Sunday, 16 June 2013

Now Playing: American Nightmare (DLC)

American Nightmare is a spin-off DLC to the rather good Alan Wake. It’s a short, stand alone adventure, roughly 2-3 hours in length. You once again take control of Alan Wake, this time stuck within a time loop battling his evil doppelganger, Mr Scratch.

It looks decent enough and plays just like the original, which is fine, but sadly there’s not a lot else I can say that’s particularly positive about it. Mr Scratch is probably the best thing about AN as he taunts Alan through televisions in the game using live-action segments. And, uh, yeah, that’s about it really.

The story element is sort of interesting, but not brilliantly handled, and not exactly engaging for the player when it largely boils down to dull, item gathering quests. There are only three locations in the game, which due to the time loop aspect are revisited three times. None of them are very interesting and I was pretty sick of them the second time around, let alone the third. And whilst the Alan Wake gameplay is solid enough, it’s not exactly spectacular and certainly not interesting enough to make up for all the other lacklustre elements of American Nightmare.

I really enjoyed the original game, enough to play it through twice (and maybe again in the future) because it was a game which, despite featuring less than exciting gameplay, made up for it many other areas. American Nightmare, unfortunately, doesn’t really have anything else going for it, and so is pretty much relying entirely on its gameplay to see it through. But it’s simply not good enough.

The default difficulty is a cakewalk, so bump it up if you want some sort of challenge. Aside from the main story there’s a arcade style ‘Horde’ mode which seems bizarrely out of place and only further highlights the problems of the core gameplay. It’s just not suited to this kind of arena based, arcade environment. Plus, it’s very dull playing it alone. If they’d added a co-op option where the other player could play Barry for example, that would have at least made it more fun. As it is, I don’t really see the point of it.

Overall, American Nightmare provides a couple of hours of light entertainment, but honestly, I just grew rather bored of it before the end. It’s a pretty mediocre addition to the Alan Wake ‘series’ such as it is, and really not worth bothering with unless you’re a really die-hard fan of the character. Then you may get something out it, but I know I sure didn’t.


Thursday, 13 June 2013

E3 Special 2013

So let’s take a look at some of the titles which caught my eye at this years E3!

Top of list is undoubtedly Total War: Rome 2, where we saw for the first time the campaign map in action. It was only a small look, but from what I saw the map is glorious, with fantastic detail, vibrant colour and lots of cool little features. It’s also freaking massive. The battle looked great too. Damn, I really need a new PC for this.

Next up is Watch_Dogs with another good showing. I have my concerns about how much freedom the game world will actually offer, but it’s an impressive looking title. Also from Ubisoft was the announcement of The Division, which I initially thought looked great, but on second viewing it appeared the world wasn’t as ‘open’ as I first thought and it appeared to be a lot of cleverly disguised larger corridors. I might be wrong though, and it’s one I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.

Ryse: Son of Rome was one of the prettiest games on show, but it looked incredibly shallow and repetitive in terms of gameplay. Titanfall looked okay, but not really different enough to really peak my interest. The Crew looked like The Fast and the Furious Online, and although I don’t really play racing games, I thought it looked pretty fun. Mad Max was a surprise, but I haven’t seen any gameplay footage yet. Assassins Creed IV looked okay and it may yet reignite my interest in the series which plummeted after the lacklustre Brotherhood.

Battlefield 4 looked pretty but I can’t say much else about it. It honestly just looked like a spruced up BF3, so I guess if you enjoyed that you will probably enjoy this. InFAMOUS Second Son looked okay, but the gameplay video left me a little meh. Dead Rising 3 was...odd. I’ve only played the first game but it definitely had a less serious, more ‘cartoon’ approach, and this third one seemed far more ‘realistic’ and serious. Not necessarily a bad thing. I still really want a great, realistic (ha!) open world zombie survival game. I’m not sure this will be it, but I’ll keep an eye on it.

We also had The Witcher 3 which looked great, and although I’ve never really played the series, Metal Gear Solid 5, which looked interesting. There was also Destiny which looked okay but didn’t really excite me. The Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare demo made me chuckle and there was the new Thief which...uh, I’m actually undecided on. There were aspects of it I liked but others I’m not so sure about, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen more. Finally we have Battlefront, which could potentially be all kinds of awesome, and the exciting reveal of Mirror's Edge 2! Hurrah! I think that’s about everything.

Uh, what else? Well the conferences were certainly better than last year, but that’s not really saying much. In terms of the new consoles, Sony seems like the better bet - cheaper, less restrictive features, although the new paid online is a bit of a bummer. I know it’s not a great cost, but for someone like me who plays primarily on PC but has always had a companion console for exclusives and other stuff, I don’t really use it enough to warrant a monthly online fee. Well, we’ll see, but my priority is still to get a new PC and after that it all depends on the games. But right now, nether console has anything that would make me rush out for it on Day 1.

Overall though, a pretty good E3 this year, and compared to last year we got a lot of really nice looking games. Seemed like a real emphasis on open-world stuff this year too so I guess that’s the ‘in’ thing at the moment. But with a new PC and a copy of Rome 2 to play this September, I doubt I’ll be giving much thought to a whole lot else.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Now Playing: Binary Domain

Binary Domain looks pretty much like a mediocre Gears of War clone. In fact, its gameplay is pretty much lifted directly from Gears of War and other cover based TPS. You have the basic cover mechanic combined with blind-fire, snap out of cover fire, quick cover-switch, cover-vault, a basic dodge-roll and a simple melee attack.

You carry three weapons. A standard pistol and your choice of the typical machine guns, shotguns or sniper rifles. You also have a few grenade types you can use. So far, so generic. And unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it gets any better, as the game opens with an incredibly bland and lacklustre opening mission to teach you the ropes. But once you move past this opening things, fortunately, start to turn around, and Binary Domain manages to excel beyond its copy and paste TPS framework.

To begin with, the shooting is very solid and satisfying. Weapons feel like they make a real impact as you rapidly strip away the armour and components of your robot adversaries. You can shoot off arms, legs, even heads, but they’ll keep on coming. Take out a leg and they’ll crawl at you still firing. Take out their arms and they’ll charge. But their head? Watch them turn and begin shooting their own kind.

There’s a pretty good variety of enemy types aside from the standard issue grunts, ranging from small and fast, to large and lumbering, each with different weapons and types of attacks. On top of that, there are frequent boss robots to contend with, some of them massive in size. These fights sometimes involve the use of QTEs, but not to any irritating degree. Fighting these giant robots is a hell of a lot of fun. Between the standard run and gun shooting, the game also throws in a few little gameplay additions to mix things up such as a few on-rails shooting moments or vehicle sections.

In terms of graphics and environments it has to be said that BD isn’t exactly a looker. It’s not terrible, but a lot of the levels, although nice and varied, are pretty bland and flat to look at. Human character models look like something from several years ago, although it has to be said the robot designs are great.

Binary Domain also features a surprisingly compelling and interesting story and setting, along with a cast of entertaining characters who make up your squad. I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed the banter between squad mates in a game quite so much. It’s very amusing at times, making you smile even in the thick of the action. You can select different squad mates at different times, which impacts slightly on how the story plays out and ties into the ‘Trust’ system.

The Trust system is odd. I like the idea, but it doesn’t quite work right in practice. The idea is that by responding in a certain way to your team, or by performing certain actions (such as killing tons of robots like a badass, or just, you know, not shooting them by mistake) you raise their ‘trust level’ so they’ll always follow your orders.

The only problems are 1) It’s never abundantly clear what your responses mean as they often boil down to ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘damn’ (?) which doesn’t always make sense within the context of the question 2) Orders are pretty much worthless anyway 3) Squad mate AI, although decent overall, still has a habit of running into your line of fire and 4) You quickly learn that simply agreeing with everyone is the best way to win trust making the options rather pointless.

This system also apparently ties into how the ending plays out by mixing in a couple of variations. I didn’t have max trust with all the characters at the end. As a result, one cool character pretty much disappeared entirely. I kept waiting for him to show up, but he didn’t, which was a little disappointing, but it certainly didn’t detract that much from what turned out to be a very satisfying ending. Not perfect, not in my case, but certainly fulfilling, and it made me want to play through again to do better.

The default difficulty which I played on was a bit too easy, so it’s worth bumping it up a notch if you want a better challenge. There are collectibles to find plus a weapon and character upgrade system which is nothing special, but a nice bonus.

Overall, Binary Domain is a game that just manages to excel beyond its rather generic, cover based TPS gameplay. It has a solid, intriguing story, great characters with amusing banter and enjoyable, satisfying combat. It doesn’t look great, and unfortunately some levels are less interesting than others, but if you like shooting giant robots in the face, this is definitely worth checking out. It’s far from perfect, but a game I’d easily recommend to those who are willing to overlook a few flaws.


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Work in Progress: ZS

With The Great Journey and High Strangeness now released, it’s time to turn my attention to my next project. As I may have mentioned previously, I still have two other books out with two different publishers which I’m still waiting to hear back on - WFTD & TLDK. I also have SOV, which I haven’t quite decided what to do with yet. Then there are two older projects I want to go back to – NI and AO.

Damn, all these abbreviations are getting confusing!

But first I’ve decided to revisit another old project - ZS. It began life as a rough concept four or five years ago, after which it just remained in my ‘ideas’ file. Then, a couple of years ago, I fleshed it out into a short story. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working for me, so I began work on a new project which became TLDK.

But I still liked the concept of ZS, it was just a question of finding the right approach to the material. So I’ve now returned to it, beginning with a serious edit of the original story with expanded and new scenes along with several major changes.

It’s intended to be a YA novella, part of a small series. It’s a combination of sci-fi and mystery. I’m planning on releasing two parts at once. The first is coming along and I’m drafting out ideas for the second. The two stories will tie together but also stand separately. They must each also end in a satisfying manner (no irritating cliffhangers), but also leave room to continue the story.

My goal is to have both stories finished in a month or two, but I certainly won’t release anything until I’m sure it’s ready. In the meantime, I just hope to hear something positive back on those other two books.