Archive for March, 2011

Meet Uncharted 3's villain. Who kinda reminds me of Helen Mirren.

The main villain of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has been revealed: a woman named Katherine Marlowe who apparently has some connection to the ring of Nate’s ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. The footage and images released at GDC feature Nate and Sully getting roughed up by some of Marlowe’s thugs. Definitely a change of pace from Uncharted 2‘s hardened war criminal villain Zoran Lazarevic.

But the important part is that Sully is back.

Source:  Joystiq

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Drizzt Dourden, probably the most famous character in the Forgotten Realms. An elf.

“Oh no, not another f***ing elf!” –Oxford English professor Hugo Dyson, interrupting J.R.R. Tolkien during an early reading of Lord of the Rings

In a little less than a week, Dragon Age 2 will release. I played the demo and enjoyed the gameplay – but as was my reaction to the original game, I couldn’t help but feel, “Well, here we go with another fantasy game.” Depending on how long you’ve been playing games, you have probably seen at least a few fantasy-themed games, to start: the Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy (try as it might, it remains squarely in the fantasy realm), Dragon Quest, World of Warcraft and Fable as far back as Ultima, Wizardry and Might and Magic. They all share the same Tolkienesque fantasy underpinnings.

An elf.

Now this is not too surprising, as the videogame RPG is directly descended from tabletop RPGs, the first, most famous and most popular of which is Dungeons & Dragons, which is typically played in a fantasy setting with many elements derived from J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Howard and Jack Vance. Indeed the first computer RPGs were created when DnD players like Richard Garriott translated their tabletop adventures to computers in the early ’80s.

An elf.

However, Dungeons & Dragons is far from the only tabletop RPG. The format has been seen in numerous games – the space opera Traveller, the Lovecraftian horror Call of Cthulhu, the dystopian comedy Paranoia, and the western themed Aces & Eights, as well as licensed games like Star Wars and Ghostbusters. There are also generic systems such as GURPS which allow you to attach whatever setting you wish to a universal ruleset. Even within DnD there are divergences from the Tolkienesque fantasy of Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms – the gothic horror world of Ravenloft, the space fantasy of Spelljammer, the post-apocalyptic Dark Sun, and the cosmic crossroads of Planescape.

An elf.

So my chief question is, why, with the notable exceptions of Fallout and Mass Effect, do we so rarely see a role-playing game that doesn’t take a page from Dungeons & Dragons as far as settings go? Well, you could point to two of BioWare’s mold-breakers, Knights of The Old Republic and Jade Empire, or MMORPGs like Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes (or recently DC Universe). However, in the case of the MMOs they still couldn’t stand up to fantasy-based games like Everquest or World of Warcraft. This leads me to ask the question: why do we seldom see roleplaying games that go outside the fantasy box?

It’s not for lack of source material, as there are certainly plenty of possibilities out there (and I for the life of me don’t know why no one has done a Mass Effect-styled take on Star Trek TNG), and as tabletop RPGs go there are rulebooks, sourcebooks and campaigns for pretty much any kind of fiction you can imagine. But as military shooters have become the norm, and zombies are popping up everywhere,  so have fantasy-based RPGs become the go-to. I suppose it probably has something to do with the financial risk involved in creating a new game (and today, new game usually means “new franchise” as well).

An elf (albeit not from an RPG).

My general groaning when I first booted up Dragon Age stemmed from the fact that, in spite of this being a “new” fantasy universe, BioWare was still rehashing the same old elves, dwarves, ogres and demons (hence the quote at Tolkien’s expense). Sure it’s bloodier and has 3D graphics, but replace the Qunari with Drow and you’ve pretty much got the Forgotten Realms setting of Baldur’s Gate. While I consider BioShock to be an inferior rehash of System Shock 2, Irrational at least had the balls to create a very original and inventive setting. I don’t see why role-playing games can’t do the same.

An elf. Needs his own game now.

A new chapter in Stardock and Ironclad Games’ Sins of A Solar Empire was announced at the Game Developers Conference today. Rather than an expansion to the original game, Sins of A Solar Empire: Rebellion is being billed as a standalone expansion and will feature loyalist and rebel factions, new types of ships and a graphical overhaul, in addition to the grand-scale galactic strategy that made the original so great.

No release date has been set, so you should have plenty of time to drop whatever it is you’re doing and pour some hours into the original (which I wholeheartedly recommend) before Rebellion releases.

Source: Sins of A Solar Empire Website

Explodemon! for PS3

Is It Pronounced Explode-demon? Or Explodey-mon?

It doesn’t really matter how you pronounce it, Explodemon! because it has hit PSN like a (avoid explosion pun) bag of hammers. From the time you start it up you’ll notice a pretty definite Mega Man influence – the titular Explodemon could almost be a palette swap of the Blue Bomber. However, unlike Mega Man‘s ability to use powers from downed enemies, Explodemon’s power is to…explode! This is the central game mechanic, and exploding is used for several purposes – jumping higher, dashing, clearing blocks and, of course, damaging your enemies. You’ll also gain a few extra powers along the way, like a slide and phase jump.

The game fits into the retro platformer mold, offering twelve levels of traps, enemies, and malevolent architecture across three planets. There are quite a few puzzles to solve, although they never seem to be much more complicated than “destroy control panel” or “move blocks”. You also fight a small variety of enemies, who all seem to be greenish alien blobs. The enemies do come in a few different sizes and colors, which seems to change the amount of hits they can take. Sometimes you have to defeat a room full of them to get through a door, and other times you’ll want to fight them to refill your explosion power meter.

The game is initially very fresh and fun, but the fun factor levels off about halfway through the game. There are some ideas that are really great and cool the first time you see them – notably redirecting missiles with your explosions – but unfortunately these get to be a bit tedious as the amount of control you have over them isn’t great, and the missile direction seems to be pretty arbitrary. Case in point – one late-game boss battle has a teleporting boss you have to hit with those redirected missiles. I spent about twenty-five minutes on said boss, and it got pretty tedious.

Going Out without a Bang

Explodemon! ReviewTedium aside, probably my biggest complaint with the game is its lack of difficulty, and its lack of optional difficulty levels. I blew through the game in about 3 1/2 hours, and didn’t find it to be very challenging. There are additional challenges like collecting a certain amount of items, but they have no discernible effect on gameplay and exist mostly as self-imposed challenges (or for trophies, if that’s your thing). The game also provides a store, if “pretty easy” isn’t easy enough. The upgrades you can buy are more conveniences than anything – making your explosions wider so you don’t have to get as close to explode something, etc.

The graphics are nice enough, although I wish they were brighter. Most of the levels are dark-hued, and for a game with an oddball anime-esque hero, you’d think they’d want brighter environs. This isn’t a major flaw so much as a letdown. The game would have benefited from bright craziness. Instead it has kind of a subdued neon aesthetic, which kind of works, but could be a lot better.

The music isn’t bad, consisting of pounding techno beats, although none of it is particularly memorable. It’s good gameplay music but you won’t find yourself humming it later.

The one place I will say the game excels is its sense of humor. There are bits of dialogue with citizens of the various planets scattered through the game, and Explodemon speaks entirely in Engrish, and most of it is laugh out loud funny. Everything he says could be an internet meme on its own. This is, to me, the thing that kept me playing to the end, to see what he’d say next.

The Final Verdict

All in all, Explodemon isn’t a bad game by any means, just one that should have been a lot better. It seems to me that Curve just wasn’t that ambitious with it. The lack of options, challenge and difficulty kills its replay value as well. It’s easy to the point that there’s little sense of accomplishment in beating it. I’d only recommend getting it if it goes on sale in the PSN store. There are plenty of funny games available on the PSN (the remastered Monkey Island games, Sam & Max, etc.) and old-school games with superior replay value and challenge (Mega Man 9-10, Scott Pilgrim). Explodemon was a nice try at something fresh yet old-fashioned that ultimately came up a little flat.

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