Saturday, May 30, 2009

Puzzle Quest Galactrix Review

I heard good things about the original Puzzle Quest, hell I even played the game for awhile although I lost interest due to another game coming out at the same time - you see puzzle games aren't exactly my forte but Puzzle Quest was an RPG/puzzle game hybrid, it's Australian and it was inexpensive, so I thought why not try it? My fiance really got into it, clocked it and also got it on her DS. So there's definitely at least one fan of the game in this household. Which brings us to the most recent incarnation of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. What got me excited about this one is that it's set in a sci-fi setting (which I much prefer over fantasy) and the gameplay promised to be slightly different using a hexagonal grid yet with the same Match-3 gameplay.

After finishing the game and playing around with it a bit more the second time around, I'm satisfied I've got enough info to write a review, so here it is:

Sound (3/5)
Sound in the game is your typical sci-fi fare (lasers, shields, etc.) and is done well. In terms of voices there's just the stereotypical female monotone that narrates different events in battle such as "Shields Critical" or "Hull Critical".

Puzzle Quest Galactrix General Gameplay Video

Music (5/5)
Music in the game is pretty good, even though it sounds like MIDI quality at some stages. The music is fitting for the sci-fi genre and they're actually catchy - don't be surprised if you find yourself humming a few bars as the game grows on you!

Puzzle Quest Galactrix Combat Video

Graphics (2/5)
I'm not such a big fan of the graphics in this most recent incarnation of Puzzle Quest. Sure, I know graphics isn't meant to be the strong point in these sort of games anyway, but I think they may have even taken a step backwards from the original Puzzle Quest. The font and graphics uses for speech bubbles is ugly and even though they should get kudos for using 3D graphics instead of 2D sprites, some of the graphics they've chosen for planets and leap gates are either dull, in the case of the former, or nonsensical, in the case of the latter (the gate is a solid hexagon).

Also, there's even less customisation of characters than Challenge of the Warlords (if you can believe that) - you now can only pick from a grand total of four character portraits for your avatar.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix Hacking Mini-game Video

Plot (2/5)
The plot is your typical sci-fi plot. You start off as a recent graduate of MRI Academy (the MRI being one of four human Megacorps that rule the known universe) doing some simple tasks for your employers when things start getting a bit interesting. A virus strikes the Leap Gate network (the means of travel around the universe) inhibiting travel and you also discover some MRI test subjects that have escaped Gemini Labs. The game takes you around the known universe until you discover an enemy called "the Soulless" which threaten to wipe out life as you know it unless they are stopped.

Even though the plot is somewhat cliched it would've been fine if it wasn't for the main antagonist's pretentious attempt at being sinister and mysterious during the several cut scenes you'll see and quite frankly, they get old pretty quick. Would've been nice to have some variety or have cut scenes that show how you help the universe due to your progress.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix Crafting Mini-Game

The game is very similar in its mechanics to the original Puzzle Quest (at least its RPG elements). In terms of the puzzle, it's still Match-3 but now using a hexagonal grid. So instead of there being only one way that gems can drop there are six to choose from (and this can get quite tricky when the item "Orbital Array" is in use which causes the gems to rotate around). This makes the game a lot more challenging and potentially more frustrating for some. Sometimes it even seems that mines are randomly generated off-screen to give an advantage to computer players (but then again, I'm no puzzle game expert). Thankfully, for those who aren't experts, if you happen to play your cards right and balance your skills, have the right items and the right ship, it'll substantially push battles in your favour - so much so that you'll rarely lose battles. However, this doesn't help RPG aficionados escaping puzzles in other aspects.

In Puzzle Quest Galactrix, just about everything requires you to do puzzles. If you want to get someplace, you need to hack a leap gate by doing a puzzle (which offers no reward besides becoming unlocked I might add). If you want to avoid combat when travelling through hostile systems, you can't unless you've done a long quest, meaning you have to do more puzzles. There's also puzzle mini-games for mining, haggling and crafting items but at least these ones are optional for those who only can stand a certain amount of puzzles. Also the only way you can level is through combat puzzles as white (intel) gems are required in order to do so (besides completing quests, which usually involves doing puzzles).

Also, if you wanted to be a peaceful sort of character in Puzzle Quest Galactrix, you don't really get that option. You'll have to do a lot of attacking in side quests and even in the main storyline, without the option for a peaceful solution - which is rather annoying as you had much more choice in the original Puzzle Quest. There's only two real ways to level up in Puzzle Quest Galactrix too which either involves fighting or completing quests (which, as mentioned earlier, usually involves fighting). Fortunately, later on you get a crew members that allows you to get "rumours" off planets and by completing a Rumour puzzle mini-game you can get free experience points without the need to attack anyone and is pretty much the only option to level up for you peaceniks out there.

There are also some minor interface issues like some quests not giving a list of what you have to do in the quest log, no key to instantly open your Character Info/Inventory and some star systems get stuck behind dialogs on the map screen (but fortunately you can still click on them). However, these are only minor quibbles and aren't enough to subtract points from the Gameplay score.

Finally, there were so many features of this game that if they expanded upon, would've made the game so much better. For starters, the game seems similar to those good ol' space trading games of yesteryear like Elite or Privateer. You can freely roam across the galaxy mining and trading resources for cash, which you can use to upgrade your ships or even buy new ones. There are even different factions that you can either increase of decrease your reputation with. Unfortunately, it doesn't really have much of an impact, unless you have poor standing in which case that faction's ships will attack you more frequently if you enter their systems. How great would it be if by having good standing with a faction you would gain access to more quests or better weapons and ships? How about sub-plots revolving around the factions? There's a lot that could be done there which modders will hopefully pick up on.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix Haggle Mini-game

Replayability (4/5)
Multiplayer is okay and would've been perfect if the Quick Rematch option worked (although apparently other people don't suffer this problem, so maybe it's just me!). This adds some replayability to the game. Also since Puzzle Quest Galactrix is a puzzle/RPG hybrid, its RPG elements allow for some replayability - you actually get a choice at the end of the game for two possible ending (and it's kind of cunning since it forces you to play the game again in order to get the alternative ending).

It seems the game also encourages replayability as the second time you play, all leap gates are unlocked so if you're like me and get annoyed by doing puzzles for no reward (besides being able to travel somewhere) you'll be glad to know it's easier the next time you play!

Overall the game has no major pitfalls and there is no DRM (hooray)! The interface is simple and intuitive and tutorials abound at the beginning of the game. Multiplayer can be buggy though and I've read complaints about Internet play not working for some.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix Rumours Mini-game

Overall - 67%
Value for money Puzzle/RPG hybrid (with more of an emphasis on the puzzles this time around) and it's Australian made!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

A majority of Australians are "gamers"

And before you ask me why I put "gamers" in quotation marks after reading this report, why not scroll down to the comments to see why :). Yes, it is most likely true that when they mentioned "gamers" they meant just about anyone that's touched a console controller/microphone (in the case of Singstar)/guitar controller (in the case of Guitar Hero)/buzzer (in the case of Buzz!)/nunchuck (in the case of a Wii)/etc. Okay so what if these people aren't the typical nerdy gamer that a lot of us (myself included) are that plays D&D RPGs on their PCs but it's good to get statistics on what is becoming a more important industry - and it's good to know that with a statistic like that, there'll be at least more people who are accepting of gaming as a valid past-time, not as something reserved for social outcasts!

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Monday, May 18, 2009

New Mass Effect 2 Trailer emerges

Check out this new trailer of Mass Effect 2. Apparently they've put a lot of effort into explosions/weapons/graphics which is all well and good but I hope they don't detract from the other elements of gameplay :).

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TF2 Spy Update

Seems like the spy is getting updated in TF2 as well! At the moment, the TF2 site reveals that the spy will be getting two new watches as unlockables.

Also gotta love the way they've revealed the info as a mail order form provided by an Australian company called "Mann Co." where their slogan is "We sell products and get into fights".

Only thing I'm concerned about is the one that cloaks the spy indefinitely. Sure you need to stand still to regenerate but I don't really see this as being much of a disadvantage...

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Serious Sam 3 in development

Seems like Serious Sam 3 is now in development according to the broken English on Croteam's website. There's currently no release date for the game and it says they've only recently started it so it could be a couple of years before we see anything ready to play. Still, should be some mindless fun when it comes out again - hopefully they can continue on making parodies/in-jokes of other games?

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Friday, May 15, 2009

TF2 Sniper Update details released

Looks like some details about the new sniper update for TF2 has been released. At the time of this article there are currently three pages of info. To summarise:

1. The Sniper now gets an unlockable new weapon which is basically a bow and arrow. Apparently they slow down your enemy and the arrows stay embedded in any enemies you hit with it.

2. A couple of new arena maps and a new type of map which is a payload race. Basically it's like payload maps but both teams are racing to get their cart to the finish line.

3. The sniper get's this shield on his back called the "Razorback". It basically prevents spies from backstabbing you, at least once. After it gets hit it disintegrates.

Even if a bit inaccurate on Australia's geography and history, and clearly inspired by Crocodile Dundee and other stereotypes, it's good to see they've displayed the info in the form of a postcard back to the sniper's mum in Australia :).

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 surfaces

A new trailer (albeit a very short one) has appeared for Call of Duty 4 2 or should that be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Whatever, you know the game I'm talking about :). Apparently it was showed on TV during an ad break for a basketball game (WTF?) - anyway as Gamespy reports, there is now a rip of it on YouTube.

Apparently there was also a message that the "world premier" of the game will occur on May 24th, whatever that means....

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"Noob" to be 1 millionth word in the English language?

According to an article in Gamespy, apparently the gaming term "noob" may in fact have bestowed upon it the honour of being the 1 millionth word to be added to the English language.

It's probably not too surprising with an even larger number of people playing games nowadays and perhaps even a larger PERCENTAGE of the population playing them (at least in the developed world). Languages tend to always evolve and sadly I have a prediction that the word "you're" will be one of the next to go, replaced by the often used "your". I also anticipate apostrophes will be used whenever you want to create the plural form of nouns...

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Eidos Montreal announces Thief 4 in development

A recent Gamespy article mentions that Eidos Montreal has officially announced that they are resurrecting another classic series of PC games: the Thief series. Fans of this Looking Glass Studios gem will be rejoicing, or perhaps not since the question on their minds may be "Will Eidos stuff up the series with this fourth iteration?"

With Deus Ex 3 and Thief 4 in the pipeline, Eidos Montreal have got a lot of big expectations to satisfy and it's not going to be an easy task!

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Gamespy Article mentions Three Reasons to Look Forward to Sims 3

Gamespy has run an article mentioning three reasons why people should look forward to Sims 3. To summarise, they are:

1) The ability to customis Sim personalities by specifying five traits instead of "slider bars"

2) Lifetime Goals

3) Ability not to only share previously available custom-made creations as was the case with the Sims 2, but to create movies too (so a bit like The Movies where you get to make and share videos online).

I'm not so excited about point 3 and point 2 is a welcome change, even if it is very similar to the aspirations system you had in Sims 2. However, point 1 has got me pretty excited. You'll apparently have sixty traits to pick from and they'll have quite a visible effect on your Sim's behaviour. As Gamespy mentioned, picking a kleptomaniac slob for example would result in your Sim constantly stealing stuff and living in a messy house.

The question is, will the reduced baby-sitting of your Sims from previous games means the game will become *too* casual? Will the players be actually able to *play* the game or just be mere spectators? I think this will be the biggest challenge for the Sims 3.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Puzzle Kingdoms the next game on Infinite Interactive's TODO list

Seems like the next game Infinite Interactive are working on is Puzzle Kingdoms. Hopefully they don't run the risk of doing the puzzle/insert-other-genre-here hybrid games to death but this one is a puzzle/strategy, where the strategy part is similar to their old Warlords games (so at least they've had a lot of experience in that area). It might just work, but is it just me or are the graphics getting worse and worse from one game to the next (then again maybe it's just my personal taste)?

The game is expected to be released later this year.

Check out some of the screenshots:

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Starcraft 2 Beta coming soon

Seems like a Starcraft 2 Beta is coming soon and by signing up for a account you'll be provided with a chance of getting into the beta (you have to provide your system specs too). While I'm usually pretty excited about playing a beta, not sure if I'll sign up for this since (a) I don't have enough time nowadays and (b) I just get frustrated too much when I find bugs :P.

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Duke Nukem GONE Forever?

It seems rumours are circulating that 3D Realms is dead which means the infamous Duke Nukem Forever may instead be GONE forever (or at least until someone buys the rights to the franchise). I never really got into the Duke Nukem series but I'm sure there are a lot of fans that are sad to hear that - or then again maybe happy since if someone with more money buys the rights to the game, they can at least provide something tangible within a few years time (instead of over a decade)!

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Borderlands gets revamped

Looks like the Borderlands website has been revamped and so have the screenshots. Why not check them out here.

Why am I interested in this game? It will apparently have four-player co-op which is always a plus in my books!

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Puzzle Quest Galactrix is next in line

Well I've received Puzzle Quest Galactrix, installed it and started to play it. So far so good. There are some minor annoyances in terms of the interface but everything else seems fine. I'm currently at level 8 and working through the missions, but you've really got to love the hexagonal grid or else the game can become boring, since it's used for just about everything (even haggling and opening gates, not just your typical combat and crafting as was the case in the original Puzzle Quest). I'm glad to say my fiance is enjoying it too, although she tends to get frustrated when the AI gets random bombs out of nowhere... and with Puzzle Quest Galactrix there's six potential ways they can come in, instead of one....

There's apparently around 100 quests and I've already done maybe 20 of them, so provided the game doesn't have widely diverging storylines/experiences depending on your character, I'll probably have a review up in another couple of weeks.

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