Sunday, January 17, 2010

Borderlands Review

When I heard that a sci-fi co-op game was coming out that allowed four players to play, I was thinking "Awesome! The definitive sci-fi version of Diablo has finally arrived!" However, I admit there was a tiny bit of skepticism for whether this was going to be the first successful sci-fi co-op, by no means is Borderlands the first attempt. Restricted Area and Space Siege were both similar attempts at combining the addictive action-RPG gameplay of Diablo with a sci-fi setting but neither were really that good. So does Borderlands finally give the gaming community an extraordinary co-op RPG like Diablo? Almost...

Sound (2/5)
The game has reasonable sound effects and voice-acting is pretty good for all the characters in the game (but then again, how hard is it to do a yokel accent anyhow?). The only disappointing thing is that some of the gun's sound effects don't sound meaty enough.

Music (4/5)
Can't really fault the music, it suits the game very well. You'll be hearing a lot of Country and Western/Wild West ambient-style music that suits the desolate, frontier environment you'll be fighting through. There aren't really any themes to the game though (which I'm a sucker for) although the song in the intro is pretty choice!

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics for the game are relatively good, if you like cel-shading. This means the game appears almost like a well-drawn cartoon, except with excessive gore of course.

Borderlands - Gameplay Video

Plot (3/5)
The game sees you as an adventurer that has arrived on the world of Pandora searching for treasure, although many believe the existence of treasure to be fiction rather than fact. The world of Pandora is a dangerous, desolate, desert world populated by several kinds of aggressive creatures which makes life on the planet a harsh existence. Your role in the game is to search for this treasure whilst fighting several enemies which include the native fauna and bandits (which there are many of on the world). I have no real qualms about the plot and would go so far as to say it's a refreshing change playing a game set in the sci-fi/western genre. The terrain almost has a post-apocalyptic feel to it as well, so it almost feels like the producer asked "Hey guys, what would we get if we mixed Fallout 3 and Diablo together?"

Gameplay (2/5)
The gameplay is similar to Diablo in that it is a co-operative action RPG in where you play through a campaign to its completion. Unlike Diablo, the game is in a sci-fi environment and it's played from a first-person perspective. Since most of your weapons in the game are guns, the first-person perspective actually suits the game quite nicely and it might even attract more FPS players to the fray. However, it also somewhat falls over on this point since it won't feel quite right for FPS aficionados. The system doesn't beat what was used in Deus Ex. The problem lies in the two differing gameplay philosophies: RPGers prefer to plan their skills and proficiencies ahead, whilst FPSers tend to rely on their skill. The middle ground leaves a bitter sweet taste (although I suspect it's more skewed towards RPGer enjoyment).

The game allows you to pick four classes to play the game, the Hunter (who sports a sniper rifle and specialises in ranged attacks), the Siren (who is a bit like the mage class of the group), the Soldier (support class) and Brick (the tank class). A la Diablo (it's amazing how many times I make reference to Diablo in this review) you have skill trees that allow you to invest points into new skills (or existing ones) as yo gain more experience. Every class can use every type of gun in the game, whether it's a revolver, shotgun or rocket launcher, although only certain classes will be able to invest points in improving particular weapons (e.g. only the Brick can invest points into impoving rocket-launcher proficiency). Also to further distinguish each class from each other, each one gets a special skill that the others don't. There aren't really any complaints here since it's based off a tried-and-true model, except applied to a sci-fi shooter.

Replayability (2/5)
The game is about as replayable as Diablo, which isn't terribly replayable unless you want to keep scouting out for spanking new weapons and upgrades. I mean seriously, that's all there is to action RPGs like this isn't there? Besides trying out a new class there really isn't much else, so it doesn't really break any new ground here (except of course it is a sci-fi game, and there aren't many sci-fi RPGs).

The game has other features that help its replayability which it shares with Diablo, that being the ability to play through the campaign co-operatively and that the storyline is more-or-less linear, although you do get a lot of side quests in this game.

Also, without giving too much away, the ending is very disappointing - and this is perhaps where Diablo trumps over Borderlands.

Polish (0/5)
Sadly, I have to give this game the big fat zero for polish. I had a whole lot of trouble getting this game to work out of the box for multiplayer and it involved tweaking of my router. Even then there's a chance that I can sometimes not connect to games with friends, but I blame this on Gamespy servers since every game I've tried to play with friends on these servers (e.g. Company of Heroes, Test Drive Unlimited, etc.). Perhaps they don't have any servers located in Australia?

Also when the game was first released there were other annoying aspects, like not being able to skip the intro videos or being able to turn off the in-built VoIP chat (as this doubled-up on TeamSpeak which I already use as my VoIP program). Fortunately they did fix the VoIP problem in a subsequent patch by adding the ability to turn it on/off in the options menu, unfortunately you still can't skip intro videos which can be annoying if you've seen it before and you basically have to watch the thing for a few minutes... again...

Overall - 55%

Friday, January 15, 2010

Third Mass Effect novel announced

A third novel set in the Mass Effect universe has been announced called "Mass Effect: Revelation". Once again it's going to be written by Drew Karpyshyn. I quite enjoyed the previous novels so I'll be sure to look for it next time I'm at Borders (and when it's been released of course :)).

A hint at Star Trek Online costs

An exclusive offers page have revealed that Star Trek Online will indeed adopt a traditional MMO pricing scheme using subscription fees. If you pay USD$240 you get lifetime membership and if you pay USD$120 that'll get you a year's worth of playtime.

So I'm guessing that it'll be around $10USD a month or a bit more for its subscription fee.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Companion Trailers

Some excellently made Mass Effect 2 Companion trailers have been made, I doubt the graphics in-game will be as good though!

The first one is for a Krogan called Grunt who like all Krogans, likes to kill...

Next we have Miranda, a human female from Earth...

And lastly, we have a new alien called Thane who seems to be a religious extremist!

Lego Animation of Half-Life

Here's the first episode of a series of Lego animations that tell the events of the classic PC game, Half-Life. Not bad if I do say so myself!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ghostbusters: The Video Game Review

Ghostbusters: The Video Game was released mid-2009 but by the end of year it was available for a rock-bottom price of only a few US dollars, at least on Steam. Being a fan of the original movies and its catchy theme song, I decided to take advantage of the deal and acquired a copy. After about 10 hours of gameplay, I'm now ready to review the game...

Sound (5/5)
This area of the game has the least complaints for me resulting in top marks. You've basically got voice acting from most of the original cast (e.g. Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton and Annie Potts) and a lot of sound effects used in the films (e.g. the wailing of Ecto-1's siren, the sounds of traps closing, the proton stream, etc.).

Music (4/5)
The game uses some music that were licensed from the films but sadly the main Ghostbusters theme is cut-off after only several seconds of play, which personally I think is sad, since it was an integral part of the movie's soundtrack. Also there isn't actually much music to go around so you often hear music getting re-used for certain levels (or at least the same themes anyway).

Graphics (3/5)
The graphics for the game are reasonably good - the likeness of the original cast is especially fantastic. However, I did experience some framerate issues during the game and I've got an 8800GT (which isn't great but should be sufficient). Also in some cutscenes the mouths of the characters don't quite sync with their voices...

Ghostbusters: The Video Game - Gameplay Video

Plot (3/5)
The game's plot has a lot going for it. Firstly, it's actually written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, members of the original cast in the movies - and it shows since the events fit in well with past events occurring in the films: there are many old ghosts you'll recognise, many old tools that you'll recognise and of course the characters.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword, since newcomers to the Ghostbusters franchise won't pick up on many of the in-jokes and references to the films. I believe the experience to still be entertaining enough though, even if you haven't seen the films (I still enjoyed it and I only had a brief recollection of the events transpiring in the films).

Unfortunately, some of the cutscenes in the game are quite short, especially by the end of the game, and there are some parts in the game where you've turned up at some location not exactly knowing why you're there. Maybe some cutscenes got canned due to development deadlines or budget constraints? Anyway, it does make the story a bit confusing at times.

Gameplay (3/5)
The gameplay is pretty average and is reminiscent of many third-person action-adventures on console. You eventually get a variety of "weapons" at your disposal which are basically analogues of actual guns (e.g. one of them acts like a shotgun, one acts like a machine gun, etc.), however, they all have their place in the game since different ghosts have weaknesses to different weapons.

Fortunately there is some basic puzzle solving incorporated into the game which is a plus, and you get to use various enhancements from your Proton Pack to solve them. For example, you can use Slime Tethers to move heavy objects or open gates/doors, etc. It's reminiscent of some puzzles in Half-Life 2 where you use the Gravity Gun - however that game has been out for ages so it's not exactly a new concept, right?

Replayability (3/5)
The game is about as replayable as any linear action-adventure is, which is not very. There are three difficulty levels and you can also go back looking for artifacts (but they're quite easy to find).

Polish (1/5)
The game is sadly not as polished as what it could've been. In fact I struggled so badly with the framerate at first that I was about to quit playing the game only half-way through the first mission! Fortunately, I came across a workaround online where you basically lower the priority of the ghost_w32.exe process and somehow, the framerate spikes disappear, more or less. At least enough so that it's playable anyhow.

Also it's obvious the game is a console port as evidenced by the lazy console-like controls. I usually can cope with that but this may be a sticking point with some. Mouse-driven menus please!

Overall - 66%
There are a few nifty innovations in gameplay, at least for a game based off a movie, and having most of the original cast involved in its development doesn't hurt either; however, this only helps save the game from being totally average.

If possible, I recommend buying a boxed copy of the game if you can get it cheap, it'll allow you to setup a shortcut to lower the game's process priority saving you the trouble of manually doing it each time before a game starts.

Modern Warfare 2 Review

As many of you might know by now, Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to Call of Duty 4 aka Modern Warfare, has the record for highest grossing entertainment launch, ever. You heard right, not only had it sold more than any other game before it for its launch, but more than any other movie as well. AUD$325 million was apparently the figure. I must confess that I'm in the minority here in saying that I haven't actually played the original Modern Warfare so I'm not aware of some of the intricacies in the plot for the sequel - nevertheless I don't think this is too much of a disadvantage since it'll allow me to assess the game stand-alone instead of comparing it with the original.

Sound (4/5)
The sound is excellent although I suppose it's not too much of an improvement over the original Modern Warfare (although of course, I cannot really say) - definitely the sound isn't as great as what they have achieved in another, older FPS known as Day of Defeat: Source where you have a dynamic audio system meaning that muffled sounds of gunfire in the distance were actually other players firing their weapons! It would be good to see more FPSs adopting this since it adds to the immersion.

Voice acting is excellent and done by professionals. As mentioned earlier, I think this would have surely been the case for Modern Warfare as well. Interesting bit of trivia, I noticed that two voice actors of major roles in Mass Effect provide the voices for this game, i.e. Lance Henriksen (Admiral Hackett in Mass Effect and General Shepherd in Modern Warfare 2) and Keith David (Captain Anderson in Mass Effect and Sergeant Foley in Modern Warfare 2).

Music (4/5)
The music is of high quality and you'd expect that with Hans Zimmer, an accomplished movie score producer, providing the main themes. It makes you feel as if you were in one of those war movies, like Black Hawk Down (which Zimmer of course, composed the score for as well).

I'm a sucker for themes though and I can't actually recall any of the music in the game hence why it doesn't get a perfect score - not to mention the music in this game isn't treading any new ground in the genre.

Graphics (4/5)
No complaints about the graphics - they look pretty sharp and it works with no noticeable framerate loss on my machine - and that's the way it should be! Good to see a game that just works out of the box without any need to fiddle around to enjoy it.

Modern Warfare 2 - Singleplayer Gameplay Video

Plot (4/5)
The plot is exceptional and scripted so you feel like an action hero, doing all those dangerous missions and stunts like leaping across cliffs or onto helicopters. Of course it's also very linear plus the singleplayer campaign is short (only 4-5 hours), but you'd expect that from a Call of Duty game as they tend to emphasise quality over quantity - a game that is short, but sweet.

For those like me who haven't played the original Modern Warfare, don't panic, I don't think it's really necessary to since the game is still a rewarding experience without having played it. The only things you'll be left in the dark about are perhaps the motives behind a couple of the villains in the game and the background history of a couple of the good guys. While that would normally be a pretty big problem in a movie or TV series, not so much in a military FPS since you're more focused on the action anyway so a light story doesn't matter.

There's not really much to explain here since if you haven't heard of or played FPSs before, have you been living under a rock for the past 20+ years (argh now that's just showing my age)? As most of you know, an FPS (First Person Shooter) has you playing in first person with an assortment of weapons at your disposal. You basically run around killing enemies and enemy vehicles as you try to get from one point of the map to the next (or achieve some other objective). Anyway Modern Warfare 2 splits the game up into missions where you take the role of different characters in different hotspots in the fictional conflict. This allows you to experience what is happening on the ground (and in one short "mission", up above in space). Not much new ground is made in this area, since this is how singleplayer FPSs have worked for a long time, however set-pieces within missions of the game and certain views/backdrops are awesome enough to warrant the game a higher score, but then again, would you expect any less from a Call of Duty game?

Modern Warfare 2 - Co-op Gameplay Video

Replayability (4/5)
In terms of the singleplayer campaign, there's probably not too much replayability there, besides hunting down Intel items or playing on a different difficulty, as the game is only 4-5 hours long. The replay value for Modern Warfare 2 comes through its other two modes, co-op and multiplayer.

In co-op mode, you can play with one other player to complete certain scenarios at one of three difficulties. Scenarios vary from simple ground assault, to racing snowmobiles, to supporting a comrade to escape by firing the cannons of an AC130 Gunship. The co-op mode is great fun but why only two player? It would've been nice if they had four player as in the previous Call of Duty game, World at War. You can also complete some of these scenarios solo if you so wish.

In multiplayer mode, you play online with several other players and there are quite a few game types to play. There's your usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture-The-Flag and Domination games (where you control areas to earn points). There's even a Sabotage game type which is eerily reminiscent of Counter-Strike "de" maps ("BOMB HAS BEEN PLANTED!"). There's a decent variety of games and of course there are lots of guns, perks, accessories, weapon skins, emblems and titles to unlock which allows you to customise your character somewhat and keeps you coming back for more!

Polish (4/5)
Overall the game is very well polished and PC-friendly in terms of the control of the menus (that is mouse-driven as opposed to button-driven). I haven't experienced any Crashes-to-Desktop either but I have noticed that ALT+Tabbing isn't allowed once you're in-game... so maybe that helps with keeping the game stable or something!

The only drawback is the controversy of Infinity Ward deciding to drop dedicated server support. This makes it impossible for professional gamers/clans to setup their own practice servers or have servers reserved for matches. Problems with this system also manifests itself with casual/"pub" gamers since each game is hosted by the player with the "fastest" computer and if said player decides to drop out, the game pauses to find another player to host which is most of the time successful, but sometimes not, resulting in the game being disbanded.

Modern Warfare 2 - Multiplayer Gameplay Video

Overall - 80%
Although Modern Warfare 2 doesn't break any new ground and it has some minor issues in terms of its implementation, it is nevertheless a welcome, well-rounded addition to the Call of Duty series.

The game is available, well, just about everywhere! Won't be hard to find!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Deus Ex Synapse (Hong Kong Streets) Remix

Just stumbled across this recently - it's a most excellent remix of the track Synapse which is played whilst you wander around the streets of Hong Kong. It's a collaboration by Big Giant Circles and the man himself, Alexander Brandon. If you're a fan of Deus Ex, it's worth checking out :):

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

NES Ghostbusters reference in most recent Ghostbusters game

I was a bit confused when stumbling across a computer in the Ghostbusters HQ which had this scrawled across the screen:

Conglaturation !!!
You have completed a great game.
And prooved the justice of our culture.
Now go and rest our heroes !

A quick search revealed it was the ending to the NES version of Ghostbusters. Here it is in all its glory(?)

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Mass Effect 2 Cinematic Trailer

Isn't really big on content but it is a really well made cinematic :) (and I guess it would have to be considering it has been shown at some cinemas!).

Friday, January 1, 2010

[Budget] Need for Speed: Undercover Review

The reason I've prefixed the title of this review with "[Budget]" is that I'm considering this game a budget game now as it was released about a year ago (in late 2008) and it's now cheaply priced, at least on Steam ($10 USD). This means, like when I review cheap, indie games, I'll give some consolation to the score because of its cut-throat price. Being a fan of Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Need for Speed: Carbon, I actually wanted to get this when it came out but poor reviews made me refrain (as it was more expensive when it initially came out). I decided to give it a chance now since it was more affordable. Read on to find out whether it was worth it.

Sound (2/5)
The sound effects for the game are okay but they sound quite generic and even tinny at times. Also the voice acting is borderline too, but then again, that was the case in previous Need for Speeds.

Music (3/5)
The music in the Need for Speed games are usually a hit-or-miss affair due to its eclectic nature. You've got a mixture of Punk Rock, Hard Rock, Dance, Hip-Hop and Pop. I ended up liking most of the tracks even the ones that aren't usually my musical preference as they fitted the game, sort of...

Graphics (2/5)
The graphics are what you'd expect for a 2008 game although sadly there are a lot of framerate spikes on my system - sometimes it lasts for several seconds where the game just freezes on one frame. I've read in other reviews that the game has framerate issues on the console and it seems they may translate to the PC too!

Need for Speed: Undercover - Racing Gameplay Video

Plot (2/5)
There is a plot in there but it's broken up into tiny fragments based on when you gain certain levels (yes, you get levels just like a Role-Playing Game in this) or when certain events are triggered. The problem is most of the cut-scenes don't really make any sense or they don't add much to the story (One of the characters called Carmen who pleads for help all the time, is such an example).

Need for Speed: Undercover follows similiar gameplay mechanics to the Need for Speed: Underground games, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Need for Speed: Carbon - it's a free-form (more or less) arcade racing meets role-playing game that sees you competing in illegal street races. In Need for Speed: Undercover, you play as an undercover cop (hence the name) trying to infiltrate some street racing and grand theft auto gangs.

Compared to previous games, most features have remained intact. You still have your usual races (Circuit, Sprint and Checkpoint), you still have police chases (my favourite part of the game, I especially like the cutscene played when the FBI catches you ;)) and you can still modify your car's appearance and performance from the money you win from races. What has been taken out are the Drift events from previous games (which I don't miss that much so I'm not complaining there) but the game also seems less free-form - i.e. you can't just drive around and find someone to challenge for an on-the-spot race, nor can you visit the shops you unlocked. All events that progress the game are accessible through the map. This is only a minor criticism but it gives the game less

Also as mentioned earlier, there are certain role-playing elements to the game now. Not only do car parts improve the performance of your vehicle but "dominating" (i.e. doing extremely well) at certain events also boosts the performance of your vehicle through received bonuses via your "driving skills". While it's nice to see them add role-playing elements to the game, traditional racers or the less patient might find it annoying since it also introduces the bane of role-playing games, i.e. grinding. If you're a good enough racer you probably won't need to worry about this but for some (such as myself) you end up having to do these races or else key events become too hard to complete, which results in retrying and watching unskippable cutscenes every time (yes I know the FMV cutscenes are skippable but not the in-game ones).

Need for Speed: Undercover - Modification Video

Replayability (3/5)
The game is probably about as replayable as any other Need for Speed game. There are some opportunities to purchase different cars or mod them slightly differently, plus there's multiplayer. However, the main storyline itself for the single player, is linear.

Polish (2/5)
The interface seems okay albeit kind of clunky (it's obviously a console part). You also randomly see cars dropping out of the sky sometimes and civilian cars crashing into each other for no apparent reason (but I suppose this happens in real life to some degree). I also received a couple of Crashes-to-Desktop while playing so beware!

Need for Speed: Undercover - Police Chase Gameplay Video

Overall - 61%
Only as a budget price can Need for Speed: Undercover be considered passable as it is almost inferior in every regard to previous Need for Speed titles.

The game is currently available off Steam for $10USD.