Archive for the Games Category

Review: Doctor Who, The Eternity Clock

Posted in Games, gaming, General, opinion, reviews, science fiction, scifi with tags , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Anyone who knows me, even slightly, knows that I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. I’ve adored the series, its characters, its stories and its sense of wonder since I was a kid and so I bought The Eternity Clock with an eager need. It’s worth saying that although this is the fourth commercial Doctor Who game released in the last few years, it’s the first one that I’ve plumped for; none of the others interested me and, after playing around in the lackluster free adventure games a couple of years ago, I’ve felt rather jaded about the whole Who-gaming experience.

The Eternity Clock was to be different though; the press releases told me so… and that’s exactly where I should have realised that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

The Eternity Clock has some great and time-tested ideas at its heart; a side-scrolling platformer with enemies to avoid, puzzles to solve and fun to be had. The first few moments are fun; the Doctor arrives inside the Bank of England’s vault and must make his way out, but it quickly becomes apparent that this game is a shallow, frustrating and often uncontrollable affair with very little creative effort put into its design.

The button controls dont’ behave quite like you’d want them to; your action button and jump button are the wrong way round compared to a lot of games and, honestly, they often just dont’ react when you press them. An attempt to jump and grab River’s hand doesn’t do anything; which is a real pain in the unmentionables when you’re trying to beat a hoard of Cybermen to some unmentioned goal. As you run off ahead and wait to give her a leg up, she dawdles for a few seconds and then either runs or simple walks to your side; there seems to be nothing that controls which she should be doing, despite the aforementioned chase and the urgency it should require.

The side-scrolling is very reminiscent of the recent Tintin game; lots of crawling and ducking and avoiding bad guys, and ont he odd chance you can play as River Song (why not let me switch characters when I want to?) you can grab your bad guys and stun them with a good old dose of hallucinogenic lipstick. Tintin was pleasant enough, but very boring, even for younger players; its repetitive and unimaginative level design was a huge let down, and one that prompted a quick resale via Amazon. The Eternity Clock is worse though, and for several reasons. It’s initially very charming, but after a few seconds that charm fades into frustration and obvious repetition. The collectibles (pages from River’s diary and hats for the Doctor) are a great idea, but you can’t do anything with them; why give the Doctor fancy hats to collect, let him comment on them, and then not let him actually *wear* them? Plus the clunky controls, very dodgy AI for River and the other guards, laughably ineffective cover system for hiding from enemies… the list goes on.

How could something with so much promise turn out to be so awful? How could the BBC trust the development of a game of one of their hottest and most profitable programmes to a company with such a small portfolio? How did this product ever get past the keen eyes of development managers at BBC Worldwide? Why did I chose a digital download version that I can’t resell?

These answers add up to a cliff hanger that won’t ever be answered by me… but I’m sure you can guess the answers.

A waste of time and money; full of glitches, frustration and repetition, devoid of the magic of the series. To be avoided.

Review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Posted in Design, Fantasy, Games, gaming, General, opinion, PS3, reviews, xbox with tags , , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Available on Xbox 360 and PS3.

There are two important things that are revealed within the first ten minutes of this game. The first is a twist given at the end of the introductory story, given in a wonderfully dramatic tone by an unknown woman; the story is likely to be a good one. The second is that all gnomes are Scottish.

Kingdoms of Amalur is a great game that builds on established RPG fare. Graphically it should be familiar to anyone who has played any of the Fable games; its look is slightly cartoonish, and wonderfully colourful with it. After the greys and browns of Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, this comes of something of a relief. Your eyes are always stimulated and frequently the game comes across as beautiful. A lot of effort has gone into the art work for Amalur, and it’s paid off. There’s not a moment where things look drab or unappealing, and it’s very easy to lose yourself in its wonderful visual flow.

From the caves and forests, to desert plains and dark foreboding cities, this game is wonderfully appealing and a joy just to wander through.

The gameplay is also very familiar, with much owed to other well known titles; Fable, Skyrim and Fallout again, but the old tropes and methods are nicely played out, with the battle mechanics in particular a great deal of fun to play with. There’s none of the annoyances of Skyrim; press a button to swing your sword or staff or to bring up a menu in the heat of battle, and your command is instantly completed. Skyrim and Fallout 3 in particular suffered from this; if my character’s dying I need to drink a potion quick sharp, not stab the button with an increasing feeling of helplessness as the brutal creature before you viciously hacks you to death. So, from the word go, Amalur is a joy to play.

The AI isn’t particularly impressive and, although stunning to look at, there are aliasing issues around most of the characters when you’re viewing them up close. It seems that the development team would rather your character was made up of separate pieces of armour that move independently rather than flexing as a whole, whilst sacrificing some of the graphical smoothness to enable it. To be honest, I don’t mind the odd jagged edge to a model; I’d rather it moved more convincingly, and that solid plates of armour didn’t bend.

The game map is huge and, after playing through for a good ten hours at the start of the game, there’s obviously much still to do. Like other games of its type, the world map tantalisingly offers many places to explore and, unlike the open-world blandness of Final Fantasy 14, there are many crooks, hollows and ruins to run and fight through aside from those that are reliant on your main or side quests. There are plenty of side quests too, and it’s easy to find them; any character that can give you something to do is marked on your local map and on the main game screen with an exclamation mark over their heads. Want to travel to the other side of your map, then the ubiquitous Fast Travel is there to save you plodding through the woods and plains like a drunken, meandering yoyo.

There is a simply huge variety of weaponry to loot, steal and buy, and the game offers you the chance to make your own. The crafting elements are well thought out and never a chore; it would be nice for them to have been developed into more of a mini-game than a few clicks of your action button, but they’re simple enough and I’d much rather the developer take this approach than making crafting monotonous (again, Final Fantasy 14, I’m looking at you).

The character development has been developed well enough, with a skill tree that should be familiar to anyone’s that’s played Titan Quest. There’s lots to chose from, but one thing to note is that levelling isn’t quick. It’s usually the case that initial levelling is accelerated; many games want you to feel more accomplishment whilst the bad guys and monsters are easier to defeat, but although the levelling is much slower than you might be expect, it doesn’t detract from being able to enjoy the game. It rewards frequently with lots of loot, but doesn’t go overboard like Titan Quest did; you won’t be overladen with a thousand Bangles of Ageing-Moose or fifty Daggers of Eternally Tasty Bacon (would-be items from the RPG of my dreams), but there’s still enough for you to check your weapons for the most powerful dagger, staff or sword for you to use and, combined with the crafting elements you can easily obtain and build some great kit to dish out your wrath with. The ability to salvage parts from unwanted weapons is a bonus too, with component parts not too numerous to get confused over.

There are a few niggling downsides to the game, though.

Primarily, there’s no auto-repeat on your button presses when your navigating through your item and weaponry lists. Got fifty items in there and you’re after the item in position forty-nine? You’re going to have to press your down button forty-none times then. This is a simply omission, and a confusing one. I’m not a developer, so I don’t know what code or action from a game engine’s library should be called, but it isn’t there and sometimes it’s downright frustrating (see the above example).

The second is more minor, but I think only because the side quests are so numerous that there’s always something going on, either to push you to your destination or just keep you entertained; the story, whilst obviously well thought out, seemed a little thin to me at the beginning. Plenty of good stories start out slow, but with so many actions to keep you busy it almost seems as if the main story isn’t that important. This will obviously be less noticeable later on, and to be honest it does therefore encourage you to explore rather than run straight to your next target; too many games lately have made me feel as if I’ve missed a load of content when I’ve finished them, and although I doubt this will be the case here, I’d still like things to feel more meaty dramatically.

An excellent game, full of colour, great gameplay and well implemented battle mechanics. Lots to do and without the clinical, ‘all to brief’ feeling that I got from Final Fantasy 13-2.

One to play.

Review: Rayman Origins

Posted in Funny, Games, gaming, General, opinion, PS3, reviews, xbox with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Wow.

Every once in a while something magical happens in your life. Something that brings you joy; that special kind of pleasure that reminds you of what it was like to be a kid. No responsibilities. No bills to pay. A great red fish creature pestering you to be your friend… well, ok, maybe it was blue for you. The point is you can have such fun again and, for the price of a video game on your choice of format, Rayman Origins is the way to get that carefree wonder back in your lives.

Sometimes when a franchise returns, the results are disappointing. The story doesn’t go where you want it to go. Your favorite actor was busy doing something else… you know what I’m talking about – but there’s no fear of that with Rayman Origins. It’s pleasure is endless and captivating and full of an insanity that only The Muppets could surpass.

The game is simple platforming in all it’s glory. There’s nothing new that’s been added to the mix, and this game is an excellent example of why sometimes a great experience doesn’t need to be changed, only built upon. The end of area shoot ’em up levels make a welcome return; one that will have you replaying them just to get a high score.

It’s visuals are absolutely stunning; pure high-definition cartoon loveliness. All the characters have excellent ranges of animation, as does much of the environment – and what doesn’t move looks just as stunning. From the rippling image of your chosen character through ice, to the rocks, ice and jungle surroundings… and that’s before you even get underwater.

You start of playing as Rayman himself, but you quickly unlock more characters that you can change into at The Snoring Tree; even the name strikes a great, simple story-telling mood, and it’s one that’s carried out through the game. Each character has its own charm, though many are similar – but that doesn’t matter in the slightest.

The music too is fantastic, ranging from playful tunes to upbeat jazz, and the sound effects that go with them are perfect… I’m just holding my breath for a release of the sound track, and please Ubisoft, release it with the sound effects too. My mobile is crying out to have my new message alert cry the ‘Oooh’ of wonder when you discover a secret area. There’s shades of Carlton Browne of the FO in the music, as well as Mario and some other recognisable themes, and all have great charm.

Verdict

Frequently insane, occasionally frustrating, always fun. Rayman Origins is a game for everyone; kids, grown ups and red (or blue) amphibians alike.

Available on PS3, XBox360, and Wii. Highly recommended.

Gears of War 3: What Platform Do You Choose For Your Shooters?

Posted in Games, gaming, General, science fiction, scifi, Uncategorized, xbox on September 30, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

I wanted to buy GOW3 on launch day, but a combination of bad cold and end-of-month-skintness prevented my from venturing to anywhere beyond the local postbox. It’s been a alarmingly hot week here in the UK, where the traditional early September warm spell has surprised everyone by turning into an end of September heat wave. Not a week to be stuck in doors under a blanket… but now that’s all over and done with, GOW3 is sat in my 360 and I’m loving every moment of it.

I’m two hours in and the gameplay is nothing new over previous episodes in the series – but then it doesn’t need to be. The formula is a great one and, as always, the character and environment art are brilliant and absorbing. The game begins on a old carrier ship, and the change of environment is a great one – albeit brief. Always one for liking a Shiny, the ‘Glowies’ explode with that wonderful shiny gold splatter of Immulsion that produced a satisfatory surge of adrenalin. Evidently every fibre of my being approved… The AI still sends some of yoru squad mates running in through the path of your gunfire, and annoyingly they linger there, but it’s forgiveable since the game is simply so much fun.

Whilst pausing for a drink, the thought struck me: why is playing a shooter on the Xbox360 so much better than my experience of playing them on the PS3? I’m a fan of both machines and their exclusive games, but often decide to plump for the PS3 version of a multi-platform title. The reason is simple: I prefer the feel of the PS3 controller. A whole tonne of people will likely disagree, and disagree loudly, but I’ve got tiny hands and the controller just fits my mitts much better than the Xbox360 unit.

This has, however, meant that apart fro the Greas series, I’ve not played many shooters on the Xbox360 at all and, for the most part, I hate playing them on the PS3. The problem is that I just can’t get the reticule to point in the right direction and when enemies move quickly I lose sight of them and die whilst trying to tap the controller gently enough to line the reticule up properly to fire. Aim-assist is always a welcome tool in PS3 shooters for me, but it kind of feels like cheating and it takes away some of the fun knowing that I’ve specifically had to turn on an option for the machine’s processor to help me shoot. It stops me feeling absorbed by the game and, more annoyingly, makes me feel a bit crap.

I’m actually pretty good at shooters, honestly. Not good enough to feel confident about joining a game of Counter StrikeĀ  perhaps; there are plenty of people better at these games than me… but playing Gears of War 3 reminded me of how it was to play shooters on my PC. I realise that there’s some tuning going on, and probably some aim-assist to go with the difficulty level, but the game feels natural and it’s simply easy to aim without feeling like a naff player.

So, I began to wonder what other people thought of playing shooters on the PS3 and the xbox360. Which is your prefered platform and, if anything, do you think there’s a difference in being able to shoot things between the two platforms, or do you think that it’s just down to the way the games are designed to behave?

Opinion: Deus Ex: The Human Revolution

Posted in Fantasy, Games, gaming, General, opinion, PS3, reviews, science fiction, scifi, Uncategorized, xbox on August 28, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that I’ve been waiting to be released for a long time. The prequel to Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War, the game is a scifi shooter/RPG set in a 2027 where the power of corporations is on the rise, as augmentation technology offers the prospect of self-controlled evolution. It’s a world of have and have-nots, with the gap between rich and poor starkly obvious. It’s also a world where violent protest towards augmented ‘cogs’ and the companies that offer those technologies is on the rise.

It’s a beautiful looking game. Its look ranges from the luxurious and comfortable to the seedy and tatty, and all within a few feet of one another. The design is reminiscent of Blade Runner (which is set eight years previously – and in a different continuity), with its dark city skies, immense buildings and innumerable neon signs, but without the gothic feel to the buildings that were part of Blade Runner’s iconic look. The graphics that make up the world are well thought out and produced and, whilst there are other games that rival Deus Ex in terms of quality, there is variety in the layout of the game spaces and their textures that puts a lot of other shooters to shame. This is a Square Enix game at their visual best and, whilst the PS3 and 360 versions of the game are notably lower in visual quality than a version running on a high-end PC gaming rig, they are still a treat and utterly absorbing.

Graphics alone don’t make a good game, though, so what about the gameplay itself?

The game offers little in the way of something new, but that’s not a bad thing – especially if the game does what it sets out to achieve and uses well established mechanics, tropes and set pieces to good effect. I don’t want to give anything about the game’s story away, but it’s engaging and well paced and plotted. I can’t help but feel that a number of action and scifi films that I’ve seen in the last year could learn from Deus Ex; not all games transfer well into movies or TV, but Deus Ex has a well grounded background mythology (which I’m always a sucker for) and characters that have been crafted well with their own obvious motivations and idiosyncracies.

The gameplay mechanics are easy to follow and fun, with a great set of video tutorials (that, importantly, can be skipped if desired) that pop up and guide you through actions and menus without complication. Weapons are varied and are great and for the most part customisable, with a few notable exceptions. The Stun Gun, for example, lacks a cross hair when aiming towards a target from behind cover; a little frustrating, and I’ve no doubt it will outright annoy some players, but it does serve to make the game more challenging and I didn’t find my own annoyance detracting from my enjoyment of the game.

The game spaces are multi-levelled mazes, where a clear path towards your objective is not always clear, but that encourages the player to explore and there are plenty of items and XP bonuses to be had from creeping through air ducts, scurrying down side corridors and seeing where the odd ladder will lead you. It feels open, and there is some freedom as to how you reach your objective, but the world is not truly open and, if anything, it heightened the sense of urgency and the danger of being caught. The mechanics encourage stealth over outright confrontation and it can get tense at times. I’ve no doubt a seasoned shooter-player could storm their way through most of the levels with ease, but bonuses are granted for not being detected in several missions, and it’s fun to play hide and seek with the guards…

I even found myself tilting my head to see round corners. My monitor isn’t 3D in any sense of the label.

Battle is hard… but not unforgiving so. I decided to play the game through on its normal setting (whereas I’d normally do my first play-through on easy), and I died… quite a lot at first. Part of this is due to the way in which character abilities are unlocked; as with the level design, this appears quite open, but some missions are harder if the right upgrades aren’t bought for them. I’m only part way through the game, and this doesn’t appear to lock any missions completely out should you choose the ‘wrong’ upgrade; but if you increase your hacking skills over your armour or reaction stats for the bounty that can give you access to, you might find yourself dying more often.

The hacking mini-game, required to successfully access many computers and doors within the game, is good fun and can be a race against time. The NPCs will chat with you to varying degrees and, sometimes, useful information comes out of those exchanges. It’s nice to be playing a game that, whilst it is sometimes difficult, treats the player with respect and doesn’t talk down to you… if you read any of the many eBooks lying around the game world, you’ll quickly see what I mean, and see how much effort the designers have put into making a ‘complete’ world for the player to explore.

Comparing Deus Ex to other games isn’t necessarily fair, but I can’t help but think that Fallout: New Vegas was decidedly poor compared to it. It’s worth saying that I’m enjoying Fallout:NV immensely, but with its dated graphics engine, game crashes, troublesome controls and lag (why is it so hard to bring up my Pip Boy to change a weapon and recharge my health when I’m in the middle of a battle?), Fallout: NV can be a decidedly frustrating experience. All the big problems that Fallout: NV has just don’t appear in Deus Ex, and that alone makes this game much more enjoyable.

If you want a good scifi RPG romp, and like games such as Splinter Cell and FEAR, then this is one for you. There’s a well painted world to explore, with plenty of gun-totting action to be had and an excellent score by Michael McCann to keep you immersed. Highly recommended.

Space Invaders!

Posted in 3D, Design, Fantasy, Games, General, Maya, Photoshop, Pictures, scifi, zbrush on June 13, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

I had a nostalgic day yesterday.

Mario: Propellor Power Up!

Posted in 3D, Games, General, Maya, Photoshop, Pictures, Uncategorized, zbrush on May 30, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

Modelled in Maya.

UVd and textured in Zbrush.

Composed in Photoshop.