Friday, October 31, 2008

R +18 Classification back on the back burner

The issue regarding whether having an R +18 rating classification for the gaming sector is neccessary or not has been a long and often times heated debate. The article can be read from the Internode Games Network website. I'm not going to just repeat what's been said there, but rather make a few pointers that in my opinion some people from either side have lost grip of. There are several issues outside of whether or not a sector of the market requires additional classification.

The primary argument of conservatives against having the R +18 classification, is that having such classification, it would allow games currently banned to be imported and sold in Australia, and that it would fall into the hands of children. The concern is that these games would then expose children to violent materials. The conservative approach is that they don't want the games, and they don't want the chance that their children may be exposed to unpleasant material, so therefore don't have the classification to allow certain titles in.

However, I must point out that extreme violent games are currently released under MA +15 classification, such as the revised (on the drug names) version of Fallout 3 and even GTA4. However, drug use and sex is what would push a game to R +18 classification.

It needs to be pointed out that Australia is the only developed country in the world lacking a R +18 classification. Even if we bury our heads in the sand, doesn't resolve the issue at hand. If the major concern is that violent video games make children violent, they perhaps we should look at the ALL the developed countries with R+18 classification, and see how much of an impact violent video games has on children. It will then need to factor in their exposure to violent explicit lyrics in music, violent movies, even violence on television, including on news reports. If we are concerned that stimulus of a violent nature will adversely affect children, then should we not simply erradicate all such stimulus? Maybe George Orwell was right all along, and that Big Brother is winning, and this move against R +18 classification is just another step?

The major issues at hand is not just restricted to just children getting their hands on games with R +18 classification, but our freedoms and our responsibilities. Should be masses be punished if some parents lack in judgement and puchase a R+18 classified game for their children? Who in the right mind would do that anyways? Would you buy a pornographic DVD for your child? Would you buy a Playboy or Penthouse magazine for your child? Why should this be any different?

We need to take responsibility for our own actions, but we should also have the freedom to choose what our actions are. Parents need to be informed when making decisions in what the purchase for their children. If a parent sees a M classified game or movie, often they have no issues in buying it for their children. In fact, even an MA +15 classified game or movie they often don't hessitate to purchase for their children, but they will certain balk at purchasing R rated material for their children. So wouldn't having R+18 classification a good thing, by informing the buyer?

There are many arguments in regards to how lack R+18 classification prevents a proportion of the market entering, hence loss of sales in retail, and loss of work at development level, as our game development sector in Australia is apparently larger than our film sector.

The situation it seems is that a single politician can ignore what the people want, and the freedoms of the people they represent, and halt an entire process, which will allow us to be back on par with the rest of the developed countries. These politicians are more dictators rather than representatives of the people, since they obviously push their own agenda and seek to silence the people's voice that may conflict against their own.

The real question at the end of the day is not whether we should have R +18 classification or not, but rather do we want to keep our freedoms? Or allow Australia to turn into a total nanny state? How we use the internet is already threatened with the plan to filter and censor at the Internet Service Provider level. How much of our freedoms will we give up to feel "safe"?

I say, give us our freedom of choice, and let us take responsibility for our choices and actions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is C&C Generals 2 next?

Well Red Alert 3 is almost upon us so it got me thinking, what is EALA going to work on next? A quick search revealed a post by a Andy Robinson from CVG in August. He discovered that querying whois on who owns the rights to a "" domain name belongs to EA! He also mentioned that EA were giving beta keys away for a "future C&C game" with the Premier Edition of Red Alert 3.

Put two and two together and perhaps there's a chance that Generals 2 will be the next game? Quite frankly, I think that'd be awesome. I know some C&C purists don't believe Generals was a true C&C game and I would agree, it wasn't - the C&C tag was just a marketing ploy. However, you have to assess the game on its own merits and I had a lot of fun with it when it was released.

Gamespy awards Fallout 3 with a perfect 5/5!

Gamespy has given Fallout 3 a perfect 5/5 stars in a recent review which means this game has got to be reasonably good! To summarise:

- Even though many hardcore fans may think that Fallout 3 is basically "Oblivion with guns", Gamespy claims that even though it resembles Oblivion in some ways, it's far more superior in many others.

- Storyline is claimed to be "engaging and entertaining" - much better than Oblivion's typical fantasy storyline (and so you would hope IMHO!).

- Has an aptitude test that is kind of similar to previous Bethesda games where doing the test determines which skills you're best-suited to using by the way you tackle situations. Fortunately, for the power gamers out there, you don't need to accept the recommendation.

- Very replayable

- FPS controls aren't that good, but then again it's not meant to be an FPS at heart.

- Spend a lot of time in combat using the VATS system.

- One problem with VATS is that most players would target for head or torso (since the former ensures a quicker kill and the latter an easier shot) - however I don't really think this is a fair comment since the original Fallout games suffered from the same problems. True hitting different parts would cause different effects but it's obvious that the head and torso would be likely targets.

- For those of you who thought Oblivion's skill levelling system was fundamentally broken don't fret, Fallout 3 doesn't mimic it. You can now only level when you've got the prerequisite XP (basically more like a traditional CRPG).

- Explorable world is the true gem of Fallout 3. Exploring the world could well take 100+ hours and the side quests are apparently fun. Main storyline could be done in about 15-20 hours.

- Can't use game's fast-travel system unless you've already visited a location.

- You'll want to save the game quite often since encounters with giant Radscorpions or Deathclaws could mean the end of you.

- Graphics and the environments are breathtaking

- Music from Fallout 3 consists of classical music, 40s music and 50s music. Helps to immerse you into the world.

- Some minor audio issues with speech.

- Games for Windows Live's achievements system is not transferable to another machine.

At the time of this post, the Australian release date for Fallout 3 is the 31/10/08 - so not long to go!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Red Alert 3 gets 4/5 from Gamespy

Red Alert 3 got a respectable 4/5 stars in a recent Gamespy review. To summarise:

- Comedy is likened to the cult comedy "Airplane!" (or "Flying High!" as it is known here in Australia).

- Red Alert 3's units are wacky and ridiculous - which is one of its strengths.

- Soundtrack is apparently amazing and so is the voice-acting.

- FMV cut-scenes are also so ridiculous that they are a strength.

- Single player campaign is a bit simple, being mostly like a skirmish but can be heaps of fun with co-op which results in "a marvel of teamwork or a comedy of errors".

- Hardcore RTS gamers may find the strategic model a bit too simple for their tastes.

- Soviets are best at building big and hitting hard, the Allies rely on versatility andthe Japanese are a fast, hit-and-run army that rely on stealth and transforming.

- Key "innovation" of game is the return of naval units.

- Red Alert 3's multiplayer is where it really shines and the super-abilities that each unit gets makes the game accessible to "newbs" whilst still rewarding the more skilled players as well.

- "It's not a game that will redefine strategy gaming, but it is one heck of an enjoyable ride."

Cut Copy in FIFA09's soundtrack!

Kind of old news (considering the press release was in August) but I only found out recently that Cut Copy's hit track, "Lights and Music" is part of FIFA09's soundtrack! Personally, I think "Out There On the Ice" would've made a better football song since (1) it sounds a lot similar to another football song in terms of the general vibe:

and (2) it's got crowds cheering in the background for chrissakes! :). Still good to see they've got some recognition in the gaming sphere!

Here's the music video of "Lights and Music", if you don't know what I'm talking about and if you're into electro/retro/dance/pop/stuff :):

Average Age of Australian Gamer = 30 years old

A new study has confirmed that the average age of Australian gamers has gone up to 30 years old.

I can understand that games are more interactive than other mediums (a major reason why I like games) and by extension I guess you can say that it might be easier for games to influence a little one's mind but (1) a ban on R18+ game ratings won't prevent a child getting their hands on a game targeted at adults thanks to the wonders of the Internet, (2) a lot of MA15+ games that are coming in are actually probably more appropriate as a low-impact R18+ but due to the lack of an R18+ rating, this makes it very hard for the OFLC to draw the line, since banning a game means lost revenue for local distributors, (3) a lot of gamers are above the age of 18 so preventing them access is clamping on civil liberties (and as mentioned, Australia is one of the only developed nations to not have an R18+ rating).

I don't actually like overly violent games to be honest but if the game itself has a strong plot and great gameplay, I can usually live with it. The Fallout series is a perfect example. True the game is bloody violent but behind it was a really engrossing sci-fi RPG . Fallout 3 nearly got banned but fortunately they re-worked it to get rid of the realistic drug references and by doing so changed the version the rest of the world would get too - which ironically, actually gave the Australian game censorship issue more coverage worldwide! Australia is now a bit of a laughing stock to the rest of the global gaming community.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hellgate: London servers going offline soon

According to Gamespy, Namco Bandai has issued a press release stating that they will shutdown the servers running Hellgate: London at the end of January 2009. It comes as a bit of a shock to me that Flagship Studios managed to do poorly considering a lot of their developers are ex-Blizzard. Unlike the more successful ArenaNet (creator of the Guild Wars series) who also have had their origins in Blizzard, Flagship Studios has succumbed to being closed down for good . Then again, was it really the developer's fault? Maybe it was a marketing problem - namely the subscription fee you needed to play a game that was mostly instanced? Who knows.

The MMORPG is a tough market to go for. Definitely lucrative if you can secure a decent market share, but MMORPG players tend to commit their time to only one game since you usually just don't have time to play anything else!

Friday, October 24, 2008

What's Firaxis working on now?

Considering Civ IV: Colonization is complete and the Firaxis site is kind of bare with any news of upcoming titles, you may be curious as to what they're working on now.

Interestingly, there's been a lot of recent job offers at Firaxis (15 at the time of typing) so it seems like they're ramping up for something big. Some interesting bits of info:

- Calls for a software engineer to implement an engine for the PC, PS3 and Xbox360.

- Calls for a "Senior Level Designer" who will apparently be involved in the "layout and lighting of final levels in Unreal 3" and requires "experience with the Unreal engine".

- Calls for a "Senior Concept Artist" to "develop story-boards for in-game cinematics".

To me, it looks like Firaxis are working on something quite different to their usual playing field so they may be working on new original content. Of course Civilization V will be in the pipeline but perhaps they're branching away from Civ for their next title? I'd love it if they could create a remake of Covert Action but that's probably a bit too much to ask for (especially considering Sid himself says he doesn't like the game's formula).

Alpha Protocol website updated and new trailer

The Alpha Protocol website has been updated the past month and now features a new trailer of the game. Check it out!

Tiberium axed

There has been hardly any news on the game Tiberium which was to be a squad-based FPS set in the Command & Conquer universe, and for good reason - it's been axed. According to news at Kotaku it appears that due to a restrictive budget and schedule, EALA found it impossible to finish the game if it were to meet high quality standards.

New Red Alert 3 trailer

Don't know when this was featured but anyway it's a new Red Alert 3 trailer and it's awesome :D (very much in style with the intros for Red Alert 1 and 2).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Luke joins Choicest Games

Choicest Games continues to grow and we now have another contributor that joins the fold. Luke will be sharing with you some of his insight into new gaming hardware, so stay tuned for his first post!

The Music of Red Alert 3

An interesting blog entry has surfaced from Red Alert 3's Audio Director, Nick Laviers (and there I was hoping that Frank Klepacki was to be the audio director - well at least Nick had the sense to recruit Frank on the team :)). To summarise:

- Nick came up with two parameters when figuring out the style for Red Alert 3's music: (1) the music must be tongue-in-cheek, just like the game, and (2) it has a musical "heritage" laid out by Frank Klepacki in the previous Red Alert games.

- Two modes of music exist: "Combat" and "Exploring".

- Combat mode music would obviously be similar in style to Frank Klepacki's music.

- Composing for Red Alert 3 took about 4 months with a team of around 5 composers.

- Due to the possibility of the player being in combat for a long time, combat music was split into three types: (1) neutral combat music - the default, (2) losing combat music - if you're taking heavy damage, and (3) triumphant combat music - if you're highly likely to win the fight.

- There's another mode of music called "Up Yours" which is basically a short ditty based off your enemy's style of music when you take significant damage from one of their superweapons (nice)!

- Recording was done at Skywalker Ranch.

- Red Alert 3 has 114 minutes of original music - not including the remixes and edits.

- The game features 29 campaign missions which all have mission-specific music in addition to the dynamic system music

Starcraft II to be a trilogy

Okay, so you're not confused that doesn't mean Starcraft II is going to be part of a trilogy (i.e. that doesn't mean there's going to be a Starcraft III, although I'm not saying there won't be either :P) - what it means is that Starcraft II is going to be split into three campaigns - with two of the campaigns being released as expansion sets. Each campaign will focus on a different race and the first one we're getting is based on the Terrans. Blizzard are planning to base the second campaign on the Zerg and the third, on the Protoss. Here's some other info:

- Multiplayer with all three races will work out of the box for the first campaign. Buying the expansions will give you extra units, abilities and structures to use in multiplayer

- Each campaign will contain a whopping 26-30 missions.

- Blizzard chose to create three separate campaigns in order to make the overall storyline more epic.

Left 4 Dead Photography Contest

The folks at Left 4 Dead 411 (apparently the "#1 resource for Left 4 Dead") are running a photography contest and best of all, anyone can enter (Hurrah! For once the game isn't just for U.S. and Canadian residents!). What you've got to do is submit a photo of yourself in front of a zombie horde doing a Left 4 Dead "salute". First prize is four copies of Left 4 Dead, four demo keys, four Left 4 Dead T-shirts and matching hats.

The Sims 3: Info about the Town and a Collector's Edition

Some interesting info on how the town will be like in The Sims 3 found here on a blog entry by Associate Producer, Joann Lio. To summarise:

- Each neighbourhood in the Town has a different style. It appears your neighbours will be different too (so it's possible that you'll have different socioeconomic groups depending on how close they live to town, the beach, etc.)

- Nicer spots cost more to build in (so you now have land value in this game - seems like they're incorporating some aspects of SimCity into it!)

- Living further away also means you spend more time commuting to work.

- Places to visit in the Town include: a public swimming pool, the gym, art gallery, public park or the Town Library.

Also in more recent news, it's been announced that there will be a Collector's Edition available for purchase. The Collector's Edition apparently comes with a 2GB Plumbob USB Drive (in case you don't know what a plumbob is, it's the little green diamond you usually see above a Sim's head), a European sports car download and "more"!

Diablo III: Wizard Class

The news is slightly old now but for those of you who missed it, a third class has now been introduced to Diablo III called the "Wizard" class. It seems this class is going to be quite similar to the previous Sorceror/Sorceress classes from previous Diablos except they're apparently from a place called "Xiansai". Given the oriental sounding name and their looks, the Wizards of Diablo III are probably from a nation similar to China or Japan. Apparently the Wizard character is a rebel when it comes to using his/her power and has no respect for the mage clans which the Sorceror and Sorceress came from in the earlier Diablo games.

New Star Wars MMO announced

It's official. Those rumours you've been hearing about a new collaboration with Lucasarts and Bioware being a new Knights of the Old Republic game, are more or less true. A new MMO called "Star Wars: The Old Republic" is being developed and while this is good news for Star Wars fans wanting to get their teeth into a new MMO, as a Knights of the Old Republic fan, I'm somewhat disappointed - I would've much preferred a third KotoR similar in format to KotoR 1 and 2. Nevertheless, naming the MMO "Star Wars: The Old Republic" may be a subtle hint that they haven't totally given up on making that third KotoR title...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fallout 3 gets positive early reviews

The official Fallout 3 website reports that the Xbox360 version has received a 10/10 in the latest issue of Official Xbox Magazine - but then again, that's Xbox and it doesn't really take much of an RPG to get a good score on that. The true test of an RPG's greatness is if it can satisfy the PC market :). A recent review from Australia's PC Powerplay seems to indicate that this is so, giving it a big 9/10. This seems to be one to look out for - if you're into engrossing sci-fi RPGs. According to the review, Fallout fans won't be disappointed either with the art direction and black humour being similar to the original.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fallout 3 to have simple DRM

And to complement the story on Far Cry 2's DRM, a quick trawl through the Interweb has revealed that there is good news for the fans of Fallout 3. Bethesda Softworks will be using a simple, non-intrusive DRM (which will probably be a simple disc-check).

Far Cry 2 to use SecuROM

It's been confirmed on the official forums but it looks like that Ubisoft are going the way of the Dodo... er I mean, EA and deciding to incorporate SecuROM DRM into their upcoming release, Far Cry 2. I wonder if they've heard about the lawsuit against EA for their use of SecuROM (note the pdf the link directs to takes a few seconds to load)?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Kudos 2 Review

Somehow I got sidetracked from my usual game playing and decided to support an Indie game developer by purchasing the game, Kudos 2. The game has been getting a lot more press recently, especially after the uproar from EA fans concerning games like Spore, Mass Effect and especially The Sims 2 (which is where I suspect, Kudos 2 is getting a lot of converts). Anyway, without much further ado, let's see if this game is worth the AUD$30 I paid for it!

Sound (2/5)
Sometimes the sound effects from your meowing cat (if you happen to own one) can get a bit annoying, but overall the sound effects are as you expect and thankfully (besides the cat) are used sparingly.

Music (4/5)
For an indie game, quite a bit of effort was made in ensuring the music was of high quality. I would've expected MIDI tracks but OGG files are used instead and they're composed by Jesse Hopkins who isn't a stranger to writing soundtracks for games, or film for that matter. A couple of tunes may grate on the nerves of people as being too cheerful and light-hearted but hey I think they fit the theme of the game just fine.

Graphics (2/5)
The graphics in this game are functional but they are drawn by an established comic book artist, so they are high quality images, although they are static images. True graphics don't make the game and having too much "bling" can distract from the gameplay but a bit more immersion on some scenes instead of simply displaying some text would've been a welcome change. I like to compare it to perhaps some old Japanese adventure games like the "Princess Maker" series or "True Love" (by the way, not recommended for kids even though they have deceptively innocent and cute names) where you're treated to a scene where your character is shown at almost full height discussing with other characters through speech bubbles. In fact for a more recent example, see even "Puzzle Quest" which is obviously inspired by these old Japanese games of the 90s. With Kudos 2 you only see little portraits of your friends' faces which as mentioned before, works, but the extra icing on the cake would be seeing them in their own scenes. It just helps with the immersion :).

Plot (3/5)
No real plot in this besides you're a 20 year old given 10 years to do pretty much whatever you want. Since the game is pretty much a sandbox game (like The Sims) the plot is determined by you.

I was hoping for Kudos 2 to be similar to the brilliant life simulation game Alter Ego however it lacks the depth and research that went into its production plus it only spans for 10 years rather than an entire lifetime. Basically, the objective of the game is up to you - what I think you're meant to do though is progress as far as you can in a particular career path (there's quite a few to choose from) by the end of the ten years you're given. You basically pick what your character does for each day of their life until the ten years is up (that's right, every day of the week) so even if you were to play the game quickly (i.e. skip menus and such) it'd take a good 5-6 hours to complete one game. Now whether those hours are any fun though is another question entirely, however the game does somehow get you hooked if you're making yourself career goals and such or wanting to buy a new item from the shops, akin to the "Just One More Turn" phenomenon you get with Sid Meier games - it even has an option at the end which allows you to continue playing when your time is up!

Between those goalposts though there's a lot of clicking involved to skip bits of text that aren't terribly important and only an occasional mini-game (if you choose to do certain activities or interact with certain items) that breaks the monotony - it would've been nice if they included more of those mini-games! With respect to the waiting though, what's even worse is that the part of town you live in seems to be the less fashionable one, since you can bet that you'd be robbed/mugged at least twice a year, resulting in your hard earned funds and items going down the drain. Sure you can train yourself in kung fu for self-defence and install an alarm at your home but it takes an investment of time (and money in the case of the alarm) to get them - a bit hard if you're getting robbed before you get a chance to buy that alarm!

Kudos should go to the developer though (mind the pun) to the way friendships can affect your stats. Sticking around certain friends will affect your statistics and ultimately will affect what sort of activities are available to you or even what jobs you can apply for. For example, an acting job that requires charisma may be gained if you spend lots of time with a friend who has the "charismatic" trait - it just rubs off on you.

Replayability (3/5)
There are several career paths to pursue in this game and a variety of friends to make too. There is probably as much replayability in this as your average Sims game although unfortunately, unlike The Sims 2, your character doesn't truly age and are also unable to pass their genes to the next generation. You also don't get as much customisation as you do in The Sims either - however, for a game that costs only AUD$30, it's not that bad. One thing I would've liked to see (and once again I refer to Japanese adventure games or even the venerable Jones in the Fast Lane) is that there doesn't seem like much of a challenge. You play until your ten years is up and you get rewarded with the same stats screen as you do for every other year when it's your birthday - except it has fireworks. What would've been much better if they could show you how well you did in terms of the different areas of your life (i.e. similar to the aspirations in The Sims 2 or even the career, wealth, etc. bars in Jones in the Fast Lane) - doing so would encourage people to try another past hence resulting in more impetus to replay the game. Or like the Japanese adventure games (and a lot of modern western RPGs), perhaps there should be an epilogue sequence to see what the rest of your life is like based on the actions you picked. There's a lot of potential here that's been untapped.

There's quite a few pluses and minuses to this game that overall cancel each other out, we'll start with the good.

This game was originally brought to my attention since the developer, Cliff Harris is passionate about developing fairly priced games which don't treat genuine, law-abiding customers, like pirates. So he's proud to say that all his games don't come with DRM which is a good thing in my books. Even better, not only can you be content in the knowledge that no extra spyware is installed on your computer and that you've got unlimited installations of the product, but the game is very easy to acquire. It took me a grand total of 5 minutes between deciding that I wanted to buy the game and actually starting to play it. All you do is provide your credit card details and then you can download the installer. Simple (and that's the way it should be).

Okay now how about the bad? The UI can be annoying sometimes - especially when you've got several activities that you can choose from later in the game. This will result in you having to click six or seven times as you cycle through to the activity you want to do. It perhaps would've been better if a drop-down box or radial menu was implemented instead. Also even though the version I acquired was the 1.03 version and it had handled a lot of the bugs, the game still had a few visual bugs (e.g. attribute change indicators floating in random places) and it crashed a couple of times too, but from the looks of the forums, at least Mr. Harris seems keen to fix his baby provided people give good instructions on how to replicate the bugs.

Overall - 60%
Kudos 2 as a game is a fun little distraction but at AUD$30 it's on the borderline for good value. If more effort was made into making the gameplay fun and rewarding, Cliff would be onto a real winner here - a game that I'd gladly pay double the price for. As it is though I could only recommend this game to teenagers who are interested in life sims or perhaps disgruntled Sims fans who hate EA's choice of DRM. The game isn't bad, for the price, but with only a little bit more effort, it could've been a whole lot better.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Starcraft II lore revealed

A recent Gamespy article revealed some details about Starcraft II's plot (shortly after the announcement that Starcraft would be a trilogy). To summarise:

- Series is character driven. The first game in the series is basically "Jim Raynor's story".

- Raynor is basically the "incorruptible lawman" but apparently he's no "saint" and that's what will be explored in Starcraft II

- A man from Raynor's past called Tychus Findlay is "what Raynor might have become had he made some different choices". They were once once partners and outlaws that parted ways fourteen years prior to Starcraft II.

- There will be several characters that represent an "ethical pull" on your character and while they may not alter the ultimate ending, they will change Jim Raynor's character (sounds a bit like the influence system in Knights of the Old Republic 2).

- Kerrigan was apparently created as a joke to counter Westwood's "Tanya" in the Red Alert series. They named her after Nancy Kerrigan who was in the news at the time. However she became much more developed as the project moved on.

Lord British in Space

Richard Garriott (famous for his Ultima games and his alter ego associated with those games: Lord British) has blasted into space to visit the International Space Station. He spent $35 million for the privilege and took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, yesterday.

I wonder if he brought a copy of "Stones" with him to play up there?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spore Review

Well after much playing of Spore I can now sit down and write a proper review of the "game" - I put "game" in quotation marks since this will give you a preview of what I find is the major flaw with Spore, but enough of that, on to the review!

Sound (3/5)
It's the small touches that make the use of sound truly impressive in this game. Playing through the game, when I reached the tribal stage with an ape-like creature, sure enough his voice sounded like a series of grunts and moans - entering the same stage with a bird-like creature, they instead conversed with squawks and screeches. Different levels of singing ability in the Creature Phase can also be easily distinguished just by listening.

However, the sound effects can be annoying, especially the voices some of the alien races in the Space phase. It may eventually get on your nerves as they are just a bit too cartoony or cute for my liking.

Main Menu, Intro and Cell Phase Gameplay Video

Music (4/5)
Maxis decided to hire the talents of renown music producer and composer, Brian Eno (he actually helped produce Coldplay's recent "Viva la Vida" album) for the game and the soundtrack truly fits. You also get treated to different kind of music depending on your type of civilization when you reach the Civilization Phase (i.e. religious, economic or militaristic).

The soundtrack is also innovative since it uses "procedural generation". A lot of the music is done on the fly - for example, if you click different paint jobs in the vehicle editor, it will play different notes. You even have the ability to create your own anthems in the game with a simple editor, although sometimes the results aren't so optimal (plus it can get annoying when placing buildings since each time you do, it plays the anthem).

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics in Spore aren't ground-breaking but considering the amount of user-generated content in the game it's quite sensational when you take that into consideration. Sure there are some clipping issues when creating creatures and perhaps all creatures, vehicles, structures and planets have a simplified, cartoony feel to them, but there's some very pretty lighting effects from stars in the galaxy, foliage and water divert away from nearby spaceship engines and shadows lean in the most logical directions.

Creature Phase Gameplay Video

Plot (4/5)
Like most Maxis games, plot is rather thin since the user is the one that creates the story - although there is a story of sorts in Spore that involves you discovering what is in the centre of the galaxy and sadly it's quite disappointing to be honest. If you're expecting to gain a feeling of achievement by running the gauntlet to the centre of the galaxy, all I can say is, think again - however, if you can realise that this game lives and dies by the user content then the plot is pretty much irrelevant.

If Spore were to be judged solely on the premise that it was going to be the biggest, boldest and pervasive creative tool out there today, then it'd get a 5/5 in my books. With Spore you can create buildings, tanks, airplanes, ships, spacecraft, creatures and even planets - and colour them any way you want (yes you can get purple planets with matching sky and sea). Plus it's educational, it more or less teaches kids about evolution and how far humans have come.

Whether you can classify this as a "game" though is debatable. I actually enjoyed the earlier phases of Spore (i.e. the Cell, Creature, Tribe and Civilization Phases) more than the final phase since these ones not only offered objectives, but different ways of going about achieving your goals (a bit like an RPG). In the Cell phase, you can choose to be a carnivore, a herbivore or an omnivore. The Creature Phase allowed you to either make other species extinct or swoon them with your beauty (or do a bit of both). The Tribal Phase allows you to either subdue other tribes through force or through culture (or once again, a bit of both). In the Civilization Phase (my favourite phase) you can take over other cities by force, religion or by buying them out. Once you get to the Space phase though, it doesn't really matter. Sure the choices you made in the earlier phases determines what neat abilities you get in the Space phase, but their effects are most of the time minor and in the end each space-faring race are pretty much not that different from the rest.

Worst of all, the early phases can be done in a matter of 2-4 hours. The bulk of the game, 20-400 hours of it, is the Space phase and to get anywhere you need to grind the requisite number of points to gain badges that unlock new abilities. In fact, the Space phase is pretty much like a stock-standard MMORPG, without the persistent real-time universe. This formula is definitely getting old (a reason many MMOs nowadays are going stale IMHO). Consequently, I can't give a perfect score for Spore's gameplay since for anyone wanting a game that rewards you for your progress (or people who hate MMOs) are going to be disappointed.

Tribal Phase Gameplay Video

Replayability (4/5)
Technically replayability is infinite, so I should just give up and award a perfect score for this section, right? Well my argument is, even if a game is very replayable, what's the point if there's no willingness to do so? I've replayed Spore a few times and the most enjoyable parts were actually molding your creature into a space-faring race - but once I got to the space-faring part, I wasn't really interested in playing anymore - and unfortunately that part of the game is its bulk.

Fortunately once you've reached the Space phase once, you may start new games at whichever stage in evolution you want although I think that makes a good majority of the game a waste of time - unless you have a lot of patience and don't mind grinding points or exploring the thousands of star systems out there in the Milky Way, the part of the "game" that feels like a game is over in a couple of hours.

The game's UI works more or less and the game is surprisingly not too buggy considering how much you can do with it - but there are some annoying gripes I need to get off my chest.

Firstly, there are still a few annoying bugs. One problem with Spore (which is like The Sims) is that you've only got one save game. That means if for example you saved the game when there was a bug (like my last game where I need to find a derelict spaceship in order to advance the tutorial which would allow me to enter the Space Phase) then that's it, game over! Which is quite annoying considering the effort you took to get to that stage.

Secondly, in the Space Phase, trying to pilot your ship can be troublesome and it's hard to aim your weapons without taking out your own cities or allies by mistake. I understand it's quite hard to attempt to make a usable system when you've got a z-axis but perhaps more thought could have been invested in creating a proper targeting system so you could target and lock onto enemies and keep firing at them.

Finally, my last gripe is once again, you guessed it, EA's choice of SecuROM for Spore's DRM. Fortunately as mentioned in a previous article, EA has reconsidered their draconian restrictions and have at least loosened them (a bit) although for those of you who are anti-SecuROM or anti-DRM, Spore might be one to avoid.

Civilization and Space Phase Gameplay Video

Overall - 74%
If you're looking for a capable and creative tool to share your own creations with the rest of the world, or you want a fun way to educate your kids in the theory of evolution, Spore is definitely recommended in that regard. If you're looking for an exciting and challenging game which will test your skills (and not your patience), Spore might not be it - but then again, a lot of Maxis games aren't nowadays.

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Pathfinder Finale

Well the last episode of Oggycheese's "Pathfinder" series is now available for viewing on YouTube. Love it how not only Half-Life 2 was incorporated in the finale, but also DDR!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fallout 3 goes gold

It's official. One of the most anticipated games of this year is finally ready. You can expect the game to be in stores towards the end of this month.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Call of Duty 5 Gamespy Preview

Looks like Gamespy has provided a preview of Call of Duty 5: World at War. Apparently, all news about the game is good and it's proving to be a gritty experience. To summarise:

- The co-op mission that was previewed had an objective where not one team member was allowed to die.
- Fortunately fallen teammates have a "Last Stand" mode where it gives a short time for mobile teammates to come over and revive.
- Reviving teammates awards you with a lot of experience.
- Teamwork is essential.
- Graphics/Audio are spectacular and so are scripted sequences - basically what you'd expect from the Call of Duty franchise.
- The game intends to show the true horrors of war and consequently appears to be more violent and gruesome than previous Call of Duty games.
- Multiplayer is said to be a blast with even controllable vehicles.
- Long kill streaks awards you with bonuses like radar, artillery strikes and Gamespy's favourite bonus: attack dogs!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gamespy previews Red Alert 3

Gamespy has recently previewed the upcoming EALA game, Red Alert 3. To summarise:

- As wacky as ever (in a good way).
- Every mission in the game is actually designed for co-op play.
- You can pick a buddy or a random stranger to help you. Otherwise you have to play with an AI ally.
- Co-op is fun and teamwork is essential.
- You can load ally troops into your own transports.
- Chatter amongst units in the game is hilarious.

Gamespy reviews Hinterland

Gamespy has given Hinterland, the latest game from Tilted Mill, an above average score of 3.5 stars.

To summarise the review:

- Concept of merging Diablo-style RPG gameplay and city building is "brilliant".
- Having to decide on whether to risk losing important townsfolk to secure new resources is "incredibly compelling".
- Game has a lack of polish.
- Managing of a functioning city is apparently very easy.
- The RPG part of the game seems better than the city building part (which is kind of odd in my opinion, considering Titlted Mill is renown for their city-builders).
- There is a lack of feedback (i.e. information screens) on what's actually going on.
- Town also doesn't feel "alive".
- Best part of the game is the price tag.
- Average expected to last 6-8 hours.
- Quite replayable.
- Reiterates: "It's too bad that the actual execution doesn't live up to the brilliance of the concept".

Gamespy reviews Colonization Remake

Here's the first of Gamespy posts that happen to be directly related to games I'm interested in at the moment. First we have Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization (which as mentioned before, I've already played). Since the actual title of the game is a moutful, I shall try and just call it "Colo" from now on :P.

The Gamespy review has given it a fair score. My initial opinion of the game is that it's a fun and addictive little game (all Sid Meier games tend to be) but it's not without its flaws (so it doesn't deserve a perfect score). According to Gamespy, the usual game takes about seven hours. Now when I played it, it only took 2-3 hours so I find that claim a bit dubious although things that could have possibly increased playtime are difficulty (since the Indians haven't decided to bother me on easiest difficulty) and micromanagement (if you don't use the automated trade routes, you'll be moving those wagon trains quite often). The standard game is only 300 turns which is much shorter than your average Civ game.

The Gamespy review also mentioned that the game was difficult and I can concur with that. I'm still on easiest difficulty and have yet to win the game - yes I know, I'm a n00b, but I never remembered Colo being so difficult (however I can give myself some credit since I'm basically having to unlearn some Colo tactics since now the game is a mix of Colo and Civ IV).

Gamespy also makes an interesting point in mentioning that the game's multiplayer is basically pointless since most of the time you're too busy focusing on building up your economy, fighting natives and preparing for the eventual battle for independence, that fighting another enemy would be too costly.

Be sure to check out my review of Colo once I've played it for a sufficient amount of time :) (of course I'll have to finish my Spore review first, but don't worry, that's on it's way :)).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Age of Booty Release Date Set

The release date of Age of Booty has been set for consoles. Xbox LIVE will get it on the 15th and the Playstation Network, 16th of October. Apparently the PC release date will follow shortly after and will be available from these sites:

- Direct2Drive
- Digital River
- Metaboli
- Impulse
- Steam

Top 10 Reasons RPGs suck

The fellows at Gamespy have unearthed an old article of theirs that lists "the top 10 reasons RPGs suck".

It's quite humourous IMHO, whether you're an RPG fan or not :).

EA loosens its grip further on Spore

Thanks to a heads-up from Ben (one of our blog readers) it appears that EA is becoming a better listener to its customers (at least the Spore ones anyway) and will allow for multiple users to be setup on the same account in an upcoming patch.

This comes on the back of previous news where they were to increase the number of activations and make it less restrictive.

While this is good news indeed, EA have still decided to use SecuROM and still enforce limited activations.

Also, I doubt EA will relax their DRM, even to this limited extent, for their other titles. Spore is a bit of an anomaly since it was a game that has mainstream appeal (we are talking about a Maxis title after all).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hinterland released

Hinterland has now been released on Steam for $19.99. Unfortunately, there's no demo (and I don't know if there's going to be one) so I can't really tell you if this game is truly worth getting but the idea is definitely novel (hence its coverage in this blog).

If you're thinking of checking out an action-RPG with a twist (that being you get to control a village in a fantasy world) you might want to check it out.