Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Prezzies: First Thoughts

Ahh, Christmas. A time of love and joy an' all that. I, however, do not suffer from such human failings, and thus I see only that fact that I get lots of prezzies.

Jesus is cool too. Go Jesus.

Anyway, I've been gifted Fable II, Crackdown and Saints Row II by a rotund chap with a sonorous catchphrase, which I can only assume refers to the ladies of the night waiting in his sleigh. I've had a quick go on Crackdown and Fable II, and so far my early verdicts are as follows:

Crackdown - Fun, but repetitive. Incredibly cheesy, and that guy who gives you a running commentary of what you're doing and what you should be doing has a horrible voice.

Fable II - There seem to be too many things to do, and I've been distracted from my mission of saving the world. I'll get back to it later, I need to fart at a crowd of children.

I might review them all sometime, if I feel like it and get enough hugs.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Several Ways To Make Life More Interesting

1. Run. A lot.
A basic method, tried and tested. You will have heard the old cliche "Why walk when you can run?". Well, it's time to take that and apply it to real life. Try to lean forward slightly, look behind you occasionally as if you're being chased by someone, and make a special effort to push past people who aren't in your way. Basically, do an Altair.

2. Make a fuss about everything
You know how in the movies something really, really bad always happens? You know, because Rambo: Adventures in Tesco would be kind of shit. Chances are your life isn't an action movie, and you're unlikely to have to hide in a puddle of turd waiting for the sheriff to stroll through all happy like. You're just going to have to make the best of the cards you're dealt. Run out of milk? Fucking calamity. Look, if you don't run down to the corner shop and get some more milk ASAP, the UN will collapse, St Basil's Cathedral will go a rusty brown colour, and who knows, maybe the world will explode. It's all up to you, Manman! Whooosh!

3. Wear outrageous clothes
Life's more fun if you stand out. Wear things that no one else wears. Like socks.

4. Say random crap when things go quiet
The soft murmur of a roomful of talkative people. Or perhaps, a million voices crying out at once. Either way, they'll eventually be suddenly silenced. When this happens, say something stupid. For example, "And that's why I always drink talcum powder". Or something.

5. Get a catchphrase
All the hardcore d00ds have catchphrases. You can either make one up, or steal one, and then use it after you do pretty much anything. After your morning dump, for example, you may decide to stand up triumphantly and declare "I'm so proud of it, I put my name on it".

6. Do things because you can
Why are you putting that frozen turkey on your head? Because I can! Why are you trying to lock yourself in your car boot? Because I can! Why are you putting dog biscuits up your nose? You get the idea.

What? I was stuck for ideas. STFU.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Left 4 Dead

One thing that's been constant in all previews of L4D has been the attempt to instill a fear of the Witch in all readers. Naturally, this means that everyone wants to shoot the Witch because they've been told not to. Fortunately, while startling her is undoubtedly detrimental to your health, the fact that she stands triumphantly over you after knocking you over means that everyone else can then kill her without too much trouble.


Nor should you fire at abandoned cars in the street to alert the horde, and bring innumerable droves of the undead sprinting from every direction just because you want to kill more zombies.

It happens all the time though, doesn't it? It's sod's law. You tell someone not to do something, so they do, because they're a twat. Perhaps if all the previews had said "Setting car alarms off starts happy-happy-fun-time!", no-one would do it.

Still, despite the vast majority of L4D players being twats, it is an incredibly fun game. Although the demo is only one and a half levels long, it's too easy to waste hours on it. Valve have obvious spent the most attention on co-op, and consequently the single player is shite (Read: Decent enough because it's a Valve game anyway and they never fail OMG I love Valve plz secks meh).

I have a couple of issues with it. I think it would be better to stay in first person when you're pinned by a hunter, as I do so enjoy soiling myself. Also, there's... umm...

Alright, there's nothing else wrong, it's absolutely brilliant. Playing with the Three Alexateers last night was the best fun I've had in ages. Valve dominate single player with HL2, multiplayer with TF2, and now co-op with L4D. And they do make for some lovely abbreviations. Friendly fire is permanently on, but meleeing teammates doesn't hurt, so it's fun to watch their heads bobble about as you hammer the right mouse button. I love the the horror movie style "Save yourself!" moments, followed by hiding in a cupboard with a grumpy Ralf Harris lookalike. I love the selfish teamplay, when the player lowest on health is the one chosen to molotov the Witch in the face.

I love the toilet:

But I do hate it when gay sailors shut the door, ending the mission. Why did you do that?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Team Fortress 2 Review

We've seen games about the Vietnam War. We've definitely got an abundance of WWII based games. We even have a couple of games about the Korean War. But why, oh why, did the developers always choose to overlook the daddy of them all: The eternal struggle of Red and Blu. Valve have broken the silence on the western front, and now all the horrors of inter-colourary war are brought to a computer near you.

The first thing you'll notice is it's art style. Just because it's not some hardcore-looking, gritty simulation of humanity's favourite pastime, it doesn't mean it needs to be avoided like my syphilis-carrying gerbil. TF2 is a game stripped of the banal overgarments of the average shooter, which allows the inner essence of pure fun to take over. Quite frankly, if you're under the impression that TF2 is inferior to other shooters thanks to its lack of vehicles, and even because of its art style, you need a compressed air blast to the anus.

What makes TF2 better than all competitors is the fact that realism is not allowed to rear its ugly, melancholy head. By banishing even a sliver of it from the game, Valve have released online gaming from its shackles. Shackles?

Yes. Alright, I'm crap at games. Whenever I play Battlefield 2, I get killed. A lot. But to be brutally honest, I'm crap at TF2. I get killed a lot, but thanks to the aforementioned inner essence of fun, I'm not frustratedly hammering my keyboard like the angry German kid. Huzzah!

Unlike any other shooter that I can think of, each of TF2's nine classes are unique, and they are grouped into three types: Offence, Defence and Support. While the offence and defence classes can arguably fluctuate between their roles, the support class are very much support (or at least, most people wouldn't recommend having a medic lead the charge). Most people tend to play the game expecting to love a single class, and end up loving several; I always thought I'd be playing scout most, and indeed he is one of my favourites, but I also hold a soft spot for the pyro. Classes in TF2 though, are actually characters. The scout is suitably annoying, the heavy as intimidating as would be expected, and it's hard not to love the pyro's muffled cries and two-sizes-too-big boilersuit.

It's environments are all wonderfully varied, like Badwater Basin, a payload map. Payload consists of one team being entasked with escorting a bomb along a rail to the end, where it explodes (it gets bonus points for that alone). The opposing team, naturally, have to stop them. The way that the map is built means that there is always a way to flank the other team. Although they usually acknowledge this and have it covered, the occasions when they haven't can change a game, or at the very least ensure that the area is carpeted with pipe bombs and shotgun shells for minutes at a time.

Perhaps I love TF2 because I'm not dead after a couple of bullets - definitely the most frustrating thing about other games. Perhaps I love TF2 because of its brilliantly crafted maps, perfectly balanced classes and excellent game modes. Perhaps it's the fact that any minute problem with the game is pointed out by the community, and Valve promptly improve the game. The way that Valve are completely open to changing things on the fly, along with the new maps, unlockable weapons and even game-modes included in their updates, is part of what makes TF2 the best multiplayer experience available.

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I know I'm uber-cool. Heck, everyone knows I'm uber-cool, but when a game acknowledges how uber-cool I am, it instantly wins my love from that alone. Luckily, Bethesda know the way to my heart, and have assured my love through the ego-inflating yet undeniably annoying adoring fan. He just follows you around until he gets mauled by a passing daedra, but the fact that he refers to you as "Oh great and mighty Grand Champion" means he's worth sticking in the game, and worth speaking to once. And never again.

It's also worth noting that Bethesda put an awful lot of other cool stuff into Oblivion. Such as flower picking. However, they even went to the trouble of putting basic, mundane, everyday tasks in, such as sneaking aboard pirate ships and assassinating the captain, entering yourself for fierce gladitorial fights to the death, or simply saving the world. The work that they've put into the little details is astounding. Oblivion is, in case you've been living in one of the many fusty caves littering Cyrodiil, an open world game. After exiting the sewers near the start of the game, you can either proceed with the whole apocalypse prevention procedure or completely disregard all that you have witnessed in the first half hour of the game. If you choose the former, you'll spend the next hour of your new life chatting up a priest who actually happens to be heir to the throne, only to find that he'll only follow you home if you slap about a couple of scabby-faced ruffians who set fire to half of his neighbourhood. The latter choice will take you anywhere you happen to end up. It's all a bit hit and miss there, although eventually you'll probably end up finding your way into one of the guilds. Or you'll spend the rest of your life sucking the moisture from rocks, whiling away the hours talking to mud crab.

Called Ted.

Whichever path you choose, you'll always be in Cyrodiil, which has more places to go than you're likely to have time for. Luckily, there are also more things to do than you're likely to have time for, such as the above mentioned world-saving, or foiling a shopkeeper's evil plan to... sell cheap goods. The concept of all of these one off quests are great, and happily, they're all played out in equally great greatness. Huzzah! There as many different quests as quests you might want to do, and most people seem to have something troubling them. Oh, my flagon of ale has been stolen. Oh, my cat jumped off of a bridge. Oh, my sword has grown toenails, etc etc etc. As is so often the case in video gaming, most of the quests involve killing whoever the villain may be, rather than say, having a chat over a mug of ale. Ah well. I suppose omitting peaceful solutions is an accurate simulation of life.

When opening up a huge game world to explore, it's easy to just hope that the player may become so immersed that they won't notice that you've skimped on the graphics. Graphics skimping, however, has been skimped on in Oblivion. Your weapon shimmers in the light, orcs look as pig ugly and John Prescott-like as they should, and you can get some truly brilliant views. The only problem is with these views, in fact: the game only loads your immediate area. This leaves anything beyond that looking like a pre-schooler's snotted up papier mache replica of Old Trafford. On the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions you're stuck with this, but the PC version has a fascicle of mods available to make the game more pleasing on the eye. That said, even without the mods, Oblivion is still a beautiful game.

On the subject of mods, there are an awful lot that the community has now churned out. Any problems, no matter how obscure, that vanilla Oblivion had, have been ironed out by modders. One such gripe that angered many a fan was the lack of snail racing. That has since been corrected though, and you are now free to bet on and spectate this sport of kings (Once you've installed the mod, of course).

And now we arrive at the obligatory "things which this game fluffed up" part of the review. The most major problem is the combat system, which features a "block" button and a "swipe wildly in the enemy's general direction" button. You're not going to pull off Devil May Cry style combos however hard you may try, and the system's incredible lack of depth is what puts me off the warrior classes. Instead, I opt to sneak around in the shadows, picking off my targets with a well-placed arrow (and a 3x sneak damage bonus). Ranged attacks are much more interesting, the projectiles staying lodged in your target's throat until you pluck them back out. Or, if you're like me, leave them in and screenshot it, you sadistic bastard.

The game is also (On 360 at least) a little sluggish at some points when you're skipping through the countryside. On all platforms, there is occasional slowdown as the game loads the next area, yet the Xbox 360 version's frame rate seems to be a little more erratic than it would be on a decent computer. Saying that, the frame rate problem is slight, and you'll barely notice it thanks to all the fun you'll have killing goblins. Oh joy.

All in all, Oblivion is an open world RPG which stands head and shoulders above its peers. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, and the combat is far from the best you'll find, but Cyrodiil has been wonderfully crafted. Much like the under-garments of an inebriated Keira Knightly, it's a place you can't afford not to explore.


Friday, 12 September 2008

The World Ended The Other Day

Wasn't it intense?

Medieval 2: Total War Review

In medieval Europe, everyone is a potential enemy: no one can be trusted. Which surely is a valid, if slightly unorthodox excuse to go to war with your neighbours, no? The Pope disagrees with my logic, however, and would much prefer that I was bashing muslims. A little xenophobic, perhaps, but beggars can't be choosers.

The world of diplomacy is such, and always has been. For some strange reason, the majority has never really liked war-waging, world-conquering dictators. But being yet another game with war in the title, M2TW demands you go at odds with that majority, for everything in the game revolves around military conquest. You build your economy to support your disorganized rabble of reluctant peasants and knights who get all over excited and orgasmic at the sight of blood. Diplomacy is a tool to convince other factions that you are not actually as much of a warmongering megalomaniac as you first appear, and that in fact, an alliance would be lovely. The royal family is there to lead your armies into battle and give rallying speeches prior to each battle to make your forces feel all warm, fuzzy and brave. The Pope is a barrier to stop you killing the French, unless you want to get yo ass crusaded. But if you had a hat like that, you'd have half of Europe hanging on your every word too. No, really.

The selling point of the Total War series is, and always has been the large scale battles, with thousands of troops bopping each other with longswords. The presentation of these centrepiece battles has been greatly improved in M2TW, with the 'clone' soldiers of RTW replaced with plate-clad knights, each of whom are now rendered in M2TW's fancy new graphics engine. The brilliance is in the subtle touches: the grubby looking peasant units, who are visually and statistically improved as you equip them with better armour; the diligently polished helmets of your hierarchally superior knights. The fighting itself has also been improved. Zoom into ground level and you will see the armies not taking it in turns to poke each other like in RTW, but clashing swords, knocking each other over and then giving them a good stab to the gut to make sure. Even the general's speeches have been given an overhaul. Gone are the misplaced and (I'd like to think) historically inaccurate American accents of Roman generals, and the I-woke-up-with-a-sore-throat Barbarian accents, and in their places are slightly more accurate region-specific accents, which vary depending on who you play as. They also seem realistically egoistic, with one of my generals describing how brave he was several times in the same speech.

Battles aside, the campaign map looks much the same graphically as RTW. The only differences I noticed was that when fully zoomed out and looking down on the map, the Alps and the Pyrenees looked artificial and maze-like, whereas RTW's alps looked more natural. If I were to stop being royally picky for a moment, I would spot no difference. What you can do with the campaign map now, however, has had a few minor additions. One such addition is merchants, who are controlled like armies and diplomats, but control resource deposits that they can raise variable amounts of moolah from, depending on their skill level and the resource in question. Princesses work much like diplomats, with the obvious bonus of being much more attractive (and seductive?), and being able to marry either to seal an alliance or bring new relatives into the royal family. Assassins and spies both make a return, the latter being able to stalk any other unit, the former being able to murder any unit. Both the assassin and spy now have short movies to show the success or failure of their mission, an omission since Shogun: Total War which now makes a return. While being entertaining to watch, and in some cases even humourous, the handful of movies tend to get samey once you've seen them a few times.

Diplomacy is a part of the game which sees a lot of use, yet even in this fourth iteration of the Total War series, it is still very basic. You never really trust your allies, and alliances themselves seem pointless. Rarely will you find yourself fighting alongside them, and much of the time even if you want to stay friends, they will backstab you with no warning but a menacing grin. The choices in the diplomacy screen are also limited, and it feels as though the diplomacy system was almost completely forgotten. Although in M2TW it now shows you faction reputation, relation to you, wealth and strength, it still feels like far too little.

City management is the final front you must master. Build roads, markets and ports to increase your income, and military buildings to improve the soldiers available - it's all joyfully self-explanatory. Managing your income, while upgrading your cities to cope with your citizens needs and having to keep your neighbours and the Pope happy all at once, however, is not so simple. Alas, such are the drawbacks of being a King.

While perhaps a little inaccessable and intimidating for some, Medieval 2 manages to balance battles and economic planning for the same remarkably well. It keeps what could so easily have been a daunting and over-complicated game in a relatively simple interface. I'm tempted to think that anyone other than Creative Assembly might have passed off the battles alone as a full game and still got away with it, yet CA also give you the control over the state itself.

Score: 9.5/10

Monday, 25 August 2008

Game Devs Should Lighten Up

Why are there so few light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek games? Team Fortress 2 is one that springs to mind, yet there are too many games of the melancholy variety. Global Thermonuclear War? That could happen, I don't want to think about that. A seven foot wall of Soviet flesh and bone, reminding me that "Cart vill not push self!"? That's quite unlikely in the real world, and something that manages to combine humour with just an ounce of austerity to give the combat some plausibility.

That's where more games need to go. I'm not saying we shouldn't have serious games though - we need something to remind us that shooting people is actually pretty naughty. It would be nice, however, to have a change of tune from time to time. I'd like to think that TF2 can, at least in part, thank it's lightheartedness for it's degree of success.

Let us, for example, compare TF2 with Battlefield 2. BF2 is based on modern day warfare, and as such there is little leeway (if any) for devs to invent some mega-hyper-supadupa tank toaster, or to test out the US Marine Corps' prototype freeze-ray. In fairness, neither of those things are in Team Fortress 2 either, but that's just because Valve haven't thought of it yet. We'll see Mr Freeze manning the battlements of 2fort by christmas. Probably.

I think I've got my point across now, laid-back games rule. We need more. Make it happen devs.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Dawn of War: Dark Crusade Review

It's really quite surprising that Jack Thompson, ultra-zealous anti-games activist and verbal punchbag to gamers everywhere, has never exploited Dawn of War for his futile "games are evil" rantings. Dawn of War is built on a foundation of blood, bodiless limbs and burnt-out shells of bonecrushing machinery: it simply embodies mindless brutality. The box doesn't even attempt to cloak the fatuous bastion of savagery within, proudly declaring "On the frontlines, there is but one commandment: Thou Shalt Kill".

Read those three words and you're pretty much clued into everything that Dawn of War has to offer: death, death, death and more death, with a side order of base building to deliver a "calm before the storm" sort of uneasiness. The second (And first stand-alone) expansion pack brings two more sides to the fray, the Tau Empire and Necrons, bringing the total to seven. Like the previous races, each is massively unique, and have their own playing style. The Tau, for example, are practically unbeatable in a firefight, with hugely superior firepower and range to the other sides, but are incredibly weak and frail in melee combat. The Necrons do not use requisition, only power, and start off quite weak and slow, but later in the game can easily become the game's strongest race, crushing all foes - and the ability to instantly bring dead units back to life mid-battle comes in pretty handy, it has to be said.

The feature that makes Dark Crusade what it is though, is the new-fangled campaign mode. When I say new-fangled, what I really mean is new-fangled to such uneducated simpletons as I that have not played masterpieces such as Rise of Nations. Woe betide me. However, it is indeed a fascinating mode of play. Rather than a linear series of missions like the first two Dawn of War games, there is a more open-ended map mode, in which you choose who and where you wish to fight. Each of the seven races are present on the campaign map, and there are no alliances (Not even between the Space Marines and the Imperial Guard, but the reason behind this is clever, if slightly petty).

The campaign map works a bit like Risk: invade a region, then you go into the RTS mode of the game, and fight the garrison in the province. Weaker enemy regions will have only perhaps one base and some infantry units, whereas stronger regions will have a lot of the map covered, and have troops swarming all over you in no time. That said, it's still a bit easier than past campaigns in the Dawn of War series, and there are no scenarios, annihilation is instead the order of the day. Dark Crusades story follows the fight for Kronus, a world of the eastern fringe of the Imperium which is... blah blah blah armies arrive etc.

An intriguing facet of the campaign is wargear, which allows you to upgrade your commander unit if you do well enough in battle. Whether said wargear is simply dropped off by Space-Postman Pat, or whether the gear is found in the bargain bin in an abandoned ork-run branch of Asda is never quite explained, but the implausibility of it all can easily be overlooked. The gear has two features: giving the character more health or attack power, and looking really, really cool. The requirements for them also give you targets to aim for, much like achievements on the Xbox 360.

Once you've finished the campaign, skirmish mode allows infinite replayability (Killing aliens never gets old), unless you're a braver person than me and don't mind being shamed by the faceless strangers of the internet, then there's multiplayer. Multiplayer works in the same way as skirmish mode, except when you lose, you get laughed at, which presumably is what ESRB mean by "Game Experience May Change During Online Play". It can give you some memorable battles though, so you should definitely give multiplayer a go.

Despite the necrons being slightly overpowered, (but I shan't get too moany over that) if you're a Warhammer 40,000 fan, or a person who experiences orgasmic euphoria at the sight of blood, Dark Crusade, along with the previous Dawn of War games, is a must buy (I also recommend psychiatric treatment if you are part of the latter group). So go forth, children of the Emperor, and uhh... kill people... yeah alright, I'll leave the quips to the real writers in future.

Score: 8.5/10

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Memoirs of a priest (LFG Ulda)

There are nine million players in the World of Warcraft, as Verne Troyer so enthusiastically explains. Many of them, I'm sure, have decidedly active social lives - many in number, if not in proportion. I, however, am part of the percentage of them who do not. A percentage of outcasts, pariahs, retards... whatever it is you choose to call us, we do most definitely exist.

To make up for out extraordinary lack of contact with the outside world, we have to look to WoW for company and indeed, something to do with our sorry lives. There are a few memorable events which I have witnessed, been a part of, or even cause throughout my WoW 'career'. Thus, I am spending some of my time typing a few of them up, to keep up my reputation of having nothing better to do with my life.

So, children, sit down by the fire, and grandpa will begin...

Joining my first guild was a momentous occasion for me. I felt a true WoW player - I was part of a game playing community. As I was wandering aimlessly about Ironforge, a purple, glow-in-the-dark eyed, floppy bunny eared chap invited me to be a 'Knight of Cydonia'. I settled into the then-small guild and began inviting members.

Now, I must explain our highly complex and well thought-out way of recruiting new guildmates. First, you roam an area of your choice (low level areas, like Elywynn Forest, are best) looking for guildless heroes, then invite them. With any luck, they'll accept.

When they don't accept, they either completely ignore you and forget the meeting ever happened, or have a go at you. I only encountered the latter on one occasion, when the chap in question politely whispered, "SHOVE IT IN MY F***ING FACE WHY DON'T YOU", the all-capitals presumably representing his yelling in anger and disgust. I pause for a moment, slightly shocked at this rude verbal assault on the remarkably eventless recruiting drive of Kalephos, Level 12 Human Priest. I then begin to ponder. Could my 'meet 'n' greet' method be a little crude? Is a more subtle approach required? I shrug these thoughts off, and am on my way to hunt some Level 13 Harvest Golem. Ding! Gz! Repeat.

At Level 18, I met Nitewolve, a night elf rogue, and we quickly became friends grinding partners thanks to our mutual boredom. After leveling up, we met yet another night elf. However, we heard him before we saw him, and finding him then became a matter of utmost importance because of what he shouted.


"Milk!" Me and Nitewolve proclaim excitedly and then meet up with the milkman, who reveals that in fact there is no milk. Slightly deflated, we nonetheless become acquainted with this Bloodymercy chap. Over the next few weeks, me and Bloodymercy become close friends, questing together on a daily basis.

Something that I remember quite well is when Bloodymercy and I came across a (Supposedly) female Draenei. The conversation between them went roughly as follows:

Bloodymercy: Hey
Draenei: Hey
Bloodymercy: Wanna go out?
Draenei: Sure
Bloodymercy: Cya later then

It struck me as slightly odd, even comical, how casually this event had transpired. Furthermore, when I questioned Bloodymercy about it around a week later, he said he hadn't spoken to her since.

Bloodymercy had long pestered me about joining his guild, and eventually I relented. Upon joining his guild however, I was greeted in the chat channel by this delightful message: "I bet Tauren have huge cocks" Oh. My. Gosh. What kind of guild have I just joined?