Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Choicest Games - Game of the Year 2009

Wow, is it March 2010 already? Anyway with the Dragon Age review finally out of the way I can focus on deciding which game deserves the coveted Choicest Games - Game of the Year award for 2009. Scanning through the games list, it seems I reviewed 17 games last year - I didn't think I'd have enough time to play that many (and I guess the late awarding of a winner attests to that fact)

For 2009, the best scoring game here at Choicest games was:

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

The Monkey Island remake not only made Game of the Year for 2009 but even beat the score for the previous winner (Left 4 Dead) with a whopping 88%. There was not much to fault in this superb remake of the original. Considering that not too much was done besides introducing high-resolution graphics, some voice-acting and a soundtrack with live instruments, it just goes to show how awesome the classic adventure game was (since all the aforementioned improvements are just icing on the cake). Oh and did I mention it was all for a rock-bottom price of USD$10?

This year, the runners up prize goes to two games. They are:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to Infinity Ward's popular Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, ended up getting a respectable 80%. As usual for a Call of Duty game, the single-player campaign was short, but sweet. Although fairly linear, the games in the series are always so immersive it feels like you're starring in a blockbuster Hollywood war film. The multiplayer is heaps of fun too with unlocks a plenty to hunt for and customise your online experience.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is one of those games that was heavily anticipated after the success of its predecessors - namely Fallout and Fallout 2. When it was finally released it did not disappoint. Bethesda Softworks worked hard on bringing the optimism of a nuclear future in the 50s and retro sci-fi to the world of Fallout 3 and I think they succeeded in that regard. The game turned out to be Oblivion in post-apocalyptic clothing, but hey that's not necessarily a bad thing - although that does mean Fallout 3 comes not only with all the pros of Oblivion but also its cons.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins Review

Well it's been a long time in the making - I remember hearing about Dragon Age's development several years ago - just to show I'm not lying, it was apparently showcased as early as E3 2004. So thankfully it's finally here and Bioware plus EA are marketing it as a dark fantasy spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. Usually, when I hear "spiritual successor" nowadays, it usually means that the game is in no way shape or form similar to the predecessor it refers to and it's just milking off its predecessor's good name to beef up sales. Having only played a little bit of Baldur's Gate I cannot say if this really captures the essence of it, but it does seem similar in that's it more like a D&D RPG (well, a cut-down D&D RPG with no D&D background story at least).

Anyway having not been a fanboi of the original Baldur's Gate I have perhaps the rare opportunity to review this game solely on its merits as a stand-alone Bioware RPG.

Dragon Age: Origins - Character Creation Video

Sound (5/5)
There's top quality voice acting in this game by famous TV stars and some veteran voice actors. Claudia Black (of Stargate and Farscape fame) voices Morrigan and Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) voices her mother, Flemeth. A favourite voice actor of mine (and a prolific one), Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop, Guild Wars, etc.), also plays a part as the dwarf, Oghren.

There's nothing to fault with the other sound effects in the game either meaning Dragon Age gets full marks in the Sound department.

Music (5/5)
At first I couldn't really get into some of the music in Dragon Age since it was too ambient. Sure the main theme was excellent and the many celtic/angelic tunes that were similar to it were marvellous. The Dwarven City/Noble theme also happened to be a favourite of mine. However, the atmosphere that is created by Inon Zur, who is no stranger to composing for Bioware (e.g. Icewind Dale 2), is truly magnificent and it melds so well that I just had to give the game full marks in the Music department as well.

Dragon Age: Origins - Female City Elf Origin Story Part 1 Video

Graphics (3/5)
While the graphics are an improvement over previous Bioware fantasy RPGs I actually don't think it looks much better than Mass Effect (and in fact probably used a very similar engine, you can tell by the model animations). Maybe (in an ironic twist) by making the game look more fuzzy with the film grain effect, Mass Effect turned out seeming more realistic? Also, I suppose the blocky buildings and machines you get in sci-fi can easily look real as opposed to the natural curves you need on flora and fauna in fantasy.

I also happened to have issues with artifacts in this game which I found surprising, apparently the game can really tax the video card!

Plot (4/5)
Bioware should get top marks for trying to make a darker fantasy game and they've more or less succeeded, the only thing is, in the end it's still a typical fantasy story. After completing your Origin story you soon find out that you are destined to be a Grey Warden. The Grey Wardens are an ancient order of darkspawn slayers - the darkspawn being evil transformed zombie-like creatures (they pretty much act as an Orcish horde in this game). The aim of the game is to recruit as much help as you can in defeating the darkspawn befor they take over the land of Ferelden.

The strongest points in terms of plot is the fact that each Origin Story is interrelated with each other. You will meet characters that were introduced in other Origin Stories, and by playing the Origin Stories you'll learn more background story on those characters.

Dragon Age: Origins - Female City Elf Origin Story Part 2 Video

Gameplay (3/5)
Surprisingly I probably didn't have as much fun in this Bioware RPG compared to previous ones. My main frustration with the game is that it can be too challenging at times even though a friend of mine obviously thinks the opposite since he has to resort to Nightmare difficulty in order to challenge himself! I suppose when it comes down to it, I'm probably not an expert RPG gamer, or at least a power gamer - but then again I've never really played the D&D RPGs much anyway, having played the likes of Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, which are arguably RPG-lites. You can change the difficulty of the game if you find a particular battle difficult, but I refrain from using the feature (since it almost feels like cheating).

Perhaps another reason I find it difficult is because of the path I chose - rogues seem hard to play with if you want them to be archers and I've found mages to be terribly overpowered! Certain origin stories and class combos are obviously more ideal than others. Also potions aren't unlimited and I found myself quaffing them way to quickly (if you visit the Elves you can get them, but it doesn't help if you don't visit them first!). Having a healer which you meet later on helps but not if she runs out of mana (which comes back to the shortage of potions problem again).

Another complaint is AI pathing which seems pretty poor - seems like this has been a problem since the dawn of computer games and it hasn't got any better! However I should be thankful that the AI pathing is poor since it's saved my butt a few times, thanks to enemies getting stuck in walls!

There is also a lot of talking and reading in this game (and Yahtzee thought Mass Effect was bad!) which I guess they were able to all fit on one DVD by cutting out player character audio, unlike Mass Effect where you get to hear Commander Shepard speak.

Oh and while I'm on a roll with criticisms, the interface is also a bit fiddly too, at least when compared to other Bioware RPGs - however you can do a lot more in this game.

After all that negativity you'll be glad to hear there is one part of the game I like and it's the ingenious gifting system for companions which is a nice touch. Not only do items help your relationship with characters but particular items can even open up new dialogue or companion quests. A good character relationship can even give a boost to the stats of your characters, so there is good reason to keep them happy.

Replayability (5/5)
Dragon Age: Origins has a high replay value, thanks to several factors. Firstly, you have six origin stories to pick from plus you can play as a different class and race in some of them. This means that the start of each game can range from quite different to very different. Eventually it results in the same, you being recruited as a Grey Warden - but then the next phase of the game has you recruiting allies and there are plenty of opportunities to make decisions on who you'd prefer to ally with (which ultimately results in a different ending).

Dragon Age also wouldn't be a Bioware RPG if it didn't have romance sub-plots and there are a few to choose from here and this of course adds even further to replay value. The only thing I could fault is that even though the game is so replayable, its sheer length, being nearly 60 hours worth of gameplay, is a bit daunting and actually discouraged me from playing the game again! Well at least I won't be revisiting it for a long time...

Dragon Age: Origins - Combat Video

Polish (0/5)
Bioware (or maybe EA) has created a major stuff-up with the social networking aspects in this game. Thanks to a new site created for Dragon Age: Origins (and any future Bioware games for that matter) - my old Bioware account which has bonuses linked to older games (e.g. Mass Effect, NWN2, Jade Empire, etc.) is now disjointed.

I tried going with my old Bioware account, with the correct e-mail address and password, only to have them ask me to create a new account. When I tried to use my username (which believe me, is quite unique) it wouldn't allow me since it was apparently reserved. I thought this must've been because of my previous Bioware account - but then I found that the previous Bioware account accesses a different part of Bioware's site and the Dragon Age one had its very own one - separate from the original Bioware site! I eventually settled for a new username and thought that was that. However, going to EA.com revealed I now had two EA.com accounts and the most recent one I had wasn't really associated with much - so I wanted to use the old one but instead link it to my new e-mail address. Alas I couldn't because now the new one was created with my new e-mail address and there was a conflict. I now for some reason also couldn't change my hard-to-type screen name login because somehow the site remembers the screen name you last used(even though I deleted it) and it doesn't allow you to change it!

To cut a long story short, I was extremely frustrated at this process and the sad thing is it effectively punishes loyal Bioware users since new ones of course wouldn't need to worry about this!

There were also some initial logging in problems when the game was first released which is also quite poor form, considering they warn you that unlocks are tied to a particular e-mail address, so if you assign it to the wrong e-mail address (remember, I have two and it's quite easy to make that mistake), then too bad, you've lost your unlock!

All the aforementioned stuffing around prevented me from playing the game for two days as I waited for EA.com to fix the problem (which in the end, they took too long to reply so I found a workaround).

Oh there are also other bugs which include occasional Crashes-to-Desktop and also an annoying minimising bug that I experienced with Dragon Age: Origins but not any other game (admittedly though I think this may have been a problem with an AVG anti-virus update - still strange why it only happened with Dragon Age though...)

And because of all the stress this game has caused me and other gamers I sadly have to give it a big fat zero for polish.

Overall - 76%

Bioware has made a solid dark fantasy RPG here but lack of polish and some fiendishly difficult battles holds it back from true greatness.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bad Company 2 PB INIT FAILURE Resolution

Been plagued by the dreaded "PB INIT FAILURE" error and are consequently unable to play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on multiplayer? I stumbled across a solution whilst browsing the game folders. It has worked for me (so far) and so it may work for you to.

Please note that I have the retail version of Battlefield Bad Company 2. Not sure if this works on the Steam version.

Anyway, fix is quite simple. Since I thought the manual PunkBuster updater was not doing it's job I decided to hunt for the pb folder under the BFBC2 game folder. Sure enough I found the "htm" folder (it was under: C:\Program Files\Electronic Arts\Battlefield Bad Company 2\pb\htm on my computer).

The files on my computer were a few days old when I checked the "Last Modified" date but that's not the only thing I noticed. I'm sure I saw the names of these files somewhere before.

I visited the PunkBuster webpage and sure enough these files were available for download individually. So I grabbed the files wc002158.htm and wa001382.htm, and copied them into the folder mentioned before (i.e. C:\Program Files\Electronic Arts\Battlefield Bad Company 2\pb\htm).

Once that was done, I booted up BFBC2 and presto! I was able to play without the error coming up.

As mentioned before, fingers crossed I haven't just jinxed myself by proclaiming I've found the solution! Hope it helps!

EDIT: Nope, false alarm, seems like the problem reared its ugly head again! *sigh* back to the drawing board!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Netbook Games - DRM Free

I concluded that one of the best sort of games to get for a netbook are ones that are DRM-free since DRM solutions usually involve (a) a disc being in the drive (netbooks not having a disc drive by default) or (b) being connected online all the time (which is fine if you've got an Internet connection all the time, but occasionally getting an Internet connection may not be possible or too expensive).

So I started looking for distributors who sell DRM-free games. Fortunately I already know of two:

1) Positech Games. I bought a game or two from this developer (he's known as "Cliffski") and he firmly believes in DRM-free games which is a plus.

2) Good Old Games. Another bonus with these guys is that they sell some classic games!

I've heard that Stardock sold Galactic Civilizations and the sequel without DRM but recently it's introduced a DRM scheme, although I'm not sure if this applies to all their games now. Might be worth checking out though as I thoroughly enjoyed the Galactic Civilizations series.

Direct2Drive might be worth a look too. I bought Puzzle Kingdoms off them and that was DRM-free too, although it may be the fact that Infinite Interactive don't put DRM on their PC games rather than anything that Direct2Drive aspires to...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Netbook Games - Another consideration

As a follow on to my last post, another important consideration is the fact that netbooks don't come with optical drives by default. Consequently, the ideal netbook game doesn't require a CD/DVD in order to play - this restricts games even further as most games uses the disc in the drive as a means of copyright protection. This means the game has to be either DRM free (e.g. Puzzle Quest, Galatic Civilizations) or an online only game (e.g. Steam, Flash-based games, etc.)

Netbook Games

Hi all,

Just bought a new netbook today, an Acer Aspire One 532h. It has some pretty modest system requirements so it isn't exactly the first thing you think of when you think "gaming system" but then again it's not meant to be. To give you an idea here are its specs:

- OS: Windows XP Home
- Processor: Intel N450 1.66GHz
- Screen: 10.1" LED LCD
- Video: GMA 950 (guessing)

However, you can't discount it as not being able to play games altogether. I intend to update the blog whenever I find games that work fine on it. From previous posts on this topic, it seems that pretty much any old game or casual/puzzle game should work on a netbook... makes sense since they usually have low system requirements (especially when it comes to graphics as the on-board graphics chip on netbooks isn't quite going to cut it).

Monday, March 1, 2010

Civiliation V Teaser Trailer

Doesn't actually show much of the game (if any - although they MAY use those cutscenes again :P):