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?