Thursday, May 27, 2010

Test Drive Unlimited 2 accepting beta applications

Seems like the folks over at Eden Games are accepting applications for the beta for Test Drive Unlimited 2. While I'm not usually overly keen on betas, I am on this one since I'd like to get an idea of how good the connectivity is (especially if they use Gamespy servers) and how much it has improved over the original TDU. Will be interesting to see!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mass Effect Movie in the works

Well there's been lots of rumour about it but it's been confirmed, Mass Effect is to become a movie!

Looks like Legendary Pictures will be responsible for its production (they've made films like The Dark Knight, Watchmen, 300, etc.) and will have Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Avi Arad (producer of Iron Man, X-Men, Spider Man etc.) at the helm. Thankfully, BioWare's Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschuck and Casey Hudson will have a say in the production as well (which I think is what has been sadly lacking from previous game-to-movie conversions).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Review

And now to review the other game that has been taking a lot of my time. I've been having a love-hate relationship with this game as it is a blast to play, when it's working flawlessly (and that's currently once in a blue moon). Bad Company 2, unlike its predecessor, is available on the PC and it is a bit like a sequel of Battlefield 2, which is what attracted myself and my guild to give it a go. Here's how it turned out.

Sound (5/5)
Sound in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is the best I've heard in a First-Person Shooter yet. From a technical standpoint they use a similar system to Source-engine games where background gunfire is actual gunfire yet muffled due to the distance. From an artistic standpoint, the various voices, commands and shouts that are in-built into the game sound authentic to make the experience extremely immersive - as if you were actually on the battlefield. DICE have done an excellent job in the sound department.

Main Menu and Medic Gameplay Video

Music (4/5)
There's hardly any music in this game - at least not in multiplayer where it's just music during loading screens and cutscenes, so most of the music that I'm judging is in the single player. Overall, even though the music is used sparingly, it's of high quality and the type you'd expect from a Hollywood blockbuster, so it's pretty good - only complaint from me is that you don't hear the original Battlefield theme enough (although you hear small tidbits every so often).

Graphics (3/5)
The graphics for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is pretty good, although quite frankly I was expecting better for the amount it taxes my graphics card, so much so I had to upgrade my 8800GT to a Radeon HD 5770. While the upgrade helped a little bit, the game actually lags at particular points which isn't due to the video card (at least so I hear).

Anyway, the game also happens to have a similar problem that occurred in Battlefield 2 where shadows appear jagged on some machines (including mine). Oh and did I mention some people are experiencing black screens as soon as they enter a game that prohibits them from seeing anything, or that some players get a flickering black screen while they're playing? These issues didn't occur in Battlefield 2, so why is Bad Company 2 so special?

Assault Gameplay Video

Plot (3/5)
The multiplayer doesn't have much of a plot besides the fact the single player explains why the Russians and the USA are attacking each other (the two sides you get to pick when you fight).

The single player plot has you as a member of "Bad Company" a squad of four US special operatives that are transported around the world to do perilous missions. There is a twist later on in the game and there are even a couple of digs at Modern Warfare 2, and these are good entertainment value, however the story itself isn't very memorable and none of the characters are that likeable either.

If rating Bad Company 2's gameplay on singleplayer alone, the game would be a mediocre FPS at best. Multiplayer is where it's at.

The game takes the addictive gameplay elements of Battlefield 2 and builds upon them making this the best Battlefield experience yet. For those of you who don't know what Bad Company 2 is about, it's a team-based war game, where you fight ideally in a squad. The aim is to either capture objectives (typical capture-the-flag gameplay) or play as attacker/defender on a Rush map (there are also Deathmatch modes but I don't really play them). You are able to pick from four classes or "kits", the Assault, Medic, Engineer and Recon. Each class carries different default weapons (e.g. Assault Rifle for assault, sub-machine guns for Engineers, etc.) and different items that are beneficial for their team (e.g. medpacks for the medics, motion mines for Recon, etc.). You also get an assortment of vehicles to use ranging from quad-bikes and jet skis, to tanks and attack choppers. For those Battlefield 2 veterans who never liked "jet whores" you'll be happy to know there are no jets in Bad Company 2 (at least not yet) which I think is an improvement on BF2's gameplay already.

Unfortunately there's no Commander mode like BF2 but I won't mark the game down for this since even though it was nice to introduce RTS elements to the game (ala Natural Selection) it could also be frequently abused.

Recon Gameplay Video

Replayability (4/5)
The gameplay in Battlefield Bad Company 2 is addictive and is like Team Fortress 2 in this regard - i.e. the game has distinct classes which you can choose to specialise in. Playing with a squad of four friends can be fun since each player can feel like they have a role to play.

There are also lots of unlocks to gather before you hit level 20 or so (you'd usually unlock all of them by then) and lots of pins and badges to collect for completing certain feats. Probably not as many to collect as Modern Warfare 2 (and not as difficult) but they do have them.

This game is really unpolished - in fact it still isn't polished to an adequate level (and it's already been more than a month since release)! When the game first came out, I couldn't even connect to a server thanks to issues with Punkbuster. Once I finally managed to update it manually (and not the "manual update" that Punkbuster claims since they referenced the wrong file) I could at least connect to servers.

However, the server browser was broken for ranging from minor things like not being able to search for "3FL" (since it inserted an "03" in the search field when you hit the "3" key) to major ones where you wouldn't be able to find a server or add favourites. Fortunately recent patches have fixed some of the server browser issues but it's still by no means perfect.

Also, the worst issue I've been having is the game crashing. If I don't have an application like Steam open it actually ends up as a freeze and I need to restart the computer. Now I know it's not an actual freeze (e.g. one caused by insufficient power from the power supply) since Windows and TeamSpeak are still running in the background (i.e. I can still talk to my friends via VoIP). Then there are the frequent Crashes-to-Desktop which I don't only experience but some of my friends too (and sometimes even at the same time, which would suggest a server issue). On average, I probably get one crash-to-desktop for every 1 hour of play.

I didn't even mention the graphical bugs/issues, but I think I covered those well enough in the Graphics section.

Engineer Gameplay Video

Overall - 80%
A fun and entertaining online FPS, if you can put up with crashes-to-desktop a few times a day and the myriad of other bugs/issues...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review

Well it's about time a review was posted, it's been about three months since I finished Mass Effect 2 and yet still no review. This is indicative of how much I enjoyed this game (plus one of those months I was playing Battlefield Bad Company 2 - but that'll get a review after this one). Anyway without further ado, onto the review of this much anticipated sequel to a Bioware classic.

Sound (5/5)
Unlike its predecessor, I had no real audio problems in this game. Soound effects are your typical sci-fi fare with the "pew pew" of lasers, "beeps and bleeps" of computers, and "swoosh" of spaceships, even though sound doesn't travel in a vacuum (although at least in one part of the intro it did stay true to actual physics).

Voice acting is once again performed by professional voice actors and hard to fault. Seth Green (Austin Powers, Family Guy, Robot Chicken) makes a return as your ship's pilot and this time around, is joined by some famous actors including Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, Gettysburg, The West Wing TV series, etc.) as the Illusive Man, Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek: DS9) as the creator of a Krogan you can recruit, and Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix Trilogy, Chocolat and Memento), as the owner of a nightclub.

Music (5/5)
I didn't think it'd be possible and at first I thought the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack was inferior to the original - but as you playthrough the game you'll get to love the soundtrack and in fact I now think it's superior than the original in that it works off many of the themes in the original soundtrack (to make veteran players feel at home) yet in a subtle way so as not to be an obvious re-hash of an old theme. Jack Wall once again does a great job as a composer along with Sam Hulick, David Kates and Jimmy Hinson.

The style of the music is still similar to the original Mass Effect although in general the music is more solemn and darker, which only intensifies the sense of joy when you hear the brass playing the original Mass Effect theme towards the end. I think the theme links well with Commander Sheperd's resolute nature, the fact he sees a mission to the end for the good of humanity. There's no song at the end here that's performed by a third party (e.g. The Faunts's M4 Part II for Mass Effect 1) but it still turns out just as emotional which I think is fantastic.

Unfortunately the soundtrack is only available from limited locations and I can't acquire a DRM-free or CD version of the soundtrack in Australia - at least not yet. Hopefully Bioware starts selling it in their store soon!

Graphics (4/5)
Graphics for Mass Effect 2 have actually improved somewhat over the original. It seems like they're using a similar engine but now all the textures are of much higher quality and for those who didn't like the film grain effect, it's gone too! Character customisation is back via an editor similar to what is used in the previous game.

There are occasional glitches though, just like the original, that break the immersion but I think they've ironed most of the kinks out on this one when compared to the original.

Chracter Creation

Plot (5/5)
The game picks up a couple of years after the events in Mass Effect 1. Regardless of your actions in the original, Humanity has become more influential in the universe and this is starting to cause tension with other races. However, humanity has more to worry about than the races of the known Universe. A new enemy known as the Collectors has entered the scene and they happen to be abducting human colonies. You, having been killed by a Collector Ship are brought back to life two years later by the pro-Human terrorist group, Cerberus, thanks to the best technology money can buy. Your mission is to investigate the disappearing human colonies and to put an end to it.

The plot is darker in the sequel when compared to the original and personally I think it's better too. It's a bit like the "Empire Strikes Back" of the trilogy (and the fact that Commander Sheperd almost dies, just like Luke Skywalker, is another coincidence that cannot be overlooked). The fact that you now have hub worlds to explore makes the universe seem more alive (instead of one in Mass Effect, i.e. the Citadel) plus some characters (e.g. the Illusive Man), locations (e.g. Omega) and events (e.g. the Cereberus incident with the Quarian fleet), mentioned in the Expanded Universe (i.e. the novels) are all in the sequel, making the game a boon for the readers of the novels.

Best of all you get not one, but two quests for each of the followers that join your party. One you'll need to do in order to recruit them and another you can do if you wish to gain their loyalty. This adds a whole lot of extra plot to the game and characterisation which I reckon hasn't been seen since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Gameplay Video #1

Amazingly, I think Bioware has done a sterling job and actually improved the gameplay in the sequel over the original. It is like they've listened to the complaints of fans and made the game more streamlined (at least in areas where I think it counts, more on the cons later).

You now no longer get to manage an inventory. This means you don't need hunt around for modifications, worry about turning items into omni-gel, ensuring that your team is always equipped with the best armour, etc. Some will miss the micromanagement involved in ensuring your team had the best equipment hand-picked from your stash but I believe this was a bit of a chore in the original and it looks like Bioware agrees.

Unlike the original there is now a bit more variety with the sub-quests not only in terms of the appearance of locations, but also what you need to do. You have the typical sub-quests involving the attacking of enemies but every so often you get solo puzzle-like quests which is a welcome change. Also you don't need to spend too much time finding these locations since the Mako has been removed. That means you no longer need to land on a planet and scout for the relevant installation to trigger the sub-quest, you just land. Again some might not like the exclusion of the Mako but there were planets where driving the Mako around was also a tedious chore, so I'm glad it's gone.

Unfortunately there is a new tedious task introduced into this game and it's the mining mini-game. In order to upgrade your weapons and armour you now have to research them on the ship and this requires minerals. You get minerals by scanning for them on planets but unlike the original Mass Effect where you just click the "Scan" button, you now have to spend a couple of minutes panning the mouse over a planet scanning for minerals (and the mouse pans very slowly, even after an upgrade that supposedly increases the scanning speed).

Replayability (5/5)
Mass Effect 2 is even more replayable than the original and is probably one of the most replayable RPGs to date. Like the original you still have your Paragon and Renegade points that will influence characters and ultimately the storyline in different directions. You have your typical romance sub-plots and now have more choices to pick from (three for each sex). You have an achievements system like the original as well.

What is even better and I haven't seen this since my days of playing games like Quest for Glory back in the 80s, is that you can import your character from the original Mass Effect. This not only brings your character over but also remembers all the decisions you made in the original game which affects what occurs in the new game. It even remembers if you "got it on" with Kaidan, Ashley or Liara (and there are rumours that whether you cheat on them or not in this game, will affect what occurs in Mass Effect 3). There are just so many possibilities that you could be playing this game for a long time yet (the fact that this review is so late is proof of that!).

Gameplay Video #2

Mass Effect 2 worked pretty much straight out-of-the-box for me which is refreshing to see in this day and age. Sure the game still has a pretty clunky interface that is a legacy of the original, and they did switch around the Shift and Spacebar in terms of what functions they serve, which take a bit of getting used to if you switch between games, but hey the game works, and it doesn't have a really bad DRM system (it just uses the typical disc-check).

Overall - 91%
Mass Effect 2 is simply Bioware's best RPG to date.