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Dark Void

Posted: July 3, 2010 by Alex in Uncategorized

This week, continuing my ambition to be utterly out of date, I’m reviewing a game released half a year ago.  Dark Void is a multi-platform title created by the now defunct Airtight Games, who collapsed after getting a puncture.

The game was released to lukewarm reviews, which feels unfair, as the game is quite clearly a work in progress. The game’s plot is a confused mish-mash of Science Fiction cliché and characters, coming off like a combination of The Matrix and Star Wars inexplicably set in World War II. The Protagonist, Will Grey (Neo, complete with vacant stare and odd choice in clothing) is a cargo pilot who accidentally gets sucked into an alternate dimension while flying over the Bermuda Triangle. He is accompanied by his obligatory love interest Ava, and his companion, the wise…oh sod it.

Look, the plot is a mess. It plays as though it was accidentally shredded and clumsily put together again. Characters are introduced, and two cutscenes later killed off, with very little explanation about why the audience ought to be interested in this. The villains of the piece, the inhuman Watchers, are criminally under explained. All we know about them is that they like flying saucers and only occasionally have legs. Actually, that probably explains the saucers.

The vast majority of the game is a very generic, badly constructed 3rd-person shooter. The only way I can possibly make this interesting is if I branch out a little. Maybe some humanitarian work. So, with that in mind, here’s my three-point plan for making the sequel a thousand times better.

1- Make better use of your resources.

This game’s sole interesting feature is the ability to switch between walking and flight, courtesy of a jetpack helpfully supplied by a mad inventor. However, the only things you’ll ever be fighting with it are identical flying saucers, occasionally with an extra layer of armour for flavour. At the end of the game, you get to fight a giant space dragon with three heads. That’s a very exciting enemy, but as soon as you cough in it’s direction, the fight is over. In short, more big things to kill.

2- Be more subtle with your influences.

Airtight Studios, it’s fine that you like the Matrix. It was a good trilogy, even the ones that didn’t make sense. But there’s a difference between making a homage to something in your work, and making the same product with jetpacks and aliens. I do hate to labour the point, but when a bald headed black guy with a monk-like calm and a deep understanding of what’s really going on starts talking about a ‘chosen one who’s going to fulfil the prophecy and free the humans’, there’s really no getting around the sense of deja vu.

3- Give the antagonists a clearly-defined motive.

This is directed at Dark Void, but it can apply to lots of other games as well. ‘We want to take over the world’ is not a good motivation. Bear with me, and imagine a civilization that worships baked goods. No, really. They eat baked goods, hold ceremonies for them, cry out ‘oh croissant!’ during sex, the whole shebang. They believe that to not worship baked goods is an abomination, and that all those who believe differently are heretics, and must be killed.

There you go, it’s not a particularly sensible motivation, but at least it has a recognisable train of thought, with a belief, an argument, and a conclusion. The Watcher’s entire reason for wanting to take over earth is ‘Well, we were there first’. Which leads them to the conclusion that they must enslave all humans. For some reason.

Who knows, maybe some executive might come to some similar conclusions. Then games could move forward.

Together.

As a family.

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Mass Effect 2

Posted: June 4, 2010 by Alex in Uncategorized

Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to Bioware’s controversy-courting smash hit, Mass Effect. Though to be fair, the game wasn’t so much courted by controversy as held down and indecently assaulted by it, courtesy of the Pro-God, Anti-boob lobby.

The Mass Effect series is intended to be a trilogy, and the original was a reasonably strong and memorable opener, populated with interesting characters and featuring plenty of whizz-bang-aargh-splat action. Neither an establisher, nor a finale, there was a danger that Mass Effect would be an awkward middle child. Happily though, this isn’t the case; the sequel does have many distinct improvements over the original.

The most noticeable of these is the delivery of dialogue. In the previous game, when you engaged a fellow denizen of the universe in conversation, both parties stood stock still, never breaking eye contact and generally exuding all the easygoing charisma of shop window dummies. It’s a bit of a cliché, but cinematic is honestly the best way to describe it. During dialogue, the camera now utilizes a range of different angles and perspectives, giving the proceedings a sense of movement and dynamism. Whereas before the characters were talking heads, now they work as part of scene, acting and reacting, and generally giving the impression that they’re not just bags of 1’s and 0’s.

As long as I’m breaking out the clichés, I might as well use another: The writing is good. Exceedingly so. It’s one of the things Bioware are famed for. However, the element that impressed me most was the characterisation. The majority of the supporting characters in the game are incredibly well-rounded. They each have a clear personality, a sense of humour (“With a Turian, you have to work the blade…never saw the point, myself.”), and flaws.

Giving a character flaws is an essential aspect of creating a good character; it gives them weaknesses, ambiguities, and fears. In short, it makes them seem more human. Which is no mean feat, given that several of the major characters have mandibles.

Right, enough simpering, on to the rest of the review.

At the game’s beginning, you are given the choice of either creating a new character, or importing one from the previous game. One you’ve done this, you can modify your character’s appearance, class, childhood, favourite film, and preferred brand of sexual lubricant. In all honesty, the variety, even though it is mostly cosmetic, is useful. Allowing the player to customise a character does tangibly help to enhance the sense of roleplaying, allowing them to play pick ‘n’ mix protagonists.

Now that we’ve looked at the crisp, chocolatey outer shell, let’s take a look at the tightly packed nougat inside. Or for those of you on planet earth: the gameplay.

Mass Effect 2 is a 3rd-person shooter, operating around a Gears of War-lite cover-based system. Put simply, you crouch behind scenery and occasionally pop out to take potshots at enemies, like a heavily-armed jack-in-the-box. A pop-up interface allow the player to select powers and give orders to the AI team mates. The interface is somewhat user friendly, giving little descriptions of what each power does, and what buttons it’s assigned to. To some, it may seem a little daunting, but it’s previous incarnation was 5000% more complex.

Speaking of needless complexity (that’s a transition) the inventory system has also been streamlined, so that happily, it’s a little less Microsoft Excel-like.

The voice acting (that’s not a transition), is, on the whole, very muscular, with a great range of talents being brought to the characters. All of them emote very well, and I’d go so far to that it’s one of the game’s high points. The voice actress who portrays the female version of the player character, for example, is very capable, channelling Ripley from Aliens. The male voice actor…is also effective in his own way. He does sound like an alien; a member of a race that has no understanding of inflection or tone.

To be honest, I’m mostly nitpicking. Mass effect 2 is a fantastic game, that does an admirable job of serving both the action and RPG genres with compromising either.

And if I still haven’t sold you, google ‘Mass Effect 2 Samara’.

Go on, I’ll wait.

That’s right.

Busty aliens.

Call of Duty: World at War

Posted: May 27, 2010 by Alex in Review
‘World at War’ is the latest installment in Activision’s high-profile, high-selling ‘Call of Duty’ series, the hallmarks of which have been competant gameplay and grittily realistic graphics. World at War is essentially very similar to every other game in the series in that it’s a historical, first-person War-em-up, with the player taking control of soldiers fighting in several major battles from the Second World War.
The game’s single-player campaign is broken up into two parts, in the first, you control Pvt. Miller, a presumably patriotic, apple-pie chompin’ Yank as he fights the Japanese in the Pacific. In the second, you control Pvt. Petrekonov…Pvt. Pterinenko…Pvt. Petrekononov…

…an UNNAMED Russian Soldier as he fights his way through Nazi Germany. The locations from each repspective part of the campaign contrast very nicely with one another, with sun-parched plains paired with monsoon-lashed jungles in the American campaign, and bleakly beautiful, ruined city enviroments characterising the Russian campaign. ‘Beautiful’ might be the wrong word, because, as is the trend with modern FPS games, there’s no real aesthetic theme apart from ‘realism’. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that the title is visually bland, failing to stand out amoungst it’s competitors…there’s no flair or experimentation in the environment until the very final level, a half-destroyed and barricaded Reichstag. Incidentally, looking at the Reichstag, it’s hard to believe it’s working title could have been anything other than ‘Doom Fortress’.

I found myself enjoying the Russian campaign far more than the American one, almost solely for the reason that the character you’re paired with, Sgt. Reznov, is incredibly endearing…in a sort of shell-shocked soviet psychopath sort of way. The first time you meet him, he hands you a sniper rifle and cheers you on as you shoot guard dogs and their masters. He then makes you run through burning buildings in order to kill a single Gestapo officer he has been “hunting…like an animal”. It’s like being friends with Stalin as played by the Joker, and it’s very entertaining.

The American characters on the other hand were very unmemorable and even now I struggle to remember any of their names. They were mostly stalwart G.I. types who shouted their fallen comrades’ names a lot.

I was actually surprised by how restrained the patriotism was, for the most part (the cinematics that prefaced the Russian levels had so many hammers and sickles it might as well have been an advertisement for a hellish Blacksmith amusement park).

In terms of gameplay, it’s very simple and will familiar to anyone who’s ever played a shooter before. One button to fire, one to aim, one to reload, one to jump, and one to set Japanese people on fire. Did I mention you could do that? Because you’ll be doing that a lot.

The flamethower is the most entertaining weapon in the game by a large margin, mainly because anyone it’s used on will immediately scream and freak out as if there’s a tarantula nesting in their nethers; or more accurately, as if they’ve been set on fire.

Which they have. By me. With my flamethrower.

Anyway, back to gameplay. This is most definately not a game you can afford to run-and-gun in. Being exposed for any extended period of time will cause you to expire faster than a wedge of Edam left out in the sun. Therefore, cover is the key to survival, and soon enough, you’ll become conditioned to immediately seek out points of cover upon entering an area. On the higher difficulties it can become a positively pathological compulsion to crawl behind bits of scenery while desperately trying to calculate how many people are trying to murder you.

A welcome addition to the gameplay is the ability to pick up grenades that have been thrown at you and casually lob them back. It’s immensly satisfying to catch an active grenade and use it to vaporise the man who had thrown it moments before. Less satisfying is having the grenade explode in your hand because you were a moment too slow. A less welcome and infinitely less useful gameplay element is the vehicle sections. The Russian campaign has you plonked in a tank and expected to destroy half the enemy army.

Here’s an example of the usual odds: one tank…vs. five tanks. Guess which side you’re on. To be fair, I was playing on an Xbox 360, so the tank may have controlled slightly better on another console.

In short, this is a game that you should expect nothing unusual from. If you’ve played any other WW2 shooter, then you’ll already have a good idea of what this game consists of. There are quite a few interesting set pieces, including a naval battle involving planes that’s an infuriatingly decent vehicle section. Overall, the game play is functional, which comes from being made in a tradition of tried-and-tested shooter formulas, and the story is nothing special, save for a certain murderous father figure…

Definately worth a look if you enjoy FPS’s and/or historical murder.