Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fate of the World Review


Geography was one of my favourite subjects at school and I wasn't too shabby at it either in the early years. I guess being well-travelled at a young age has its perks! Anyway, because of that I always enjoyed games with demographics and being able to make an impact on the world at large.

Fate of the World is one of those games and when it went on sale at Steam for USD$5, seemed worth the punt at the time. The game's premise is that you basically have to combat climate change, whilst dealing with Earth's dwindling resources and an ever-increasing population. Over the next century or two, will you be able to ensure the human race survives?

Sound (3/5)
Sound is pretty basic in this game. Just some generic clicking sounds, cheers, beeps and squeaks.


Music (4/5)
There's basically only one tune in this game but they've gone about it in a very smart way, for an indie game. Basically each region you visit in the game will have a different variation to the main theme, so if you visit Africa you'll hear a lot of drums, visit the Middle East and the Aoud would play, or visit North America, and you get a banjo (sorry to the Canadians out there).

I guess the only criticism is that there is really only one tune which might get a bit repetitive for some. I kind of like it though. The fact it's composed by Richard Jacques (who helped composed some of the music in Mass Effect) doesn't hurt either.


Graphics (3/5)
The graphics are passable in this game. Most of the icons are bright and easy to distinguish. Card artwork consists of blurred photographs (in an artistic style of course) and you get simply animated cartoons playing for each news item.

Most impressive is probably the globe itself where you can see the city lights every time night falls upon one half of the Earth. The ocean boundaries actually change over time too depending on the state of the world's climate and there's even a view that shows the temperature around the globe.


Plot (4/5)
Fate of the World is set in the near future where due to a string of several disasters (natural and financial) the world forms a global organisation to tackle climate change called the Global Environmental Organisation (GEO). What is choice about this is the organisation (and the organisation's background) has some strong parallels with X-COM (the Agency charged to combat extra-terrestrials in UFO: Enemy Unknown). Both organisations were formed after catastrophes struck, both are funded by several countries of the world and both are judged on their performance.

The realistic news stories based on actual global events or potential disasters makes the game more believable, although I suppose its entire premise, a new world order, could seem a bit far fetched... but who knows what the world will be like in 2020?


Gameplay (4/5)
You could mistake this game for a board game, since it seems like that at a glance; you get little pieces to place on different regions representing your GEO agents and you get to play cards in order to complete actions each turn (each turn spans the period of 5 years). However, under the hood it's a lot more complex than that. Your actions each turn will determine how several factors will change, such as life expectancy, birth rate, infant mortality rate, death rate, GDP, coal production, the list goes on.

The challenge in the game is aiming to achieve the victory conditions set out for you in each scenario. For example, one of them requires you to have a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.7 for every region in the world yet you're not allowed to have oil production dropping below a certain threshold. In one of the regions, India in this scenario, this is especially problematic as improving the HDI with medical welfare and education can only get you so far. Eventually all your hard work will go to waste if you can't keep supplying resources for the economy, however pollution is obviously not good for a healthy lifestyle, affecting your life expectancy which in turn affects your HDI. The game is interesting like this, yet also frustrating.

You'll have six different cards to choose from as you play the game: environmental policy cards (e.g. providing better defences against storms), technology cards (e.g. research SmartGrids), energy policy cards (e.g. expand coal production), social policy cards (e.g. Medical Welfare programme), political policy cards (e.g. fund black ops) and long-term policy cards (e.g. build GEO HQ). To be truly successful you'll probably need a combination of all of them. Don't play enough environmental policy cards and people will think you're not doing your job making you lose support. Don't put enough investment into welfare and your HDI goes down. Don't invest in coal production and you can find your industry with resource shortages, and so on. Again, it is a challenge to make the right choice.


Replayability (3/5)
Even though there are some elements of randomisation (in terms of the events that can occur) and the fact you can choose from quite a few different actions in each game, in the end there are only seven scenarios in this game (yes, only seven) and they're bloody difficult too - so I guess in that regard you'll be replaying the game A LOT, IF you have the patience for it.

The game, like any good Steam game, also has Steam achievements.

Polish (4/5)
It's refreshing to play a game that you know has been made for the PC and isn't a sloppy console port. There are an awful lot of clicks to get to certain information at times and the game doesn't really discuss the mechanics of each action that well in their in-game wiki - which means you'll sometimes wonder what kind of effect the cards you're using will have.

Also someone really should've run a spell-checker on some of the news stories...

Score - 8/10

A pretty fun edutainment title - if only it weren't so difficult!

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Where to buy Deus Ex: Human Revolution in Australia Mk II

Well it seems that Steam has decided to raise the prices of Deus Ex: Human Revolution! Not very choice! Greedy Ubisoft (or Steam or whoever decided to hike the prices)!

Anyway, Steam is now charging USD$63 for pre-ordering the standard edition and USD $72 for the Augmented Edition. This makes their prices comparable with the retail copies.

While Steam is still the cheapest option, you can get a boxed copy of the standard edition from GAME for $69...

I'll probably still get the game off Steam but doesn't mean I have to like what they've done :P.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wing Commander: Privateer Review


I've been hestitant on typing up a review on an old-school retro game, but since I actually managed to play through the whole of Wing Commander: Privateer again, I thought I might as well. The problem with reviewing a game this old (Privateer came out in 1993) is that it may seem unfair comparing it to games of the modern era. The cynic in me (and I'm sure many of you too) think that companies like Good Old Games (GOG) are just cashing in on nostalgia - i.e. an old gamer will remember Old-School Game X fondly and then purchase the game to replay it, only to find the experience is bittersweet. Games do evolve and whether we like it or not, we as gamers get lazy. For example, we don't like clicking 4 times to select a unit and get them moving when we can do it with two clicks. Only a few of the die-hard retro gamers would truly find these classics fun anymore. So what is the point of reviewing a game that surely can't compete with modern games, even if it was a classic in its hey-day?

But that's when it dawned on me. The game review is still a means of informing the buyer . It doesn't matter if the game is a new release or a re-release, the game has to be judged on its merits. After all, some gamers out there may have heard good things about this so-called "classic" game but would they get the same impression of the game when they played it?

This is where a review like this comes in. I will try to be as impartial as I can when reviewing the actual score, but I will also give a 1993 score if you will, a score for the game as if it was brand new and I was back in 1993 reviewing it :).

Sound (2/5)
The sound samplerate is low, the voice acting is pretty terrible and the taunts you get from ship pilots can get quite repetitive (Pirate: "You're about to suck void buddy!"). Still, it’s functional.

Back in 1993, having voice in a game at all was quite novel. This is the time when CDs were only starting to become popular as a format for storing games. A lot of floppy discs were still floating around. I would've given this game 5/5 for Sound in the old days...

Music (3/5)
The music is actually quite good in terms of employing a common theme. You'll always hear a certain fanfare that is incorporated into the combat and background music. The only problem is that it's in the venerable MIDI format and nowadays, music tends to be of a much higher quality.

Back when this originally came out though, I'd say it would've got a 5/5.

Graphics (3/5)
Wow it's amazing how far graphics have come! Okay these graphics aren't going to win any awards. Low-res bitmaps for ships and planets? Even the 3D renders in cutscenes look basic. However there's something about the conversation cutscene style that appeals to me (even if the lip-syncing is atrocious) and the fact that different base types look quite different to each other is a plus.

Also each ship has a different cockpit - and you don't find that too often in games (recent exceptions being Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. and Test Drive Unlimited series). It really gives that extra level of immersion and ensures the game doesn't become similar to playing with a spreadsheet.

Back when this originally came out the graphics would've been cutting edge. Unfortunately, this means you were likely to have suffered because of it - Wing Commander games were notorious for being memory hogs, meaning the game would've got a 4/5 from me if it was 1993.


Plot (4/5)
Game plots, if they exist in the first place, are renowned for being cliché and Privateer is no exception. It's the usual plot where you stumble upon a mysterious alien artefact and you're being chased by almost everyone since they want to get their hands on it. However, the fact you're a smuggler makes the game more entertaining (Han Solo was a favourite character for many in Star Wars, after all).

The Wing Commander universe, in which the game is set, is really rich though. One of Origin's fortes was immersing the player into the game world. Even the manual is a mock guide to the Gemini Sector (in which the game is set). Even though the game is so old, it'd still give modern games a run for their money.

When the game was originally released, I would've also given it a 4/5 for plot.

Gameplay (3/5)
I'm giving an extra point to Privateer since there is definitely a lack of decent space trading simulator games out there and Privateer was one of my favourites in its day. It's still pretty good in some respect. This is a fun game to play although the trading and mercenary missions may get a bit boring after awhile especially considering there are no side quests to speak of.

As with any space trading simulator you've got a choice of ships and various upgrades (guns, shield generators, armour, etc.) to purchase. A nice feature which seems to be absent in many newer games, is having the ability to tinker with the engines and guns of your machine. It is possible in Privateer to redirect power to shields, guns or speed, giving the player freedom on where to put their ship's power to good use. Want to outrun some enemies? Take some energy from shields and allow yourself to use your afterburners forever. Don't want your guns to overheat all the time? Turn some off to ensure a steady barrage. The choice is yours.

However, being old also means the game lacks the good features of modern gaming. It's quite hard to keep tabs of what you're meant to be doing in terms of the main plot as your log doesn't tell you what to do after you've completed a mission (i.e. which planet to go to or where to go for your next mission). Sure, sometimes you have to listen carefully to bartender gossip or what your last mission handler (or fixer) says, which is fine. However, there were a couple of missions which involves aimlessly wandering the sector's bars until you found your next mission - which is not very choice.

Since side quests were a rarity in any game except RPGs and user-friendly mission logs weren't the norm back in 1993, I'd rate the gameplay at 4/5 for when Privateer was new.


Replayability (4/5)
At first glance, you'll think the game is rather linear, as the main storyline doesn't give you much choice (you actually can reject main storyline missions, but if you don't accept them, you can't proceed any further with the main plot).

However, just like any good space trading sim, the player has the freedom to continue exploring, trading and fighting across the galaxy for as long as he/she likes. You also have four ships to choose from and you can also choose on whether to fight on the side of the law or not.

Unfortunately, there isn't much incentive to fight for one particular faction or not since racking up the kills don’t exactly reward you with any ranks or rewards.

The game back in 1993 would've also got a 4/5 for replayability, as there were already other games (like Frontier: Elite II) which did better in the replayability department.


Polish (3/5)
Unfortunately, even DOSBOX cannot bring the game to its original glory. For example, the music usually slows down when you're in the cockpit although goes back to normal speed on planets or during cutscenes. A minor glitch but it is quite annoying.

Also, although the mouse is given as an input device option (joystick and keyboard are the other two), it's very hard to control the ship with it and there's no way to alter the sensitivity.

I did also encounter a couple of times where the game just froze on me. Fortunately after a few reloading of games I managed to get past the part.

From what I remember of the original game, I had very little issues with it. So it would've got a 5/5.

Score - 6/10

A somewhat dated classic, but a good example of how Origin immerses the player into their worlds.

If I were reviewing this game in 1993 however, I'd have no qualms in giving it a 9/10.

If you want to get the game, visit Good Old Games.

Back to the Future: Episode 4 Review


This is the fourth episode of the Back to the Future series called "Double Visions". Some sections of the review are going to be understandably short since each episode is quite similar in terms of mechanics (only the plot really changing). I'd recommend reading the previous reviews in conjunction with this one to get the full picture.

Sound (4/5)
Audio is as good as Episode 1. Authentic sound effects and great voice acting mired by some occasional sound stuttering issues.

Music (4/5)
The music is still great but for some reason there were occasional bits in the game where no music was playing at all which seemed rather silly during action sequences.

Graphics (2/5)
Graphics have the same style as the previous episode and it had just as many graphical glitches as there were in Episode 2.



Plot (4/5)
The plot wasn't as great as the previous episode - most of your time in the game is spent at one location, namely a Science Fair back in 1930s Hill Valley.

In this episode, Marty has to break out of the Citizen Plus program in the alternate 1985 and rescue Citizen Brown (Doc in this timeline). Your goal will be to redirect the young Emmett Brown's interests from Edna to science!

Gameplay (4/5)
The game still suffers from the fact the player is limited in what he/she can do (and this runs the danger of the player becoming a mere spectator), however the puzzles that involve ruining Emmett and Edna's relationship are a highlight in this episode.


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...

Score - 8/10

Episode 4 is fun but the story isn't as intriguing as the previous episode.

If you want to get the game, visit Telltale Games.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Team Fortress 2 now free to play

That's right folks. Now everyone can enjoy the awesome multiplayer game TF2 as it has gone free to play! I guess Valve decided they were making enough money out of their micro-payments scheme.

There's also finally a Meet the Medic video. Looks like all that is left is a Meet the Pyro one (figures they'd make my favourite class go last)!


Friday, June 17, 2011

New Hitchhiker's Guide game announced


Good news for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans! It seems that Hothead Games, developer of the hilarious Deathspank games, will be working on a new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game. I reckon they have a good chance of pulling it off. I'll be keeping tabs on this one so stay tuned for further info!

Where to buy Deus Ex: Human Revolution in Australia

Well I'm a good way into Fable III and I've pretty much finished all the other games on my TODO list (except for Dungeon Siege III which has just come out, D'oh!). However, it's time to plan for my next purchase (well, actually it's my purchase after the next purchase, considering I haven't actually purchased Dungeon Siege III yet...).

Anyway, where is the best place to obtain a copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution in Australia?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • EB (Augmented Edition) = $98 (incl. Beanie, extra mission, extra in-game weapons, artbook, soundtrack and extras DVD)
  • EB (Collector's Edition) = $138 (incl. special box, figurine, extra mission, extra in-game weapons, artbook, soundtrack and extras DVD)
  • GAME = $69
  • GAME (Augmented Edition) = $89 (incl. Extra mission, extra in-game weapons, artbook, soundtrack and extras DVD)
  • GAME (Collector's Edition) = $139 (incl. special box, figurine, extra mission, extra in-game weapons, artbook, soundtrack and extras DVD)
  • JB (Augmented Edition) = $99 (incl. Extra mission, extra in-game weapons, artbook, soundtrack and extras DVD)
  • Steam = ~$45
  • Steam (Augmented Edition) = ~$54 (incl. original Deus Ex, extra in-game weapons, artbook, soundtrack and extras DVD contents)
As mentioned before, I'm not too fussed with boxed copies anymore and it seems that the boxed versions are quite expensive (especially if you go for the Collector's Edition). Since I don't really want a figurine and the only thing that ever really interests me in a special edition is the soundtrack, I'd probably at most go for the Augmented Edition.

Since the Augmented Edition is available off Steam for only about $10 more, that'll be the copy I end up getting.

If you prefer a physical copy then I'd probably go with GAME (they give free shipping) - unless you happen to really want a beanie with your Augmented Edition, then you should go with EB.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Portal 2 Review


As you probably know by now, the original Portal was a surprise hit. The game managed to get a lot of publicity after being bundled with the awesome Orange Box compilation. Valve has built a bit of a reputation when it comes to hiring promising developers; Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead are examples of smash-hits thanks to Valve financing the brains behind the projects. Portal was no exception as it was developed by students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology. Many of the ideas were borrowed off their game project called Narbacular Drop.

Anyway history lesson aside, I very much enjoyed the original Portal, and I wasn't the only one. It was critically acclaimed and has a Metacritic rating of 90%. So it's no surprise that I jumped on the bandwagon to get a copy of Portal 2.

I noticed when buying Portal 2 that it was more expensive than its predecessor which meant I already had the expectation that the game had to work harder, better, faster and stronger for my money. This wouldn't be an easy task considering how successful the first Portal was.

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting wasn't really a challenge in the original Portal, I mean GLaDOS uses a synthesised voice after all. It's a robot, and in sci-fi, robots are meant to sound imperfect. They're meant to sound like Dr Sbaitso, by Creative Labs (PLEASE ENTER YOUR NAME).

However, in this iteration Wheatley (who is also a robot) bucks the trend and has a very human sounding voice provided by British comedian, Stephen Merchant. You also get to hear the voice of J.K. Simmons, acting the role of Cave Johnson, original founder of Aperture Science. Both are welcome additions and they perform their parts well.

As there isn't that much music during the levels (as is the case in the Half-Life games) background noises become important to immerse you in the environment. Portal 2 manages to achieve this with the distant creaking of dilapidated platforms, the whirring of motors and whooshing steam all being present when you expect them to be.

The only thing I can criticise about the audio is the usual sound stuttering problems that some people get (including myself) when playing Source games. They're pretty rare, but they do happen occasionally.

Music (5/5)
I was tempted to give a 4 for Music since the game is actually lacking quite a bit of it, but penalising a game because it doesn't have a lot of music even when it's not required, is probably not right. Playing music sparingly can in itself be the right thing to do for a game. This is the case for Portal 2.

One interesting gimmick with the music is that it's generated procedurally. e.g. when you start jumping on bouncy gel, the notes are generated in time with the bouncing. This means the music in the game is directly related to whatever actions you are performing. Pretty choice!

Oh, and the game wouldn't be a Portal game without a hilarious credits song sung by GLaDOS. Fans of the original will be glad to know this is the case :).


Graphics (3/5)
The graphics haven't improved that much from the original, but it's still a decent enough engine to play on.

Plot (5/5)
Not only is the scriptwriting funny like the original, you also get to learn a lot of the background story.

In Portal 2, you return as Chell, the female silent protagonist from the original. The Aperture Science facility has fallen apart and is now overrun by nature. Plants are starting to grow through their cracks and everything is in disrepair. A robot known as Wheatley wakes you up and tries to help you escape the facility. However, in doing so he inadvertently wakes up GLaDOS which of course means more testing for the unlucky Chell!

The game will take you to the deepest depths of the Aperture Science facility where you'll learn about the company's history and how GLaDOS came to be.


Gameplay (5/5)
This is a really fun game to play. Just like the original, the game will have you progressing from room to room solving puzzles with a mixture of portal creation and timing. However, instead of just rehashing the gameplay in the original, they've improved on the formula by adding some new elements to the puzzles. A list of them are provided below:


- Bouncy blue gel (gel that makes you jump higher)

- Orange speed gel (gel that makes you run faster)

- White Portal Gel (gel that allows you to create portals wherever it lies)

- Bridges (energy bridges that can be used either as walls or as a means of crossing chasms)

- Artificial gravity tube thingies (these can be used to transport you or other objects, even gel, from one side to another)


Anyway, there's lots of new stuff to play with and the game is much longer than the original too - but you'd expect that considering it does cost more.

Replayability (4/5)
Both campaigns are pretty linear so there's not going to be much difference in a second playthrough, although there are achievements to strive for.

One of the big new features however is that there is two player co-op with Portal 2. Not only that, it's an entirely different campaign to the single player with puzzles especially tailored for cooperative play (i.e. if you don't work as a team, you're not going to get past the level). The multiplayer campaign complements the single player campaign so you actually learn more about the world that Portal 2 is set in by completing it.


Polish (5/5)
The game is pretty well polished, besides the occasional sound stuttering issue (which I've always had a problem with Source games) - however, I've already penalised the game in the sound section of the review :).

Score - 9/10

It seems impossible but Portal 2 is harder, better, faster and stronger than the original.

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

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back to the Future: Episode 3 Review



This is the third episode of the Back to the Future series called "Citizen Brown". Some sections of the review are going to be understandably short since each episode is quite similar in terms of mechanics (only the plot really changing). I'd recommend reading the previous reviews in conjunction with this one to get the full picture.

Sound (4/5)
Audio is as good as Episode 1. Authentic sound effects and great voice acting mired by some occasional sound stuttering issues.

They did actually manage to get the actor who played the original Jennifer Parker though; Claudia Wells is the voice actor for Jennifer Parker which is great since they're trying their best to be authentic but she unfortunately doesn't sound like a teenager, which means the performance isn't as convincing as it could be.

Music (4/5)
The music is still great but for some reason there were occasional bits in the game where no music was playing at all which seemed rather silly during action sequences.

Graphics (2/5)
Graphics have the same style as the previous episode and it had just as many graphical glitches as there were in Episode 2. For example, in this episode a golf cart drives into a cutscene for no apparent reason whatsoever. There was probably meant to be a person driving the vehicle but I guess nobody cared in Telltale's QA department!



Plot (5/5)
This episode has probably the best plot in the series so far - it's definitely one that requires a lot of creativity, as it is set in an alternate universe where Doc isn't Doc.

Marty returns to 1985 to discover that Hill Valley has turned into a city that is run like a police state. Doc and Edna are married, and are the leaders of the community forbidding drinking, public displays of affection and even owning dogs. Marty's Mum is an alcoholic again and his parents fight with each other non-stop. Not only that, but Marty and Jennifer are no longer a couple! Consequently, Marty thinks this alternate universe is a nightmare and with the DeLorean damaged, things are looking bleak.

Gameplay (3/5)
The game still suffers from the fact the player is limited in what he/she can do (and this runs the danger of the player becoming a mere spectator) and there weren't really any challenging puzzles, making it on par with Episode 1.



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...

Score - 7/10

Telltale are getting sloppy but this episode probably has the most intriguing plot in the series yet.

If you want to get the game, visit Telltale Games.