Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spore

If ever there was a bigger game, I haven't known it. Maybe in the hardcore world Halo 3 got a little bit more hype, but never before has a game attracted so much media attention, with any and every media outlet running something. This game feels like it has been in development since the start of life itself and reviews have been insanely mixed. I don't mean like they gave it average scores but some give it a 10, others a zero. For a while I was tempted not to give it a score, but that would go against VG protocol. Enjoy the review!

System: PC

Type: Sandox / RTS / Space Explorer / Action

Graphics: 9.5/10

Sound: 8.5/10

Gameplay: 7/10

Story: 9/10

Multiplayer: 9/10


Overall: 8/10


As games go, Spore is very ambitious in it's scope, taking you from the dawn of life right past modern day and into a galactic civilization whilst still including a new approach to game design. It includes a piece of sophisticated model creator software, a real time simulation of player activity on four million planets and basically 5 games to play through. Even Civ doesn't do half of that. So, definitely full marks for effort, the four million planet statistic alone is quite impressive.

The game is, as you probably know, split in to 5 distinct stages. The cell stage, the creature stage, the tribal stage, the civilization stage and the galactic stage. I could give individual reviews for each of these stages, but this would miss the point of the game completely and this review would become very negative very quickly. That is because, with the exception of the galactic stage, which I will come to, all of the stages are very repetitive and simple. You would not be very surprised to find any of them, perhaps with less graphical flair, on an online game site. I did, in an earlier post, give some details about the first 3 stages, so I won't explain them. However, for the uninitiated the Civilization stage is a real time strategy game. However, it is very simple with a very limited number of strategies (3). Even these three strategies are just different names for the same task. Instead of shooting a town, you buy it out, but this is still done with tanks going over to it. It is quite fun sending tanks around with air and naval support, but it is not very challenging or at all thought provoking.


Then you design your spaceship and the galaxy is your oyster, well sort of. When you first take off, you will see your set of tools with loads of empty boxes for other stuff. And there is some really cool stuff there, there is teraforming equipment, teleportation stuff, weapons, and with four million planets and an internet of generated content, where can they go wrong? Then you are told to do some fedex mission, they're not great fun, but they do allow you to advance, collect more money, buy more stuff to do cool stuff with and add some direction to it. That's fine.


You meet other Civilization's, and in the same way as it is good in the earlier stages, it is awesome to be engaging in diplomatic relations with yours and others creations. It is a thing I will end up touching on again and again, but seeing other peoples stuff in your game is, for the most part, a treat. However, then they start demanding tributes. If the game is Civ 4, well that is the point; defending your nation, however, it can be tiresome. In Spore it is worse than tiresome, prepare for a rant.

Another race demanded tribute from me. Anyone who has ever taken a history lesson will know, appeasement is not the answer. So naturally, I declined. Next thing, about 4 races have declared war on me. Fine, if I had a number of units to control, but no, you have ONE SHIP. If you want to defend your planet, you will have to fly that single ship all the way back there. They will attack with maybe four ships, WHICH CAN REGENERATE HEALTH. Finally, I destroyed them using a tactic of my-gun-has-a-marginally-longer-reach-than-yours. On the plus side they dropped some things worth money. However in one instance, and I make no exaggeration, the absolute second I had finished picking stuff up, my planet came under attack again. Once again I defeated them, this time, I thought I might attack them. So I went to one of their (many) planets. About 4 ships again attack and slowly I beat them. Except this time, more keep coming. So you ignore them and attack their cities, their turrets shoot you, their ships shoot you and at the same time, they have launched ANOTHER attack on your home planet. Who thought that was fun?!

Rant over, but it is unacceptable game design. Or lack of. Even if the ships that are attacking me are works of art from someone with too much time, it is unacceptable. The space stage has an imperial ton of potential, but it is all wasted on some lame diplomatic model which expects you to control a galaxy with one ship.


The gameplay isn't without its moments. Everyone will remember the first time an asteroid field collides with your planet in the creature stage, and later when you meet an epic creature, watching it destroy everything that gets in its path including the animals that were killing you. Watching your enemies run in fright is awesome. Then, finally, being able to take down the epic creatures in the Civilization stage. When you first play through, and you don't have a clue what is happening, it feels like I imagine what a creature would feel. “What is going on?” This is a great feeling.


Visually, the game looks great. The worlds are really interesting, if a little stereotypical of retro sci-fi with their vibrant colours. Obviously, the most visually impressive element is how it can simulate how all these creatures walk, attack and even do the Stomp! There are the occasional graphic errors, but for a game generating so much animation on the fly based on what the user does, these are easily overlooked.


The game includes sun rises and it is really interesting to see how you emerge from being a creature, where days and nights span out in immeasurable lengths, to the Galactic age, where you can whiz between the two and see where the day and night end. This gives you a sense of evolution and linkage between the different mini-games. Another example of this linkage is looking at the history of your creature. It is a pleasure seeing how your tiny little creature evolved into some three legged behemoth that you ended up with. Despite this, the mini games can feel a little detached. This is largely due to the fact that what you do has little effect on the next stage. If you are a herbivore in the first stage, peace might be the best option in the stages following. Whereas carnivores will be forced to attack. However, that is basically it. What would be really interesting is to see if you could have scavenger creatures, stealthy creatures etc. It isn't that the game doesn't build these features in, but you can't progress through these strategies.


For example, in the tribal stage, it is true that you can run up and steal the other camps food. But, to advance to the next stage, you must either wipe them out or ally with them, thus making it a tribal only feature for gathering food rather than an actual strategy. What if, to win, you merely had to outlast the others, as is the case in real life. It is really easy to see how this could be expanded in to both the stages below it and above it. For example, if you were fast in the cell stage, maybe in the creature stage it was easier to steal food from dead animals and run off before the rightful owner came and attacked you. Another thing that would benefit this is a bit of emergent evolution. Instead of, “You have chosen X route, that gives you this special power”.

The game is very polished, as I mentioned, the creature animations from a technical perspective at least, are hugely impressive. The audio in this game is also equally well done. The sounds are very believable, even if the munching on the dead animals sound is a little disturbing at first. The music is both dramatic and clich├ęd when you evolve.


Spore, in addition to the main game, includes a host of editors. These are, as expected, great fun to mess around with. Finally, being able to paint individual parts of something that the creature creator was just crying out for. This is, if I am honest, where most of the fun is coming from. If you enjoyed the creature creator, I would recommend this game, the other editors are fun and it is great to be able to try out all your different creatures, vehicles and buildings in an actual environment. The game also includes a few other editors, including the national anthem editor, which felt a little tacked on and cramped within a clustered window for one stage. I would have liked a flag designer.

However this is far from a serious problem, the biggest problems with this game are the individual stages. No single stage is, in a word, fun. That is a pretty serious accusation to be making, and it isn't entirely true. But they are only as fun as simple addictive mini-games can be. They are easy to play, but they offer little in mental stimulation, except the space stage. However, for reasons stated above, someone messed that up.


Obviously this game will be milked by EA, so hopefully they will fix all of the stages. What do they each need, well the first 4, depth. Just add some more strategies, or at least the potential for more. The space stage, just fix it. Don't make the AI annoying, if you have to, get rid of it. At least let me build space ships to defend my home planet. Let me explore the galaxy in peace.


In conclusion, you must think carefully about this game. On the one hand, the editors are great fun, you will almost certainly not be left dead in the water with this title and it is definitely not without its moments. In this review, I have somewhat stuck to the negative aspects of it, but this isn't because they are the dominating aspects when you are playing, but this game was hyped so much, it is just a huge disappointment. There are some moments that you wish you had captured by camera, like when you lead your pack in to battle against a stronger species and bring it down. And the sense of ever zooming out to get to a grander scale is fantastic, but the unification of the stages is often missing and there is a huge amount of lost potential with this incredible game.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fable 2 is Offline

It has been confirmed that Fable 2 will ship without online co-op. It will be available as a patch, "hopefully within a week" after the American launch. Now, I am pretty sure this will be free, as it would be the biggest joke EVER if it wasn't. However, if they can actually get it patched within the week, why not just delay it for a week. Then I realised, the only people who would gain from this are people without online, in which case it doesn't matter, as it is only the online co-op that is being patched.

So all in all, this is fine, providing it is free and providing it is out within a week. I was looking forward to questing with my friends. Ah well, at least it gives me more time to find a secure castle to hide my wife in while my friends decide to destroy my game!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's Gone Gold

Fable 2 has gone gold. The game I am most looking forward to this year has gone gold. Come October 24th, I will be do something big for the blog, maybe a minute by minute impressions like I did with Metroid Prime 3. Or maybe something EVEN bigger.

Fable 1 was one of my all time classics on the original Xbox, it was one of the 3 games that I keep coming back to (Mercanries and Chaos Theory is the answer to your question)

I will be playing Co-op with my friend probably day 2, after I have made an awesome unbeatable character! Fable 2 will be coming out on the 24th October (32 days) or the 21st if you are in America. However, I am planning on wandering over to Lionhead on the 21st to see if I can't barter a copy off them!

Hopefully, Gamespot will have a review up soonish, so looking forward to that.

In other news, I will be reviewing Spore this weekend, so stay tuned for that. It is a really difficult game to review, so it may be another collosal review like Civ (sorry everyone) I am really going to work on cutting it down. It will be out Sunday at 2PM (BST)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How Embarassing

Gamespot have stuck up the Star Wars: Forces Unleashed. As I personally, predicted, the 360 version got an average score (7.5) However, the Wii version got a disappointing 6.

Yes, I know it was naive of me to hope, but I really thought this was going to be the game that showed everyone how to make an awesome Wii game. However, they messed it up, like everyone else.

I might try and rent the 360 version at some point, as the story looks quite interesting and chucking stuff was quite fun in the demo. But this is me disappointed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

R.I.P. Ensemble Studios

Microsoft has confirmed that ancient and legendary game development studio, Ensemble Studios, will be dissolved. Ensemble Studios are most famous for revolutionising and popularising the real time strategy genre in the form of Age of Empires. Fear not 360 owners, this will happen after the unannounced release date for Halo Wars.

I think Ensemble will leave behind an amazing legacy if they not only made PC RTS games work at the start of their career, then at the end, fixed the console end.

Microsoft will be founding a new, 3rd party developer with the management team of Ensemble, so it probably will remain, but, here is my condolences for the Ensemble Studio. Thanks for everything. I am going to go and play on Age of Empires now, in honour!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The End of the World is Nigh

The world will end 8AM tommorow morning. Well, maybe. Well, actually definitely not, but it is still fun to say it is. Yes, that is right tomorrow at 8AM BST (7AM GMT) the worlds largest Atom Accelerator will be turned on. The particles will be going round the giant doughnut at something approaching the speed of light. Then, they will smash in to each other, revealing the secrets of the universe... or creating a black hole.

Technically, the black hole, if it is ever created will collapse on itself so quickly it will have no effect, still, nice to pretend to the uninformed. The actual result will be we can find out about the particles that make up quarks, which make up protons and neutrons, which make up atoms, which make us and everything. The main one is called the Higgs Boson, or the "God" particle, that is meant to breath life in to everything to make it work. It may take until 2010 to find all this out though. But, after that, we should understand a lot more. This will probably be the first really big break through in science since we created the atomic bomb. Hopefully, nothing like that will come out of this.

Well that is your physics interlude. Assuming we don't all die tommorow, I will have continued first impressions of Spore and maybe a review of Brawl coming up.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Spore: Tribal Era

Well I got past the slightly monotonous Creature stage. It does get better, for example, a UFO turned up at one point and dropped off a giant "War Reptile" A creature I had made before in Creature Creator. Except, this time it was huge. It was uber powerful as well, so it would just attack all the creatures near it, killing them instantly. All the creatures were fighting before it turned up, but then they fled.

Also, as you progress in brain size, you can recruit a pack. These creatures follow you around. It is cool to have gang wars with your pack and an enemy pack. Overall, it was enjoyable, and does allow you to properly personalize your creature, but it just goes on too long. I sense they did this as people don't want to be rushed in upgrading. But there really is no need, just make it so you can continue playing and upgrading after your have reached sentinece.

However, that is not what this post is about. The game changes when you get in to the Tribal stage. Suddenly, the camera zooms out and you are in the 5th person (made up by me, but basically you can see more than one camera, like in Real Time Strategy games). The game gets a lot funner (Also not a word...).

Not that it wasn't fun before, but the experience is much less repetitive, more involving and requires more though (because, by this point, your brain has grown!) Your tribe, made up of 3 of your creatures plus one leader must collect food and, like in the Creature stage, either ally with, or destroy, the other tribes on the map. What is cool about this is you can see each of the species evolving at different times. You are the first to evolve, I assume, but when you do, all around you are just nests from creatures. However, these evolve, fairly rapidly, in to tribes for your picking.

Like before, your creatures still have a hunger bar, which you must look after by killing creatures and, a la Age of Empires, gather their food.As you conquer, or ally with, the other tribes, you gain new buildings to add to your village. These allow you to ally with others, destroy others, or gather food, more easily. Once again, attacking was simpler than allying, so I destroyed all of them, as you have to, as far as I can work out, destroy at least 2 to even stand a chance (to unlock the other instruments to ally with the others) of an alliance.

It doesn't involve a huge deal of thinking, but it is quite fun. Couple of annoying control quirks get in the way of the otherwise simple fun (For example, why isn't double click on the units icon zoom to it). Like all the other stages, it is fun, but hardly a ground breaking game on its own. it is very impressive to see many of your creatures scutuling around. There are other options of survival, such as stealing food from neighbouring tribes, but combat always seems to be the easiest. Normally, it comes down to Ctrl-A to select all your troops, right click on the enemey tribe, one at a time.

The civilization stage is reached when you wipe out or ally with all the tribes. It is late now, but I want to publish this, so I will continue with my preview tommorow (I have reached the galatic era, which is fun, but also quite frustrating) If you can't wait for the remainder of the preview and the review: my advice is: get this game if you enjoyed (or think you would enjoy) the creature creator. The extra creators are great fun to mess around with, especially the vehicle and building creators. The games are fun, but not ground breaking, it is very much a play with than a play on game.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Spore Cell to Creature

I got Spore yesterday. And what a lot of hassle it was to install. First, it took ages to install, which is never good. Then, having installed it, you have to use the ever complicated log in process. I figured, as I already had a Spore Creature Creator log in, I could log straight in. However, when I did this, it said the password was incorrect. Then I went to the place to reset the password, which I did many times. However, despite saying it had done is successfully, it would still not log me on. Then, I, in an attempt to clear the cache, closed the game and tried to reopen it. Error! Could not find file 1004. I mean, COME ON! This is a brand new game. So, I reinstalled it, again taking a while. Finally, I used the create-an-account-but-when-you-already-have-one log in, and that finally worked.

At last I can start the game. I was going to film it as I was playing, however, many technical issues prevented this. So, instead you will have to read. On the plus side, I have now surmounted these issues so I will be recording from creature to space.

You start off as a single cell organism in what seems like an online Flash game. It is fun, but not riveting. What is quite cool, is you don't get many DNA points, which you can use to evolve your creature. As a result, evolutions can be few and far between, meaning you choose them carefully. I imagine on higher difficulty settings, this has a greater impact on the game. Unfortunately, when you reach the point to evolve to a land based animal, you cannot continue collecting DNA points and evolving your creature, even though you can carry on playing.

After a short cut scene, you put some legs on your creature and march in to the big wide world. Based on your decision to be a carnivore or a herbivores, you can either attack the other animals or ally them. Once you have done this enough, I assume you can move on up. As before, you have a bar at the bottom which gradually fills up as well as extra DNA points for evolution. It is quite amusing, but it is starting to stretch on a little too long and I can't work out how to become friends with other species.

Now, back to the game, which I will be recording and talking on. I can't do live broadcast, but I will post it as soon as I can.

 
"All your base are belong to us"