Monday, August 27, 2012

Need for Speed: The Run Review

Once again, my urge to play a racing adventure game got the better of me and I ended up with a copy of Need for Speed: The Run. What was meant to be different about this particular Need for Speed was that it was claiming to focus more on the adventure which I thought was a good thing – this is one of the reasons I enjoyed Need for Speed: Underground 2 (NFSU2). Unfortunately, The Run misses the mark in almost all areas.

Plot (2/5)
The plot is pretty threadbare in this latest iteration, even by Need for Speed standards. This means you never really end up appreciating any of the characters since you don't really know their motivations, beliefs and place in the story. Sure, you've got the occasional bio for some of the "bosses" but that's about it. Instead you've got a rather non-descript player character on the run from some mafia-type baddies and apparently the only way he can secure his freedom is by going in a race across the U.S.A. That's pretty much all you're told, regardless if you want to know more or not.

Gameplay (3/5)
In Need for Speed: The Run, you spend the game driving in a series of races from the west coast of the U.S.A. to the east. Your goal is to come in first place at the end of the entire race.

As you can imagine, this means the gameplay is linear. This is a major drawback for me as one aspect I enjoyed from the likes of NFSU2 was the fact you could explore the city. In fact, this game is even more linear than Outrun – at least in that game you were able to pick different routes as you made your way across the map.

Another annoying aspect is that if you want to pick a new car, you have to do so in the middle of the race thereby causing you to lose precious time. The game becomes quite difficult in the later stages and the distinction between car classes is not clear-cut (i.e. exotic, tuner and muscle cars are meant to perform better on different tracks)

Sound (3/5)
No complaints in the sound department. Radio chatter from the police cars is always a highlight in NFS games.

Music (4/5)
There are some good tracks in this game. One of the highlights for me must be the level where you drive an American Muscle Car through the Mid-West with "On the Road Again" playing in the background.

Graphics (4/5)
Despite some framerate issues, the game has some pretty good graphics. You will appreciate the graphics most whilst cruising through the varied landscapes of the United States. In fact, The Run reminds me of Outrun in this regard.

Replay (3/5)
One of the better aspects of the Run is its Facebook-like NFS Wall. It encourages you to compete against your friends in beating their times for various sections of the race. There is also multiplayer but I never got into it since it was poorly implemented. For example, VOIP was set on all the time and even after some extensive Googling, I still couldn't find a way to turn it off!

Polish (2/5)
Game is kind of buggy and tends to crash a lot. Also framerate cap is annoying. You can fix the framerate cap using this link

Score – 7/10

This isn't your typical NFS game and has more in common with games like Outrun than anything else. Cruising through the US was a great concept but unfortunately you’ll only end up spending a couple of hours experiencing it.

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

If you like this game, you might like...


Saturday, August 11, 2012

When Deus Ex meets TF2

Some fans of both Deus Ex and TF2 have submitted a few videos for a competition.

I've embedded a couple of the better ones, although technically the first one isn't actually based off the original Deus Ex but a parody video named Deus Ex: The Recut (also embedded for your convenience). Hoping one of these two win.

And surprisingly, one poster's prediction actually did not come true - there were no videos based on "OMG JC - a bomb!"

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Greatest Video Game Music soundtrack review

  • Name: The Greatest Video Game Music
  • Label: X5 Music Group
  • Composer(s): Various
  • Number of Tracks: 22

When they say this soundtrack has the "greatest" video game music of all time, I think what they really meant to say was "popular". Sure the London Philharmonic Orchestra does a good job with every track on this album, but some of the source material isn't terribly exciting to begin with (I'm looking at you Call of Duty theme music!). I mean they even did a rendition of the Angry Birds theme - I mean can you even really consider that a game? Oh right, it's popular on iPads and mobiles therefore it must be great (although it does turn out to be one of the better ones)!

You've got a lot of great memorable PC game themes on this album such as a pretty faithful rendition of the Oblivion theme, the Mass Effect 2 Suicide Mission theme and (my favourite) the Battlefield 1942 theme (the album incorrectly states it's the Battlefield 2 theme). This is the greatest rendition of the theme I've heard yet and I especially love the violin section added at 2:31.

The surprises for me though were the themes that I've never heard of before and these were the ones from console games (I don't normally play console games you see). Particular favourites was Nate's Theme from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (which has a very Back to the Future feel to it) and the Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty theme, which sounds like it could fit quite nicely in an 80s cop show.

Overall, this is a good album and you're sure to find a few tracks that you like, even if you're a PC gamer like myself :).

Score - 8/10

You can grab the album off Amazon for $12 (plus shipping and handling).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Top 10 Game Publishers of All Time

So I've finally gone through what I believe are the top 10 game publishers of all time. Generally, the ones that sell the most games that I'm interested in get to be at the top. Remember, these are publishers, which means sometimes (or most of the time) they don't actually develop the games. However, the ones at the top are obviously the ones that have discovered talent or have simply been in the business for a very long time.

I've decided to summarise them in this post. Be sure to comment on what you believe are the best game publishers out there!
  1. EA
  2. Sierra
  3. Lucasarts
  4. Valve
  5. Activision
  6. Microprose
  7. Microsoft
  8. Atari
  9. Virgin Interactive
  10. 2K Games

Top 10 Game Publishers of All Time - #1 EA

Coming in at #1 for top publisher is a somewhat controversial choice: Electronic Arts. In recent times, EA has gained a reputation for being an evil empire of sorts, and at times, for good reason. The company now has a reputation of being risk-adverse and stifling creativity in games development. It’s also aggressive in acquiring development studios and IP. Also, depending on which section you work for in EA, employees can be treated poorly. However, things weren’t always this way.

In 1982, Don Valentine and Trip Hawkins (who left Apple Inc.) incorporated a company known as Amazin’ Software. Early employees of the company didn’t like the name and they eventually came up with the name Electronic Arts since Trip Hawkins thought software as an art form, and that the developers were "software artists". In the early days, EA gave lots of credit to its developers. Most of their games came in album covers, similar to record album covers, to give a more artistic feel. EA publicised their game developers and gave them a generous share of profits, eventually resulting in them attracting the best developers.

But those were the 80s and 90s. Now EA is a huge organisation employing more than 7,000 employees worldwide (and this is after layoffs of 1,000+ employees in recent years). EA now has four main labels:

  • EA Games, which seems to focus on racing games (Need for Speed), FPS games (Battlefield) and mobile games
  • EA Sports
  • EA Maxis (legendary studio responsible for the SimCity series and every Sim game since)
  • EA Bioware (another legendary studio responsible for quality RPGs)

Although some of EA's practises in recent years are questionable, to me they'll always be remembered as the company that published games by awesome developers like Bullfrog and Origin in the 90s, and then realised Maxis, Bioware and DICE's talent in more recent times. The challenge for EA is to ensure that these star developers have enough breathing room to keep delivering quality games.

The earliest EA game I ever played was most likely Populous II which was released in 1991. This game was the sequel to the classic Bullfrog god game Populous which saw you taking the role of a Greek demigod fighting against deities. However you wouldn't do so directly, instead you would use followers to do so. You would provide a guiding hand for your followers, help them found new towns and create champions that would wage war against your enemies. You achieved this by using a myriad of "divine interventions" – so as you can see, the Populous series was to be the inspiration for other god games such as Black & White (also by Peter Molyneux) and more recently, From Dust.

I didn’t remember much about the game (I actually had to get help from Wikipedia to refresh my memory!) but one thing that was memorable to me, was the intro:

Other EA games I played through the 90s included:
  • Strike Commander (1993) – an awesome flight sim that incorporated role-playing and business simulation elements at the same time!
  • Syndicate (1993) – a cyberpunk strategy game that had you managing your own squad of cyborg assassins!
  • Wing Commander: Privateer (1993) – a classic space trading game with exceptional graphics (at least for it’s time)!
  • Little Big Adventure (1994) – a French action-RPG with a huge world to explore and one of the most beautiful soundtracks in PC gaming
  • Theme Park (1994) – the original theme park management game that spawned so many clones and sequels.
  • SimCopter (1996) – the biggest attraction of SimCopter was that you could import your SimCity 2000 cities into the game and then fly around them in a helicopter!
  • Syndicate Wars (1996) – sequel to Syndicate. "Corporate Persuasion through Urban Violence"
  • Little Big Adventure 2 (1997) – sequel to Little Big Adventure. Also had an awesome soundtrack.
  • Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997) – a really fun American Civil War game. In fact, I’ve yet to find one that trumps it.
  • Theme Hospital (1997) – similar to Theme Park except you run a hospital
  • Ultima Online (1997) – the first modern graphical MMORPG (i.e. not a MUD or a text/graphic hybrid)
  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (1997) – it’s Civ in space!
  • SimCity 3000 (1999) – not the most revolutionary SimCity, but it arguably has the best soundtrack in the series to date.
  • Ultima IX (1999) – the final game in the venerable Ultima series of RPGs. Too bad it was a flop.

In the 2000s, these are the EA games I dabbled in:

  • C&C: Red Alert 2 (2000) – something about the "Romanovs having their legacy to consideeeer!"
  • The Sims (2000) – this was to be the start of EA (and Maxis’s) biggest cash cow
  • Emperor: Battle for Dune (2001) – the last of Westwood’s Dune 2 remakes. The Harkonnen had an especially awesome soundtrack in this game.
  • C&C: Renegade (2002) – It’s C&C the FPS. Thoroughly underrated game.
  • Freedom Force (2002) – A tactical squad-based strategy game except with superheroes!
  • C&C: Generals (2003) – a C&C game based on the War on Terror, where you get to play as the USA, China or GLA. One of the best RTSes to date.
  • SimCity 4 (2003) – the last SimCity to be made by Maxis – at least until the reboot coming out next year...
  • Need for Speed: Underground 2 (2004) – The best Need for Speed to date.
  • The Sims 2 (2004) – A significant improvement on the original Sims and the best in the series.
  • Battlefield 2 (2005) – the best Battlefield game to date. Only because it had Commander mode :)
  • Freedom Force vs the Third Reich (2005) – sequel to Freedom Force. This one goes back to the heroes and villains of WWII!
  • Need for Speed: Carbon (2006) – Need for Speed game that featured mountain drifting
  • C&C 3 (2007) – Lando is the president!
  • SimCity Societies (2007) – a casual version of the SimCity formula. Still fun though.
  • C&C: Red Alert 3 (2008) – the Japanese enter the fray. Also was significant since it had two player co-op.
  • Mass Effect (2008) – our first introduction to Commander Shepard: Reaper killer.
  • Need for Speed: Undercover (2008) – Need for Speed continues to go downhill in this iteration
  • Spore (2008) – Not really a game – more of a creative tool to demonstrate evolution.
  • Battlefield Heroes (2009) – a camp, cartoony and casual version of Battlefield.
  • Dragon Age (2009) – Bioware’s first non-D&D RPG I believe.
  • The Sims 3 (2009) – the most recent iteration of the Sims

And in the 2010s, I’m still playing EA games:
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010) – PC players finally get to sink their teeth into the Bad Company series and this one is a winner.
  • Deathspank (2010) – Ron Gilbert’s hilarious hack ‘n’ slash RPG
  • Mass Effect 2 (2010) – an excellent sequel to Mass Effect and possibly the best game in the series so far.
  • Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) – arcade racing version of Need for Speed. Fun but no storyline.
  • Risk: Factions (2010) – a new take on the classic war board game
  • Dragon Age II (2011) – DA2 is to DA1 as ME2 was to ME1.
  • Need for Speed: The Run (2011) – I wanted to like this, but once again Need for Speed is disappointing. Why can’t we just have a remake of NFSU2 please?
  • The Sims Medieval (2011) – a fun spin-off from the main series
  • Battlefield 3 (2011) – Still playing this – it’s my FPS of choice at the moment.

Since EA owns so much IP, there’s definitely going to be heaps of potentially good stuff coming out. Battlefield 4 is already in the works, although that’s no surprise considering how quickly DICE pumps out sequels. More Need for Speed games are in the pipeline too but recent forays into this series has left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I’m looking forward to the next Dragon Age game and who knows, there may even be another Mass Effect game.

Two of the biggest announcements though are the fact a sequel to C&C Generals is in the works and that SimCity is being rebooted (it’s been almost a decade since the last Maxis-made SimCity!)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Most ridiculous scream in Mass Effect 3

Okay bit of a spoiler alert, but I've got to the part in the game again where Steve Cortez's shuttle gets attacked by a Harvester. At this part, a male Commander Shepard screams Steve's name out at the top of his lungs although his next line when juxtaposed with the scream is hilarious. So much so, I wanted to make a video.

But of course, someone already beat me to it. Gotta love Youtube:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

8 days left on the Humble Music Bundle

A friend of mine (cheers Danno!) gave me the heads-up on this a few days back. Looks like that the Humble Bundle concept doesn't only apply to indie games but music too. What's awesome about this is that you can nominate any amount you want to get at least 5 albums of music.

Unfortunately, I'm not terribly interested in most of the music although the cream of the crop would undoubtedly be the superb Baba Yetu (Civilization IV's main theme) by Christopher Tin. Another song worthy of mention is the live version of Still Alive (Portal's theme song) as part of Jonathon Coulton's album.