Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Update - and a big one

I've been slack, I didn't even wave my goodbyes, but I stopped with the blog, I'll be honest.

School is a bitch, and a large one at that, so I'm not promising more reviews...

But I've renamed all my posts so hopefully they get more hits, and I might be convinced (HINT) to do more reviews, if you guys want them...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Age of Empires review - Moving on up! (In Ages) Moving on out! (With Armies)

As some of you already know, I take requests for games to review, and most of the reviews I write are actually requests. (Thanks guys! No seriously...thanks) So when I found this request from a person I never expected a request from, I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Age of Empires was released by Microsoft Games (yeah, really!) and was an instant hit. The Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre already existed, but as soon as Age of Empires came along, the entire method, meaning and structure of the genre changed instantly.

When I contemplated what to write in this review, at first I was pretty stumped. I usually try to just jot down a few notes on the general points I want to say, then I just power ahead and write things for the next 2,000 words. (Structured of course) However when I came to this, I realised that there really wasn’t much to write about as such. However, I settled on just explaining the game, telling some funny stories and the like. Enjoy!

Walling in - great tactic!
When you first play Age of Empires, prepare to be blustered. Like most RTS games of the time period, you need to be decent to get good, and need to be good to get decent. Practice does however, make perfect. You will find yourself going through the tutorials, which are possibly some of the most banal and patronising things ever, if you know anything about RTS’s already that is. You can then dive into the campaign, although I’ve never been one for campaigns in RTS games. It’s so banal and annoying. You build a base, beat some peeps down, then move on. Build another base...I’ll get back to the campaign later...But anyway, I as always, lept straight on the scenario mode, which is code for “skirmishes”. Now then, I’ve played Age of Empires before, so I knew the VERY basics, because the last time I played the game was at least 7 years ago. That’s a long time...but still, no one forgets how to build villagers in an RTS, it’s basic stuff. So, I trundle along in my first scenario match, building some villagers and all that. In Age of Empires, you have four different resource types, Food, Wood, Stone and Gold. At first, all you need to build your stuff is food and wood. So, that’s what I did, divided my units, stacked just slightly towards food rather than wood, and just trundled along. I scouted out a bit, found some more stuff, more foraging, more hunting, etc etc. Now then, we’ll take a side step from my little story, and talk about the key, and most innovative, feature of Age of Empires.

Age of Empires is called what it is thanks to the system that takes from its namesake, ages. Ages in Age of Empires are a system which is now so ingrained in our RTS games, call them one thing or another, but they are there. Age of Empires (Ed. At least to our knowledge) was the first to implement them. In a nutshell, you have a few stages of development, in Age of Empires it is Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. At the Stone Age period, you can only build basic buildings, such as storage pits which are like alternative collection points for resources, and a barracks...which can only train clubmen. When you build enough “Stone Age buildings”, and pay a large sum of resources, you can advance to the Tool Age. In the Tool Age, your...everything begins to look more “modern” and civilised. You can upgrade your clubmen to axemen, build farms and watch towers. The Bronze Age then proceeds further down the timeline, and the Iron Age even further. It’s a system which works, but doesn’t. For example, if you get to the Bronze Age, and the enemy doesn’t, you have a huge advantage, as your units are more powerful and more diverse. As you “Age up” you get more technologies to research, allowing for more damaging units, and units with more armour. Your enemy however it stuck with axemen and bowmen, whereas you have Roman style hoplites! (Those guys with long sticks) This is naturally a compound effect. Instead of the losing player being given a chance to fight back, you just become more and more powerful. There are strategies however, to slow down the opposition’s Age-ing. The most prominent strategy being to slaughter his/her workers. The villagers are as you thought resource collectors, and I won’t patronize you too much by explaining any more. But if you kill even 3 villagers, the resource collection of that person is stymied and buggered to quite a point. There are of course provisions to rebuild those three villagers, but that’s time and food that you have made the enemy waste. Food being the main resource to advance through the beginning Ages, and furthermore – every villager costing 50 food. I admit that you can do the same to him, but still, once you’re on the backfoot, it’s very hard to get on to the front foot. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but once you know that the enemy is an Age ahead with a much stronger economy, if it’s not part of some master plan you have – be prepared for hell.

Two armies collide
Anyway, back to my fun little story. At this point, I had a pretty stable economy. I wouldn’t say that strong, but stable none-the-less. I had villagers here, villagers there. At around 15-20 minutes in, I advanced to the Tool Age from the Stone Age. At this point, I started to build a very basic military, just some axemen and bowmen, maybe 4 max of each. I scouted out a little, and found part of their base REALLY close to mine...*gulp*. This did quite frankly, cause me panic considering that the closest building was a barracks, and they were at the Tool Age as well...Quickly, with a vast amount of deftness, and defying nature, I built a watch tower and planted some bowmen next to it, in case of an advance. It didn’t come. I decided after about another five minutes to begin to raze that barracks to the ground. I moved in the army and realised that they had a watch tower on overwatch, so I pulled the axemen, and left the bowmen. After a minute, I see a villager go over, and try repair the barracks! I shoot him with the bowmen, continue with the razing. Then another one comes, shoot him. Another one...Then it hit me. I could cheese the hell out of the AI!  All I then did was wait for a villager, shoot him, return barracks to previous health. Eventually, I had gathered enough resources and created a large enough army to take over the base...but then something funny happened. The AI decided that they had run out of stone, so they should come into MY BASE and mine there. This was about 15 villagers they sent on exodus. Not to mine. My military had a field day, then I made the counter attack. There was no defence, no military, just one watch tower which I knew the location of. By the time I was done, I hadn’t even proceeded to the Iron Age. Maybe a higher level of computer is more appropriate for me...but I just don’t care enough to actually play another game...

I admit that this review is possibly less total and complete than something from say, IGN, but it’s my experience with the game. It’s fun, but I didn’t really, enjoy it. However by the same token, I like Company of Heroes and that style of tactical RTS, so in essence, Age of Empires is really not my cup of tea. Focusing on economy AND military, for me detracts with both the economic part and the military part. When a game like Company of Heroes comes along and bases the economy on the military, the military strategy improves exponentially. With Age of Empires, there really isn’t a strategy in the basic use of the military; you just right click to attack. Cover is irrelevant, that kind of strategy is irrelevant. You win a battle before you enter it, just because of the unit composition. Predicting fights, is more of a science than in a game such as Company of Heroes where a tactic can change the fight. A grenade loosed can mean a won fight, when the odds were stacked, whereas here, there is no grenade to throw. Reinforcements can be called, but only from the units you’ve...already made. Villagers are too precious, economies can be crippled irreparably. The same can happen in Company of Heroes, but the counter attack can change the tide of the war...

The genuine size of your "empires" can become pretty damn big...

In conclusion, I really like Age of Empires, but I just can’t personally get into it. It’s a combination of games I’ve already played and just the general style of the game. Kind of like my friend who couldn’t play Company of Heroes because of Close Combat: Invasion Normandy, I can’t play Age of Empires, because of Company of Heroes. It’s cyclical...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mount and Blade review - Mounting and Blading and Stabbing...and all that...

Mount and Blade is an innovative game released by Taleworlds in 2008. It was landmark in regards to Python programming, and modding capability. The amount of mods released for Mount and Blade is astronomical, from smaller graphical mods to total conversions into games about Star Wars. The formula is always the same, but you can have any amount of games installed – they’re all Mount and Blade. (Writer’s note: Yes I do know of the sequels and will be referencing them in the article in general. However this review is just for the first and original Mount and Blade)

I would love to talk about the story of Mount and Blade (MnB) however there really isn’t a tangible one. The time period is medieval/feudal, and the country you are in is named Calradia. You are a mercenary, fighting for freedom. That is, freedom and conquest for anyone you want. Your objective is generally to forge a legend, and how you do that, is up to you. The story to MnB revolves around the character you create, about his actions. Anyone will admit that the paths that your character can take are limited in prospects, however the basics of the game are, “do what you will”. This at first was what suckered me in. Just the ability to go around a huge world map; do what you want, in an action RPG, and where you choose your role. To me, that was just so appealing, and to put it into perspective, I must have completed the demo (which allows you about 40 minutes to an hour of gameplay) maybe five times. Of course I then finally bit the bullet, and bought the game. It would be worth noting that the sequential MnB games attempted to put in a story, however really just...failed. If Warband and Fire and Sword just did the same thing as MnB by dumping you in the deep end, I personally would have preferred it.

Towns are well detailed, and even populated!
You will start MnB dazed and confused. There is a tutorial, but it only teaches you combat. (Which I will get to later) What you actually should do in the world of Calradia, can only be taught through experience of playing the game again and again. Personally when starting a new game, I complete all the training fights, get 5 troops, fight looters until I’m about level 5 and have decent gear, then enter tournaments until I’m rich. The next beauty (although equally as annoying) of MnB is when things go wrong. Although that is my plan (and I’m not advocating it as the master plan...but it’s decent) everything could go wrong. If I lose a battle against the looters, there’s a chance that I could lose a really good item. The main loss is troops, although again, I’ll get to that later. Everything is dynamic in MnB, you need to think about your next actions and stay on your toes. Although your plan may be to say, get a better sword, you may have to commit to more fights than you thought, or get more troops, or take on a quest that you really didn’t want to do, but must because of your ultimate goal. Another point is that MnB is winnable, however actually winning is not necessarily what you would want to do with your game. To win is to join a faction and take over all the cities and castles in the world in the name of your faction, but that takes time. You may just want to reach a certain fame level, or something along those lines, then call your character complete and make a new one. You can really do whatever you want.

Combat in MnB is one of the selling points. Essentially, it’s a third person beat-em-up, with swords, shields, horses, lances, axes and pretty much any other weapon of the time period that you can think of. Your strikes are based on directions, up, left and right. An “up” attack is a downward thrust. (From up to down) Left and right are virtually the same in regards to principle. You also have a block, with or without a shield. With a shield you just hold the button and your shield goes up. Without one it is less of a block and more of a parry, which is pretty sweet. When you block an attack, the enemy is stunned for just a second, which is your time to strike. I have just explained to you in very basic terms the principles of combat. There is also cavalry based combat. The basics of cavalry are the same, but except for blocking, your block is that fact that you can move. Cavalry to cavalry, then you do have to be fair. There is also archery, which is a favourite of mine, and throwing weapons, which are grossly underpowered, however for a roleplaying sense, work brilliantly. (Playing as a Nord or Viking, throwing axes or something) The combat feels a ton better in various mods and the sequels, however still feels OK in the original. When you are in a one on one battle with someone, every block and blow feels like you are getting closer to victory – or defeat. When someone in full plate armour comes at you, you feel scared and want to retreat, since if you die, the battle ends. (For some reason...) It feels very medieval and brutal, and I like it.

Mounted combat is great, and still works
when fighting as groups.
The RPG elements of MnB come thick and thin, but are still good. The first and most obvious element is loot. Every battle you have, will net you gold and loot. You can’t equip loot on your troops, however you can on yourself, and your companions. (Which I’ll get to in the next paragraph, I promise) The loot is split into commodities, food and gear. Commodities are like trade goods. They vary in price (selling and buying) in the various “hub” cities, based on supply. For the record, you can actually buy something low, and sell at a high price, it’s one way to make money. Not the best, but reasonably safe. Food increases your group’s morale. Don’t ask what morale does in original MnB, because I don’t know. But it’s pretty easy to keep it at 99 (max) so there’s no reason not to. Lastly, gear is essentially just that. On your person, you have four weapon slots, one (chest) armour slot, one helmet slot, a glove slot and a boots slot. Your weapon slots are taken up by everything that is a weapon or relates to a weapon in any way. Examples include swords, shields, bows, arrows, throwing weapons, or whatever is in the game. Armour is pretty easy to explain, and is split into three categories, head, chest and foot. The armour ratings come into play when you get hit in these three areas. Naturally your chest rating is highest, so if you are an archer, you want to hit the head or legs. This does less damage, however also has less armour rating, it’s a trade-off.

Your party/group is comprised of yourself, your troops and your companions. I’m going to go through your progression first, and put a paragraph towards it, then talk about troops.

Your progression in the game is based on levels. You kill things, complete battles, complete quests, you get XP. Each level grants you some points in each of the three categories, attributes, skills and proficiencies. Attributes are limited in MnB, and come under Strength, Agility, Intelligence and Charisma. Skills link directly to your attributes, and can only be raised to a third of what your attribute is in the related area. For example, Ironflesh is a strength based skill, and raises your health. If your Strength is 9, your maximum in this skill is 3. If Strength is 12, then max is 4, and so on and forth. Also, if you increase your Intelligence, you get extra skill bonuses, however it is also the most useless attribute in regards to other effects. (Strength also increases base melee damage, for example.) Choosing which attributes and skills to increase is often situational, however is best being overall useful. For example, a point in inventory management is always useful, as it increases overall inventory size. However a point in say, power draw (more bow damage) is more situational. Proficiencies are a little easier. Weapons are split into categories, and for each, you have a proficiency, which determines how good you are with those weapons. For ranged weapons, the higher the proficiency, the more accurate you are, and also how fast you can ready the weapon. (Draw the bow, for example) Melee weapons are more about speed, the higher the proficiency, the faster you can swing. No more damage, but you sneak in extra swings. The two ways to increase these proficiencies is by using the weapon, and by spending points. However, spending points is exponential, at first; it may cost one proficiency point to increase two points of proficiency in say, archery. But later on, it may cost 7 proficiency points, to increase by just one. So just pouring points in, is by no way more efficient than actually using the weapon! Companions work exactly the same in regards to stats and skills, however naturally cannot complete quests of their own, so they level slower. Eventually however, you and your companions will become so powerful and have such powerful gear, you will become harbingers of death! (It’s pretty fun...)

The world map - detailed and informative.
Your troops are totally different, and acquiring high level troops is a skill on its own. Firstly, you have to go small villages. The more they like you, the more people who will be willing to give up their lives and join your merry little band of rugged and rowdy battlers. Once you get them, they will suck, they are raw recruits. As you battle with others, you get some party XP, which is split among the troops. Eventually, you will gain the ability to upgrade your troops, then again and again. Sometimes, you will have to choose which path the troop takes, such as becoming an archer or infantry, infantry or cavalry, heavy infantry or light infantry, etc etc. Getting them this high is pretty hard, since they kind of die in battle. Once they die, there isn’t a magic revive system, they are dead. If they get hit by a blunt weapon, they are unconscious, will automatically recover after a while, however the chances are that your troops will die, and die badly. Once they get to being bigger and better, of course their chance of survival rises, but if they die, it will take ages and ages, battle after battle to bring them back to this state. It takes stupid long at actually get this far, with just one troop. If you intend to get one dude, bring about 5 to train, because 4 will die, if not more.

I can’t conclude a review of MnB without talking about at least one mod. The mod I have chosen to talk about is 1866, a western mod. A funny fact about MnB was that there actually was always provision for firearms, but just wasn’t included in the final game since it’s too early in time for them. But Taleworlds pretty much said flat out, “If you guys want guns in the game...” There are plenty of other mods with more historical “gun” mods, such as The Eagle and Radiant Cross which is more about musket battles, but 1866 is full western, revolvers and rifles. There are some one shot rifles, like there were in the west, but it’s not hard at all to get your hands on repeaters. The mod overall is the same as the original, join a faction, wreck people, but this time, there are guns. Lots, and lots of guns. The strategy changes suddenly. Charging a bunch of people is no longer smart, since guns can shred your face up from a distance, whereas swords actually have to touch you to hurt. Actually hiding behind a sand dune and firing your Henry repeater rifle is really fun, while your troops all line up and fire simultaneously, it’s pretty fun, and no one will deny it. The most fun I had in this was the Sharps long range rifle. It’s pretty much a one hit kill, and is stupid amounts of gun, especially when you have 300+ rifle proficiency. If you are into guns, and also MnB, I really suggest you download the mod, you will have fun with it. Also, for bonus points – find the city of Tull...

1866 at it's finest...well...after its finest...

Mount and Blade is a really fun game, about swords and shields and lords. As usual, there are so many things I haven’t mentioned, such as joining factions, sieges, and taverns. I do however believe that I have covered enough of the game generally to give you a good idea. The good idea to go play the damn thing that is. Play this game, you will like it. If you don’t like it, I will have to beat you until you do, it is really that good. If you don’t like the original (I don’t play it anymore) play one of the sequels, or mod the game. I retract my earlier statement and replace it with “If you don’t like MnB or any of its sequels or mods, then I have to beat you until you do”. Because it’s really that good. . . 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Champions Online review - Champions - Unite!

Champions Online was a game which I heard of with great interest quite a few years ago. It was my honest opinion that I really wanted it, and thought it looked awesome. However, my heart was crushed when I learned it was Pay 2 Play. For those of you who know me, any P2P model throws me off and ensures that I will never play the game, I’m sorry, I just don’t do P2P. I have no inclination to pay again and again for a game, when with that money I could just buy a ton of other games – which I have forever. Either way, the game went Free to Play part way through last year, bought out by Perfect World. I didn’t have the computer to run it back then, but now I do, and I’ve leapt on this with a vengeance.

Champions Online is a standard MMO based around the concept of superheroes. You, the nameless (until you name him/her) hero arrives in Millennium City, a city under attack by the Qularr, an alien race content on destroying the human race. It is up to you, the superheroes, to stop the alien invasion. After stopping the invasion which you find is caused by a supervillain, the city returns to normal, normal as a city in an MMO is anyway. You then have to go out to the streets, fighting crime of a super nature or not, stopping thugs, beating the bad guys, and generally being a good guy. Unlike City of Heroes/Villains, you can’t be the bad guy, which is a little disheartening, because most of the NPC’s will yearn to be slaughtered by your superior nature...

Just chilllin - and bitchin...
The game itself actually starts with a character creation system – which is so good that it truly deserves a paragraph of its own. You first choose an archetype. An archetype is a character development system, in which the game will choose powers for you, and you have no real choice in the matter. (Except at certain set points, even then your choice is limited to one of two powers) The archetypes at the least are varied enough to make you interested in looking at all of them before deciding. For example, there is a soldier, who is kind of like The Punisher but with super dexterity, a telepath, a “fire” user, and many more. After choosing your archetype (I chose soldier) you then go on to costume creation. Costume creation is probably the best part of the game, if anything just because of its depth. There are (according to the game) over 2,000 costume pieces available at a free level. (The game calls F2P accounts “Silver” and paid accounts “Gold”) The variety you can create is astounding. Just using my soldier as a base, I created a very Punisher-esque costume, and a “formal” suit style costume. At first you can have up to two costume slots, and each can be totally different, which is nice for variation, and role-playing. You could have Peter Parker and Spiderman, for example. The variation you can truly create is virtually endless, and it really works. You can create whatever costume you want, then customise colour, texture and others. What’s really interesting about the costumes, is that there is a good chance that you will unlock other costume pieces as you play the game. This means that you will want to revisit the costumes, and not just create one look for your character and give up on any further creativity forever.

Combat in Champions is in a way, innovative, however you do feel the generic undertones of MMO’s seeping in. Your combat is based on an “Energy” bar. You refill your energy to a certain point )based on your stats) called “Equilibrium”. Your Energy refills faster out of combat, and your health regenerates really quickly out of combat. When in combat, your basic attack is called an “Energy Builder” and when you use it, will give you approximately 25% of your Energy, or more. The rest of your attacks (which are naturally more powerful) then reduce your energy. This creates the need to balance attacking with powerful attacks, or building energy with weaker attacks. Balance is the key word, and you need to think fast on your toes, and think about how much damage you can do with the energy you have, and when you should start to rebuild. There are also Sustained attacks, Charge attacks and Tap attacks. Sustained attacks require you to hold down the attack’s key, you then continue doing the attack. For example, my soldier’s main sustained attack is an Assault Rifle. A charge attack requires you to charge it before using it to its full potential. Both sustained and charge attacks can be Tapped as well. Tap attacks are just that, you tap the key and it just does the attack once. Using my soldier again, if I hold the key, my character sustains automatic fire, but if I tap it, my character just fires a burst. These attacks have different damages, and again, it adds another layer of thinking. I find that since there is so much, I just kind what I think works, as opposed to what works mathematically. The other problem is one I’ll go over more later, but AoE is pretty much over powered in every scenario possible. It’s dodgy as and allows the virtual skipping of sections in earnest...

All the powers look really flashy and neat -
it's a tribute to the skill of the art directors!
My previous point now leads me to missions themselves. The premise behind the missions, to be honest, does actually show thought by the developers. You don’t just go and, “kill some guys” (even though that’s what happens...) you have to rescue a scientist, or defeat the leader of a gang, or retrieve stolen weaponry. However, the stolen weapons are guarded by 3 dudes, the scientists are guarded by 3 dudes, the leader is also guarded by – you guessed it – 3 dudes. This is not counting all the sentries which are around the encounter area, which you can’t skip, because a) you want the XP/items and b) the encounters are designed so you can’t skip them. Which leads me into my next point.  Missions are set out as a set of encounters with enemies. You may have say, 7 sets of approximately 3 dudes, 2 weak and 1 kind of stronger. It’s stupid. Even when you are 20m away from another group, they don’t care. The only time that any enemy you are not attacking will attack you – is if that enemy is part of the group. It feels – dull. When I say dull, I mean really dull. It’s one of the main reason I stopped playing. . .

One good thing I can say about the game is that gear is a lesser focus of the game. When I say that, I mean that you don’t have to find a pair of rare boots to be better. Although I don’t deny that gear is important without a doubt, but however, it’s still less of importance than other games. Gear is split into three groups, with two sub-groups each. These three groups are offense, defence and utility. These are then split into primary and secondary. Each group can have one primary and two secondary pieces of gear, so that’s 9 overall. The three groups don’t focus on any skill, which is really good. For example, an offence piece of gear does not necessarily mean that the gear enhances say – strength. The gear can enhance any stat, which is nice, because you specialise in whatever you want, and it’s pretty easy to find decent (not good) gear. Good gear can be found rarely, and from quests, and it does feel like progression and not just moving in leaps thanks to one piece of gear. Gear is level restricted, but some isn’t, such as quest gear, which is great.

An example of a travel power.
The actual design of the worlds is really nice. The game is cell-shaded (like Borderlands) and that gives a great comic book feel. To get around this world (which is pretty big) you are given a travel power. These can be chosen from a set, and include acrobatics, flight and super speed. All these have various advantages, and some can even be used in fights to your advantage, however you usually incur an energy regeneration penalty when the travel power is in effect. I chose acrobatics myself because I really love the idea about jumping around the city – and I was right. Jumping around the city forces actually thinking about where you jump. Although the bad thing is that the game doesn’t reward you for thinking smart with your travel powers. All enemies have a ranged attack, and enemies are scattered about the roof tops, so being smart about getting around the city isn’t necessarily the smart move. All you have to do is run on windows (effectively a glitch) and avoid enemies. When I say avoid – I’m talking about getting around the city TO your missions. Once you are in the missions, you can’t actually do anything with your travel powers. If you jump on top of something, the enemies just shoot you, or throw knives. Even primarily melee enemies will do this, creating no incentive to be smart. All you ever have to do is walk in, spam AoE, then finish off stragglers with some sustained fire. You’ll only ever really die to deliberate dumbassery or soloing bosses.

All in all, I really like Champions Online, but in all, it doesn’t do anything that new. It in truth, is just another MMO. I like the costume creator a lot, but still I feel no specific reason to continue playing the game. I feel as if it is another chore – another MMO chore. I don’t want to get to max level because I don’t feel like doing the same mission which I did for the past 11 levels of gameplay. I’ve had more exciting diversity in regards to gameplay watching the same game of COD4 over and over again. One way or the other, try to only play the game if you feel motivated by MMO’s or superheroes. Otherwise you’ll get bored, fast.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Farcry 2 review - It's a....Far-cry to Africa!

(The first article of March, woohoo!)

Farcry 2 was released as a sequel to Farcry, a game about a deserted island, mutants and a ex special forces officer who was then a boat captain. Farcry 2 (FC2) is about a mercenary attempting to kill a weapons dealer in Africa. The difference as you can see – is evident. The games are so far apart. In FC, there were maybe...6 weapons, if I remember correctly at least. In FC2 there are more...way more...and you can upgrade them! In FC, it was a linear story driven game with mutants, not a trace of mutation in FC2. (In all seriousness, the mutant plot was really good, why they dropped it is beyond me...) But anyway, enough background information, lets dive on in.

Farcry 2 is set in the continent of Africa, and I’m talking about a part of Africa which is fuelled by the Kalashnikov. You play the game as a mercenary, payed to kill The Jackal, an arms dealer who is pitting two groups against each other, fuelling the war with arms for everyone at ever decreasing prices. But as you are sent in, the hotel you are staying in gets attacked by the militias, you get attacked by The Jackal who spares your life, however you get malaria. You are then sent to a couple of places, where they realise you are dying from malaria, and then you have to help them in return for them saving your life. The game then revolves around you getting closer to The Jackal, generally by helping out other people for information.

I didn't talk about it - but fire is a great feature of the game!
The gameplay of FC2 is based around the missions you are given by various people, which is the main quest. Then there are the side quests, which you can acquire in a variety of ways. Essentially, you get a quest, you finish it, you drive to the next one, rinse and repeat. You’ll complete the game pretty quickly if that is your method, however there is much more to FC2 than just a main story. You have a pretty wide berth of exploration in this continent of Africa. Throughout this berth, you have roadblocks full of enemies, safehouses which you can take for yourself, and diamonds to find. (More on those later.) All of these locations full of enemies are tracked. For example, there are around 120 roadblocks in the game, and the first time you clear one, you get a tick of approval from the game and you can move on. Of course if you are lazy, you can just drive on through...but now it’s time to start complaining.

Roadblocks have to be the worst idea in the game. There are really some sweet ideas in this game, but the roadblocks really are not one of them. The essential facts are that if you are driving someone, on various pre-set intersections there is a roadblock. There are maybe...10 enemies or so in a roadblock, and about two vehicles. (Ed. It should be mentioned that the “vehicles” which Mr. Prickly speaks of are jeeps with mounted MG’s on top. Nothing like tanks or anything...) If you decide to get out and clear the roadblock manually, you waste time and ammunition, and probably a ton of health. However what is annoying is that if you just drive straight through and try avoid the roadblock, the bad guys get in their vehicles and chase you down, with 100% success. This then means you have to get out or get on your gun and shoot them. However, in the chase, your vehicle has probably been either damaged or destroyed. This then means that if you haven’t captured an enemy vehicle by shooting out the driver (which is difficult) you have to walk. DO NOT MAKE ME WALK EVER. IT IS ANNOYING. If walking is the only method of transport in the game, that’s fair play if you have to walk. BUT, if there is a vehicle in the game used for transport, and the game is going to make me walk...yeah, just don’t. YOU WILL get me pissed off at the game, and I WILL quit. But this isn’t why I don’t like FC2.

My main problem with the game is that every mission is the damn same. Murder and destruction, that’s it, now in a linear game it’s not so bad. Why is not so bad? Because it’s what you are expecting, and you can then tailor the game around the principle of set encounters in a linear fashion. However in an open world (or at least quasi open world) game you need to cater for that audience, and having an essentially linear set of combats is not the way to do it. Every mission pretty much has you killing someone, or a group. There’s one mission near the beginning which I remember in which you have to rescue a hostage. But that also feels set, you walk up to the place, case out the joint (Ed. Did you really just say that?) then take down the bad guys. That’s it, the premise may be different, but it’s killing none the less. Then we go back to the roadblocks. To get anywhere, I mean in between missions AND during missions, there’s a good chance you’ll go through at least, maybe more. This means that before going to do this interesting form of killing, you have to do some redundant killing just to get there. Oh, and did I mention that even though you can “clear” a roadblock, the enemies still respawn? BECAUSE THEY DO.

There are some really cool points to Farcry 2 though, amidst all my complaining. An example would be the diamond system. In the game, at a set amount (I forget how many) of locations, there are diamonds in singular form. You also get stipends of diamonds for the missions you complete. You can use these diamonds for a couple of main purposes, which are buying guns, equipment and manuals. Guns are reasonably self-explanatory, equipment includes such things as grenades and health syringes. Manuals are items which improve your proficiency in certain actions, such as repairing your vehicle, and firearm proficiency. The prices of things feel really good, and the game always something neat you can buy, and WANT to buy. Now then, I may hear you say, “If you have to find diamonds, why would you buy guns? What if you lose it?” Well that’s the next cool thing. Remember earlier I was talking about taking safehouses? Well, I’ll get back to that. Essentially, next to each store, there is an armoury. In that armoury there are all the guns you have unlocked, also a box representing each class of weapon, primary, secondary and heavy. What you can do, is take a gun off the wall of the armoury and place it in a box. It will then respawn on the wall after a short period of time if you are outside the armoury. The other thing is that in every safehouse, there are three boxes. In those boxes are the weapons placed in the corresponding box in the armoury. This is really great for if you are just cruising through the African plains, low on ammo, then suddenly, you are near a safehouse! Yes, that gun you prepared earlier, it’s right there!

Blowing away them bad guys - like a boss.

Farcry 2 is a game which has so much potential, so many good ideas. But it’s marred so badly by roadblocks and repetitive questing. It’s like an RPG without the RP. I still personally wish they just stuck with mutants.


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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Deus Ex review - Human Revolution eat your heart out.

Deus Ex is a stealth action game developed by Eidos Interactive in 2000. It is set in a post apocalyptic America! (‘Merica!) There is more...but I’ve lost the art of the blog post introduction – so it’s time to dive right into this classic!

Before we go on, I’d like to point out that this game is old. This game is really old, it looks and feels old. All the stealth elements are all based on line of sight and sound. It’s all very primitive. However, back when this was released, it was revolutionary! It was the most fantastic thing ever! People lauded over this piece of brilliance like...the invention of sliced bread or something. But anyway, I’m going to try to take a perspective of today on the game. i.e. this game as it stacks up against others of today.

Found picture of beta - looks same...yeah....
The basic story of the game revolves around a virus, the plague of this year, I totally however, forget what it is called. (Ed: It’s actually called “The Grey Death”) Then there is the cure, Ambrosia! Yes, there is a cure to this horrible plague. However in the opening cut scene to the game, it is revealed pretty much that Ambrosia is controlled by the bad people. You’re also slightly in the future, and everyone is bio-mechanically altered with “augmentations”. You play as JC Denton, a biomechanical warrior, who is part of UNATCO, a peace keeping organisation. There are also the basic stock terrorists, NSF. These guys believe in all this...I don’t even know anymore! To put it simply, the plot to this game is really ultra complicated. I kind of know what goes on, however it’s the specifics that elude me. For example, I honestly forget whether Ambrosia is the cure or the virus. (Ed. The cure you prick!) I forget exactly who is who. The game is a good 20 hours +, and that’s all plot driven. There really isn’t much filler, not much fed-ex, and it’s all good. The story is engrossing, and it’s all about betrayal, hope, despair, family...oh my word there is so much. You meet interesting characters, flit between various locations around the world, find out the deadly secrets behind the government and your organisation, and blow plenty of bad guys away.

The gameplay of Deus Ex is simple at first, getting more complicated later. The game revolves around action-stealth-RPG. To be honest, that is a truthful statement, there are action elements, there are stealth elements and there are most certainly RPG elements. Action is reasonably self-explanatory in basic regards, you get some guns, and they are futuristic, and you can shoot people. The stealth mechanic, for its day, is really, really good. Bad guys react to bodies, sounds and your muscular figure. But they don’t just go “BAD GUY” they actually react like people.  “What was that!” is a phrase you will hear most frequently from the bad guy’s mouths. Their reaction to sound is most important as you can throw small objects to distract enemies and sneak past, or get a chance at a sneak attack. Also using a silenced weapon is important, otherwise they can hear you shooting. There are factors and I think it’s pretty cool. RPG comes in mainly with levelling. For most actions such as completing an objective or exploring a location thoroughly, you get XP. (It’s called something else...but it’s XP all the same) You can then spend that XP on advancements to your character’s skills, such as handguns, heavy weapons or swimming. There are four levels to each skill, rookie, amateur, something...and master. Guns are the best way to examine the process of levelling, at rookie, you can use the gun, but the recoil is massive and it takes a really long time to get your mark. All the way up to master where there is no recoil and you have 100% accuracy to where you point your gun. It’s a very vanilla levelling system, simply because if you are higher level, you are better. Also, master levels are expensive, so getting to master is hard and you should be pretty damn sure you want it. This will also “spec you” to handguns, or whatever. So if you go master rifles, I’d bet $10 that you will rarely use any other weapon ever again. (Except maybe the silenced pistol...)

Inventory this game too!
The action in the game (which as you can see I am devoting an entire paragraph to) is very interesting and innovative. Again, guns are the best exemplar. If you bead over a target with a gun (and you have average skills in the firearm, as you will for most of the game) you see a reticule. The centre is where you are pointing, and then there are the crosshairs. They will be...really wide. Essentially, if you aren’t point blank with the enemy, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you miss. However the longer you hold your crosshairs there, the more they will condense and you become more accurate. Eventually you will get a perfect shot. However if you move your cursor, the process will reverse. This also includes moving of your person. It simulates the difficulty of hitting moving targets and it’s bittersweet for me. It’s cool’s a really great system which forces you to use stealth and not run in head first. However, enemies keep the same stats through the whole game, so when you get master in your weapon of choice – you suddenly can just run in head first. For example, I went rifles, and so for most of the game where I had bullets (more on that later) I just ran in the front door spraying my 100% accurate assault rifle. I could have never gotten away with that at first...but this is the END of the game!

However a point I need to make is ammo conservation. It is rare at any point in the game to be able to say, “Great, I have ammo to burn!” The only people who would do this are those who are stupid enough to not realise that eventually, there are more bad guys, so you need more ammo, which you won’t get. You...will...NOT get plenty of ammo. You may think you have plenty of ammo, but it goes quickly. I went master in rifles simply because of the sniper. The sniper can pretty much one-shot any enemy in the game with a good head shot. It’s great for ammo conservation. Although by the same token, you rarely get plenty of sniper ammo either. This feature of the game as I said, really forces you to stealth around and get as many bad guys with as little bullets as possible. It’s a shame they make melee so weak, because otherwise I’d just use that! But from what I’ve found, there really just isn’t that much in the game which is more powerful than the knife. The knife is just bad. (Although protip - always carry one for breaking boxes!)

En Garde Mr. NSF terrorist!
The missions in the game are interesting, but linear all the same. Some missions give you this air of openness, but certain areas are closed, certain areas are open, and you’ll never guess where your objective is. Sometimes you are in a town, sometimes in a place where it’s OBVIOUS that you have but only one way to go. It’s an interesting blend. However as I said earlier, there really isn’t much filler. But when I say that, pretty much everyone in the game is an asshole. Most of the game relates to getting people to do favours for you, however that requires a counter-favour. For example, in one part of the game you need some guy called Tong to turn off your switch. (I want say much else) But in return, you have to infiltrate some building and steal a sword. (Which now I come to think of a pretty good melee weapon...) Also, since the game is about betrayal...pretty much everyone in the game betrays you at some point or the other. I won’t tell you who doesn’t and who does, or how, but seriously...pretty much everyone. Now this should come as no surprise, but yeah, if you think that’s a spoiler, I could just say the word Helios and...never mind...  ;)

The last thing I want to mention is the modability of your character and your weapons. In the game, you can find various mod kits for your weapon. Most of them increase accuracy, clip size, various other nice little things. My favourite? The one which adds a silencer, by the end of the game, every gun I had which could take a silencer, had one. There are also laser sights and the like. The only bad thing is that there is no limit to how many mods you can slap on a gun. By the end of the game as well, I had so many damn mods on all my guns...So...many...mods. Augmentations are the other thing which you can mod. Throughout the game you find Augmentation capsules and...upgrade capsules or something like that. But essentially, you are allowed a selection of augmentations per body part. Most pretty much make you choose...and it’s a hard choice. For example, a cloak against humans or mechs. Mechs may be less plentiful, but they are also harder to kill...There are others, but that was the hardest choice for me. The other thing is the upgrades. Essentially, once you’ve selected that augmentation, you can upgrade it for more effect. The easiest to explain is the augmentation, Regeneration. At level 1, it goes really slow, level 4, really quickly. It’s pretty easy to get, but you don’t get many of these capsules, so again, you need to choose.

Deus Ex is a classic game. Although I’m taking all the bad points from the game, the story is great, the gameplay although slow is solid as, and last but not least, it feels nice to play. When you play it, you don’t feel kind of dirty like when you play Call of Dupedy Doop Modern Fagfare Thripty Throp. It has nostalgia, but isn’t a nostalgic hit. It’s a blend of different genres and it works. It just works. The best part? Any time Steam has a sale you can probably pick it up for maybe $3 or less. That’s less than a cup of coffee if you go to a posh enough establishment.