Monday, June 30, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #137 - Dune - Arrakis



Composed by: Stephane Picq

For this Video Game Music Monday we finally move on to music from PC games released in 1992. First up we have a track from the game Dune. No, I'm not talking about Dune II by Westwood Studios, but an adventure/RPG/strategy game by Cryo Interactive. I must confess I never really played much of this game and I didn't recall the soundtrack too well either, not until listening to Bart Klepka's excellent remix that is, many years ago. Thankfully, it's been uploaded to YouTube by OCRemix for posterity:



It made me appreciate what Stephane Picq (how do you even pronounce that name?) did with this soundtrack, which I believe is even superior to the 1984 movie's soundtrack to some degree since I can definitely hear how the music is inspired by Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies, the featured track Arrakis, being a good example. It just means the soundtrack is more authentic since the Fremen of Arrakis are definitely modelled off the Bedouin Arabs (the fact they even speak Arabic is a dead giveaway!).

Special thanks to Tom for making these tracks available for Dune fans to enjoy.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

My 2014 Steam Summer Sale Haul


Pretty

Well it's only a matter of hours before the end of this year's Steam "Summer" Sale Haul (obviously it's not summer here in Australia) and I thought I'd list the games I managed to grab during the sale and my reasons why I got them. I'm going to exclude the gifts that I bought for friends/gamers in this post and just focus the ones I purchased for my own selfish reasons.

Risk of Rain

  • Sale price: $1.88 (in a 4-pack)
  • Metacritic Rating: 77
I purchased Risk of Rain thanks to hearing it was a game made using GameMaker Studio, one of the three game creation software programs I've actually purchased. It's also got a reasonably good Metacritic rating and it even features co-op - so hopefully something I can try out with some of my mates!

Guacamelee! Gold Edition

  • Sale price: $3.99
  • Metacritic Rating: 88
Not usually my kind of game considering it's apparently a Metroidvania style game, but the interesting art-style and a magical Mexican world, reminds me of Grim Fandango, one of my all-time favourite Lucasarts adventure games. An 88 Metacritic rating isn't too bad either.

Noir Syndrome

  • Sale price: $2.37
  • Metacritic Rating: N/A
While indie games with pixelart graphics are a dime a dozen nowadays, this one caught my eye since it wasn't a Minecraft clone or a fantasy roguelike. Apparently this game has procedurally generated murder mysteries to solve which sounds pretty neat. Maybe I've been playing too much Sid Meier's Covert Action as of late since I wouldn't be surprised if that swayed my decision to get this game.

Child of Light

  • Sale price: $11.24
  • Metacritic Rating: 76
Another game with a reasonably good Metacritic rating although if you look further into it, you'd notice that it actually got much better ratings on the consoles - maybe because the game is a JRPG it has an affinity to the platform? What there is no denying though is the beautiful, hand-drawn art style employed. I'm hoping the game could give me some pointers on how to make an engaging JRPG when I eventually get around to making one.

Banished

  • Sale price: $9.99
  • Metacritic Rating: 73
I'm really starting to get withdrawal symptoms with respect to a good city builder. Yes, there's Tropico 5 but seriously, how much different is that going to be from Tropico 4 (or 3 for that matter)? I'll probably eventually get it, but only after a significant discount :). Then there's Tilted Mill's Medieval Mayor which seems to have entered development hell since nobody's heard anymore of it. So Banished is a probably a game that could fill in the void - but we shall see if it does once I get around to playing it.

Spacebase DF-9 Soundtrack Edition

  • Sale price: $10.19
  • Metacritic Rating: N/A
Maybe I'm just too much of a Tim Schafer fanboi or at least a Double Fine fanboi to admit it, but when I first heard about this game, I thought "ZOMG! Star Trek reference" then "ZOMG! A game where you construct and maintain a deep space habitat! How choice is that?!" Initially the price was a bit high for my liking but the sale dropped it to around $10 which I thought was worth a punt. Oh and that's for the "soundtrack edition" since I'm a sucker for game soundtracks. Unfortunately, the game seems to have some pretty negative reviews so far, mainly concerning how unfinished it is which is why I'm most likely not going to play this game until it's considered complete (which is what I've done with almost all my Early Access and Kickstarter titles). It sometimes leaves a sour taste in the mouth if your first impression is a bad one, despite the fact it's in beta or alpha or whatever.

The Typing of the Dead: Thou Filthy Love Collection

  • Sale price: $11.21
  • Metacritic Rating: 71
I was a big fan of the original The Typing of the Dead. It managed to capture the really bad voice acting of The House of the Dead 2 and make a fun typing tutor game where accurately typing words killed zombies. Genius (in a crazy sort of way)! If they re-released the original The Typing of the Dead on GOG or Steam, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. But then I found out that there was a new The Typing of the Dead that was only released not long ago. Fast Forward to the Steam sale and now the game and its DLC is quite affordable.

Consortium

  • Sale price: $9.99
  • Metacritic Rating: 66
I have to admit, the only reason I originally got excited about this game was because Jeremy Soule, one of my favourite game music composers, worked on the soundtrack. When I discovered that it was some sort of sci-fi RPG to boot, I thought this game was worth a look. I could've got this game for cheaper on GOG (for $5 in fact) but thanks to my basic Internet plan, I usually only purchase smallish games (e.g. 1GB and less) on GOG since I can actually get games quota-free on Steam.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

  • Sale price: $4.99
  • Metacritic Rating: 70
I love stories from Ancient China and one of the most famous to Western audiences would be The Journey to the West. Apparently, this game is heavily inspired by this story but instead has post-apocalyptic America as its setting. It looks pretty good and while the Metacritic rating for PC ain't so good, it did well on consoles (maybe a bad PC port then?)

The Yawhg

  • Sale price: $4.99
  • Metacritic Rating: 66
Again I decided to buy a game solely for research purposes as I heard that The Yawhg was developed in Multimedia Fusion 2 and it also sounded like my kind of game (one where the player is offered several choices like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure). I kind of like the artwork too although I suppose that's important in visual novel games.

So what did you end up getting? Did you set yourself a limit as to how many games you were going to buy or a certain percentage discount? Or did you just go with the flow and bought games like there was no tomorrow?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Is this the new Pravin Lal for Beyond Earth?


Seems like a friendly chap

A third leader has been revealed out of the planned eight for Firaxis's upcoming sci-fi strategy game, Civilization: Beyond Earth. The new leader's name is Samatar Jama Barre of the People's Africa Union so, geographically, we now have a representative for North America, Asia and Africa. Barre claims that while Africa has always been at the bidding of colonial powers and then more recently, superpowers and megacorps, he thinks it's important to use Africa's wealth of resources to fund an expedition beyond Earth. His aim is for a better life on a new planet where Africans aren't treated as the world's second-class citizens.

This leader potentially takes the role that Commissioner Pravin Lal did in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Pravin Lal was leader of the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces and always sought peaceful, diplomatic and humanitarian solutions to problems which seems to align with Barre's non-confrontational attitude if his letter to his brother is anything to come by. In fact, it doesn't really make sense to me since on one hand Barre is saying "we are not going to repeat what happened to Africa on a new planet" yet shortly afterwards he says that when on the new world and when other heads of state "come and ask me for titanium or oil or land, I will smile and nod and play the part of the nice, simple old village chief". This sounds like he is still willing to compromise, still willing to do what the People's African Union did on Earth.

It's a pity we haven't seen what actual bonuses each of these leaders bring to your expedition since I'm sure that's what most Civ fans really want to see at the moment :). Lets hope we'll get more juicy details on how you setup your civs/expeditions soon.

[ LINK: Civilization: Beyond Earth - Letter from Samatar Jarra Barre ]

Friday, June 27, 2014

First Impressions - Dead Bits

No sniping for you!

Thanks to Ainzwick Social Media Solutions (yeah that's my friend's handle on Steam and yes it's a weird handle - probably because he's actually promoting his business here) managed to direct me to a free copy of this game and since it was released fairly recently on Steam (8 June 2014) I thought I should make a start on it early so that I'd at least have some of my reviews being completed in a decent timeframe.

I haven't played the game that long but I believe I've already experienced two thirds of the game after about 1 hour. So thought it was also about time for a first impressions of the game before it started to become disingenuous.

What I like

  • Simplicity: Sometimes there is beauty in a game that's just simple to get into. I probably don't need to remind you of the game Flappy Bird for mobiles but I'll do it anyway. In the game Flappy Bird, you only needed to tap your finger on the screen in order to make your bird flap its wings once. That was it. Navigating the bird through the pipes successfully however was where the real challenge was at. I think Dead Bits manages to channel this simplicity except for a First-Person Shooter. It's no Half-Life but when you think about it, the basics are the same - i.e. shooting zombie-like creatures, solving jumping puzzles and traversing around hazardous environments. Only difference is the quality and duration of the game (at least it's looking to be really short).
  • Soundtrack: I never was a big fan of dubstep but perhaps a combination of listening to it more over the years has made me appreciate it more - or Dead Bits' soundtrack happens to be one of the exceptions (i.e. one of the dubstep soundtracks I actually like). Maybe because it manages to merge 8-bit chiptunes with dubstep? Anyway, definitely one of the stronger points with the game and I can see why they decided to sell the soundtrack separately.

What I don't like

  • Too short: The game is looking to be really short. I've spent one hour playing and it looks like I'm 2/3 of the way through the game (provided that the game has only 9 levels). For a really competent FPS player it'd probably not even take an hour to finish the entire game.
  • Very basic graphics: Well just look at them. Apparently the game was designed in Unity and no offence to the developer, but it looks like a school project. Hmmm maybe it was and he/she is trying to make some money out of it? :) Anyway, apparently the reason for the basic graphics was to make it have a "retro" look but cynics are obviously not going to buy into that excuse.
  • Very basic gameplay: So far I've only come across four weapons in the game: a sub-machine gun, a shotgun, a melee weapon and some ray gun. You also don't need to worry about reloading - so very basic by FPS standards.
  • No checkpoints: Your progress is saved after you complete each level but your progress is not saved within the level. This isn't too much of a problem on the easier early levels, but can be slightly annoying later on. Oh well, at least it lengthens the duration of the game I suppose...
  • Volume control: I found that setting the volume control while in a level doesn't apply the settings to the entire game. This has resulted in many times where I've failed a level only to have my eardrums blasted with music I thought had already been turned down. Minor quibble but still not very choice.


Verdict

Dead Bits isn't a bad game and it seems to have an addictive hook in the Flappy Bird vein (i.e. the game isn't terribly complex or good looking, but you somehow want to keep retrying so you can get further). However, low production values are its ultimate downfall and the cynics amongst us are probably amazed that the developer is even asking money for this game. At the rate I'm going, I should have a full review soon.

[ LINK: Official developer website: Microblast Games ]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Final Faction for Grey Goo Revealed


We now have access to all three faction info pages

Petroglyph were busy at work yesterday uploading images and information on the final (and most important) faction in their upcoming RTS Grey Goo: The Goo itself.

Apparently the Goo was developed by Humanity during the 21st century to help with early space exploration. I think this a very likely scenario since sending humans to explore outer space is dangerous and costly - so sending a small number of self-replicating nano-bots that can create whatever machines are required to explore and settle the cosmos sounds logical. In the story of Grey Goo though, when Humanity had enough of exploring and colonising planets they decided to just forget about the Goo. Come on, how could you just forget about their existence? Surely someone must've been monitoring what they were up to? Well you know what they say I guess, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction - and if there's one thing you can always rely on, it's the incompetency that runs rampant in the human race!

One other thing I find weird is why bother morphing the Goo into units? Why can't they just stay as a huge pile of goo (I mean are there any tactical advantages from being anything else)? Obviously it would make for a rather boring game if you played as the Goo and couldn't build any units but just from a realism perspective, it doesn't seem to make much sense. However, it does seem that you start off as just a large blob of goo if the the Goo Proteans page is anything to go by, so you'll probably spend some of the game with large blobs of goo rolling across the map.

Anyway, I'll be curious to see how playing the Goo faction actually works from a gameplay perspective closer to release.

[ SOURCE: Grey Goo Game Info: Factions: The Goo ]

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Where are they now? - Fukio Mitsuji


Fukio Mitsuji being interviewed on a video released with the Taito Legends compilation

(Along with Video Game Music Monday, I thought I would from now on make Wednesdays "Where are they now? Wednesdays" on Choicest Games. As you know, I've done some Where are they now? posts before but there's only been a few of them. I've had some positive feedback about them in the past so maybe if I can make it a weekly gig it should help in terms of readership :))

To be honest, if you asked me before writing this post who Fukio Mitsuji was, I'd tell you I wouldn't have a clue. He wasn't as prolific as some of the other game designers with most of his games being developed during the 1980s and not too much after that. He was however responsible for an absolute classic of a game, one that would spawn many imitators and have a huge legion of fans. The game I'm talking about is Bubble Bobble.

Bubble Bobble was originally released in 1986 on the arcades but it would then be ported to lots of platforms, and I mean it:

  • Amiga (1987)
  • Amstrad CPC (1987)
  • Atari ST (1987)
  • Commodore 64 (1987)
  • MSX (1987)
  • ZX Spectrum (1987)
  • Apple II (1988)
  • DOS (1988)
  • FM Towns (1990)
  • Sharp X68000 (1990)
  • Game Boy (1991)
  • SEGA Master System (1991)
  • Game Gear (1994)
  • Game Boy Color (1999)
  • J2ME (2006)
  • Wii (2007)
  • Nintendo 3DS (2013)

As you can see, not only has it been ported to so many platforms, but to a couple of generations too considering the last release was in 2013!

Anyway, the game had a simple premise: get your cute dragon past the 100 levels in "The Cave of Monsters" so you can rescue your girlfriends (apparently the dragons used to be human). Each dragon can blow bubbles which can trap any enemies they come across which they then have the option of killing by popping the bubble. Despite its simplicity, the game was very addictive and while I don't have the sales details handy, the fact there are still remakes and clones of Bubble Bobble being made to this day is a testament to how successful it must've been.

But enough about Bubble Bobble, what about the man behind the game? The one who designed it? That would be Fukio Mitsuji.

"...he'd rather be a person that plants trees rather than being a tree."

Fukio Mitsuji was apparently born in 1960, so by the time he was in his 20s, he was developing games (as a designer and artist) for Taito such as Rainbow Islands, Sagaia and of course, Bubble Bobble. According to this site, Mitsuji, aka MTJ, refused to make a sequel to Bubble Bobble despite its huge success but instead created Rainbow Islands which borrowed similar concepts. Taito would eventually make sequels to Bubble Bobble without MTJ's help but actions such as that show that the man had some integrity (although I'm sure some would call it stubbornness). In the 1990s, Mitsuji worked freelance creating games such as Magical Puzzle: Poplis for Game Gear in 1991.

According to a video that was packaged with the game collection Taito Legends (released in 2005), Mitsuji eventually had enough of being a game designer which is why he started his game design school. He said there was only a limited number of things anyone could do in their lifetime so he'd rather be a person that plants trees rather than being a tree.



With respect to his inspiration in the design of Bubble Bobble, he mentions a couple of things:
  1. Bubbles: According to Mitsuji, the bubble is an intuitive visual cue to convey a fun element and popping them all at once triggers thrills and exhilaration. It definitely made the game unique.
  2. Cute characters and Co-op: Co-op play was nothing new in the 80s but playing co-operatively was crucial in a game like Bubble Bobble if you wanted to achieve the best ending. There was another reason Mitsuji wanted the focus to be on co-op play; he wanted to see couples playing the game since women at Japanese arcades during the 80s was a rarity. Mitsuji thought that the co-op play complemented with cute characters, would entice more women to play arcade games.

So, a possible reason for Bubble Bobble's success was that it tapped into the other 50% of the market - something Will Wright was able to achieve with The Sims (and we know how successful that franchise is). Nice going Mitsuji-san.

Unfortunately, there is a sad ending to this post because according to several online posts (this being one of the main ones) Fukio Mitsuji passed away from a heart attack on the 11th December 2008 (which would've placed him in his 40s). Yes, I know this doesn't mean it's definitive proof but there doesn't seem to have been any news to counter the claim. If Fukio Mitsuji is truly dead though, may he R.I.P.

Time to play Bubble Bobble one more time to honour his memory...




Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Transport Tycoon composer remasters soundtrack


I highly recommend Transport Tycoon fans give the remastered tracks a listen

From previous discussions with friends of mine, Transport Tycoon is one of their favourite games of all time. Not only that, but the soundtrack was one of their favourites too, as quirky as the MIDI sounds today. So even though this news is pretty old (about a week) I thought it'd be too good not to share: John Broomhall has remastered all the old tracks from the Transport Tycoon soundtrack using live instruments!

According to website Develop, the remastered soundtrack is known as "Transport Tycoon - The 2014 Sessions" with 22 tracks all up, re-arranged and re-recorded by John Broomhall and the "TT Band"

It's a pity that only the new mobile version of the game (on Android and iOS) receives this glorious remaster of the soundtrack. If only there was a new, remastered PC version of Transport Tycoon *hint* *hint* ;). Anyway, let's hope that John Broomhall gets around to releasing a DRM-free version of the soundtrack so those of us without the mobile version of the game can also enjoy the remastered blues, funk and jazz :).

Until that time, check out the awesome excerpts from John Broomhall's Soundcloud page.

[SOURCE: Develop - John Broomhall remasters Transport Tycoon soundtrack ]

Monday, June 23, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #136 - Space Quest I (VGA) - Closing Scenes


Composed by: Ken Allen

It's once again Video Game Music Monday so here we have the final track that I will feature from the delightful Space Quest I (VGA) soundtrack by Ken Allen. It's also the final track you'll hear in the game as it plays during the closing scenes. Once again I'm picking up a very Star Wars vibe to this whole arrangement, and why not? It's only one of the greatest sci-fi franchises ever created :). Like every good closing medley, it also incorporates many tracks from earlier in the game, even Space Questin'!

Special thanks to Quest Studios for making these tracks available for all Sierra fans to enjoy.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Flashback (2013) Review


All we need now is some Vangelis...

  • Developer: VectorCell
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Release Date: 2 October 2013
  • Time played: 6 hours

I never played the original Flashback so when I saw there was a re-imagined successor to the game I thought I'd give it a whirl. I was a fan of Another World (also called "Out of this World" by you crazy Yanks) you see, and Flashback shared two things in common with this game:

  1. They were both developed by Delphine Software
  2. They were both cinematic platformers that employed rotoscoping for animations

Fans of the original will be pleased to note that you can actually play the original Flashback in this game but sadly, you'll have to put up with an annoyingly small virtual arcade cabinet in order to play it. Why couldn't they just give you the original Flashback in fullscreen (even if it were still at a low resolution)? Things that make you go hmmm...

So take note, I'm playing from the perspective of someone who has never played the original which usually means I will be more forgiving of the game's differences to the original (since I don't know what those differences are). In other words, I'm reviewing Flashback 2013 for what it is: a 2013 platformer.

Plot (3/5)
You play the role of a man named Conrad B. Hart who is suffering from amnesia. At the beginning of the game you escape some cyborgs while riding a jetbike but unfortunately end up crashing in a jungle on the planet Titan. You eventually discover fragments of memory as you progress through the game and the more you learn about your past, the more you discover how bleak the future is for mankind.

So it's your typical pulp science fiction fare where you have to save the known universe with laser gun in hand. There are, however, quite a few plot holes and the plot seems to travel at a breakneck pace. Sometimes the reasons for doing certain quests seem superficial since they definitely don't seem logical. No matter, Conrad obediently agrees doing the tasks anyway, whether you like it or not. Suffice to say, this is one story I'll likely soon forget.

Gameplay (3/5)
This is your typical platformer where you're able to run around the world and climb or fall off platforms. You're also able to use a gun to dispatch enemies, destroy some obstacles or trigger certain devices. Later on you're able to use a teleporter in order to get around and using the teleporter in order to reach certain areas is actually one of the more satisfying parts of the game. Combat is generally straight forward but can become a bit tedious for later enemies when you have to employ the "Fable tactic" in order to defeat your enemies. What do I mean by "Fable tactic"? Well, when I played the original Fable, I recall that combat would often involve rolling around the ground to dodge enemy attacks 90% of the time, with only 10% spent on actually attacking the enemy. It's a similar affair in this later on which can get a bit tedious.

Sound (2/5)
The game is unfortunately plagued with poor voice acting coupled with lame scripts. This means you'll often hear the emphasis placed on wrong words and the uttering of some really stupid words like "awesome-sauce". Surely you can't be serious?

(I am serious and stop calling me Shirley).

Music (3/5)
The game doesn't have any particularly memorable music and it doesn't play most of the time - usually only during action sequences.

Graphics (4/5)
If there's one thing good to be said about Flashback it would have to be the graphics. They're some of the best I've seen in a platformer and are actually good enough to be used during the game's cutscenes. I particularly like the cyberpunk city backdrops you get to visit later on in the game.

Replay (2/5)
I finished the game once and took me about 6 hours to complete. There isn't much incentive to go play the game again unless you want to try and get more UPlay achievements.

Polish (4/5)
Generally the game seems rather well polished except for the fact you have to play through a second level of DRM, namely UPlay - however this is a problem with all Ubisoft games not just this one.

Score – 6/10

If you don't mind setting up a UPlay account and playing through two levels of DRM, Flashback is not a bad platformer. The game has good graphics and some entertaining segments but a meaningless plot, hammy voice acting and an unlikeable protagonist. To me, this means it'll never be anything more than an "okay" game.

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

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

[ LINK: Official Flashback website]


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Second Leader revealed for Civilization: Beyond Earth


She looks like someone you don't want to mess with

Earlier this month, the first leader out of eight was revealed for Firaxis's upcoming game Civilization: Beyond Earth. Suzanne Marjorie Fielding of American Reclamation Corporation (ARC) appears to be the Western, capitalist, corporate faction and now we have Daoming Sochau of the Pan-Asian Collective (PAC), an organisation that is a successor to the People's Republic of China (and assumably its allies/satellite states). The PAC seems to have senior officials that value harmony and political stability, thinking that colonising a new planet would endanger the status quo, however Daoming Sochau thinks different. She believes the risk is worth it lest China... I mean PAC falls behind.

Here's a theory for you - what if these eight factions are meant to have analogues to the seven factions in Alpha Centauri? So if we've already got a CEO Nwabudike Morgan (Suzanne Fielding) and a Chairman Shen-ji Yang (Daoming Sochau) then maybe the remaining faction leaders might be similar to the following:

  • Corazon Santiago's Spartan Federation (militarists)
  • Lady Deidre Skye's Gaia's Stepdaughters (environmentalists)
  • Academician Prokhor Zakharov's University of Planet (scientists)
  • Commissioner Pravin Lal's UN Peacekeepers (democrats)
  • Sister Miriam Godwinson's Lord's Believers (religious fundamentalists)

I could definitely see a Deidre Skye faction working hand-in-hand with the Harmony affinity, so there's a good bet we might see a similar faction in Beyond Earth.

[ LINK: Civilization: Beyond Earth - The Story Behind PAC Leader Daoming Sochau ]

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Stanley Parable Review


It's a picture of a game menu... inside a game menu... inside a game menu... inside...

  • Developer: Galactic Cafe
  • Publisher: Galactic Cafe
  • Release Date: 17 October 2013
  • Time played: 1.5 hours

If I recall correctly, I was curious about The Stanley Parable when it was first released because there was already a lot of positive buzz about it - not to mention the game's description on Steam was very cryptic, not actually giving much detail on what the game was all about. Consequently, thanks to the generosity of my brother (thanks bro!) I managed to secure a copy and so I could sate my curiosity!

Plot (3/5)
In the game you play the role of Stanley, occupant of office room 427 and an employee who has the mind-numbing task of punching keys on your keyboard when instructed to. One day something inexplicable occurs: You stop receiving the commands and everyone in your office is gone. The narrator tells you that it's now up to you to solve the mystery.

There isn't really much else to the plot as even if you finish the game (with the "true" ending), the plot still remains quite vague but I think this was done intentionally so. If you're the forgiving sort you'd say this was for artistic purposes but the more cynical might say it's because the game lacks any substance. Even if you sit in the cynical camp though, you've got to give credit to the fact that the plot is an open slate and although the Narrator is dictating your actions, whether you choose to follow them or not is your own choice, and often disregarding them tends to have humourous consequences. I won't go into all the details since indeed, the game is terribly short, but suffice to say I really dig the comedic writing style which reminds me of books I've read by the late Douglas Adams (namely, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

Gameplay (4/5)
This game, like Dear Esther, Thirty Flights of Loving and Gone Home, are what most gamers nowadays would describe as "walking simulators". There isn't actually much gameplay to be honest besides walking around and interacting with objects. I find it better than other walking simulators though since unlike the ones I've previously played where further exploration would reveal extra dialogue or information, in The Stanley Parable, you actually get to choose which path the story takes, quite literally. This results in a branching narrative and even multiple endings, similar to many games in the visual novel genre. Some of the most entertaining parts of the game are when the Narrator breaks the fourth wall (which he does frequently) to scold you for ruining his story or even berate you at your futile attempts on earning a Steam achievement: it's moments like these when you almost think the Narrator can read your thoughts (no mean feat)! I won't say much more, since that's part of the fun in the game: exploring and then watching what hilarious or profound scenario unfolds.

Sound (4/5)
Sound effects are minimal but there is some great narration by veteran British voice talent, Kevan Brighting. His narration is performed admirably and it's done in a similar vein to Stephen Fry.

Music (4/5)
The game has an eclectic mix of music for its soundtrack which suits the game since it defies any typical game genre. It contains a mix of 50s advertisement music (similar to stuff you'd listen to in The Sims) along with mysterious classical music, a comical march and even a secret disco track.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics uses the Source engine so occasionally when you go up close to items, they look kind of blocky; besides that though, no complaints about the graphics.

Replay (3/5)
The game has slightly better replay than your typical walking simulator due to the very nature of the game. Thankfully the game has multiple endings to discover but note that it took me three playthroughs before I managed to clock one hour of gameplay - so this is a very short game. It's also worthwhile noting that there are some intriguing achievements to acquire - some that are seemingly impossible or requiring a great deal of effort.

Polish (5/5)
Nothing to report in terms of bugs and the controls are pretty simple to get used to for any FPS or PC gamer.

Score – 7/10

I'm not usually a big fan of the genre known as "walking simulators" but The Stanley Parable, despite it's short length, has won me over thanks to its hilarious Douglas Adams style of writing with several laugh-out-loud moments. The game also plays a bit like a first person version of a visual novel, which means multiple endings aplenty.

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

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

[ LINK: Official The Stanley Parable website]

Thursday, June 19, 2014

First Impressions - Skyborn


That's some pretty skimpy battle armour you're talking about

I'm not usually a big fan of JRPGs but I had a superb experience playing the game To the Moon which on first appearance looks like a JRPG but won me over for three reasons:
  1. It is actually an adventure game (point 'n' click adventures being one of my favourite genres)
  2. It isn't set in your usual fantasy world like most JRPGs are
  3. It was developed using RPG Maker
The fact that such a beautiful game could be developed using the game development tool RPG Maker and pull it off even though it looked like a JRPG made me reassess my opinions on them. If there ever was another JRPG to be released that manage to have a good story, a different setting and happened to be developed by RPG Maker, I wanted to give it a chance. So a most generous Steam friend of mine (thanks again Mix-Master) was handing away some spare keys the other day and Skyborn was one of the games on the list. Curiosity got the better of me and I just had to give it a shot :).

What I like

  • Tries to be different than your usual JRPG: There are a few things here that differentiates it from other JRPGs. Firstly, it has a Steampunk setting which is a rarely used setting in this sort of game. Skyborn also contains a crafting system for weapons and armour (similar to Diablo in a way) which means you at least get a bit more customisation of the party besides simply buying weapons and armour at the shop. The combat also involves a "Threat" system which is akin to the "aggro" concept from MMOs (i.e. AI tends to attack characters they deem as a threat first)
  • Intriguing plot: There are some cringe-worthy moments but overall the plot is reasonably well done and so far I'm liking the sub-plot involving the "half-breed" Skyborn; their apparent alienation by both humans and Skyborn shows a certain sense of maturity and empathy by the scriptwriter.

What I don't like

  • Still a JRPG: JRPGs to me suffer from two-dimensional characters or brooding teenagers for your party. They also tend to have linear narratives and limited character customisation (in terms of skill upgrades or appearance). Skyborn hasn't really changed this view except its characters do break the mould somewhat.
  • Save system: While it's good that the game allows you to save games whenever you want to, you seem to be limited by only four save game slots. I'm not sure if this is a limitation imposed by RPG Maker but it's already resulted in me losing a lot of progress because I didn't manage to save at the right spot, mainly because I was worried about saving too often.
  • Price: Okay the game isn't exactly expensive, it's only $15, but considering there's some fierce competition out there from other retro games (e.g. the Heroine's Quest which is absolutely free), it's a hard sell.

Verdict

The game is okay and it does do a bit more to a genre that isn't exactly one of my favourites. However, it remains to be seen if the plot holds up right to the end since only then will I be able to make my final decision on this game's worth. So far, so good though.

[ LINK: Official Skyborn website ]


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Impressions - Heroine's Quest


Quest for Glory fans will be familiar with this setup

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Quest for Glory series, an old Sierra point 'n' click adventure/RPG hybrid series created by Lori and Corey Cole. I've backed their Kickstarter, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, and even made a tribute video to the game which I submitted to a GOG competition:



So when I cam across the news that a developer I've never heard of before called Crystal Shard had released a game called Heroine's Quest on Steam and that it was absolutely free, I did not hesitate to download it and give it a shot.

What I like

  • For the Quest for Glory fans: This is a game by Quest for Glory fans, for Quest for Glory fans. There are just so many references to the series with respect to the gameplay, the plot and the setting. There are even several Easter Eggs related to Quest for Glory (and Sierra games in general). If you played point 'n' click adventures in the 80s and 90s, you'll love this game.
  • Expands on Quest for Glory: But wait, there's more! Not content to just make a clone of Quest for Glory, there have been some enhancements, such as the fact villagers actually go about their lives throughout the day (a bit like Skyrim). You also have two towns to explore instead of just one like you did in the original Quest for Glory. I've probably missed a few things but those are a couple of improvements.
  • Price: You can't complain about the price since it's absolutely free. The Crystal Shard also have many other free games on their website but understandably, this seems to be one of their most polished ones.

What I don't like

  • Unforgiving at times: While the game is easier and more user friendly than old Sierra point 'n' click adventures (e.g. map with objectives, even hints if you talk with townsfolk) you're still able to get stuck on occasion and there won't be any indication you're going about things the wrong way (e.g. I spent several hours trying to solve puzzle but found out after reading a walkthrough that I didn't need to solve the puzzle completely in order for it to work - it would've been handy if there was some notification after moving the tiles in place that something happened). Also you can sometimes give away crucial items and never get them back. Nothing new to Sierra fans but it's weird that on one hand the game is more forgiving yet on the other, it's as if you're playing a game from 20 years ago.
  • Poor voice acting: Some of the voice acting seems a bit off or monotone but hey that's to be expected from an indie development house I guess. A certain thief in the game however has a particularly annoying accent and I'm not sure if it was exactly intentional or not.

Verdict

Let me start by saying this game isn't for everybody. If you're not open to unforgiving retro games or low-res graphics, you're not going to like Heroine's Quest. Otherwise, I think from what I've seen so far that this is a fitting tribute to the Quest for Glory series and it's fun for exactly the same reasons.

[ LINK: Official Heroine's Quest website ]

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First Impressions - Watch_Dogs


Admiring the Chicago skyline

Ah Watch_Dogs. It's been at the centre of much controversy hasn't it? If the Steam reviews are anything to go by you definitely shouldn't be buying this game right?

Hey at least they wrote entertaining negative reviews :)

Yes I'm aware of the controversy surrounding the early trailers they had of the game and how the graphics don't look as good, now we have the final game. To be honest though, this doesn't bother me too much. Provided the graphics are passable, the gameplay is what's important. I'm running Watch_Dogs on Medium settings and it does the job. So the only thing that bothers me are the ethics revolving around displaying a trailer which advertises "actual gameplay" when it in fact isn't (or at least won't be included).

I've managed to sink over 15 hours already into Watch_Dogs though and I haven't finished Act 1. Admittedly, I am getting to the stage now where I just want to get on with the story but considering it took me this many hours of stuffing around in Chicago to get to this point is saying something for this game, since I don't normally waste much time with sandbox GTA games or its clones.

What I like

  • Chicago: This is the real star of the show, the city of Chicago. I love games where you get to explore real life locations, probably why I picked up games like Test Drive Unlimited 2 or Sleeping Dogs in the past. Yes, some of the locations are fictional in the game (although they're usually based off a real life location) and it's not an exact copy street-by-street, but it's close enough. They even have achievements you can gain from visiting several city hotspots (with bits of tourist information to boot)
  • Neat mini-games: One thing I didn't like about games such as GTA were that the mini-games didn't interest me. Don't get me wrong, they went to a lot of effort to make their bowling or pool mini-games as realistic as possible, but they're not the sort of games that interest me. Besides the obligatory car races, in Watch_Dogs you have games such as the shell game (i.e. pick the ball from three shuffled cups), a drinking game, Texas Hold 'Em and (my favourite) chess. Yes, you can actually play chess in Watch_Dogs, although from what I've seen so far they're only in the form of chess challenges but they do test your logic and that to me makes chess the perfect fit for a game that at least advertises itself as a thinking man's sandbox shooter. You also get hacking mini-games (obviously) for many of the puzzles which I also enjoy. Not only that but there's a whole bunch of online mini-games you can get involved with too that are seamlessly integrated with the single player experience, such as playing hide-and-seek with another player while trying to hack their phone. Admittedly, this isn't everyone's cup of tea and it can get annoying at times so at least there's an option to turn it off.
  • Immersion: I think they've done a good job to hook me into believing this is a living, breathing Chicago - at least for now. The ability to read people's messages, check out their secrets, spy on their homes, channels the inner voyeur that exists in all of us. Ubisoft manages to achieve a sense of immersion on a visual level too, filling streets in the distance with car sprites to simulate traffic instead of empty streets which looks especially impressive at night.
  • Not exactly the bad guy: Maybe this is just me but I find it hard playing the bad guy and this might be the problem I had with playing games like GTA or Saint's Row where you're one by default. Basically it gives you a carte blanche for wanton violence without any consequences. While you get a lot of freedom in games such as Sleeping Dogs and Watch_Dogs, there are ramifications to criminal behaviour since in one you're an undercover cop and the other you're a vigilante seeking justice. So it seems I like the game to have a purpose, a mission, a goal that isn't a selfish one. Either that or I just like games with "Dogs" in the name.

I can see cleaaarly now the stairs have gone...

What I don't like

  • Bugs: There are quite a few bugs in this game. Visual bugs (like missing staircases), audio glitches and then more serious ones which prevented me from even getting past the introduction thanks to a BSOD. The fix was to install the most recent ATI drivers which seems to have fixed the issue but now I get occasional BSODs on my desktop - so maybe not entirely Ubisoft's fault.
  • UPlay: Hooray for having to run another Always-Online DRM system in order to play your games. I now have three of these (Steam, Origin and UPlay). Thankfully, I only have three games on UPlay and it hasn't given me too much grief so far but wouldn't it be nice if the world was DRM-free?
  • Mission locks: I can see the reasons for doing this but locking you out from doing anything else once you've started some missions means it's actually quite dangerous to start one if you're not prepared. Imagine the situation where you haven't levelled your skills enough or brought enough ammunition for a mission yet every time you die, it restarts at the beginning of the mission. This means once you start a mission you have to make it through with the resources given to you - otherwise, you'll have to start the game again. At least that's how I think it works, and if it is, I'm not a big fan.

Verdict

I have to admit that despite the many negative comments I've been hearing about Watch_Dogs, I've actually had quite some fun with the game already - that's provided you can get the game running of course. I don't think it's going to be one of those games I'd come back to replay again (at least not from what I've seen just yet) but I think I'll be getting my money's worth.

[LINK: Official Watch_Dogs website]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #135 - Space Quest I (VGA) - The Rocket Bar 2 - ZZ Top


Composed by: Ken Allen

So there I was the other day, thinking to myself: "Self, as much as you love awesome VGM, and as much as your devoted readers love awesome VGM, might want to go a bit easy on it and stop barraging them with VGM posts every two days hey?" Whoever thought that is probably a bit of a Scrooge but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing so I've decided to limit the VGM posts to Mondays so it can henceforth be known as (Video Game) Music Monday!

Anyway, back to our regular viewing, here we have another track from the Space Quest 1 (VGA) soundtrack, again set in the Rocket Bar. This is the track that plays when the band that looks suspiciously like ZZ Top play. It's a pretty rockin' track aka Space Questin', and hopefully one Ken Allen will still manage to include on his Kickstarter project, if he ever gets around to it considering his current work on SpaceVenture...

Special thanks to Quest Studios for making these tracks available for all Sierra fans to enjoy.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

First Impressions - Battlefield Hardline Beta

Biggest highlight: Driving a squad car and getting to play with the siren! Wheee-ooo Whee-ooo Wheee-ooo Whee-ooo

So there I was one day, logging into Origin to play a bit of BF4 when a window popped up giving me the opportunity to sign up for the Battlefield Hardline beta. While I don't usually like betas I had heard about this new Battlefield game of cops and robbers, and I received the news with skepticism. How on Earth could they make a Battlefield game with police versus criminals? Wouldn't it just be Counter-Strike with vehicles? How different or similar is the game to Battlefield 4? Curiosity got the better of me so I signed up and within a couple of days I was granted access! So if you're curious to see what I think is good and bad about the game so far, read on...

What I like

  • Atmosphere: They've really done a good job with the atmosphere and there's nothing quite like the distant sound of wailing sirens, increasing in volume, as the police squad cars near your gang of thieves - or a police chopper's loudspeaker blaring, ordering you to lay down your weapons. However, this is one of the strengths of the Battlefield series so I wouldn't have expected any less.
  • Music: It's refreshing to have a different style of music for a Battlefield game, similar to what DICE accomplished with the Battlefield Vietnam games. Hardline's soundtrack consists of hard rock and the sort of music you'd expect from an action movie involving cops and robbers.
  • No jets: Like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam, there are thankfully no jets in the game, the only aerial threats being choppers which thankfully can be shot down with small arms fire.
  • Choice of weapon unlocks: Unlike Battlefield 4 where you unlock guns in a linear fashion you can choose which weapons to unlock first provided you have enough cash.
  • At least the killcam works: Just saying. How come Battlefield Hardline's killcam works yet there are still issues with it in BF4?

What I don't like

  • Copy and paste: The game copies quite a bit from Battlefield 4. It's clear the same engine is in use but not only that, even the same classes! You've got the Operator that can heal or revive teammates (i.e. Medic/Assault), the Mechanic that can repair vehicles and shoot rockets (i.e. Engineer), the Enforcer who can drop ammo packs (i.e. Support) and the Professional who can use sniper rifles and lay trip mines (i.e. Recon). But wait, there's more! Half of the guns in the game are very similar as well although it's probably a bit harder to get fix that (considering how many guns are available in BF4). The game even manages to copy some concepts from its competitors such as Counter-Strike where you use cash earned in order to purchase new weapons (although it seems that purchasing weapons is actually unlocking weapons for future use - instead of a once-off use as is the case with Counter-Strike).
  • Unrealistic: There are several things here you just wouldn't expect in a game of cops versus robbers - things that make it seem less realistic (and hence not as immersive). For example, there's one mode called Blood Money where both the cops and the criminals have to steal money from a pile and take it back to their base. Makes sense with the criminals, but not really with the cops. Yes, they try to get around that saying the cops are taking the money for "evidence" but who are they kidding ;)? Also what's with the ability to use military hardware like Stinger missiles? And why does everyone have a parachute (admittedly, why does everyone have a parachute in Battlefield 4 while we're at it)? Why are there medics and mechanics in the field? True, there needs to be a balance between realism and gameplay but this is getting a bit ridiculous and is probably just laziness (read "Copy and Paste").
  • Price: Criticisms aside, the game is still pretty fun but the biggest disappointment about this game is the price. When the DLC Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam was released, it only cost $15 and like Battlefield Hardline it contained a re-skin of the troops, different audio, different weapons, different vehicles and different maps. However, Battlefield Hardline will cost you $80 for what basically feels like a BF4 DLC. How can they justify this?

Verdict

The atmosphere is great and the gameplay is fun if you can set aside how ridiculous it is for cops and robbers to be so heavily armed to the teeth. However, I cannot bring myself to pay the $80 they are asking for this game when it's basically DLC for Battlefield 4. Maybe if it goes down in price to under $20 I would reconsider but then you'd have to ask yourself one question with respect to how many players will be playing the game: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

[LINK: Official Battlefield Hardline website]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Shivah Soundtrack Review

  • Name: The Shivah OST
  • Label: Peter Gresser
  • Composer(s): Peter Gresser
  • Number of Tracks: 14

As mentioned before, I got this interesting point 'n' click adventure called The Shivah not too long ago where you play the role of a rabbi investigating a murder case, thanks to the good fellows on GOG. Another awesome thing about GOG versions of games is that you often get free soundtracks bundled with them and this was the case with The Shivah, hence this soundtrack review you are now reading!

The album is almost exclusively a jazz affair which suits the game perfectly, considering this game has a very film noir feel to it, with the exception of the private investigator being replaced with a rabbi. Peter Gresser has done a great job here and there aren't any filler tracks that come to my mind (you know, the sort that is ambient or doesn't seem like much effort was taken to create a serviceable theme or melody), however a lot of the tracks start to blend and mesh into one when you have a listen to them, with the exception of my favourites, namely Stone's Office (I love the Jewish sounding clarinet) and Zelig (only because it channels some of the vibe from Stone's Office)

Score - 6/10

Overall, Peter Gresser has created a really suitable soundtrack for the rabbi murder mystery game of The Shivah. Would it be something that I would listen to frequently on my playlist? Probably not but if you like a bit of moody jazz, this soundtrack will be right up your alley.


There are quite a few ways you can grab this album: either via online music stores such as iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Amazon, or free if you purchase the game off GOG for $5.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

First Impressions - GameMaker: Studio


GameMaker: Studio's tutorial game: Catch the Clown

Yes I'm a big sucker for Steam sales but if there's something I get even more excited about when it's on sale it would have to be game development tools. Somehow I'm always lulled into thinking that if I happen to own all these resources maybe the awesome game ideas in my head will magically become reality! Of course, you've got to actually work hard to make your games come reality yet here I am with several programs for game creation and nothing to show for it - at least not yet. Which tools am I taking about? Namely Multimedia Fusion 2, RPG Maker VX Ace (stay tuned for my first impressions on this one) and GameMaker: Studio. I've also dabbled a bit with Ren'Py and Adventure Game Studio but thankfully these tools are free, unlike the first three I mentioned. Why does that matter? Because I'd like to make some money from these game development tools so I can recoup their costs :P!

Admittedly I didn't spend much on the tools and I in fact managed to get GameMaker: Studio on sale for under $50 - actually I think it was more like $25 but I can't recall the exact price - whatever the case, still a bargain in my eyes, especially when you consider some pretty awesome and commercially successful games were made with GameMaker: Studio such as Gunpoint, Hotline Miami, Cook Serve, Delicious! and Spelunky to name a few. Also like Multimedia Fusion 2 and RPG Maker, GameMaker has been around for quite some time now with the first version of it being released in 1999, making all of these tools well established in the gaming community.

Like Clickteam's Fusion series, there are actually several versions of GameMaker: Studio available with differing levels of functionality (depending on how much moolah you're willing to spend). Also like Clickteam, YoYo Games (the developer of GameMaker) charge a pretty penny for any export modules you wish to add (i.e. software used to export your game onto other platforms besides Microsoft Windows). It's actually a bit confusing since apparently GameMaker: Studio is free on Steam at the moment but it says I only have that version, even though I purchased what I believe to be GameMaker: Studio Standard.

I've had a quick dabble with GameMaker: Studio's first tutorial, checked out some of the games developed by it and had a look at some of their community help pages. This is what I've gathered.

What I like

  • Quick and easy to make basic games: I spent a couple of hours with the tutorial and that was all I needed to get a basic game. True all the art and audio assets were already there for me to use but this means you can make a basic game very quickly.
  • Price: Apparently you can now get GameMaker: Studio free but you're required to show the GameMaker splash screen at the beginning - so not bad if you want to give it a shot but you'll have to invest some cash in purchasing the real deal if you want to create games professionally
  • Potential for many genres of games: Just like Multimedia Fusion 2, it seems like you can make many sorts of games with GameMaker although the predominant genre by far is platformers (followed by SHMUPs and puzzle games)
  • GameMaker games have already done very well commercially: In fact I believe they've probably done even better than commercial Multimedia Fusion 2 games (as mentioned, Gunpoint, Hotline Miami, Cook, Serve, Delicious! and Spelunky were all made with GameMaker) - I'm not sure why this is because both seem very similar in their capabilities and Clickteam has been around slightly longer.
  • Can export to Mac OS X and Windows 8 too: I think this is the advantage of the version I bought over Steam which is the GameMaker: Studio Standard Edition. Can't be sure though since it technically says I can still buy a copy of it! From what I've read on the GameMaker: Studio site though, the free version only has export to Microsoft Windows
  • More options when importing audio files: Importing audio files allows you to specify whether it's compressed or uncompressed and gives you a couple of other options too. If this is the case when importing other files too this is definitely a welcome feature. Note that GameMaker: Studio appears to prefer MP3s over OGGs (which is what Multimedia Fusion 2 uses).
  • Professional User Interface: Multimedia Fusion 2's interface looks like something knocked up in the 90s while GameMaker: Studio's looks more professional and has a more-or-less logical placement of various tools and windows. However, to be fair I haven't used Clickteam Fusion 2.5 which is the latest tool to be distributed by Clickteam.

What I don't like

  • Expensive to continue development: If you want to export games into other platforms it's going to cost you a pretty penny, so you'd better be damn sure you'll recoup your costs :).
  • Tutorial isn't idiot-proof: I actually made some mistakes in the tutorial and it took quite awhile to find the reason why. It was also hard to read at parts due to several typos (not very professional). While on the topic of tutorials, I found it difficult to discover good tutorials or well-organised repositories of them with GameMaker when compared to Mutimedia Fusion 2. Perhaps Clickteam have a more cohesive community or are just more active in the community, but that's only a very early speculation.
  • Seems more reliant on coding than dragging-and-dropping: When using Multimedia Fusion 2 I could accomplish everything I wanted to do in the early tutorials without needing to do any coding/scripting. In the very first tutorial for GameMaker: Studio I had to use a keyword that represented an in-built GameMaker variable in order to turn the sprite in the correct direction. Not a biggie but from what I've also read online it seems that GameMaker is a lot more reliant on in its native scripting language GML for more powerful functionality. Moreso than Multimedia Fusion 2. This is fine if you're prepared to learn a whole new scripting language but not good for those who dislike scripting or are quite happy with the 20 programming languages they already have stored in their head.

Verdict

Just like Multimedia Fusion 2, GameMaker: Studio seems ideal in making small, 2D, action/arcade indie games for Windows (and Mac OS X) quickly. It's already got several commercially successful examples to prove its abilities. Creating anything more complex though may require some investment in learning its native scripting language GML.

Oh and for those of you asking if it's better than Multimedia Fusion 2? Unfortunately, I have to sit on the fence. They are both, at first glance, very similar in what they're capable of although I think it may boil down to whether you're comfortable with scripting to expand the functionality of your game or not. If the answer is yes, GameMaker may be your best bet otherwise stick with Multimedia Fusion 2.

[LINK: Official GameMaker: Studio website]

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Battlefield 4 Review


Graphics are definitely pretty in the Battlefield games

  • Developer: DICE
  • Publisher: EA
  • Release Date: 29 October 2013
  • Time played: 250+ hours

I'd like to think I'm a bit of a veteran when it comes to the Battlefield games, at least with respect to the PC releases. While I haven't played the original Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2142, I have played Battlefield 2, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 and now the latest from DICE and EA, Battlefield 4. Let me say from the start that Battlefield 2 remains my favourite game in the franchise because of the way it encouraged teamplay, had clearly defined roles for each class, limited ammo, no health regeneration and limited weapon options. Of course, one of the biggest features of Battlefield 2 was Commander Mode which returned in its sequel Battlefield 2142 but went AWOL for several years after that - AWOL until now. One of the most exciting features of Battlefield 4 leading up to its release was the announcement of Commander Mode being reintroduced to the game which probably caused many a BF2 veteran to rejoice (myself included). However, Battlefield 2 was released almost a decade ago and Trauma Studios, the development studio behind BF2 and its precursor, the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942, were sacked shortly before BF2 was released (another one of EA's low moments). There was always some doubt on how true to the original formula Commander Mode would be and whether it could even work if BF4's gameplay ended up adopting the many changes to Battlefield introduced in each iteration.

Plot (3/5)
Just like the Battlefield games of recent years, Battlefield 4 has a single player campaign. I still don't know why they insist on having a single player campaign in the Battlefield games since multi player is what most players really want to play. Okay I take that back, of course I know why they added single player, to compete with the Call of Duty franchise of course - although competing with this franchise may soon become a non-issue the way it's heading.

Anyway, the game is set shortly after the events that transpired in Battlefield 3 (so yes, they're both set in the same fictional universe) and you play the role of a US marine called Recker who is part of a fire team codenamed "Tombstone". You soon discover that there is a rogue Chinese general wanting to stir up trouble and it's up to you and your mates on the USS Valkyrie to stop him. As you can see, this is how they're able to tie-in China as one of the playable sides in multiplayer again. I won't reveal too much more about the plot suffice to say that it's exactly like any other single player campaign to grace a Battlefield game: your stock, no-brainer action film fare. In fact, BF4's might be slightly worse since you don't have the humour that existed in Bad Company 2 and the characters are even less memorable than in Battlefield 3. At least in the previous games your character actually talks since you receive the Gordon Freeman treatment in this one, i.e. the silent protagonist. While I'm not totally against having a silent protagonist it doesn't really work in a game where you're meant to play a commanding officer. Every time a teammate asks you a question to only receive silence as a response, they end up making a decision for you which seems like they're undermining your authority.

Gameplay (4/5)
I'm going to assume you know about BF3's gameplay since I'm going to be making comparisons between this game and its predecessor. Basically, the gameplay is very similar. Most of the weapons are the same, most of the vehicles are the same with the exception of many Chinese weapons and vehicles (obviously). While on the topic of weapons, I am disappointed that each side has the same starter weapons, i.e. a Singaporean light machine gun, a Chinese sniper rifle, a Russian assault rifle and an Italian sub-machine gun. At least BF3 had faction-specific starter weapons which made more sense. Now everyone has access to every weapon which for me lowers the immersion factor a bit. And while on the topic of everyone having access to every weapon, this is another pet hate of mine with BF4. Now every class has access to carbines and Designated Marksman Rifles (DMRs). So now it's possible to have super-classes roaming around where you're able to repair vehicles, demolish tanks and snipe infantry. There's also way too many unlocks for my liking, so much so that some weapons and grips are almost identical in terms of handling - the only difference being their appearance. This means less dependency on your fellow teammates and as a result less teamwork - something I wish there was more of in Battlefield since it was definitely more prevalent in the days of BF2.

Commander Mode returns in BF4 although it's quite a bit different

One good thing about BF4 is the reintroduction of Commander Mode. I've see-sawed a bit concerning my opinion on BF4's Commander Mode but in my defence, they've actually tweaked the ability a bit over the past several months. At first, I was excited that Commander Mode was making a return but when I tried it out, it didn't feel as good as BF2. The Commander has no ability to individually spot units anymore, he's not an actual soldier on the field, his assets (such as the UAV scan) aren't physical structures that can be destroyed and gone are the artillery strikes. VOIP communications is also done on a squad-by-squad basis instead of it being broadcasted to all squad leaders. At first, I thought it really sucked because I didn't feel like I was as helpful to the team as I was in BF2 (your team really relied on the Commander for surveillance and support in BF2) . This is partially because Battlefield has changed quite considerably since the BF2 days. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Battlefield now has unlimited ammo (at least with vehicles), health regeneration (on Normal mode) and less classes, which means less dependence on others and the Commander. Also since there was no physical presence of assets you couldn't have cool spec op missions to destroy enemy bases like you used to in BF2. Finally, you also don't have any offensive capabilities by default (i.e. artillery in BF2) meaning your team has to secure a flag in order for you to be able to deploy a gunship or cruise missile.

A few patches later and some more time played as Commander though, I started to appreciate some of the design decisions made. Tying flag control to control of assets wasn't the same as BF2 but it's quite a similar mechanic. I also discovered that you could actually defend your team against cruise missiles and gunships by using EMP drones which means the Commander can actually be useful besides repeating the mundane task of repeatedly deploying UAV drones. So now the only annoying thing about being Commander is the fact you can't just resign and return to your team; you have to disconnect from the server completely.

In short, BF4 is a bit like a BF3.5, except with Commander mode, which means despite the 4/5 I'm giving for gameplay it's still slightly better than BF3 in my books.


Sound (5/5)
Audio as usual is really good (when it works). Soldiers really show emotion in what they say, screaming for a medic when they're hurt or swearing their heads off when they're under fire. Unfortunately, just like BF3, there are really bad accents for the non-US sides, so prepare yourself for really poor Russian accents and Chinglish in the style of Russell Peters (like the video below):



Music (5/5)
Looking back at my previous review for Battlefield 3, I'm not quite sure why I gave it a score of 5/5 since I think BF4's Warsaw Theme is a better interpretation of the Battlefield theme than BF3's. Ultimately though, BF4 and BF3's soundtracks are very similar straddling the genres of dubstep, glitch and industrial - which work well for the action sequences in the game but it's still not exactly my favourite style of music. I much prefer classical instruments as was the case with previous Battlefield soundtracks :).

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are comparable if not slightly better than the graphics in Battlefield 3, so the graphics are pretty breathtaking, especially when observe "Levolution" first hand on maps such as Paracel Storm; on this map, a tropical storm descends on the islands later on in the game which causes a damaged ship to run aground on one of the islands. It does help to spice up the maps even if it is only a mere gimmick for some of them.

Unfortunately, for a few months after release I had "micro-stutter" issues. Basically it meant my game had huge framerate drops every second or two and it wasn't just limited to multiplayer but singleplayer as well. I went through a lot of pain to resolve the issue including rolling back drivers, lowering graphics settings, reformatting the PC, adding more sticks of RAM and even borrowing RAM for a friend to experiment. Eventually I ended up replacing my RAM with some higher quality RAM and that somehow resolved the issue. Or it might be a coincidence since around the same time, DICE rolled out a new patch - so I ultimately do not know what actually resolved the issue except it was months after the game was released before I was actually able to play the game unhindered - well almost (which I'll elaborate under the "Polish" section)

Replay (5/5)
While I experienced performance issues in the first few months, I found it a real struggle to play - so much so that I was almost resigned to the fact that I would be forever playing BF4 in Commander Mode (since having micro-stutter isn't as detrimental if there are no bullets flying into your face). Thankfully, once the micro-stutter issues went away, I was able to appreciate the game more and I have to say, even if you're not a big fan of the gameplay, you can't deny that it's addictive. Maybe it's through the cunning use of battlepacks, meaning you're always wondering what goodies you'll unwrap the next time you level. Or maybe it's because you really want to unlock every single attachment for a particular weapon. Whatever the case, despite some very frustrating games over the many months since release, I found myself coming back for more, despite myself, clocking over 250 hours of gameplay in the process. That's a lot of replay.

Polish (0/5)
I'm really disappointed with EA and DICE over how many bugs were shipped with this release. Yes, I know there are many of you saying "what do you expect? This is EA and DICE we're talking about". Well, I already had low expectations and they managed to not even meet them. In the first few months, the game was buggy as hell and had serious performance issues for me and several other players, that made the game unplayable. Now, I'm at least able to play the game but there are still occasional server connectivity issues and game crashes. Not only that but there are still underlying issues with the core gameplay as well considering DICE had to take the drastic measure of creating a Community Test Environment (CTE) due to complaints about the "netcode" and "tickrate" issues.

You'd think that EA would learn from previous debacles, like the latest SimCity launch, not to release horrendously buggy games with flawed gameplay - but it seems they never learn.

Score – 8/10

While the addition of Commander Mode is a step in the right direction, BF4 really does feel like just a BF3.5. Making soldiers generalists instead of specialists is the recurring trend here with each Battlefield release. Also you have to purchase Premium which is $140 all up (when you include the base game) if you don't want to feel like a second-class citizen. The game is also the worst launch of a Battlefield game to date, at least speaking from personal experience.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Origin or at your local retailer like EB or JB Hi-Fi.

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[ LINK: Official Battlefield 4 website]



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #134 - Space Quest I (VGA) - The Rocket Bar 1 - The Blues Brothers


Composed by: Ken Allen

After riding the skimmer to Ulence Flats in Space Quest I, you'll come across a small drinking establishment known as The Rocket Bar. While you don't really spend a huge portion of the game at this location what I loved about it were the "live acts" on stage playing pretty awesome music. Not only that but there would be one of three potential acts on the stage and they are all parodies of real groups/artists. This one comes from the group that look suspiciously like the Blues Brothers, but you could probably tell just by listening to it :).

Special thanks to Quest Studios for making these tracks available for all Sierra fans to enjoy.


Friday, June 6, 2014

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 4: In Sheep's Clothing Review

Just seconds after having surgery done on life-threatening injuries and it's straight to the booze
  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Release Date: 28 May 2014
  • Time Played: 77 minutes

It's just been under two months since the release of A Crooked Mile and now we've got the fourth episode in The Wolf Among Us to play. This one is called In Sheep's Clothing and at a mere 77 minutes of gameplay, this is the shortest episode yet.

Note that the review will read very similar to previous The Wolf Among Us reviews as not really much has changed besides the plot.

Plot (4/5)
The Wolf Among Us is set during the 1980s in New York City. Fairy tale characters (aka "Fables") now live amongst normal humans (called "mundanes") in their own immigrant neighbourhood known as "Fabletown". Some fairy tale characters, who can afford it, use "glamour" in order to disguise their true appearance from mundanes. Those that cannot afford to disguise themselves are sent to "The Farm" in rural New York. You play Bigsby Wolf aka The Big Bad Wolf, whose job is sheriff of Fabletown. Consequently it's your job to keep the peace and in this fourth episode, you finally reveal who is behind the big conspiracy and what it's all about - or so it seems.

Just as it was with the previous episodes, there appears to be a branching narrative in this game so conversations will be slightly different based on your relationships with other characters or certain clues you notice. At the end of an episode, you're also able to review whether you sit with the majority or not when it comes to pivotal choices in the game (e.g. showing compassion to a character or not).

As mentioned this episode is extremely short clocking in only slightly over an hour and you could forgive it if the story compensated but unfortunately I think all this episode manages to do is set yourselves up for the big finale which is to be episode 5. I felt that episode 4 was more of a tie-in episode between what occurred in episode 3 and what is to occur in the final episode. The episode does have its moments though even a touching moment between the unlikeliest of characters, so it's not at all bad, just short and not really heavy on any new details. There was also the re-appearance of a certain character that I found confusing since it didn't explain why he was back which felt a bit lazy to me since they obviously just wanted him there as a potential victim for an ethical dilemma you have to face.

Gameplay (3/5)
Just like The Walking Dead, and indeed previous The Wolf Among Us episodes, gameplay may seem minimal by some since it basically consists of very simple puzzles ala the adventure game genre incorporated with visual novel elements (e.g. conversations having an impact on character relationships) thrown in with a bit of Quick Time Events (QTEs) for action sequences. For those valuing gameplay over plot, you have been warned!

Like the previous episode, at one point you're given a choice of which place to investigate first - assumedly picking one over the other will have different consequences when you arrive at your next destination. Along with a couple of other decisions you can make that either re-asserts or undermines Snow White's authority, this gives the player a little bit more freedom in tailoring their own story which is always welcome.

Where's the baker and the candle-stick maker?

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting is great but that's to be expected from veteran voice actors – the only issue I had was that the audio was sometimes too loud or too soft.

Music (4/5)
The game has some moody 80s-style synth which fits the game perfectly (this is a neo-noir game set in the 80s after all). Nothing too memorable but top quality stuff all the same.

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are on par with The Walking Dead and since this game is also based on a comic book, it has incorporated a similar style. The only issues I had was the occasional framerate jumps and the occasional animation glitch.

Replay (3/5)
Just as it was in The Walking Dead, replaying The Wolf Among Us will reveal a slightly different narrative depending on the choices you make. Just as I did with the previous episodes, I tried to continue my stoic and professional approach, i.e. refraining from violence and trying to stick to the rules where I could (although I ended up bending the rules despite my best intentions).

Unlike The Walking Dead, it's slightly more difficult to get all achievements, requiring you to explore different choices I believe in order to unlock all of them (which in turn invites at least one replay).

Polish (4/5)
Unfortunately, as it's a Telltale game, it uses the most recent Telltale Tool so the interface is a very console-friendly one, not a simple point 'n' click adventure. The game also has the annoying Type 1 save system where progress is autosaved but you never know when the next save point is.

Score – 7/10

Episode Four seems to be the shortest The Wolf Among Us episode yet and feels more like a tie-in or a prelude to the big finale to the series than a fully fledged episode. However, there are a couple of touching moments in this episode that make it worthwhile.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or Telltale Games .

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