Archive for August, 2011

The Glorious Motherland

In the second wave of the EA catalogue, GoG.com has so far fielded both the first two Wing Commander titles and Dungeon Keeper 2. Amazingly, this news is even bigger than that, as GoG has put the first three games in Richard “Lord British” Garriott’s Ultima series up for sale!

These are some of the most important early RPGs, and feature such sights as wizards…murderous floors, and…spaceships? Yeah, it’s exactly as awesome as it sounds!

And I have been informed by none other than Ultima Aiera that it is indeed Sosaria and not Britannia in the first three games.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

The Way You’re Wired

The announcement of a new entry into a series whose original game tends to inspire fresh installs every time it’s mentioned is a big undertaking. Warren Spector’s original Deus Ex is widely considered to be a classic PC game, so many fans have waited with bated breath to see if Eidos Montreal’s prequel is worthy of the name (especially after the second entry in the series, Invisible War, was poorly received).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution puts you into the biomechanically-augmented body of Adam Jensen, a security agent for Sarif Industries. While investigating an anti-augmentation group’s attacks on the company, Adam gets drawn into a much larger conflict. The most spoiler-free I can get regarding the story is that it’s pretty excellent, with plenty of intrigue and twists.

The game is a hybrid first-person shooter and action-RPG (as was the original). While you’ll spend a considerable amount of time in combat, the sheer amount of non-combat stuff to do is impressive. There’s plenty to explore, and exploration yields rewards in several forms: you can pick up extra quests, find new items and even gain a few XP with a little bit of footwork. While you can just follow the arrow to your next objective, it’s a lot more fun to get lost in Detroit or one of the other locations in the game. You can learn a lot about the environment and the world of 2027 just by asking around, and even more by rooting around. You can read other people’s email, pick up eBooks, and eavesdrop on conversations. Heck, you can even pick up a basketball and shoot some hoops.

Deus Ex: Human RevolutionThe combat system is interesting. While shooting is a major part of the gameplay, it isn’t all there is to do. Combat often requires a tactical approach, using cover and the element of surprise as a major advantage. You’re given the choice of both lethal and nonlethal weapons, in addition to grenades that can knock out machinery or daze opponents. The cover system, which switches you to a third-person viewpoint, is well-implemented.  However, my favorite parts of the combat repertoire are the ones that require a little subterfuge. Find the right computer terminal and you can turn gun turrets and patrol bots on their masters (which also, helpfully, means they won’t attack you). You also have a variety of Arkham Asylum-style takedowns at your disposal, both deadly and nonlethal. It’s fun to sneak up on someone and stick a couple of knives in his back; however, sometimes it’s just as satisfying to knock someone out cold after a particularly aggravating conversation.

(With the exception of the cover and takedowns of course, most of this is true for the original Deus Ex as well. This is NOT a bad thing.)

Scene-Stealing Hack

You’re also capable of hacking computers and keypads to open doors, safes, and terminals; thankfully, the minigame is fun. You have a limited number of attempts on any object and each node takes a certain amount of time to capture and has a certain percentage chance of detection. If your hacking is detected, then you’re given a time limit and have to finish the hack before the timer hits zero. You also have a few tools at your disposal – you can fortify a node to make it take longer for a trace to get through, you can use software to stop the timer briefly or capture a node silently. As opposed to, say, BioShock or Mass Effect, where hacking is an annoyance, these can actually be quite fun in their own right.

Using bots in deus ex human revolutionThis brings me to another part of the gameplay that enhances the others – your augments. The augmentations, which grant you special abilities, are what makes it a Deus Ex game after all. When you level up (or pick up a Praxis kit), you’re given a Praxis point, which can be used to unlock your abilities. These all serve to enhance your abilities in one way or another, and there are quite a few choices. You can take points that make you jump higher, let you survive falls from the tops of buildings, perform takedowns on multiple opponents, and chuck a cardboard box with enough force to kill the poor bastard hiding in it. You can also use them to enhance your radar so you can see enemies from further away, or to see through walls (and there is a weapon that exploits this). You can also level up various aspects of your hacking skills, and of course, bend light around you to become invisible. Temporarily, of course, because most of these powers sap some of your Bioelectric energy, which must be restored by scarfing energy bars or (presumably) snorting protein powder.

The setting is really cool. Set in a Golden Age of scientific discovery (with undertones of discontent, paranoia and fear of the new technologies), the look is both traditionally Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk and Renaissance-inspired. And it really, really works. You’ll see a wide variety of places – from Adam’s noirish apartment, to Sarif’s ultramodern offices, to a TV station that looks like it was designed by Apple employees, in addition to places I don’t want to spoil. The storyline and setting also have the perhaps dubious honor of being one of the most plausible futures I’ve seen depicted in a videogame.

Steet in Deus Ex Human Revolution

The one sticking point I find in the game are the boss battles. Seriously, whose idea was it to put forced combat situations in a game that otherwise allows you to play however you like? If I’m playing Adam as a hacker or stealth specialist, how am I supposed to deal with a big bullet sponge who doesn’t even respond to me trying to shoot the weapon out of his hand? In the original Deus Ex there were two forced confrontations, but each had a go-around that allowed you (if you did enough poking around) to take them out without so much as drawing your gun. The game is not optimized for head-on combat, yet that’s pretty much what the bosses force you into. I can only assume that the boss fights were designed by a separate team who weren’t informed that the combat in other parts of the game assumes you can avoid direct exposure to enemy fire. The fights just seem shoehorned in by someone who assumes that all games need boss battles. It doesn’t mesh well with the style of gameplay or the “play it how you want” spirit of the game.

A more minor complaint (and this may be a PC or even Steam-exclusive issue) is that the prerendered cutscenes all seem to be heavily compressed, and as a result look kind of rough. It doesn’t affect the gameplay at all, but it’s definitely a letdown when the prerendered scenes look less crisp than what my video card can render.

Future Perfect

Those complaints aside, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a superb game. It’s easily one of the best I’ve played all year. It’s an example of what a good team can do with an almost forgotten franchise by not forgetting or discounting what made the original so great in the first place (and yes, that is a jab at 2K’s X-Com reboot/abomination). Eidos Montreal, my mirrorshades are off to you.

BNBGAMING Mark of Excellence Award

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For the Emperor!

The demo has two levels, one of which lets you dive-bomb with a jetpack.

I love Warhammer 40K. Well, probably. I’ve never played the tabletop game proper (not having the cash to spend on miniatures and paint – the 40K refers to the price, right?), I did play a lot of Space Hulk at my local game shop back in the day. I enjoy the line of novels, and Relic’s Dawn of War RTS games have been great, so I had to fire up and play the Space Marine demo when it came out yesterday (even putting aside time with the new Deus Ex to try it).

And how is it? I really dig it. The demo offers you two missions to sample the gameplay, letting you duke it out with Orks in both ranged and melee. Comparisons to Gears of War and other stop-n-pop shooters are exaggerated and untrue: there is no cover system (cover is for chicken-wusses). As an Imperial Space Marine, you’re expected to wade into combat and take the fight to your enemy, and holy crap, is it glorious. With your bolter (3 varieties of bolters, no less) and chainsaw-sword you can switch fluidly between shooty and slashy, with explosions of gore commonplace. It’s pretty over-the-top, and fits the 40K universe perfectly.

It’s a solid demo and well worth checking out. This is one of the most promising straight-up action games I’ve seen in a while. My only problem is that I had to disable V-Sync to play it, which occasionally led to choppy framerates. I’m not sure why V-Sync makes the non-menu graphics invisible.

Unleashing "fury" makes everything die EVEN FASTER.

Good Drinks, Good Company

It’s hard to describe Spider Robinson’s work to someone who’s never read it. Heck, it’s hard to describe it to someone who has. In spite of this, Robinson and his works are reasonably well known within the sci-fi community for his quirky style and ability to spin larger narratives out of what can appear to be shaggy dog stories told by the patrons of Mike Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, or various…er, acts indulged in by the customers of Lady Sally McGee’s brothel-of-excellent-repute. Also, there’s a talking German Shepard. I really didn’t know where else to put that one.

Naturally, I’ll offer a word of warning: some of Spider Robinson’s books feature some weird shit.

The core Callahan stories (and by extension the game) are told from the perspective of folk-singer Jake Stonebender, a regular at Callahan’s after a doctor refers him to the place. So it’s kind of like Cheers with an overload of puns, a bent space-time continuum and a talking dog (I’m not gonna let that one go). Or maybe more like the Mos Eisley Cantina with a friendlier bartender and less murderous patrons. I’ll let you be the judge. The cool thing about the game is that it is in general just a few more stories in the Callahan series.

Where everyone telepathically knows your name!

And it all starts with Jake Stonebender (and you, of course, occupying his mind – which Jake is fully aware of), and you have to get his bar tab back by answering some trivia (read: copy protection) questions. Well, actually the intro starts off with the fate of the universe in jeopardy as a crappy eldritch abomination economy is forcing intergalactic downsizing of planets but- *is hit on the back of the head with a sack of potatoes* IT’S THAT KIND OF GAME!

Anyway, after you finish that, the game opens up and you can chat with the various patrons of the bar. Most of them will just waste your time, but some of them offer you information, and subsequently lead you into the various “missions” as I guess you could call them. These are the meat of the game, and the “missions” as I’m going to continue calling them for lack of imagination on my own part, although missions, sorties, these kinds of things don’t really seem appropriate given the laid back, humorous quality the game has (designed by former Sierra designer Josh Mandel, who among other things developed Freddie Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, contributed to the Space Quest series and voiced King Graham).  So anyway, at the start you can choose one of three…er…trips? Fandangoes? Things. These include getting a vampire back together with his lost love, and helping a time cop save the rainforest (for chocolate!). In the later expeditions you’ll do even more timetraveling (as this is a crosstime saloon and not your run-of-the-mill tavern), as well as saving your unusually garrulous canine buddy from being sliced up and studied by overzealous government scientists. My personal favorite part is the adventure – ah, that is the word! – where you get chewed out by the pilot Guzman for not being who you say you are.

The game is a fairly long and humorous one (and, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I didn’t get to play the game myself and turned to PushingUpRoses’ excellent Lets Play) and lives up to the style and quality of Spider Robinson’s fiction. So it’s not world-shattering or genre-defining like Dune II, but hey – it’s a cool game with a good story and some really funny writing. Next time, I’ll be back with a pair of games based on – well, you’ll see. Until next time, Page-to-Pixelteers (I promise to never use that term again).

Festive Spirit

GoG.com has announced a special sale in celebration of Europe’s biggest gaming event with a variety of titles, with CD Projekt RED’s excellent The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings at a discount: the gorgeous action-RPG will be on sale for $29.99 until Monday.

In addition, they will also be spotlighting games that were popular in Germany (in honor of Gamescom’s home in Cologne) during their day: Jagged Alliance 1 and 2, Battle Isle Platinum, Realms of Arkania 1+2 and 3 and Master of Orion 1+2 will all be available at a 40% discount until 22 August.

Scarily Hard

The original NES was renowned (or perhaps reviled) for its incredibly difficult library of games. By the time the Super NES rolled out, most of the franchises that had been hits on the original Nintendo were made a little easier; games like Zelda, Castlevania, Mega Man, and Metroid. However, the sequel to the NES’ Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins was not one of those. Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts was perhaps even more foul, cruel, and bad-tempered than its predecessor.

As in the previous game, you play a knight named Arthur. And as in the previous game, it’s hard as fuck. You start the game in a graveyard, which is appropriate, as you’ll spend a lot of time dying. So your goal, naturally, is to get to the far-right side of the world map, defeat the bosses and get your princess back. Sounds simple enough. Arthur is well equipped with lances and full plate armour, and is apparently in the peak of fitness as he can double jump. Yes, he can jump not only once, but twice in full plate (although, quite realistically, wading into anything deeper than a shotglass is a death sentence).

Everything wants you to die horribly!

Yet even these abilities are little help against the odds you’re facing. This game is going to kick your ass and gloat about it. Infinite hordes of the undead rise from the ground; vicious wolves; living, biting treasure chests (mimics!) are all out to make you dead.  Of course, the game isn’t just content to kill you. It has to humiliate you while it’s at it. One hit sends your armor flying off so you have to fight in your boxers, and sorcerors turn you into a baby. That’s humiliating! This game quite literally adds insult to injury.

The thing about Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts is that it demands memorization. Yep, it’s one of those games. Play it a thousand times until you get it right. Even on its easiest difficulty, the game is relentless. You need to know where to jump, when to attack, and when not to double jump to even stand a chance. And then, at the end, when you’ve finally killed the final boss and rescued the Princess…you have to do it all over again. At this point, I pretty much quit playing. That’s just cruel!

FOOLISH MORTAL, you think this is the end? BEGONE with you!

Yes, I’m admitting I wussed out. And yes, I have beaten Kid Chameleon. But the sheer vindictiveness Capcom’s designers threw into this is frankly amazing. It’s like they played the (notoriously unforgiving) D&D module Tomb of Horrors and said “you know what? Let’s make this into a sidescroller!”

And that’s Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. You try and you try, just to get left standing out in your boxers. It’s a game with some measure of nostalgia to it, but that quickly dries up because it’s more hard than fun. You end up playing it not to enjoy the game, but to say “Hey! I beat Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.” It’s still kind of interesting to see the early SNES tech at work, what with its frequent slowdowns (there are a lot of sprites on-screen at once) and use of Mode-7 scrolling, although you do have to make it a considerable way into the game just to see that.

I’m not sure if it’s a good game or not. It’s frankly so hard that I can’t remember ever squeezing any enjoyment out of it. I mean I loved the gothic-lite atmosphere that it shares with Castlevania (which thankfully got easier on the SNES), but the game is just so damned unforgiving that it’s hard to recommend,unless you’re the kind of masochistic glory hound that the 8-bit era spawned, in which case this is your game. It’s by no means a bad game, as far as quality goes (apart from that typical SNES slowdown), but my dear god is it hard!

Better gamers than me have gone mad and embraced insanity as a preferable alternative to this game’s difficulty. If you can finish Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, then my hat is off to you. And you may need my hat, when all you’ve got is heart-print boxers.

He can't catch a break.

Running with Knives Again!

Valve, perhaps best known as the hat-crazy company behind Steam, Portal, Team Fortress 2, and endlessly delaying the next Half-Life installment, have announced that they and Hidden Path Entertainment are prepping an updated version of the original hyper-unrealistic multiplayer military shooter (eat yer hear out, CoD) for release in early 2012. The game will feature new maps and weapons in addition to the classics, and will be available on XBLA, PSN, and Steam sometime next year. So better polish up that Deagle and get ready to run with sharp objects!

…but Valve, where is Half-Life 3?

Source: Joystiq