30 October, 2011

Zombie Outbreak

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 30 October, 2011

As one might expect, Steam has been having a horror themed holiday sale. Here's what I picked up.

Zombie Shooter (one and two)

What's simpler than running around shooting zombies?

Nation Red

Not running around shooting zombies.

Zombie Shooter and Zombie Shooter 2 are from Sigma Team, who brought us Alien Shooter and Alien Shooter 2. They've mostly made the same game four times, but I don't mind. There are tons of enemies (thanks to the magic of sprites), driving and turret segments, and a nice selection of weapons. That's enough.

Nation Red doesn't have a long story mode like Zombie Shooter. It just gives you a small open space and sends zombies at you. If I'd never played Crimsonland, I'd probably like it. But mine eyes have seen the glory, so Nation Red didn't make much of an impression.

Pound of Ground

Pound of Ground, despite this pretty bland screen shot, does at least leave an impression. The dialog of this Czech made game is so surreal that there should be a warning label advising against playing the game while sober. And the admirable commitment of the voice actors only makes it feel more bizarre. The gameplay was always teetering on the brink of being terrible (way too repetitive, the occasional super cramped combat area), but never quite fell over that brink, in my opinion. So while I can't recommend Pound of Ground, I did somehow enjoy it.

24 October, 2011

No Hurry

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 23 October, 2011

I didn't write anything last week because I didn't have much to say. I still don't, but I call these things keepalives for a reason, right?

We're right in the middle of the holiday release season, but I'm just not feeling it. Deus Ex 3 was, by most accounts more of Deus Ex 1, but prettier. That's nice, but there's no hurry. Gears 3 and Uncharted 3 are probably very good, but they're console exclusives. Rage has nice tech, but it's mostly shooting in a post-apocalyptic setting, which I've done many times before. The new Batman isn't on PC yet, but it's also more of the same, so I'm not counting the days. Battlefield 3 won't run on WinXP, and from what I've seen and played isn't worth an upgrade. I haven't cared about Call of Duty since the second installment.

Nope. The only major release I'm waiting on is Saint's Row: The Third. Volition has been adding as much crazy stuff as they could think of to that game, and while I'm afraid they may have spoiled the biggest surprises with their marketing, I'm sure it'll still be a lot of fun.

09 October, 2011

Playing the Angles

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 9 October, 2011

3D is hard. I'm not even talking about 3D graphics. I'm talking about 3D environments, prevalent in games since the mid-90s, regardless of how they're rendered. Humans are built for 3D, but the games I played this week reminded me of how challenging it still is for game developers.

Transformers (2004)

After playing the more recent War for Cybertron, I heard that the 2004 PS2 Transformers game was considered the best ever made, so I hunted down a cheap used copy. The game defaulted to Recruit difficulty, but that sounded boring, so I bumped it up to Veteran. To survive on Veteran, I've had to resort to pretty lame tactics.

The first boss had to be fought in terraced ruins. Since the boss couldn't fire while jumping between levels, I simply changed levels, took cover, then jumped out and pegged him while he couldn't retaliate.

The second boss was a jet. So I hid in a barn and shot him in the back with homing rockets as he went over.

The third boss was a helicopter, but his guns couldn't penetrate water, so I found a shallow lake, turned into a vehicle, and only had to dodge his missiles. And even still he was a pain.

And boss fights aren't the only problem. There's a stealth segment in the game that is a huge pain to actually be stealthy in. The game's sound algorithm increases the volume of things in front of you, so trying to guess enemy positions by sound doesn't work. And the ability you get to see enemies through walls doesn't work at a long enough range to make it very useful.

I respect that this game gives players a lot more options and freedom than the more guided experience of War for Cybertron. But it's got its own problems.

Portal 2 (2011)

Portal 2, was on sale for $15 last week, so I finally picked it up. It had it's moments, but I got the same feeling that I did with Dead Space 2. Here are some fine bits of entertainment with a mediocre game in between.

It's probably sacrilege to call Portal 2 a mediocre game, but I felt the same way about Portal 1. The novelty was great, but the puzzles were so focus tested and carefully built to guide the player to a single solution that much of the spontaneity and creativity had been removed from play. And the new gels added to Portal 2 weren't really enough to make it feel novel.

Additionally, solving some puzzles depended on noticing usable panels or objects in out of the way locations. Those puzzles felt like a 3D version of the pixel hunts in old adventure games, and I was more annoyed than pleased to find their solutions.

02 October, 2011

Plastic and Metal

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 2 October, 2011

Computer graphics are good at certain textures. They do fairly convincing plastic and metal without too much effort, while textiles and skin are far more involved. I mention this because the games I played this week reminded me.

The Last Templar

The Last Templar is a lackluster game. The fighting is tolerable. The upgrade system hides so much that I had no idea what I was working towards. And there's a lot of dull travel. But I was mesmerized by this random background character.

I don't know where I've seen the texture of his clothes before, but I could almost feel the thick, pliant rubber in my hands as I looked at it.

I have no idea what kind of plastic his hair is made from. It looks like a Lego hairstyle that he slips over his head when he wants to differentiate himself from the other random people he portrays in the game.

Transformers: War for Cybertron

The game has a very stylized look. All the metal is supposed to look old and worn. As a result, much of the game looks drab.

Still, I enjoy being a giant robot and shooting giant robots, and the set pieces are impressive.


This being October, I try to look out for horror games, but I've played almost all the one's I've got. So I decided to revisit NecroVision. The game does rubber and metal textures in a way almost no other game does.

It's like I'm a toy soldier with a little gleaming sword, fighting rubber Nazi zombies with tin hats. It's supposed to be grim, but it's almost adorable. Even when their heads blow apart they seem to be made of Gummi candy.