Monday, August 30, 2010

Telltale Games releases mysterious teaser trailer

Telltale Games has recently released a mysterious trailer showing characters from Sam & Max, Penny Arcade, Strong Bad and... Team Fortress 2(?) and asking what they have in common.

Speculation amongst the fans indicate it may be a new Telltale Poker game (which is a bit of a letdown) but likely to be the outcome (you can almost make out them holding cards from their silhouettes).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alien Swarm Review

This one crept upon me by surprise but about a month before it was released I couldn't believe that Valve were releasing a Source update on the awesome UT2k4 mod Alien Swarm, and best of all was the price - it was going to be absolutely free! So come release day, me and probably 2 million other gamers (that's right, apparently Steam now has around 2 million gamers online at any one time) sunk their teeth into this game

Sound (5/5)
There's nothing I can complain about the sound here. They've done a good job of evoking the feel of the film Aliens (which this and just about every sci-fi game involving the killing of giant bugs is based off). There's the pinging of the motion scanner (a heads-up to you and your teammates of your impending doom), your teammates calling out to each other when under attack, and a variety of sounds for the different weapons you use.

Music (3/5)
Well there isn't really much in terms of music in this game. You've got the title theme which is mainly just ambient stuff and then you've got the "doof-doof" music whenever you're in a scripted, slow-mo action sequencence. Nothing wrong with the music but there isn't much there.

Alien Swarm Gameplay Video

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics aren't anything to write home about but at least the mod uses the Source engine now so visuals are crisper and the lighting effects are pretty cool.

Plot (3/5)
The plot is directly ripped from the movie "Aliens" at least the backdrop is anyway. The game is set in the future where colonies have been subjected to infestations by aliens. You and your squad are part of a Marine Corps whose job is to exterminate these "bugs" - and that's pretty much all you need to know. The developers try to expand on the plot somewhat by giving character bios, mission briefings and through datapads you can read through the level (yet not really have enough time to), but it's really just lip service if you ask me - not that it matters though, this isn't Alien Swarm's strength!

The game is handled from a top-down perspective, with you in a group of four marines. The aim of each level is to get from one side to the other, completing certain objectives along the way. These can be from downloading files from a computer, burning alien eggs or even detonating a nuclear bomb. Each player can pick from one of four classes: Officer, Heavy, Medic and Tech. Each of them have different pros and cons, but as a good rule of thumb, having one of each class is probably the best combination.

Just like the Left 4 Dead series (in fact the same folks developed this game and the original Alien Swarm) cooperation is crucial if you wish to survive the levels. Aliens will keep spawning and running towards you and you only have a limited amount of ammunition. To make things even more difficult, friendly fire is on too and being a top-down shooter, it's actually far easier to acidentally shoot your teammates than you normally would in a traditional horizontal FPS. Also killing certain aliens require you to work as a team; for example, one alien is invulnerable if attacked from the front but while its chasing a squadmate, others are expected to hit it from behind as it's the only way to take them down.

One other thing I like about this game, which you don't see much of, is that being skilled at the tech mini-games actually passes on a benefit to the actual game. If a tech is competent enough to solve the mini-games in as little time as possible, this is one less member offline meaning more firepower against the aliens. This gives the opportunity for players in the community to be valued for their skill not only at killing aliens but more cerebral pursuits (admittedly the puzzles aren't that difficult but hey it requires some thinking). The same can be said for playing as a medic since the hectic nature of Alien Swarm means it ain't an easy task!

Replayability (3/5)
The game is solely multiplayer as the single player mode is only for practising one level (the starting one). Consequently, you need to always find players willing to play but fortunately this isn't a problem at the moment, perhaps it has something to do with it being free!

The game has a lot of achievements you can hunt for too (which seems to be the norm with any game released on Steam nowadays) so this will increase the longevity of the game somewhat.

Unfortunately, there is only one official campaign released with the game. Valve have tried to rectify this somewhat by releasing an SDK with the game so budding developers could create new content, but the fact remains there's only one campaign and consequently you could finish the game quite easily within an hour. Sure there are different difficulty levels, there's the aforementioned achievements and just recently Valve has patched the game to have an Onslaught mode (i.e. the bugs can spawn in random spots), but there's only so much you can do before it will eventually get boring.

I can't think of any issues from the top of my head, although it may take some getting used to the keyboard shortcuts and the interface since it's a bit clunky - you can tell it's based off a 2004 mod where user-friendliness wasn't as far ahead as it is today. Being based on an old mod though has its benefits in that the game is relatively bug free as well, which is a welcome change for any game released nowadays...

Overall - 8/10
A nice little co-op game compliments of Steam - too bad it only came with one campaign on release!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Slight change in scoring system

You may have noticed (or you may have not) that the scoring system has slightly changed to now have the final/total score being out of 10 instead of a percentage. Seems like I'm copying what some magazines do (e.g. PC Powerplay) in that I have now evolved to this simpler way of scoring. Hell it makes it easier for the readers so I thought why not? It also allows me some leeway when I've got a game getting an n5% to decide whether to round up or round down ;).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition Review

As expected, Lucasarts decided to remaster Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge after doing a most excellent job on the original. It makes sense as both games have similar graphics, similar interfaces (the SCUMM verb-object design paradigm), and similar audio (well at least for the floppy disk versions). So is the remastered sequel as good as the original (or the remastered original for that matter)?

Sound (5/5)
Once again, voice acting has been included and once again they've managed to get the voice actors from previous games such as Dominic Armato (Guybrush Threepwood) and Alexandra Boyd (Elaine Marley). The voice acting is top notch but when I played the audio was sometimes out-of-sync with the animation. Fortunately, a patch was released later to rectify this issue so gamers playing it from now on shouldn't encounter the issue.

Music (5/5)
Once again Michael Land has done a great job with the music and I think in this particular Monkey Island the music is even funkier than the first.

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition Gameplay Video

Graphics (3/5)
As was the case in Monkey Island 1 Special Edition, all of the original graphics in the game have been updated to a higher resolution while still retaining the same artistic style. This was most likely done on purpose to make hot-switching between the original Monkey Island 2 and the Special Edition as seamless as possible. Unfortunately this means the animations haven’t quite improved as the artwork has been simply replaced the existing sprites and Guybrush’s movement looks a bit wooden when compared to more recent adventure games.

Plot (3/5)
Monkey Island 2 follows the exploits of wannabe pirate, Guybrush Threepwood as he tries to once again defeat the evil zombie pirate LeChuck. Many characters make a re-appearance and there are also quite a few memorable new characters as well. In this chapter of the series, Guybrush has broken up with Elaine and he is on a quest to find a fabled pirate treasure known simply as "Big Whoop". Noone quite knows what "Big Whoop" actually is but it's up to you (and Guybrush) to find out.

Once again there are several funny jokes and moments here and the plot is entertaining thanks to many great characters and Star Wars references (hey this is Lucasarts), however the only criticism I have is that the ending is a little bit lacklustre (thanks to a cliffhanger) and it leaves fans wondering what will happen next. This is a criticism of the original too and one of the reasons I still prefer the original Monkey Island over the second, albeit only by a small degree.

Just like its predecessor Monkey Island 2 Special Edition works just like any point 'n' click adventure game. Interaction with objects and characters on screen is achieved by pointing and clicking with the mouse, you're able to store objects in an inventory, and you use verbs in order to indicate what you wish to do with an object… "Wait, using verbs to interact with objects?" you may ask.

Yes, in older adventure games you actually had to specify what you wanted to do with objects. As the years went by, the number of verbs or actions you could perform started to decrease until you got to adventure games like nowadays where sometimes you'd have no choice on what to do with an object since clicking on it will automatically pick the most appropriate action. Monkey Island 2 on the other hand had a whopping NINE verbs to play with and they've still retained them for the special edition. Fortunately, unlike Monkey Island 1 Special Edition which had an equally cumbersome system to select verbs (i.e. scrolling the mousewheel until you got to the one you want or remembering the hotkeys), the new one allows you to right-click to reveal a "verb rose" (think "Neverwinter Nights" or hell "Full Throttle" for that matter!).

The hot-switching feature that allows you to switch between the old and new versions of the game in real-time is a nice feature but most of the time, it’s just a gimmick. There were only particular parts in the game that I would check back to the original to either see how far the game has come or how some animations or jokes have changed.

Also the game doesn't get a perfect score in the gameplay department since its apparently new and improved hint system isn't actually that great. I've always found Monkey Island 2's puzzles to be even more convoluted than the original so there was one part where I'm sure I had to do something but wasn't quite sure how to go about. I went through each iteration of hints that were revealed to me although when I got to the final hint where I expected an answer to be given, there was none which was infuriating. In the end I had to rely on a webpage that had a walkthrough of the original Monkey Island 2 to help me out.

Replayability (4/5)
Just like Monkey Island 1 Special Edition, this is an adventure game and therefore is pretty linear. Consequently it's not very replayable however thanks to the power of Steam achievements, the sequel is actually a bit more replayable than the Special Edition released last year. You get basic achievements for finishing chapters of the game but there are also others which challenge you to do a speedrun of the game or discover a creative way to kill Guybrush, or visit a screen that spawns at random. Sure there aren't many achievements and they're not the world's greatest but at least the developers are attempting to add more replayability to a genre that is usually sorely lacking in that department.

Example of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition Achievements

The game is pretty well polished except for the synchronisation bug I was discussing in the sound section.

Overall - 8/10
Not as well polished as the first attempt but once again, another classic adventure game is reborn!

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Orange Box Soundtrack Review

  • Name: The Orange Box Original Game Soundtrack

  • Label: Valve

  • Composer(s): Various

  • Number of Tracks: 94

I was wondering if there was a way I could legitimately get awesome tracks from games like Portal, Half-Life and Team Fortress 2. I have heard about the Orange Box soundtrack before and checked it out. I discovered that Audiosurf, an game where you get to surf your music, actually comes with The Orange Box soundtrack included for free! Considering Audiosurf was cheap (USD$10), I thought this was too good an opportunity to miss.

Artistic Merit (32%)
There are a lot of tracks to go through here but unfortunately most of them are pretty dull, depressing and ambient kind of stuff, especially when you listen to tracks from the Half-Life series, especially Half-Life 2 onwards. This is not to say the music is bad in itself and they probably work well within the game but they're not very listenable on your CD player. The best tracks within the Half-Life series are the grungy ones or ones with a rock influence to them. Song 11 on the Half-Life track is a good example (albeit a short one) and most people will recognise this as the Valve theme (the music that is played when the Valve logo is displayed when loading up one of their games). Others in a similar vein on the Half-Life 2 Episodes 1&2 soundtrack include "Abandoned In Place" which sounds like it belongs in a Jason Bourne action-flick, the epic "Hunting Party", "Vortal Combat" with the awesome bass riff and "What Kind of Hospital Is This". In terms of electronic music favourites in the Half-Life series, I would firstly pick the Half-Life Credits Track (Song 25); It's groovy and cool, in a nerdy kind of way, just like the silent protagonist of the series. Song 29 is one of my picks too, just for laughs as it sounds like the Vengaboys were hired to create this one!

Out of the remaining tracks, namely Portal and Team Fortress 2, there aren't that much to pick from. Portal's soundtrack suffers from the same problem as the Half-Life soundtracks in that most of the music is ambient and not very entertaining to listen to on their own. The first track of "Subject Name Here" is a favourite however and epitomises the naivety some have with the brave world of science and it almost sounds like the music you'd play in a sparkly clean Harpic ad. Undoubtedly the best track on the soundtrack (and a favourite with many fans) is "Still Alive" which is played at the end of the game.

In terms of the tracks for Team Fortress 2, I actually ended up liking all of them, even though there are sadly only four of them (there has been more released for the game since this soundtrack's release). The "Team Fortress 2 Theme" sounds like a mix of Austin Powers and the Batman TV show themes. You could almost believe you were watching a 60s cartoon TV show whilst listening to this one. "Playing with Danger" is also a wonderful spy music track used in the TF2 trailer along with the "Rocket Jump Waltz". Finally, "The Art of War" has some awesome drum beats and almost sounds like a Chinese Lion Dance.

Value (100% - Good)
You get a lot of tracks here for only 10 bucks and it includes the fun game Audiosurf to boot (yes I know, people usually want the game rather than some random game soundtrack, but that's just me :)). There is a lot of detritus you have to sift through to find the juicy morsels, but they do exist.

Length (100% - Good)
With a whopping 94 tracks on this album, there's definitely a lot of tracks to listen to here!

Total Score: 77%
For those interested in obtaining this album, buy Audiosurf off Steam. You will require a Steam account in order to purchase/download games.

Still Alive - Portal Soundtrack

Team Fortress 2 Theme - Team Fortress 2 Soundtrack

Half-Life Song 25 (Credits Music) - Half-Life Soundtrack

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Choicest Games is under construction!

Hi all,

If you've checked out the blog in the past 24 hours you've probably noticed that there are some changes going on. Well I thought the blog was due for a refit so I've got a few things in store, namely:

1. Changing the layout of the page to be more readable. This has mostly been completed
2. Incorporation of Pages so that I can rid of some information on the sidebar and move them to their own separate pages.
3. Potentially adding a forum so that readers have an avenue to post new topics besides simply commenting on blog posts
4. Adding a Cafepress store or something similar so people can support the page by buying neat stuff
5. I may even add competitions to win some games off but this will be the lowest priority...

So I'm hoping that you will like the changes, but in the meantime, some pages may appear half finished, and if this is the case, don't panic, that's to be expected!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mass Effect fan brings the M8 Assault Rifle to life

Check these photos out of the Maaaaate, I mean M8 Assault Rifle being brought to life! Quite a decent effor considering it's even got LEDs in it!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Soundtrack Review

  • Name: Mass Effect 2 Original Game Soundtrack

  • Label: EA Games Soundtrack

  • Composer(s): Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, David Kates and Jimmy Hinson

  • Number of Tracks: 27

I spent a long time trying to find a way to acquire the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack that was DRM-free and available for purchase in Australia. Thankfully, AmieStreet had the album available so now I can review it!

Artistic Merit (52%)
I had to double-take when I saw the score for Artistic Merit since just like the previous Mass Effect soundtrack, it appears I've given it the exact same score, even though to be honest, I felt this had some far superior tracks. The best tracks on this album to me would be the ones which build on the original Commander Shepard/Mass Effect theme as they tend to be played at the most uplifting moments in the game; these include "Lazarus Project", "The Normandy Reborn" and "Tali" which if you listen closely enough all have a bit of that old theme in there somewhere. It all eventually culimnates in the sensational track "Suicide Mission" majestically blaring at the end of the game which at first I didn't think was as good as the excellent "M4 Part II" by the Faunts in the original Mass Effect... however you're always teased with the original Mass Effect theme up that point so there's a great sense of euphoria when you do finally hear that familiar theme. It's almost as if the music is trying to say to you that Shepard has fully recovered and he's back with a vengeance, ready to take on the challenges that await him in Mass Effect 3.

Another track that borrows from previous cues is the "Illusive Man" which manages to capture the ruthless yet brilliant nature of the eponymous Illusive Man. There is also an old favourite from the original Mass Effect, "New Worlds" which makes a reappearance in the sequel. There are some subtle changes but it's mostly the same, however the bass towards the end of the track is especially cool and very cyberpunkish.

Two tracks which are quite a bit different yet are favourites of mine are "Rude Awakening" with its Blade Runner/action movie feel to it, and "Samara" which has a very exotic or medieval sound to it, which is appropriate considering Samara is like a warrior monk or knight.

Most of the other tracks are pretty good too, the only ones I disliked were "Jacob", a tremendously boring and dreary track; "Jack", for the same reasons as the "Jacob" track; and "Horizon", which although it's suitably creepy and menacing, is mostly ambient and therefore forgettable.

Value (100% - Good)
I managed to get the album for $5 off AmieStreet which is pretty damn good value! AmieStreet however has a system that the first few purchasers of an album get a discounted price but it will increase by a few cents each time it is purchased, but don't worry, the albums are capped at $10 so even then it's still good value!

Length (100% - Good)
There are a lot of tracks on this album (and they imply by the track numbering that it should be on two discs) so full marks in the length department.

Total Score: 84%
For those interested in obtaining this album, visit AmieStreet, register an account with them and then you're ready to order the album online with your credit card. Once the payment is approved you can download the soundtrack straight to your computer :).

The Illusive Man - Mass Effect 2 Soundtrack

The Normandy Reborn - Mass Effect 2 Soundtrack

Suicide Mission - Mass Effect 2 Soundtrack

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alpha Protocol Review

Obsidian Entertainment are known for making in-depth RPGs with memorable characters, however they are also renown for half-finished and buggy games as well. Take a look at Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2, both prime examples of how Obsidian Entertainment makes a game. So does Alpha Protocol follow in the steps of its predecessors or have Obsidian Entertainment finally got their act together?

Sound (4/5)
The game audio andof good quality in Alpha Protocol but it's nothing terribly special.

The game also doesn't get full marks with audio since the sound tends to skip sometimes, especially during some cutscenes.

Tutorial Part 1 Video

Music (4/5)
Music is good and appropriate for a spy game, however there aren't really any tunes that stand out here and quite frankly I was expecting a bit more from the great Alexander Brandon of Deus Ex fame, but then again I don't know if he had much hands-on input into the music or not.

Graphics (3/5)
These are probably the best graphics in an Obsidian Entertainment RPG to-date, and a lot of the faces of major character are drawn well and look realistic. However the game isn't as good as contemporary RPGs like Mass Effect 2 and even then the game struggles considering the modest graphics. Many a time I've experienced stuttering cutscenes. Making changes to the .ini file fixes some of the issues (something to do with loading levels/textures on the fly instead of waiting for a loading screen) but it still wasn't that smooth at parts.

There are also several clipping issues in the game and while this isn't a biggie, it doesn't exactly help its case either.

Tutorial Part 2 Video

Plot (4/5)
As to be expected from an Obsidian Entertainment game, their attention to detail shines in the plot. The game has lots of characters with in-depth backgrounds and you get to travel to different locations around the world such as Saudi Arabia, Moscow, Rome and Taipei. The game also has layer upon layer of conspiracy theories to uncover and while this is one of its strong suits, it's ironically one of its annoying points since sometimes you can get very confused as to who is the enemy and who isn't and how does this character you just met fit in with it all?

The easiest way to describe the gameplay in Alpha Protocol is that it's a spy version of Mass Effect. Basically it's an action RPG with a stealth system (albeit a poorly implemented one). During the action parts of the game (i.e. the parts when you're not talking with other characters or setting up a mission at a safehouse) you'll be attempting to either sneak around and silently take opponents out, or go in guns blazing. The game has a variety of ways you can take down or evade your opponents and as you level up you get different skills to help you on the way. This would be great if the stealth system worked properly but it doesn't. Sometimes, it may seem that you're safely concealed, but you're actually not, resulting in an alarm being raised and all hell breaking loose - and if you've set yourself up to be stealthy (e.g. not wearing armour, bringing silenced non-lethal weapons, etc.) this means you're not going to last long. Other times the game is way too forgiving and you'll be able to knock out an enemy right in front of his mate and he's none the wiser! Worst of all, when I played as a gung-ho, guns blazing sort of character, I actually got commended on my stealthy tactics (since usually the enemies never survived long enough to raise the alarm)! Look, I suppose it's good that Obsidian Entertainment even tried to implement a stealth system like Deus Ex, but the older game is still superior in this department.

Alpha Protocol wouldn't be an Obsidian Entertainment game if it didn't have bugs and even though there are fewer gameplay bugs than previous games there are still times when you'll get frustrated at what has transpired. For example, one mission I decided to go through the front door and be friendly with the guards so I wouldn't need to fight them later. However when I walked through an unlocked door outside to explore, somehow it triggered the guards to become hostile with me for no apparent reason. Obviously entering that particular area was a trigger for it but Obsidian Entertainment didn't take into account characters entering the area from the inside, resulting in the random and frustrating situation. The game also inaccurately recalls events with mission recaps. For example, one mission I managed to use non-lethal methods on almost everyone in the mission except the last guy while I was rushing out the door. In the debriefing I was condemned for the "bloodbath" that I caused by killing all the innoncent CIA agents at the base I was at - since when did I kill everyone and since when are CIA agents innocent? The mind boggles.

Conversation is performed similar to Mass Effect in that you have a conversation wheel in order to make choices. Unlike Mass Effect you have a time limit on making a choice and the choices aren't simple phrases, they're usually conversational styles to use so you don't usually know what your character will say until he says it. While on paper this sounds like a good idea since it rewards the gamers who like to roleplay and do things on the fly (I being one of them), the time it takes you to ponder what each conversation choice will actually result in means you often run out of time (thanks to the aforementioned time limit) and making a choice you didn't really want to make. There are generally three conversational styles you can adopt which are Aggressive, Suave and Professional. The developers of the game state that the styles correspond to the "Three JBs", i.e. Aggressive characters are like Jack Bauer from 24, suave characters are like James Bond and professional characters talk and act like Jason Bourne. It's a nice touch and further adds to the replayability.

In between this action you get to visit safehouses, where you can purchase new gadgets, weapons and intel, check up on e-mails, equip your character with gear, and watch TV amongst other things. The safehouses act like mini-Normandys from Mass Effect if you catch my drift, acting as a reprieve between the action you get in the missions, and the system works well.

Gadget Tutorial Video

Replayability (4/5)
One of the best aspects of Alpha Protocol is how replayable the game is. It's been admitted by the developers that the game itself is quite short but the number of forks in the road in this game is quite immense when compared to other games. For example, at one point in the game I decided to spare the life of a criminal instead of kill him (as I did in a previous playthrough). Sparing his life revealed that the man I was working for wasn't exactly a good-guy. Not only that but a new mission was unlocked. Also, the way you treat characters is very important and benefits can be had not only from people liking you but them hating you as well (if they're burning with rage, they can make mistakes).

The whole game thrives on choice (hence the game's slogan of "Your Weapon is Choice") although with all the choice you get in the game, the game's ending will usually pan out the same, albeit with different people as your allies. Also you can't play as a female character in the game although admittedly with the number of dialogue and choices you get in Alpha Protocol, this would've made it a gargantuan task!

This is the most polished Obsidian Entertainment game yet, but really that's not saying much is it? Besides the aforementioned graphics performance issues, the game tends to crash everytime you quit the game and Obsidian Entertainment were sloppy in implementing their options menu (i.e. it doesn't work and you have to manually change settings in the .ini file). There's also been no patch released yet to fix known bugs which some people are getting impatient about.

Weapons Orientation Video

Overall - 71%
The least buggiest Obsidian Entertainment RPG yet, which really isn't saying much... still the plot and replayability alone helps save this game from being merely average.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

ArenaNet's James Phinney interviewed on Guild Wars 2

James Phinney, Design Director of Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 is interviewed at the 2010 Comic-Con in San Diego about Guild Wars 2.

The game seems to have much better combat and spell animations (which I remember was a criticism by some of my friends concerning the original - it didn't compare favourably with the likes of Diablo II) and what I especially like is the mention of "events" which are probably similar to holiday challenges in the old Guild Wars (i.e. bunch of random people go to an ad-hoc event that has popped up to try and fight the best they can through it. If they work well as a team and succeed, they get rewarded for it).

Once again, no official release date has been confirmed :(.