Sunday, March 27, 2011

Choicest Games - Game of the Year 2010

Wow, is it March 2011 already? Wait, I'm feeling a sense of deja-vu... seems like I started off very similarly in my last Game of the Year post (well at least I'm consistent). I've finally got all the 2010 reviews out of the way (there were 12 this year if anyone wanted to know), so here we go again with the Choicest Game of the Year for 2011!

For 2010, the best scoring game here at Choicest games was:

Mass Effect 2

This year's Game of the Year has beaten both the scores of previous year winners, getting a whopping 9/10 (or 92% under the old scoring system). It was hard to fault the most recent sci-fi RPG from Bioware as it takes almost everything that is good from the first Mass Effect and improves upon it. True some of the new mini-games are just as tedious as driving the Mako around for endless hours (*cough* mining *cough*) but the great soundtrack, voice acting by Hollywood actors, improved graphics, streamlined gameplay and multiple paths you can take makes this one sci-fi RPG you don't want to miss.

This year, the runners up prize goes to:

Starcraft 2

Starcraft 2 managed to also get a 9/10, but this is probably no surprise with Blizzard at the helm. They haven't really changed much with the original Starcraft formula, but why mess with an already successful formula that has got the entire country of South Korea playing it (okay maybe I'm exaggerating, 90% then)? Starcraft 2 comes with a very well polished multiplayer component but it's also got an entertaining storyline to boot with that Space Western feel we've all come to love.

Back to the Future: Episode 1 Review

After other excellent games that Telltale have worked on (e.g. Tales of Monkey Island) their announcement of working on the Back to the Future series caused me no worries. These guys are adventure game veterans so if they were going to make a successful adventure game based on a movie franchise, they have the best chance of doing so. Incorporating two of my favourite things (adventure games and Back to the Future) compelled me to try out the series, and so here is the review of the first episode, "It's About Time!"

Sound (4/5)
One awesome aspect of the game is how they've added all the authentic sounds from the series like the Delorean engine and rocket noises. They even managed to get Christopher Lloyd to reprise his role as Doc. For the voice acting of Marty McFly, they recruited someone who was able to emulate his voice very closely called AJ LoCascio, Although I was a bit disappointed that Michael J. Fox couldn't reprise his role (as unlikely as it would be due to his Parkinson's), I must concede that AJ LoCascio does a really good job of emulating him. Other in-house voice actors at Telltale were used for all other characters and they do pretty good jobs too.

The only issue I had playing this game was that the sound tends to stutter occasionally.

Music (5/5)
The Back to the Future theme and several other samples from Alan Silvestri's original Back to the Future soundtrack are present in the game which makes the game feel more authentic as a continuation of the Back to the Future series. Even "Back In Time" by Huey Lewis and the News makes a brief cameo. When samples from the movies aren't used, Jared Emerson-Johnson does a great job of incorporating similar themes in the music he has composed for the game.

Graphics (3/5)
Some may not like the art direction Telltale has taken with this game, giving the characters and backgrounds a cartoon feel which is not much different to their previous efforts. What is different though is that a lot of effort was taken in making the main characters look as similar as possible to Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, and they do look pretty convincing. Everything else however looks rather bland when compared to the protagonists and their time machine. There just doesn't seem to be as much detail or use of high-res textures.

Plot (4/5)
The game is meant to be a continuation of the movies, being set 6 months after Back to the Future III. Marty is missing Doc and due to Doc's absence, the City Council has decided to sell his estate to make way for a parking garage. However, the DeLorean returns to 1986 with only Einstein (the dog of course) as its passenger. The DeLorean only returns in emergencies so obviously Doc is in trouble and Marty needs to help him out. This is how the adventure begins.

The game has some excellent storywriting which you'd expect as they've used the one of the original co-writers from the movies (Bob Gale) but it doesn't get a perfect score since the game is probably not much fun if you haven't seen to the Back to the Future films (but then again, who hasn't?).

Gameplay (3/5)
Most of the enjoyment in this game is derived from its excellent plot. However, by making a game with an awesome storyline usually means you have to limiting the player's options. This was the problem with early games touted as "interactive movies". The animation was fantastic, but the player was mostly just along for the ride. This game isn't as bad as those early "interactive movies" but the puzzles are definitely not as challenging as Golden Age adventure games or even some of the previous ones Telltale have made (however, some may prefer the more logical puzzles instead of abstract, leftfield ones).

Replayability (3/5)
The game has average replayability as you'd expect for any game in the adventure genre.

Polish (4/5)
The game is pretty well polished, which is pretty common for Telltale Games however I never liked the mixture of keyboard and mouse in order to control your character (you can blame consoles for this). I miss the days of traditional point 'n' click adventures...

Overall - 8/10
An entertaining adventure game that only Back to the Future fans would truly appreciate.

If you want to get the game, you can now get all 5 episodes for $25 at Telltale Games.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Review

Around the end of 2010, I was looking for a game to satisfy my need, my need for speed! Naturally, the Need for Speed series was a candidate and I've actually been a fan of the Need for Speed: Underground series as it incorporates an adventure game with arcade racing (even though I was in the minority). As most fans of the Need for Speed series know, they have now split the series into different streams. There is now the racing sim stream where they try to make the game as realistic as possible (via the Need for Speed Shift series) and then there are games like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit which focuses on arcade racing. I don't know what's happened to the storyline-based racing games but apparently, there's something coming in November of this year that will continue that legacy (looking forward to it).

Anyhow, managed to grab this as a gift (thanks bro) and I'm finally at a stage where I can review it, so here goes :)

Sound (3/5)
There is some good audio in this game. Cars sound reasonably authentic in terms of engine noise and squealing tyres, and then there's also the sound of choppers flying overhead and sirens wailing when you're playing as a cop. You also get pretty authentic sounding radio chatter from the police radio when playing which I reckon is one of the nice little touches that they do well in the Need for Speed series.

Music (3/5)
To be honest, I didn't notice the music that much, even though as usual they've managed to get some licensed music from well-known artists. I know 30 Seconds to Mars does the title track and it's suitable for the game but you rarely ever hear the licensed music while doing missions in the game. I suspect you'll hear it most during free ride mode but more on that aspect of the game later.

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are quite nice in this game and all the cars are faithfully recreated. The lighting, smoke effects and scenery are all exceptionally done and I would've given the graphics a perfect score if it weren't for some occasional frame rate drops for some reason.

Plot (3/5)
I was a bit disappointed that there was no plot this time around. If you're a fan of the Underground, Most Wanted, Caron, Undercover games, you're not going to find an adventure to go through here. This game just focuses on arcade racing.

The game takes place in Seacrest County and allows you to play as both sides of the law, either as a racer or the County's well funded police department (which can afford Bugatti Veyrons). You basically complete missions to get more points which unlock promotions, new cars and new missions.

Gameplay (4/5)
Even though there wasn't much plot to this game, I actually still found the gameplay pretty enjoyable. I've heard very good things about Criterion Games, especially their game Burnout Paradise, but this is actually the first game I've ever played of theirs. It turns out the game is really easy to get into and heaps of fun.

As mentioned the game allows you to play as a racer or a cop. Playing as a racer pretty much involves winning races and playing as a cop involves busting criminals. Success in these missions (which are assessed on a Gold-Silver-Bronze or Distinction-Credit-Pass scale, depending on which side of the law you are) will give you points which results in new cars and new missions being unlocked.

Yes you read right, you unlock cars not buy them. I suppose this could be considered one downside in that you cannot choose what vehicles you're going to get. This may irk some players but the decision was probably made not to have cash in the interests of streamlining gameplay.

You get a large choice of licensed cars which is nice, but customisation is limited to basic colours playing as a racer and there's no customisation at all playing. Also there are very little stats on how the vehicles perform in terms of the game which is surprising considering this is an arcade racer (although you do have the top speed and acceleration stats at least).

Replayability (3/5)
You get the usual option of playing some multiplayer games and Criterion Games have implemented their own cut-down Facebook clone where you can post on the Wall of other players and post screenshots. You can also check out the best time of your mates and attempt to beat them but besides what I've just mentioned, there's nothing ground-breaking here in terms of replayability and the fact that the single player will pretty much pan out the same however you play it, means there's not much point playing it again except for getting a higher score (so we're talking about old school replayability here).

The game is thankfully a very well polished game. I didn't encounter any bugs although I was a bit peeved that when reinstalling the game after a reformat, that all my single player progress was gone (seems like the single player campaign is saved on your hard disk but the rest is saved online). Also the game has a very consoley feel about it with respect to the controls but you can actually change them if you're so inclined.

Overall - 8/10
This is no Need for Speed: Underground, Carbon or Most Wanted, but that might be a good thing for those wanting a refreshing, back-to-basics arcade racer.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Australian Government pressures states to adopt R18+ rating

Seems like the Australian government is pressuring the states to finally adopt an R18+ rating for the country with the Home Affairs Minister Brendan Connor even going as far to say that Australia is "the laughing stock of the developed world" without it and that "the Commonwealth will certainly be considering other options" if there is no consensus on the issue.

I think it's good that at the Federal level there is support for an R18+ rating and that they realise that preventing the introduction of an R18+ rating is actually "causing harm to young people" by allowing borderline MA15+ games in (where with an R18+ rating option, you have the easy choice of classifying it higher without banning it outright).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Deathspank Review

Ron Gilbert is a name which is synonymous with the Monkey Island series so if you're a fan of the Monkey Island series (like me) you'd obviously get quite excited when you hear that after a long hiatus, Ron Gilbert has made a new game! Deathspank is this new game and I first reported about this game quite awhile ago (one of my blog's earliest posts). Actually, when I say new, I should probably say "new" as (1) it's taken me awhile to get to the stage where I can write a review and (2) the game was actually released earlier on the console than on the PC. There was even a time where PC players were a bit anxious on the fate of Deathspank - whether it was going to be another dreaded console-only release *cough* Fable 3 *cough*. Thankfully, somebody had some sense to bring it to the PC.

Sound (4/5)
No complaints in the audio department. Nothing to brag about but there's some entertaining voice acting and you get a plethora of cartoony sound effects to complement this cartoony game.

Music (4/5)
The music in this game isn't exceptional but it's pretty good (for surfie/60s rock, yes you'll find out this game is really strange). Another nice touch is that the music changes depending on whether you're in combat or not.

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics in this game are rather basic and not its strong point, although I find the cardboad cut-out, cartoon style endearing. It serves its purpose.

Plot (4/5)
The plot is an amusing one and it often involves breaking the fourth-wall and the use of anachronisms. Sometimes the plot is just plain weird (you are after all a hero wearing a visible purple thong) yet it still manages to be a fun game.

You are Deathspank, an archetypical hero vanquishing evil . Your arch nemesis is a character called Lord von Prong that has kidnapped some orphans from the village of Pluckmuckel. Your main objective is to defeat Lord von Prong and retrieve "the Artifact". Along the way you'll meet a whole bunch of other colourful characters that can give you side quests and they're usually fun distractions.

The only downside I can see with the plot in this game is that you're only given half the story. Ron Gilbert has actually mentioned this before, saying that it was his original intent to have Deathspank as one large game but thought it better to split it into two. Not quite sure why this was done but maybe it was due to pressure from marketing as it would've been harder to justify selling a $50+ indie game. These way punters can be teased into purchasing the rest while being able to afford the first chapter.

Gameplay (3/5)
The game is pretty much a rip-off of the hack 'n' slash genre, especially games like Diablo and its clones. This is probably the only downside for me. I mean Diablo can be a pretty addictive game but hack 'n' slash can also be monotonous, especially when you don't have any super-duper powers which you don't have in DeathSpank (special abilities tend to be related to items and weapons you collect instead).

Luckily, the game is a bit more than that and the game is actually just a device in order to tell Ron Gilbert's story. You get more in-depth conversation trees than your average hack 'n' slash RPG and you even get some puzzle solving, including manipulation of inventory items. You're probably going, "wait a minute, those are elements from point 'n' click adventures" and you'd be right - these are definitely a legacy of the games that Ron Gilbert used to work with. Unfortunately, the genre isn't as popular as it used to be and perhaps that's why this adventure game in RPG's clothing was developed.

Replayability (3/5)
There is co-op (that I've never used since it's on the same computer) but it's a nice addition that would add some replayability if utilised. You could also hunt for achievements and high scores, if you wish, thanks to its integration with Steam. Besides that there's not much replayability except for the funny dialogue :).

Deathspank is a pretty well polished game - only occasionally getting crashes to desktop. Some of the menus can be a bit fiddly too; for example I somehow can't seem to scroll down when viewing the quest log which means I can't see what quests I have to do (at least when using a mouse) but using the keyboard quickly rectifies that.

Overall - 7/10
A great return to form by Ron Gilbert - although a traditional point 'n' click adventure game which included the whole story would've been better in my opinion. Will it be enough to tempt me to purchase the sequel? I'd have to say, yes.

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