Friday, January 30, 2009

Braid Blew My Mind

I don't really know what else to say. I downloaded Braid and I am loving every minute. This may well be my favourite platformer since the original Mario on the Wii Virtual Console! Every single puzzle requires you to think. The levels are so well thought out and clever. The game's difficultly even increases at a good pace.

The game is a 2D side scrolling platformer. The difference: a time travelling mechanic. In the early levels, this is a way of quickly fixing mistakes and bringing yourself back from the dead. However, it doesn't take very long for the game to use it to solve puzzles. The first puzzle that you really have to start using time is quite a good one at demonstrating what kind of mind bending activities are to come (although they obviously get quite a bit harder)

[Note: items that glow green are resistant to time travel]

You appear in the level. There is a green key at the top of the map. The puzzle piece (what you are trying to collect) is located behind a locked door. Above this door there is a rock that is slowly falling.

First attempt: Run and get the key, by the time you reach the door the rock has fallen in front of it

*Spoiler - if you plan to do this game without any help, this next paragraph explains this puzzle. Having said this, it is not very complicated when compared to the others, so you could be forgiven for reading on if you are deciding whether to get the game.*

What you have to do is grab the key, rewind the time to the start (causing the rock in front of the door to have lifted) Because the key is green, it rewinds with you.

Fairly simple to work out, yes. However, the puzzles become very complicated requiring you to consider a number of different things at once.

Also, to keep the levels fresh, each world introduces a different mechanic, twist or theme. The 4th world, for example, time only advances when you move forward, and goes back when you move backwards. Or in another, when you rewind time, a shadow of you does whatever you just did and you have to use him to do simultaneous things.

I have now played through all the worlds - so the game is not very long. However, I have not got a single world on perfect, not even the first one, so many more hours of fun are to be had. This game is challenging, fun and refreshing. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys puzzles. Beautiful - arguably my favourite game of 2008.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Knothole Island Thoughts

I officially sold out all my beliefs because I am a Fable sucker and got the Fable DLC (800MS points, Xbox Live Arcade) It doesn't really warrant a review or a first impressions and quick review, so here is my final thoughts/conclusion/mini review, whatever you want it to be.

Basically good. It is not too short (as I thought it was going to be) Playing at a normal pace (not rushing, not searching every nook and cranny) took me about 3-4 hours. The area is really big and has a couple of very cool features. A personal favourite addition is the "Mystery Shop". Instead of buying things, like a normal shop, you must trade specific items (2 lutes, a rotten carrot etc.) to get a suprise related item. This is cool as you get some unique elements and you can't just go in with your millions of gold and buy everything.

The main quest line is more challenging than the rest of the game, if fairly rudimentary in whatn you are doing. It even has a, weak, decision at the end. I recommend this if you enjoy Fable, it has all the things you would expect (new items, stuff to find and more shops) and a few quite cool features. and a couple of unexpected items. Plus, they have brought back the graves with witty lines on, so all is good. Worth the 800 points? If you enjoyed Fable, then yes. If you haven't purchased it yet and don't want any spoilers, stop here.

My one criticism of the game is the final decision. Unlike at the end of Fable, which you had to stop and think it over in your mind until you finally come to your excruciating decision, this decision feels trivial. In it you must choose between money and good points. The money (10 000 gold) is irrelevant as, by this point in most peoples game, people will have more money than things to buy, and more coming in constantly. If I was designing the decision, I would have had it so you either handed control to the locals, which meant the weather changed regularly out of your control, or to you and the chieftain, which would obviously be evil, but you could control the weather. A third option could have been to kill the chieftain and take sole control of the town for yourself.

But, you can't have everything. An enjoyable distraction from finding gargoyles and keys. 4 star.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ten things killing and saving the video game industry

Just a very quick post for the moment. Two excellent articles on IGN on Ten trends that are destroying video games and Ten trends that are saving video games are well worth reading.

A lot of what they say I highly agree with. I think 2009 is going to be an interesting year. During Q4 of last year, despite the global depression, the video game industry as a whole grew. However, I think this year could be the crunch year. The economic crisis is going to force causal gamers to either pick more carefully to make their purchases more £/hour effective or quit video games and sell the Wii on Ebay. As a result, I can see shovelware to start to decrease. With any luck, because of the Wii Motion Plus, developers will be reinspired to create decent innovative Wii games all over again.

Anyway, I'll be posting more about my thoughts for the future of the industry soon, but I strongly reccommend reading the above articles.

Update, fixed link to things that are saving video games. Sorry!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dawn of War 2 has gone gold

It has been announced today that Dawn of War 2 has been completed and is now moving in to production phase. The current release date is February 19th. I haven't quite decided whether I am going to get this. On the one hand, I know they are going to bring out loads of expansion packs which I will end up buying because I want to use the Imperial Guard and I should just wait for the box set. Plus, Starcraft is coming out soon also. However, I really enjoyed Dawn of War and what they are doing with the campaign sounds really interesting.
One of things that did interest me in the press release was this:

"Disposable units will become a thing of the past as gamers feel the intimate brutality of war and develop a personal connection with fully customizable squads."
It is one thing to have customisable squads, but to actually make players care... Also, if you have spent ages levelling up a unit players will fear losing it. However, this could just mean that disposable units play an even bigger part, as you cannot risk your good units and so just chuck rubbish units at the enemy and only use your best units in the worst case scenario.

The campaign sounds really interesting as you have control over a very small number of units and there is no base building. This reminds me of a game I really enjoyed a while back based on the film Platoon. The problem I can see though is Platoon was built for this. However, in Dawn of War, the game has to be able to take standard base building skirmishes too. It will be interesting to see how it all fits together. It is easy to see how customisable units can work in the single player campaign, but in the skirmishes, will you have access to them?

What I would quite like is if you had a persistent army (tied to your GFWL[Game for Windows Live] Profile) As you won games, you could purchase upgrades.

For example, when you build a standard infantry squad, if you have upgraded one standard infantry squad to start off with grenade launchers, then the first one would have grenade launchers. All units would be standard after that, unless you had purchased identical upgrades, so you could have more than one unit starting off like this.

The possible problem with this would be balancing, if you win more games, you just become unstoppable. Perhaps to get around this, choosing your army would constantly require trade off's. Yes, you can upgrade all your units to have grenade launchers, but one of your tanks won't be available at all. This could actually work quite well as new players would have a well rounded army to suit any strategy, but then as you hone your strategy, you could hone your army to fit it.

And to think this was meant to be a quick post! Coming up, more on Fallout 3, got in to it and I am loving it. I have only done like the first part of the story, I just keep wandering off in to the wilderness!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fallout 3 First Impressions

I got Fallout 3 (off Steam, took 6 hours to download!) The first couple of hours are kind of lame. Fortunately, I was forewarned, and so pushed on through them. When you are in the vault, the game is slow and fairly boring. Fortunately, it doesn't last too long. When you get out, the game doesn't improve straight away. You have nothing, no ammo, not very much money (caps) and no idea what is going on. The game seems to assume so much. Within a few minutes, in true Bethesda style, people are offering up quests. However, the game assumes that you know that caps are money and how much they are worth (is 300 a lot, or nothing?). There are enemies which can easily kill you EVERYWHERE. You literally cannot go anywhere without being attacked by something which is stronger and faster than you. Sure, this does create a sense of desperation, but it has been taken too far. I think I died about 15 times, this isn't fun, and shouldn't be necessary just to scout out a safe path.

Until you find Megaton, you will repeatedly die in a desperation to find something, anything. Fortunately, once you find Megaton (named after the bomb it is built around) the game gets a lot better. It plays something like a cross between Oblivion and Stalker. It has the punishing difficulty of Stalker, combined with the huge expanses, thousands of quests and millions of in game items that Oblivion is famed. The world is bleak, I have yet to find a happy spot. Everywhere you go there is a dead body or a ruined house. The skyline is mainly dominated by what looks like a nuclear missile launch facility. I can't work out if this is really cool, or just really depressing.

So far, I haven't spent a lot of time with the game. Some of the quests seem to require certain skills which you might not have, which is kind of annoying, and there is a fair amount of Fedex quests. Fortunately, exploring the world is a treat (in a weird sadistic way) and searching every box, every corpse and every blown out structure for something worth keeping. Drinking water out of a puddle because you are so desperate for health, beating down a bandit with a baseball bat in a derelict school. It all feels so desperate, it's fantastic!

More to come. Also, you will be pleased to here that 24 started yesterday (Monday 12th Jan, 9PM Sky One and Sky One HD) You will also be pleased to here that it is fantastic and on form. Secretly, I was scared that this would be the downfall of 24, but, judging by the first two episodes, it isn't. It has everything that a good 24 needs, emotional involvement for Jack, an over-arching political conspiracy, a relevant political comment, no one to trust and some awesome action. Loving every minute, the next 22 weeks will fly by.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2008 Analysis

Well sorry for not posting in ages, been busy with Christmas and other stuff.

2008 has ended, and despite a fantastic 2007, it was good game wise. Normally, (normal in that I think I did it last year) I would comment on Gamespot's Game of the Year award. However, this year, they were shockingly poor. Neither Fable 2 or Gears of War 2 made the Best of Xbox 360, let alone Game of the Year. This wouldn't be bad, if there were 10 clearly amazing games, but NHL? It wasn't just these shortlists that were off. For example, Fable 2 was not even listed in the funniest game. Sure, I maybe a bit of a Fable fanboy, but everyone found it funny. But it was in best sequel. What, that makes no sense either. Best Sequel should go to a game which had either a really poor preuel, or took everything good from the first one and crafted it in to something new. Fable 2, while good, did some things less well than Fable 1.

Gears wasn't on best Technical graphics, nor Fable on artistic, Super Smash Bros didn't win best Wii game. All in all, I was highly disappointed in the whole thing. This was worsened by the fact that the comments section wasn't working, I couldn't vote and the whole thing was taking forever to load.

Instead, as I don't play enough game to do my own set of awards, I am going to briefly discuss some of the big, controversial and important releases of the year.


The brain child of Will Wright was highly hyped, but the press received it with a collective shrug. For me it had two key floors. Firstly, the Space age was hugely frustrating and none of the modes slotted together. I have already published a huge rant about the space stage in my review, but the other comment I have only mentioned in passing. Excluding the space stage, each mode was weak, simple and could be found on the internet. The bit that was meant to be different was that you played them all. But there was no continuity, no consequences. Other than choosing whether to play the Simon Says peace game or a simple power of numbers RTS game, your decisions had little impact.

The game was not without redeeming features (not least the hugely impressive editors), and perhaps minus the hype it would have been good. However, I guess I was expecting something a little more thought out from Will Wright.

Read all my coverage of Spore...

Super Smash Bros Brawl

I will get round to reviewing this game at some point. On the one hand, it is that same addictive, easy to pick up, impossible to master game play that is impossible to resist. But, on the other hand, the game feels constantly lazy. There is no IR support for the menus (instead you use a cursor controlled by the joy-stick!!), the online is not only lacking in functionality, but is also constantly laggy (and consequently, no one plays it). In true Nintendo style, there has been no apology, no explanation and no resolution. I could go on for hours about the features missing from the online, but it really doesn't matter, if it had just worked, it would be good.

Ok, so they failed to take advantage of the Wii, they failed to make a decent online, but at least the standard modes are good. Well, yes. But the characters aren't balanced. So, what exactly did they do in the years they had to develop it. A great game, an even greater disappointment.

Read all my Brawl coverage


You may be surprised to see this title, I haven't bought it, don't worry. However, this is the only strategy game to come up with a WORKING control scheme for an RTS on console. While everyone's breath is held for Halo Wars, EndWar did what I have been trying to said needs to be done. And no, I am not talking about voice commands (no pun intended)

This game did three things which made it work on the console. Firstly, it simplified everything. There is only one resource and you don't have to manage its collection (it builds up), there are only 7 or 8 different units fitting a simple Rock, Paper, Scissors thing.

Second, it has come up with a logical way of controlling the units (even without voice, issuing commands is as easy as on a PC) and thirdly, it made the whole experience much bigger. Now before you go accusing me of saying that console games need to be dumbed down, it isn't because of the market. It is simply you sit much further from the screen. On a PC, I can read size 10 fonts, size 20 on a console can be tricky. By making the experience big and visceral, it was easy to play and above all fun.

Yes the voice commands do help, but it was not the only noteworthy feature in the game.

Read my first impressions...

Fable 2

I will be writing about this game for years to come. What can I say? I game with so many flaws, I'm sorry, but it did. Flaws that Peter Molyenux himself admits in an interview (which I have lost the link to, some of it was on Xbox Live at one point as well) But through all this, the game delivered a stunning experience. It is the first game to make me feel something other than, "Woo, I did it". Sure, the co-op was terrible, the game was easy and the world no where near as big as Oblivion. But it is bigger than you think, I bet half of you never went to the cave in Rookridge where you had to swim round the river. I am constantly finding new areas. I will be writing more about this game and what I want from the DLC (which I will sell all my beliefs and probably end up getting!)

Gear of War 2

Horde is an incredible stroke of genius with near endless re-playability (I would like to see anyone do wave 50 on insane, and then anyone do that ON THEIR OWN) The campaigns story is not very satisfactory. At the start, the Locust were nearly defeated and then they weren't, and judging that there is a Gears 3 planned, the end is the same. At the start, Dom had lost his wife, everyone thought she was dead, now she's dead. At the start, humanity was on its last legs, at the end, well you get the idea. The campaign was fun none the less, and co-op is a blast.

The online started off terrible. It could take an hour to find one game. It does appear to be fixed now, and is almost as fast as Halo. It still has annoying timers before you can't quit, you can't party up and the ranking system isn't very rewarding (there are only 5 ranks, so you hardly ever go up, except after you win your first game) However, it is as intense as ever and the new game types work really well. All the weapons are balanced and the game manages to stride the fine line of non-frustrating-but-tense very well.

Read my first impressions...

Fallout 3

I haven't got this game (but I will be getting it soon) but I have heard quite a bit about it. Apparently the start is really bad, but fast forward three hours and suddenly everyone is raving about it. It sounds like Bethesda as done something fantastic with this. They took what was good with Oblivon (large expansive map with near-infinite things to do) but put some character in to it. I am really looking forward to find the parts for the rail gun which pins people to walls, all of the toys and explore the wasteland. I will be writting about this more on Tuesday next week (that's when I am getting it, after my exams)

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot

Once again, not played on this, but DAMN I wan't too. Sure it sounds stuck up, excessive and redicuolous. But I think that if you have made what some people call one of the greatest series of all time, you are entitled to do that. The mix of genres sounds impressive, but a game where enough love to create 1 and a half hour cut scenes has gone in, I want a part of. Unfortunatley, this is not quite enough to justify selling my house for a PS3. Not that that is true anymore, they are actually reasonably priced - if it had the range of games that the 360 does.

Little Big Planet

But it is getting close (to me getting a PS3). Although this game got kind of average reviews (considering hype) from the press, I really want to play this. Maybe it is my love of making things, particuarly games, or maybe because it is a platformer with a physics engine, I don't know, but there is something about this game which I find irrestible. The MGS (Metal Gear Solid) LBP (Little Big Planet) pack nicely consolidates all that is good about the PS3


Home ceartainly shouldn't be included in this package from what I have heard. Immature pre-pubecent teens seem to make up the numbers, crowding ANY female arvatar and performing acts which I shan't go in to here (youtube Home if you are interested, I am sure there are quite a few videos) Other than that, just sounds a bit boring and depressing. Probably shouldn't have invested quite so much time in this one Sony...

Call of Duty: World at War

Well, I played the beta, enjoyed it and then remembered why I never got Call of Duty 4; I find it too frustrating. Where Gears gets the balance right (almost), this game goes way in to the frustrating side. It doesn't matter how good you are, sometimes, someone will just randomly creep up behind you and head shot you. The fact that a CoD is now coming out every year probably isn't a good thing for the series - I doubt even Infinity Ward can create a compelling campaign every two years that is any longer than 5 hours. On the plus side, it is the first time (that I can recall) where a video game achives that level continued demand, equalling sports games which are conveniently based on an ever changing list of players. I'll hold of judement to, err, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2? Well, there never was a CoD 5...

Stay tuned for what I am looking forward to in 2009.

"All your base are belong to us"