29 March, 2008

Review: Prey

Prey (Human Head Studios, 2006) is an FPS, the story of a Native American with mystic powers he uses to fight off an alien invasion. It's on sale for $5 on Steam this weekend, so I picked it up and played through it.

Prey is basically an FPS. The weapons are kind of weird. There are a number of different ones with strange alien designs, but it's not particularly satisfying to use any of them. I suppose that's partly because their effects on the enemies and the levels are never that impressive. Also, none of them have enough ammo for me to really get on a roll before I have to switch over.

When you run out of health, you flip into the spirit world for ten seconds or so, shoot some spirits for health, then you're back. It kind of takes the teeth out of the experience. Sure, some of the enemies have attacks that are a pain to dodge. Sure, some of the areas you fight in lack cover or any other interesting combat terrain. Who cares?

Prey has portals and special floors that allow you to walk on walls and ceilings. There are some puzzles using this mechanic, but nothing terribly difficult or intrusive. There are also a few mini-planets to run around on.

You can also turn into a spirit in the real world. This is also used for puzzles, as your spirit form can still hit switches, but isn't held back by force fields and there are occasionally hidden spirit bridges to use.

The puzzling aspects of the game aren't bad, but the combat really lacks luster.

The word I'd use is quaint. That's not code for outmoded. Almost all games' theatrics are outmoded. (I'm expecting a comeback of top hat wearing mustache twirlers any day now.) No, I have a genuine fondness for the game.

Or that may be just pity as some pretty bad stuff happens to the protagonist. In one section of the game, the protagonist has just suffered a big loss. Every time you kill a baddie, he swears and boasts. His earlier swearing and boasting was annoying. This swearing and boasting seemed appropriate, and was something I couldn't believe I hadn't seen in other games.

The spirit world elements also took a while to grow on me. At first they were just game mechanics. Then there's a twist in the game that makes the spirit world more interesting.

The characters don't have any real development beyond their stereotypes (brash hero, wise mentor, tacked on love interest), but I found myself liking them anyway.

Based on the Doom 3 engine, Prey has the expected metals, plastics, and ooginess.

Final Score
3 of 5

26 March, 2008


What with sufferring a lot of gaming disappointments lately and still needing to "decompress" (har har) from BioShock, I've mostly just been watching Buffy on DVD. I forgot that the first season was almost entirely scored with music recycled from 80s suspense shows. I could swear certain tunes were ones I'd heard on Hunter, back in the day. :P

I still read some news and listened to some podcasts. According to what I've been reading, the new Rainbow Six is pretty buggy. The 360 bugs aren't game breakers mostly (gotta love being the lead SKU), but the PS3 version's multiplayer is alleged to be unusable. Maybe I just missed the reports of the original's major buggage and shouldn't have been so surprised.

Also, Bully for the 360 has a lot of crash bugs, and the patch they just released is purported to make it worse. People talk about how consoles are fixed platforms and make development so much simpler because there's only one hardware platform to code to. But sometimes that just means schedules get shorter and more corners are cut. Of course, it could be argued that the 360 is actually many platforms. I don't keep track of chipsets or motherboard revisions, but I understand there's been a few. And of course there's the optional hard drive.

But while a press release at one point said only early 360s were affected, I've yet to hear anyone say Bully ran well for them. And it's not like they didn't have time or that they made so many improvements to the game that these bugs are easily explained.

I have to wonder how much multi core processors have to do with it. I've had to manually set certain games to only use one CPU (which I have to do every time I launch the game) because they spaz out. I'm talking specifically about Painkiller and King Kong. Painkiller I understand. It's a budget title. But King Kong has a configuration program with a dual core checkbox and is unplayable. Then again, King Kong's from Ubisoft. I'm beginning to think they couldn't do a decent PC port to save their lives.

It bears repeating at this point that I am a soreheaded old crank, and nobody likes me. My standards always have been and always will be way too high.

23 March, 2008

Review: Rainbow Six Vegas

Rainbow Six Vegas (Ubisoft, 2006) is the continuing story of anti-terrorist unit Rainbow Six.

The old Rainbow Six games were tactical shooters, similar to SWAT 4, only even more involved. Rainbow Six Vegas is much more similar to Gears of War, and to that extent has a good cover system. You press the right mouse button to glue yourself to whatever you're standing next to. Like most games with cover, it's got instances where you are shot from seemingly impossible angles, funky doors that don't let you peek around them, and all that stuff.

The shooting is also fairly standard, with way more guns than any normal person (even a gamer!) cares about. The shooting works fine and is satisfying. It's the getting shot that's the problem.

Basically R6V uses a randomizer for AI aiming. Sometimes three guys will shoot at you for five seconds and maybe get one graze. Sometimes one guy will shoot you with a three round burst from forty meters away and you'll die instantly. It encourages cautious play and using tactics, but a lot of the deaths I suffered felt "cheap".

And when the player dies, it's game over. When your buddies die, you just have to revive them (usually). This means that the most effective strategy is to use them like a hat on a stick, sending them in to draw fire so you can pick off the enemies from relative safety.

The AI doesn't just shoot at you, though. It also uses grenades. It uses them fairly well, and there is generally no warning. The AI has a number of audio barks, but they never seem to trigger at the right times. Many times an enemy would yell "eat this" or some similar grenade throwing bark with no follow up. Many times I would simply explode with no warning (not even the sound of the grenade hitting the ground). My favorite was when I was behind a low wall, under fire. The enemy was pouring it on. I crawled down to the far end of the wall to get a better shot, watching the enemy fire on my original position the whole time. Then the enemy threw a grenade... directly at me. That's a bug, folks. But it wasn't the worst but in R6V by far.

The game has a lot of bugs. Before I downgraded to older video card drivers, the game would crash and reboot my PC. I encountered objectives that didn't spawn, enemies that would yell the same audio barks for twenty seconds straight, and doors that were supposed to open but didn't. I had to backtrack and move a barrel my AI squaddie got stuck behind. Basically, it's got all the hallmarks of a crappy PC port.

Well, that's not completely fair. While I was looking online, even 360 owners were complaining about lock ups and multiplayer instability, but the game got good reviews by and large, so I'm assuming it wasn't nearly as buggy as what I played.

While Tom Clancy's name is on the box, I don't think he had anything to do with the story. I'm not saying I'm a Clancy fan to begin with, but the movies I've seen based on his books didn't bore me like R6V. Of course, part of that has to do with the gameplay. All the ranting the main character does about loyalty seems pretty stupid when the game encourages you to treat your men like human mine detectors.

For the most part, the game looks good. I'd heard it was really beautiful, and I think that was slight hyperbole based on it being early in the 360's lifespan. It has some sections with really mottled colors, as though the game was playing in 16 bit color.

That might have been because I'd turned some detail settings down to get the game to crash less often, but it doesn't really matter how good your graphics are when they're rendering this.

Final Score
2 of 5

Same As It Ever Was

I played some more Audiosurf (while Painkiller was downloading). In fact, I did worse than that. I played a CD I bought exclusively for playing in Audiosurf. I enjoy Sinatra, Deano; Nat. But James Darren was the crooner who played hologram Vic Fontaine on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. So I really needed to play through "This One's From The Heart". As usual, it's an oddball enough choice that I'm the only one on the global scoreboard for most of the songs. Audiosurf sends email when I lose my records. So far the world has reclaimed Monty Python's "Finland" (which seems only fair as I don't even know any Fins), They Might Be Giants "I Should Be Allowed To Think", and Dean Martin's "Sway". (For Paul's reference, a super tacky latin brass version of this song was what you heard every time that deaf lady one row over's cell phone rang.)

It's just tickles me to know that someone out there in the world might say, "I don't even try for Weird Al anymore. Those songs are a war zone", with a straight face. (Seriously, I was just happy to be on the scoreboard for "It's All About The Pentiums".)

But me buying music just to play in a game puts me well behind the times. It was recently announced that Rock Band sold six million songs in its first four months of release. And they charge double what iTunes is charging. The music industry is probably very concerned / interested, as well they should be.

On the "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid" front, I noticed that I've put ninety hours into Steam based games in the past two weeks. That's roughly forty of BioShock, forty of Titan Quest, and ten of Audiosurf. Keep in mind, I also played Super Paper Mario and two episodes of Sam & Max start to finish and had a few social evenings which contained gaming not included in that figure. Now if I could just finagle a way to get paid for this... Nah. It wouldn't be any fun if I had to do it when someone else said to.

Speaking of not fun, Conflict: Denied Ops (possibly the most generic game title ever) came to GameTap recently. It got bad reviews, but so did Jericho, and I liked that well enough. It makes my eyes hurt. I have never gotten motion sickness playing games. You got a jet car you need piloted down a spiral tubeway, I'm your man. But C:DO is continually applying so many funky video effects, it drives my eyes nuts. Oh well. That's four gigs of hard drive space freed up.

In unrelated news, a spokesperson for id software said the company is changing focus to consoles. I suppose that doesn't mean much, as a whole. But as someone who loved DooM on the PC, even creating maps for it, it's disheartening. I suppose it's also disheartening as someone who just bought a PC. :P Meh. I'm sure I'll enjoy the new consoles when the prices finally drop. Plus a gaming world without free and uncensored user created content is a pretty horrible thought. I'm not saying that stuff completely justifies the expense of a PC, but it matters (a lot).

22 March, 2008

Review: Super Paper Mario

Super Paper Mario (Intelligent Systems, 2007) is a platforming successor to the Paper Mario RPG series.

SPM is basically a platformer. And it's a bad one. The game's main gimmick is that Mario can switch into 3D to find new paths through the maps. The problem is that this ability is very time limited to avoid you just running past all the enemies. But in the puzzles where you need to use it, it generally runs out too quickly. I'm self declared as video game OCD, but even I was willing to take "3D damage" for leaving the game in 3D mode too long, just to keep things moving.

The 3D segments have all the other issues that regular 3D platformers do. Difficult to gauge jumps and walls in front of the camera are par for the course. The 2D segments aren't much better. Nintendo was the king of these for a reason. They tuned everything. Intelligent Systems didn't, and it showed. None of the enemies were fun to fight. And the added element of RPG hit points made them annoying to kill.

You have multiple characters and multiple back up characters with secondary abilities. The amount of switching required to get past the game's puzzles is maddening. It feels like I spent around a third of my time with Super Paper Mario in menus to switch characters or back up characters or use items. I got the distinct feeling the game was designed for a regular controller that would have had enough buttons to keep me out of the menus. And the tiny Wiimote D-pad was less than optimal as well, as I found myself entering doors or ducking unintentionally frequently enough to be annoyed.

It completely killed the momentum of the game. Of course, with as much flipping the screen and reorienting myself I was doing, it's not like the game had much momentum to lose.

And those puzzles I kept swapping characters to get past didn't do much for me, either, as they mostly felt like game length not gameplay. There's a fair amount of backtracking and since the enemies don't respawn, the trek back through an empty level gives one plenty of time to think about little joy the gameplay is providing.

It's another off brand Mario game, which means quirky characters and ridiculous situations. I got a chuckle or two out of some of it, but it's attempts at emotion flopped. Maybe in a better game, I'd have become attached enough to the characters to care. Actually, there was one character I cared about. Somewhere around halfway through the game you get to control Mario's archnemesis Bowser. He breathes fire, which is helpful with a couple puzzles and a few enemies. I played through most of the latter portions of the game with him as his bad attitude mirrored my own, and his dialog was generally funnier than anyone else's.

Of course I basically had to cheat to make him a usable character since he's such a huge target, so slow, and can't breath fire and walk at the same time. One of the helpers lets you overcome some of those problems. I actually began to hate Mario because I had to switch back to him so often to solve stupid puzzles.

The Paper Mario games have a simple, cartoony style. But Super Paper Mario felt sparse, like Intelligent Systems was trying to save money. And the super low poly 3D monsters were just ugly. But I've always hated super low poly stuff. Even when they were state of the art I thought the PS1 and N64 had mostly ugly games.

Final Score
2 of 5

I'll freely admit that I'm biased because of my love for the older Paper Mario games, but I stand by this score. There is no depth like the RPGs had, and the platforming and puzzle elements are distinctly sub par. (That phrase doesn't make any sense does it? You want to shoot below par. Sub par should mean good.) My main joy from the game was playing as Bowser, essentially against the designer's wishes.

21 March, 2008

BioShock Ramblings and Wishes ***ALL SPOILERS***

In case the title isn't clear enough, this is me talking to myself about the experience of playing BioShock and is chock full of spoilers. If you don't like spoilers and you haven't played the game, don't read it. Thus endeth the obligatory spoiler warning.

First off, a fair amount of the game had been spoiled for me. I didn't know who Atlas really was (or wasn't). But I knew the basics of the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. I thought I knew the ending too, but I turned out to be misinformed.

So let's start at the ending. Does it really seem possible that your character led a normal life after all that? Seriously? Adam was supposed to be highly addictive, and Suchong's log called the Big Daddy procedure a one way street. And the whole claiming of "family" as the main theme of the game seemed strange.

I can see how they laid it in with the relationship of the Big Daddies and Tennenbaum to the Little Sisters. But it was never my motivation as a player, so it seemed out of place in the final cinematic. And the alternative ending was simply lame, as a fight scene, anyway. But I guess the general idea (you set your sights on world domination) was fine.

Working backwards, did anyone else find the Little Sister escort segment a total pain? The Little Sister's AI seemed so random. Sometimes they'd go the wrong way. Sometimes they'd run ahead in ambushes obliviously. Often they get directly underfoot, stopping me from being able to move at all. Where was the option to pick them up and carry them like the real Big Daddies would frequently do?

Still working backwards, why did my hands still look like those of a guy in a sweater when I was supposed to be wearing a Bid Daddy suit? It was cool that I could walk around freely, not attracting any attention, but it seemed pretty ridiculous that my hands didn't change.

And during that whole segment, why didn't Fontaine try to make a counteroffer? He keeps saying how trusting Tennenbaum is crazy, but he doesn't use any of the grisly details of her Nazi past to turn you against her. And he never offers to bring you back in. This is the man who built an army by manipulating the disenfranchised. I'm pretty sure he would have at least tried to turn the player.

All that BS about being betrayed that he spouts at the end of the game seemed like a bad joke. All you've done for the past two hours is tried to kill me. Suddenly my betrayal stings you now? You think guilt is the best play at this point when you've expressed no remorse of your own over any of the murders you've been responsible for?

I think those are my main endgame concerns. Back to the beginning.

Why are all the splicers completely insane? There were good people in Rapture. Sure, Ryan had some of them impaled on spikes in front of his office, but turning the splicers into mindless bad guys seemed like the easy way out. I was really happy that I could leave the mourning splicer in the mortuary alone. The same goes for the dancing splicers. I understand that Ryan worked mind control into the plasmids he distributed, but then why would splicers sometimes attack Big Daddies? Was that supposed to represent their addiction to Adam overpowering Ryan's programming. I guess that would make sense, but I just remembered someone's preview article saying a splicer gave a sobering treatise on loss, and that was more interesting than the splicers I encountered.

Sander Cohen was an interesting piece of work as well. I could leave him alone, but he was definitely a monster. But I carried out his horrible masterwork (Was there any way not to?), so that made me a monster too. That's probably what made the idea of just sinking the whole city so attractive. It's too bad that was never really an option. And of course, I couldn't just kill off the Little Sisters.

They were interesting for a couple reasons. Where does the player get the magical power to save them in the first place? Also, who harvested them? In the opening sequence, when the player is helpless on the ground, they don't harvest the player. How could anyone justify harvesting them? It's not like I was ever hard up for Adam, what with all the guns I had.

And weren't there just a few too many ammo types? I mean, six weapons with three ammo types each? Was that even remotely necessary? I deliberately didn't open up extra plasmid slots so that I could switch between them with my mouse wheel. It's too bad there was no similar option for weapons.

And the difficulty curve of the game seemed bizarre as well. Only the first few Big Daddies were a problem. As soon as I got the hypnotize plasmid, I just pitted them against each other and that was that. It took me longer, of course, to guide one Big Daddy to another. But outside of a few levels where only one Big Daddy would spawn, it seemed like the smartest way.

Of course, I felt bad killing them at all. They were doing a crappy job with more patience and tenderness than any other being in Rapture. Part of me would like to ghost the game. Without the Adam, it'd be much more difficult. But it wouldn't be impossible by any means. I might have to write a FAQ. :)

Finally, Ryan's death was a big event for me. It's a fairly graphic and brutal murder carried out in first person. Usually, you just shoot someone until the ragdoll physics kick in. But I beat Ryan to death with a golf club, each hit registering its effect (just bruising, no blood) on his face and in his speech. And he didn't stop talking. In most cases it would be less effective for being a cut scene, but the whole point of the plot twist is that the main character's will is not his own, and that while I thought I was following my self-interest, I was actually being mind controlled.

But if that were true, why did I elect to save the Little Sisters in the first place? Fontaine obviously hates Tennenbaum. Why let his little toy do her bidding?

Ah well. It's like most fiction. It doesn't really hold up to scrutiny. Still it was a fun ride, and I suspect it'll be a long time before we see a setting this novel and well realized again.

Review: BioShock

BioShock (2K Boston and 2K Australia (formerly Irrational Games), 2007) is a period sci-fi / horror FPS set in an underwater city. When I say period sci-fi, I mean it takes technology and design sensibilities from a specific period (around 1950 in this case) and takes them in weird, scientifically improbable directions.

The game absolutely comes out of the Ultima Underworld lineage (which makes sense as it's supposedly a spiritual successor to System Shock, one of the many high water marks in that lineage). Use the powers and guns you have to sally forth, destroying and stealing better powers and guns in a hostile environment. And it gives anyone more than enough tools to do the job with. My brother also picked up the game and comparing notes briefly, it was obvious that we were approaching the game in very different ways.

The developers went out of their way to make BioShock easy to finish, with resurrection chambers that would bring you back to life sprinkled liberally throughout the world. And the difficulty is such (on normal) that I turned the chambers off. Horror games need jeopardy.

By the end however, I was so powered up I looked at most enemies as ambulatory loot bags. But I had all the loot I would ever need, so I didn't even want to bother with them. Even the final boss was a pushover. Again, it's partly my own fault for being so OCD, but the joy of exploration and experimentation became a chore long before the game ended.

Wow. Hmm. This is weird. I don't know how to say this. Um. BioShock has a story that makes an impact. That feels weird to say. So many games are just trying to create characters distinct enough to hang a brand on. BioShock actually fails in that. It's characters rarely feel like anything more than plot devices or philosophical mouthpieces.

But it has one event, the one I wrote about in my uberspoiler post, that I couldn't move past. I was compelled to stop and think. I couldn't move on until I had come to terms with it. That's a really rare thing in games. I mean, it's so rare I can't think of a single example. It bears repeating at this point that I play boatloads of games. There are some that I'll mull over after the fact, Fable for example, but in terms of a powerful, dramatic event, BioShock stands alone.

This was Irrational Games. Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair.

Seriously, if you don't click on those images to see the full size versions, I don't want to know you. Your ability to appreciate art, and by extension your soul, is dead.

That said, the game was too long, and by the time I got to the end I was sick of it's wonder and ruined beauty. But nothing else looks this good, provides this specific and believable sense of a place that could never have existed.

And the sounds were very good too, although I always had the stealth upgrade slotted because the sound of my own footfalls was far too loud, otherwise.

Final Score
4 of 5

20 March, 2008

Keepalive and Biz Talk

I finally started singing "If I Didn't Care" to myself again, so I went back and finished Bioshock, review forthcoming.

Titan Quest is on an indefinite hiatus. That game is long and dull and a pain in the later levels. I'm playing the most tanked up class in the game, and I can't pop potions fast enough to stay ahead of the damage some groups do. So I stand at the edge, pulling off one to three at a time and running back a safe distance to fight them. Dull and painfully slow is just to much for my ADD to bear.

Super Paper Mario isn't going that much better. There's a lot of backtracking in the game. Were these art assets really that hard to develop? And the action elements of the game don't satisfy. The humor is amusing at times, but overall it just makes me wish they'd done a proper sequel. (The older Paper Mario games were actiony RPGs, not platformers.)

Out in the world, Sony seems to be doing well. The 360 never caught on in Japan and is enacting price drops to try and stay in the race in Europe. And the PS3 actually outsold the 360 in the US in January and February. Microsoft is crying supply constraints, but that's probably a lie. When people can't find something at the store, they go online, and Amazon, still not able to stock the Wii a year and a half later, seems to have plenty of 360s (the new ones with HDMI) available for sale. Best Buy has it online. Circuit City is sold out online, but it says that all three locations within driving distance have them in stock. I don't see why they're not writing it off as a temporary bump due to HD DVD losing. Maybe it's because they know there's more failure on the horizon.

Sony has projects in the pipe that are targeted at broader audiences. I'm thinking specifically of Little Big Planet and Home. Microsoft has nothing broader audiences care about. Microsoft had an early lead (exaggerated by channel stuffing, of course), and it looks like they're squandering it very effectively.

At some level, though, it still feels like all of this is ridiculous ivory tower spitball fights. No real money starts changing hands until these machines drop to Wal-Mart buyer prices. The 1UP folks predicted a price drop on the 360 to coincide with the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, but that would only get the 360 down to the launch price of the PS2, so we're still only talking about serious gamers here. Speaking of which, the PS2 still outsold everything but the Wii and DS last month. Case closed.

18 March, 2008

Still Surfin'

I'm still playing through Titan Quest and Super Paper Mario. Titan Quest is getting iffier and iffier, but I'll save that for later. I just finished up another session of Audiosurfing.

I decided to play my golden oldies collection. Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra songs are sometimes fun, sometimes dull. Out of all of them, I'd say "Luck Be A Lady" was my runaway favorite. But there's still a little cognitive dissonance to that assessment. I like L-O-V-E way more "in real life". But it's not really that great in Audiosurf. All these fairly down tempo songs are getting me antsy for something with some kick. Some Bad Religion may be in order. BWAAAHAHAhahaaaa!

Back to Titan Quest, the game isn't very demanding. I'm still listening to podcasts as I play. Now that I've ripped some of my CDs to the hard drive, I'm also listening to music. And I'm thinking about the game less than the music. I kept thinking, "I wish I'd ripped my Peter Gabriel. I'd love to listen to that right now". I think that may be the official point where a game has completely failed to hold my interest. The problem is, I decide when to get new abilities in Titan Quest, and I'm a completist, so I'm not going to get new abilities until I've maxed the good ones I already have.

So is it Titan Quest's fault that I'm bored stupid, or mine? It's probably both. Obviously my OCD is my own problem. But the fact that Titan Quest provides no incentives to explore the skill tree is a design problem. And now that I'm in the early 20s, levelwise, the rate I get skill points to experiment with is a demoralizing trickle, especially considering I have to split them between two classes.

They do have places where you can reassign points. But I like my abilities. I bought them for a reason. Plus changing them would be too confusing. Gear is confusing enough already. Every time I change gear, I gain and lose resistances. My stats fluctuate based on gear as well. And at the end of the day I rarely seem to kill things or take damage so much faster or slower that I care. All the gear drops are completely random, so it's never worth it gear for the encounters. If my gear is bad for the encounter, I pop a lot of health potions. If it happens to be good for the encounter, I don't.

Again, Sid Meier said that the purpose of games are to give the player interesting choices. Titan Quest does that well in the beginning, but it's running on fumes in what I'm assuming is the mid to late game. Part of the problem may be that you can run through the game multiple times on higher difficulties, keeping all your abilities. The creators may have designed the skill system more towards the end end endgame. Meh.

17 March, 2008


I'm not calling this a review because I was just playing to relax, but it's worth talking about, just the same. Audiosurf is an indie title, available for $10 on Steam, that lets you run through levels algorithmically generated from music you provide.

There are different rule sets, but the game is always basically the same. Collect certain blocks. Avoid others. It's done in a clean style very reminiscent of the Wipeout hover racing series, only more abstract.

I had a headache, and even my least demanding game (Titan Quest) was making it worse, so I figured I'd chill out with some slow songs in Audiosurf. Unfortunately, I don't own any slow songs. Well, I do own a few. Mom gave me a CD of smooth jazz. Those were what I played first, and they worked well. But then I was feeling better and it was time to play some goofier stuff.

So I played some of Monty Python Sings. It's pretty easy to get a global high score on mom's smooth jazz music, but geeks love Monty Python, so you better be prepared to fight tooth and nail if you want a shot at the top spot on the lumberjack song, or any of the better known ditties. On the lesser known / crappier songs, it's not so hard. I currently hold casual difficulty level world records on "I Like Chinese", "Finland", "Accountancy Shanty", "Oliver Cromwell", "I've Got Two Legs", and "I'm So Worried". :)

It's extra hilarious to be racing for your life to comedy recordings nobody likes. "Medical Love Song" was so hilarious under these circumstances that I botched my run.

Even on easy, my OCD makes the game very demanding. You basically can't hope to get a high score unless you finish with no blocks remaining in your collection grid, and never once hit a bad block. And on easy, I can almost get a perfect run on my first play through, on slower songs anyway. So of course I have to try. Then I play something like a Weird Al polka medly, and I'm just enjoying the wild ride, trying to hang on. Regardless, it's pretty fun.

My dad doesn't read this blog, as far as I know, but I got this high score for him and wanted it immortalized somewhere. So here it is.

16 March, 2008

Sam & Max

I'm a GameTap subscriber, so I have all the Sam & Max there is at my fingertips. But the truth is, I don't much care for adventure games anymore. The puzzles are drawn out and not much fun to figure out, usually involving some borderline random combining of items. Also, the pace of modern comedy programming makes the walking around and exploring parts feel painfully slow. But I'd just gotten the complete Sam & Max cartoon series on DVD, so I figured I'd finally resume where I'd left off, at episode four. That was a good thing.

I still have the same issues with pacing and using problem solving to get through problems better fixed with violence, but some of the political jokes, plot points, and the musical number make this one not to miss. Add to that the fact that it's a free download, and you should stop reading this and go play it. Now.

Just go down to the link that says buy it for $0.00 and thank me later.

Keepalive: BioShock Break, Fire Pro, Titan Quest; Forumwarz

So, in case you didn't read the spoilers, I'm not done with Bioshock, but I'm done with Bioshock. You know, for a couple days at least. I felt the point I stopped at was probably where the game should have ended. I've heard that the remainder of the game doesn't remotely live up to the promise of what I've played, and I want to remember the experience as it is. I'll probably go back to play more. But part of me doesn't want to.

In the meantime, I had some company over and we played some old arcade games (Smash TV, Xenophobe; Hard Drivin') and some Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. I enjoy Fire Pro on a very primal level. I must have exclaimed "I kicked that guy in the nuts" with absurd glee at least half a dozen times. I've heard it's actually a really well made wrestling game, but I doubt I'll ever know it deeply enough to tell as I'm not a fan of the genre. I may someday download the community made wrestler packs, featuring every wrestler ever, and a bunch of made up ones (like the folks from Nintendo Pro Wrestling). But I may not. It's already given me enough delight to justify the $8 I bought it for.

There's still Titan Quest to play, too. I've got some serious alt-itis. That's where I keep making up alternate characters to try the different classes. It takes less than a day to play a class to level ten or so and get a good feel for their abilities. My main (a sturdy defender) is getting near the point where I'm thinking about dual classing, so I want a feel for what other class would make a good mix. The rogue would give me lots of poison damage, so I could tag all my enemies with poison and let them expire. But that doesn't work on undead, and there's more than a few of them around. I looked at the nature character, but that's also a somewhat defensive class, plus my fantastic strength would be wasted. I'll probably go warrior, but I actually haven't gotten around to testing that class yet. The exploration continues.

Again, the gameplay of Titan Quest is still Diablo, i.e. it's mostly lame. But there's just the right combination of constant stimulation and interesting decisions to keep me moving through the game. One indie developer (Jonathan Blow) recently referred to this measured reward scheme as something akin to a digital drug, and the worst part of gaming. I see his point, but I'll keep playing as I mull over whether a boycott is in order.

I'm still plinking away with Forumwarz. The content is amusing, but there was a spell of grinding. I hate grinding. I'll keep plinking.

There was one other game I came back to, but that deserves its own post.

14 March, 2008


You were warned.

Andrew Ryan is dead. Dead by my hand. BioShock is actually running in the background as I type this with Ryan, lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, the putter I used to kill him still protruding from his forehead.

Meeting him was a revelation. I thought I'd come to Rapture, his undewater city, by accident, a plane crash. I did not. I thought I'd stumbled into a world of monsters and had become one to survive. I had not.

I was already a monster. I don't know who made me. I don't know why. But Ryan's words triggered memories of a laboratory where I was created and removed all reasonable doubt that I was a puppet. With the simple phrase, "would you kindly", he took complete control of my actions. He had already set Rapture to self destruct. And as one final act of will, he ordered me to kill him. I was compelled to obey.

But now Atlas, my handler, has given me another order, an order to stop the countdown, to save the squabbling rabble and their monsters. And now, I have a choice. Ryan lies dead, the ground shakes violently, and I have no idea how long it will take for the geothermal reactor to explode.

Ryan chose death. For him it was a choice made out of madness, belied by the calm and deliberate way he made it. But he was mad, believing that the pursuit of power was the only true purpose of man. But power breeds avarice. And avarice breeds rivals. I've heard on tape recordings I've found that one of his rivals is Fontaine. Fontaine built himself an army, they said. If Atlas is a serious contender, he's got one too and the ability to field absurdly powerful operatives like myself.

The floor shakes again. As Ryan died he kept repeating, "A man chooses. A slave obeys." As I look at the corpse in front of me, as I think of all the monsters down here and the possibility that they might ever get out, only one choice makes sense to me. I'm turning off the game. I'm letting Rapture sink. I only hope the explosion is powerful enough to truly destroy this place. Humanity was never ready for this kind of power. It likely never will be.

10 March, 2008

Post LAN Report

Ahhhh. Delicious LAN. Two mods hit big at the LAN party. I've already mentioned Zombie Master on this blog. My only main problem with the mod at this point is that it runs on the Source engine, which means it lags horribly, even on gigabit LAN. I just don't understand. TF2 plays great. Why are so many other Source games so laggy? I mean, I was the server, and I still had to aim well in front of the monsters.

The other big hit was Nations At War, a mod which throws everything but the kitchen sink at Battlefield 2. There are quads and motorcycles for quick ground travel. There are cruise missiles for making ridiculously big explosions. There's a climbing rope that can be used to scale buildings and cliffs. Almost every player kit has seven or eight weapons / tools in it, so there are plenty of guns. And unlike in normal BF2, firearms actually kill people. I know. It's crazy. For the most part, we put ourselves in against a couple dozen bots and enjoyed the mayhem. One favorite tactic included sneaking into the enemy base and rigging their aircraft with C4, destroying them just after takeoff. It's still Battlefield, so at least one player (or the server) will crash every couple hours, but it's finally fun enough that we didn't have to alternate between Wolf ET (which was played a bit) and Quake ET (which wasn't). Those games are okay, but they're made to continually focus players on the next objective, not on using the climbing rope and supply crate to make an unassailable stronghold from which to hurl sticky bombs and snipe unsuspecting bots, or seeing how many bots you can run down on a quad before the enemy armor shows up and pastes you. Good times indeed.

There was also some Rise of Nations played against the computer. In the round where I wasn't almost immediately rushed into oblivion I took second place, so my practice with the game definitely paid off. More recently I took a little trip down memory lane with Total Annihilation and was a bit let down that I couldn't tell my Rise of Nations unit producing buildings to automatically add units to an army group. That one feature saves so much time and hassle. Maybe there is a way and I just missed it.

My enthusiasm for Forumwarz has cooled a bit as it's become the standard RPG grind, which feels like an odd thing to say as I'm playing a fair amount of Titan Quest. If it has better netcode than the Source engine, I may force one of my friends (the one who loves the grind) to buy it. There are eight classes, each with multiple skill paths, and you can dual class starting at level eight, so there are plenty of skills to futz with. Then there are equipment choices to consider. Basically, there's plenty to do, and experimenting with different combinations has been interesting enough to keep me playing, which is saying a lot as I have a low tolerance for straight grinding.

05 March, 2008

Review: Gun

Gun (Neversoft, 2005) is a western shooter (both first and third person), a relative rarity in these times of infinite space marines. I scored it a one before, because while my computer could handle the graphics just fine, the streaming terrain loading system made my PC stutter and freeze. Now that it only stutters, I can play it enough to review.

Gun is a pretty standard shooter. You point at stuff and shoot it. Shooting stuff gains you bullet time, which you can use to shoot stuff in slow motion, but the game is generally so easy, I didn't use the bullet time much. I think this was due to the game being a quick console port, with no adjustment made for the ease of aiming a mouse provides. If your target moves slowly enough, the aiming reticle actually follows them on it's own.

You can also shoot stuff from horseback. There's also hand to hand combat, but it's super simplified. You can also grab guys and use them for cover, but I never found occasion to use it except for bounty hunting, where alive often pays better than dead. There were also leaning buttons and crouching that could be used to take cover, and I could sometimes shoot a weapon out of an opponents hand, but combat was generally so easy that all of these mechanics just felt tacked on.

Like the gameplay, Gun starts solid, then fades fairly quickly, giving you characters with potential that never get developed. Once in a while, they'll tell you stories as you're riding from one place to another, but it mostly feels tacked on. Your own story is standard western revenge, with enough twists to be somewhat interesting. But since discovering the truth is never your characters motivation, it also feels tacked on.

Gun's graphics are definitely PS2 optimized, serving up some malformed looking people.

But the landscapes are good.

The sound effects are good too, with jangling spurs and creaky wood floors for added flavor (although they could have used a couple more creaky wood sounds as it felt like it was always the same creak).

The music deserves special mention, too. It also repeats a bit too much, but before I got tired of it, it made the game feel a lot more epic than it would have otherwise.

Final Score
3 of 5

I hope Gun did well enough to merit a sequel. With so many elements of the game becoming repetitive or not feeling fully fleshed out, I suspect there wasn't time or money to realize the game's vision. And it's a great vision. If Gun had had six to twelve months more development, I expect we'd be reading about the new crop of Western shooters coming out next fall, to go along with the bald space marines. As it is, Gun's just an interesting footnote, and that's too bad.

02 March, 2008

Review: Shadowgrounds: Survivor

That's much better. Shadowgrounds: Survivor (Frozenbyte, 2007) is a sci-fi overhead shooter.

Like other overhead shooters (Robotron, Smash TV; Geometry wars) Survivor is about blowing lots of stuff up. On normal difficulty, the game wasn't a challenge, but it always threw enough enemies at me that I felt like I was fighting for my life. Part of that may be the health kit system. If you have full health and pick up a health kit, it goes into your inventory. If you have one point less than full health, the kit heals you for one point of damage, largely going to waste. As such, I would fight every encounter trying to take no hits at all. I guess you could say my own OCD made the game exciting.

There are three characters in Survivor who alternate missions. Each has different weapons and upgrades which give the game much needed variety both in play styles and in carrots to chase. Additionally, trying out the different weapons and upgrades and learning to use them strategically was fun.

Uh, yeah. The characters in the game have some personality. And the game succeeded at creating some dramatic tension to complement the tension of the fighting. It's kind of hard for me to judge because as ridiculous as some of the dialog is, it's worlds better than the original Shadowgrounds. I really appreciated the extra effort put into this aspect of Survivor, but at the end of the day, the story and characters still aren't good, just better.

True to it's "Shadowgrounds" name, Survivor provides nice lighting effects.

And true to the type of game it is, plenty of carnage.

And while I wouldn't say the game's locales are widely varied, the combination of a few different environments and weather effects keep the game from bogging down too much.

The sounds do their job well, with music, weapon sounds, monster noises, and ambient sounds contributing to the feel.

Final Score
3 of 5