create some extremely intense, epic and bloody engagements.

The campaign map has been overhauled and expanded, and includes new features such as railways and naval bombardments (which can also be called down on the battle map to devastating effect). There are also the most modern unit types yet seen in a TW title such as Gatling guns and torpedo boats. Some units even allow for a degree of first person aiming and firing – rarely useful in large scale engagements, but a fun little bonus nonetheless.

Like in Shogun 2, the campaign and UI art is wonderful, and the soundtrack is nice too. There are new technology trees, agent types and a new, improved form of the Realm Divide mechanic that sees you either choose to stand alone, or become a part of a coalition of clans.

Unit variety, one of the major criticisms of Shogun 2 is improved here, with a selection of traditional and modern units. Playing as a pro-Emperor clan, I initially attempted to remain as traditional as possible, but as the campaign progressed and the modern weapons became increasingly powerful and deadly on the field of the battle, my full traditional armies slowly included more and more of the modern units.

That’s not to say it becomes entirely impossible to complete a campaign utilising only the traditional spear, bow and sword units - especially with carefully selected terrain and ambush tactics - but taking castles becomes increasingly difficult and results in heavy losses.

In this respect, FotS perfectly captures the essence of its title - modernization is inevitable and ultimately necessary, and the campaign side is a constant balancing act between introducing these modern innovations both on and off the field of battle and keeping your population (who are naturally resistant to such change and foreign influence) happy. Battle AI is improved as are campaign AI and diplomacy.

Criticisms? The agent and general skill trees feel a little less fleshed out than in Shogun 2. I miss the agent and unit recruitment videos and also the pre-battle speeches (although I must admit I often skipped these once I’d seen them a few times). It seemed the Battle AI was often psychically aware of where I’d targeted my offshore bombardment and quickly scooted out of the way which is irritating to say the least.

Faction variety, as in Shogun 2, is rather limited due to the setting, and of course, given the short time frame and the focus on a single country, the setting itself may be a negative for those seeking more variety in terms of terrain and combat styles.

In addition to the single player campaign, FotS also has a new multiplayer mode which I’ve not tried out yet and a series of historical battles from the period. Overall, Fall of the Samurai is an incredibly slick, polished and technically impressive title. I’m not overly enamoured with the gun-line style warfare which is probably why I didn’t enjoy Empire or Napoleon as much as the other TW titles, but FotS won me over in this regard. In fact, I’d probably rate it as the best overall Total War title yet on release. For an expansion, FotS offers potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay alone and is well worth the investment.