Monday, July 27, 2009

Tron Legacy Trailer

Not quite gaming news but hey it's nerdy enough to be on this blog :). Best news is, Daft Punk are scoring the music too!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tropico 3 Teaser Trailer

Here's a new teaser trailer for Tropico 3 - if those are the in-game graphics that'd be really awesome (and I get a feeling they are after watching the second video which has in-game screenies). Now let's just hope they don't stuff up the gameplay (and hopefully distribute it here in Australia)!

Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Review

Back in June, the news that not one but two development teams were working on Monkey Island related games almost gave me a heart attack. I’m a big fan of the oldschool point ‘n’ click adventure game genre and to see that there was enough interest to resume the series (i.e. "Tales of Monkey Island" by Telltale Games) and remaster the original (i.e. "Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition" by Lucasarts) meant that another adventure game renaissance was now a possibility! It’s been a long time since the last Monkey Island game, Escape from Monkey Island (almost 9 years in fact), so the fans have been waiting for quite awhile to get their Monkey Island fix! However the wait is now over and fans can now look forward to five new episodes that combined make up the next game in the venerable Monkey Island series. The first of these is "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal"...

Sound (5/5)
Sound effects are excellent and so is the voice acting. They’ve managed to get Dominic Armato aboard once again to reprise his voice acting role as Guybrush and Alexandra Boyd to do the voice acting of Elaine Marley, although she doesn’t do much talking in this episode (Alexandra Boyd was the voice actor for Elaine Marley in Curse of Monkey Island – I think her voice suits Elaine’s character better IMHO).

Music (5/5)
Michael Land is back in the composer seat and he's back doing what he does best making an awesome soundtrack influenced by sea shanties, reggae and calypso. Listening to the tracks in the game you'll notice several passages of music that sound quite familiar as the music from all previous games gets infused into this soundtrack. It's quite an aural feast and it's just too bad there's no easy way to get a hold of the music (although it seems likely Telltale Games will release the soundtrack for sale on their website, considering there is a Sam & Max one already available...)

Michael also does a good job of creating the theme for the nefarious French scientist, Marquis de Singe, which shows he’s not just a one-trick pony :).

Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Gameplay Video

Graphics (4/5)
Personally, I think the graphics are great and fit the game. Sure they're kind of cartoony which some people might not like but it is a comedy adventure game after all and I think the graphics are appropriately bright and colourful. The only criticisms I have is that some of the denizens of the island you first visit seem to be based off recycled models (i.e. two pirates almost look the same except maybe for a different skin tone or clothes). Also one of the characters looked like he'd be at home in a Wallace and Gromit cartoon (or game) – methinks there was some laziness here but fortunately it doesn't have much of a negative impact on the gameplay.

Plot (4/5)
I'm glad to say that the plot in "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal" sets up the mini-series off to a good start. It welcomes the old Monkey Island fans back into familiar territory with the return of some old characters and several in-jokes that only a fan would be able to understand. Of course, the only problem with this approach is that it may be targeted too much towards the fans with newcomers to series scratching their heads for most of the game . However I think the zany humour, Guybrush’s nerdy (but mischievous) nature and memorable puzzles will win a whole legion of new fans (at least I hope so)!

The adventure game genre is nothing new, having been around for decades and Telltale Games are no stranger when it comes to developing them, having already developed the new Sam and Max games. In fact one could argue that they're partially responsible for the most recent renaissance in the adventure game genre.

For those of you too young to remember point 'n' click adventure games, there's not much too them. You're basically playing a graphical form of interactive fiction which is mouse-driven. Storylines tend to be pretty linear and the objective of the game is to get to the end of the story. This will usually involve talking to other characters, acquiring items and solving puzzles. Most adventure games have these elements and the only real way to differentiate from one between the other is the artistic style (combination of music, sound and graphics), the entertainment value of the puzzles and, the storyline. "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal" succeeds in these critical areas although it does fail somewhat in the interface department, which is a bit cumbersome to use. To get Guybrush to walk you have to hold the mouse button down and pan the mouse in order to rotate Guybrush into the desired direction. I didn’t find it intuitive at all and ended up using a combo of the keyboard and mouse which is a shame as some players can become a bit uncoordinated trying to use both at the same time (not me though, I play computer FPSs :P)

Puzzles in the game are generally quite easy (provided you're observant) but fun nonetheless. There were a couple of points I was stumped as what to do but it only took a few minutes before I figured it out. One particular puzzle was satisfying on completion since it actually required you to outsmart your adversary and I believe that these sort of puzzles are the main draw cards for the Monkey Island series.

There is quite a bit of conversation in the game although this is to be expected in a Monkey Island game and thankfully, there are some pretty humourous lines, so it’s not as if you won’t be entertained by them!

Replayability (4/5)
Adventure games don't tend to be very replayable when compared to other genres of games (i.e. once you've finished it they don’t tend to be any different the second time you play through) however, this is a special breed of adventure game: It's Monkey Island! Yes there's not going to be much difference the next time you play, but the plot and dialogue plus the hilarious situations that you encounter, makes the game worth replaying.

The only real criticism I could make is that the game is pretty short (only worth a few hours of gameplay) – but it is only one episode and meant to be part of an entire mini-series, so it's not bad in that regard.

The game has very little bugs – in fact I only encountered one and that was when the text disappeared off the screen (which made it hard to know if you were hovering over something you could interact with). Fortunately, a quick save then reload of the game seemed to fix the problem so I wasn't permanently afflicted by the issue.

The game was very easy to acquire too. I just setup an account with Telltale Games and then downloaded it. Best of all, Telltale was running an offer at the time where for under AUD$50 you could get all five episodes, a free episode from another Telltale game and a DVD cover with artwork done by Steve Purcell! Not a bad deal (wish it came with the soundtrack instead though :P).

Overall - 88%
The Monkey Island series sets sail once again and it's in good hands.

If you want to get the game, you can purchase it online off Telltale Games.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Battlefield Heroes Review

Our guild has been waiting awhile for a new team-based FPS and we had much fun playing the popular Battlefield 2. When we first heard that EA were going to kick-start a whole series of free games labelled “Play 4 Free” and that a new Battlefield game would be one of the flagship products, we got pretty excited. Now there was no excuse for guildies in acquiring a Battlefield game since (1) it didn’t cost a cent and (2) it was easily available online. D.I.C.E. took their time in developing Battlefield Heroes though and it came out much later than expected, so the question is, was it worth the wait?

Sound (3/5)
Since the game is intentionally a cartoony game, the audio follows suit. Tank cannons sound like pop-guns and the players make vroom-vroom noises when they want a lift. It can grate on the nerves sometimes and it’s especially annoying when several people are on fire in the same area (but I guess it's potentially funny for the instigator ;)).

Music (4/5)
Marc Canham has offered an excellent theme song which you'll be sure to whistle when you least expect it :). Unfortunately that's about the only song in the game, besides the music you hear around the flags (which is a nice aural queue as to who is in possession).

Then again it is a multiplayer FPS so it's not like you'd expect too much music anyway :).

Battlefield Heroes Player Setup Screen

Graphics (4/5)
You’re either going to love or hate the cartoony graphics, as Battlefield Heroes has taken a leaf out of TF2's book. I personally like the graphical style, it's simple, bright and colourful and by adopting this approach you only need modest system requirements to play the game.

Plot (3/5)
No real plot except it’s a thinly veiled WWII scenario with the British "Royals" fighting off the Nazi "Nationals". Some story is made up that the Royals decide to declare war on the Nationals because they think they cheated in the last Olympics, so the plot is appropriately hare-brained. Some WWII vehicles can be spotted in the game as well(e.g. Jeeps, Shermans and Spitfires for the "Royals").

Battlefield Heroes is like Battlefield 1942 Lite. You've basically got a cut-down simplified version of the game since you've got less weapons, less vehicles and only three classes to pick from: the Commando, the Gunner and the Soldier. Each has its pros and cons. The Commando is the sniper class in the game and can take enemies out from afar. They also get a nasty knife and stealth abilities for close range combat. At the other end of the spectrum you have the Gunner who specialises at close range, dealing heavy damage with their machine gun. They also get abilities that increase their armour, give them speed boosts or throw kick explosive barrels. In the middle you've got the Soldier which is basically the support class since they get party healing abilities and a whole bunch of other random abilities (Grenade Spam, Burning Bullets, etc.).

The game also has a nifty friends system where you can play with your friends - which is a good thing (although not sure how they get around you recruiting your high level mates to join a low level game - that'd be kind of unbalanced)!

There are some considerable drawbacks to this game. Firstly I miss how you could play as a squad in Battlefield 2 - the ability to have a squad leader that acted as a spawn point and who relayed orders from a Commander really tried to emphasise the importance of teamwork, which is slightly lacking in this game (although they try to encourage it with the party abilities). It's also annoying to disconnect from the server in order to change class (since your character is tied to one class). In most FPSes you're given the ability to change class within the game but I suppose they've designed it this way so the clothing options you've bought for a particular character stay on it.

Yet another drawback to the game is due to it trying to be a jack of all trades. Since the game is a casual game, you don't feel like you're rewarded for being skilled. Provided you bring the right skills along and are using them in the right place at the right time, the battle's already half won. However, even though they've aimed the game at casual players, it's not a completely casual game since non-FPS players may still not get used to the ASWD keys to control their character. The danger that Battlefield Heroes runs is being a master of none by trying to satisfy both camps - a trend I noticed in another game released recently (i.e. The Sims 3).

Replayability (4/5)
The game has pretty good replayability as it's a multiplayer game after all. The ability to use micro-transactions to acquire new outfits, weapons and emotes also increases the replay value, provided you're willing to pay of course!

However, the game isn't perfect since it may be a bit too casual for some, yet also being too hard in other aspects. It gets quite hard to level up later on (since missions become exponentially more difficult). Not to mention that levelling up doesn't have too much point since you end up playing against opponents of similar level all the time. Of course it's a good thing since it balances the game although on the other hand, it also gives you less motivation to level.

Battlefield Heroes Gameplay

The game is almost perfect in the polish department. Hardly any bugs, the game runs smooth and the user interface is clean, clear and easy-to-use. The only problems I have is that the welcome text on servers goes off the screen on my resolution (1680x1050) and occasionally the browser crashes (but that might be my fault for not logging out properly).

Overall - 70%
A well-packaged, team-based, cartoon FPS and it’s free (well mostly)! True casual players or hardcore gamers may not feel entirely welcome though.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Sims 3 Review

The Sims 3, probably the most anticipated game of 2009, considering The Sims series is the best-selling PC game series, ever (the game that used to hold that distinction was Myst). So no matter what I say, it's a good bet that the game is going to do well but will existing fans of the series like the changes that were made?

Sound (3/5)
Sound effects are pretty much similar to the previous Sims game, in fact some of the sound effects have even been re-used. One nice little gimmick is that when you're creating new Sims you're now able to pick from three different types of voices for each sex, and not only that but you're also able to alter the pitch. It's pretty neat because it allows you to customise your Sims a little bit more than previous incarnations. You're now also able to alter the volume control on radios and TV sets in the game which is a welcome addition! One of the problems I found in the Sims 2 is that the TV would always be way too loud, and altering the game volume control wasn't a solution since it would make other sound effects too soft.

Music (4/5)
A lot of effort has been taken with the music and famous movie composer, Steve Jablonsky was recruited to do the new theme song and most of the music (besides the radio station music). The new theme song is a subtle tribute to the former themes, as the style of music from the Sims 1 and Sims 2 themes have been incorporated into the new Sims 3 theme. The main theme for the Sims 3 can also be heard in various forms in the Build and Create-A-Sim music which I think is a nice touch.

In terms of the radio music I actually think the Sims 2 was slightly better in that regard but then again my musical taste doesn't quite keep up with the times when it comes to what is popular :P.

The Sims 3 Create-A-Sim Mode

Graphics (3/5)
At first glance it would seem that graphics haven't improved much in the Sims 3. If you're zoomed out, everything might appear not as sharp in visuals as the previous Sims title, but give it a few seconds and things will start to look better. The engine that they appear to have used in The Sims 3 reminds me of the one they use in Guild Wars. Basically things from a distance won't be rendered very well at all and you'll just see a sort of pixellated, low texture placemarker until you zoom up close where extra textures and detail will be added. Sometimes buildings won't be rendered at all for a few seconds, even on a reasonably powerful system like mine (e.g. you arrive at work only to find your Sim entering an empty plot of land, which then turns into a warehouse a few seconds later). However you can understand why they have taken this approach since everything is now running in real-time (i.e. your home isn't a separate instance cut off from the rest of the town).

One good thing about this approach though is that the game is able to run even on modest systems and I played on a system that was minimum spec without any crashes (although things really chugged obviously). However I did have some problems on an SLI system, but hopefully that was only an isolated incident.

Plot (3/5)
Plot works the same way as previous Sims games. The long-time fans of the Sims will notice there are certain family names that make a return in this one and there are still little background stories for some of the households, but this is nothing new and it's not really too much of an effort on plot, but hey that's not the point of the Sims! The fun lies in making your own story as you play with Sims that you've created (IMHO).

The Sims 3 Build and Buy Modes

If you haven't played a Sims game before or haven't at least heard of them, you must've been living under a rock for the past few years, possibly in Siberia (apologies to any Siberian readers out there)! For the benefit of those that don't know what it's about here's a quick run-down: The Sims games are basically life-simulation games - have you ever played the board game "The Game of Life"? Well it's a bit like that, except in a computer game format. You are able to customise a "Sim" (a person) and choose what clothes they wear, what their facial features look like, what their body shape is like and even their aspirations in life. After you've done that, you're able to play with the Sim in a town with virtual inhabitants. You can make them choose to focus on their career, or having a family, on one of their favourite past-times or a bit of everything. You're also able to design houses in the Sims 3 and make movies of your Sims too. There's a lot to do and this is one of the major strengths with the Sims franchise, you get value for money. One of the problems though with previous games is that since the game is a sandbox game, traditional hardcore gamers that like a challenge are usually let down, since there isn't much of a challenge in the game, besides advancing in your career and having a happy family, and these aren't hard to do if you use common sense.

So now we come to the latest iteration of the Sims. Most of the game plays in pretty much the same way as before but what has changed? Well firstly, the major one that you've probably heard about is that the rest of the town goes about its business in real-time. That means, unlike previous Sims games where time stands still for the rest of the town when you're playing in a certain household, in the Sims 3 time never stands still (unless you pause the game of course). This changes gameplay quite dramatically since it means you basically have much less control over the rest of your Sims. In the original Sims it was possible to play and direct the destinies of several of your Sims, while in this latest iteration it is almost impossible and you pretty much have to focus on one household. Other Sims that you create and populate the town with may kill themselves in a household fire, go off and have a homosexual affair (I'm serious this happened to one of my Sims in the game!) or just get bored with life in town and leave. It can be quite frustrating sometimes if you had other plans for the Sims so the control freaks will definitely not like this latest iteration. You can turn off free will for the Sims but that sounds like a recipe for disaster if things are still running in real time and you can't guide the Sims not in your current household.

Another major new feature is the dropping of the traditional attributes system (where you had points for certain things like Cleanliness, Playfulness, etc.) and the adoption of a traits system. Basically you can now actually see the difference it makes by adding certain traits to your characters and you'll get new actions to perform. For example, a character with the "Frugal" trait will be able to cut discount coupons out of the newspaper whereas other characters cannot, "Neurotic" characters can choose the action "Freak Out" that makes them less stressed (but may stress others around them) and "Inappropriate characters have conversation options such as "Insult Joe's Mother". It's great since it adds a certain role-playing element to the game, which brings me to my next point.

What I think is a cunning ploy by Maxis to get hardcore or traditional gamers into the Sims is by adding some thinly-disguised roleplaying elements into the gameplay. The Sims 2 occasionally had pop-ups appearing whilst a Sim was at work. These pop-ups would detail a scenario where the player can choose to act in a particular way. Depending on their attributes and a bit of luck, one of the options would generally be beneficial whilst the other detrimental. This idea has been expanded into the Sims 3 in the form of "Opportunities", however now they're more like mini-quests or side quests that you see often in your typical RPGs than a casual game like the Sims. So now you may have "Opportunities" that range from baking cookies for a school fair, repairing a friend's TV, becoming friends with someone along with the career-focused ones such as reading a book on "Caffeine Culture" or doing some overtime. Mini-quests aren't the only idea Maxis has taken aboard from RPGs, but also the idea of an inventory. Now each of your Sims has their own inventory where they can carry rocks, food, books, balls, etc. These means that certain items you buy are now portable and can be transferred to the park for example (e.g. a football, a boombox, a picnic hamper, etc.). I actual think it's a welcome addition and will have the hardcore or traditional gamers keep their interest just a little bit longer with The Sims 3.

Replayability (4/5)
As expected from a Sims game, the game is very replayable, since it's a sandbox game. You could always go back and try out new Sims with new traits, construct new houses, design new furniture, design new clothes, make new movies, etc., etc. There are many creative tools there for those that want to use them. However, to those that want challenging gameplay, there's not much to go back to - but this is a Sims game after all.

The Sims 3 Live Mode

Thankfully after the furor sparked by the DRM controversy with previous EA games (e.g. Mass Effect, Spore, etc.) EA has decided to go back to basics and while it still uses SecuROM it's only a disc check as opposed to a complex and dodgy activations scheme. The game's interface is very similar to the one used in The Sims 2 and is functional. The game's bugs seem few and far between, except for the usual pathing issues that can sometimes halt the game (just as well you can reload the game then!)

Overall - 70%
The Sims 3 is a brave attempt at trying to make the series head in a new direction and appeal more to actual gamers but by doing so might end up not satisfying either camp.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Mechwarrior game in the works

ZOMG! I loved the Mechwarrior series and it looks like a new Mechwarrior game is in the works! The trailer is made in the same vein as previous Mechwarrior intros and here it is:

Some of the commenters to the video noted that the Mad Cat or Timber Wolf would most likely not be seen since this is set before the time of the Clans (which is a bit of a bummer) but hey it's still Mechwarrior - let's hope they don't stuff this one up ;).

Latest Ashalon Swiftsone Video

Check it out! And the last cutscene that was dubbed was actually one I used to win the OggyCheese competition :P (of course I dubbed it with different words though).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Monkey Island Remake to be available soon

And apparently it's going to only cost $9.99 on Steam (I'm assuming that's US dollars). Here's an excerpt from the Facebook page:

Monkey Island: Special Edition hits next Wednesday on XBLA and Steam - 800 Microsoft points or $9.99, depending on your choice of platform. Only a few days left...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New gameplay trailer for Tales of Monkey Island

It's looking good :). Seems like they've retained the humour from previous games including several in-jokes.