November 28, 2010 § 5 Comments
I was originally going to fill this column with my impressions of some games I’d been playing other than Greed Corp – Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Alpha Protocol and Dead Rising 2.
Truth is, though, Need for Speed doesn’t need any additional press from me; it’s an excellent racing game, and I don’t think twice about recommending it to racing enthusiasts or people like me who find cars, in and of themselves, boring.
Alpha Protocol I haven’t played enough of, but from the amount of bugs I’ve experienced so far, only a couple of missions in, I’m unsure whether I’ll bother playing it any further. It shouldn’t have been released in this state.
Dead Rising 2? It’s okay, but it’s also just like the original, and a part of that essence is the way it goes out of its way to be really unforgiving, and I can’t be bothered with that type of game at the moment. Also, the “psychopaths” in the game, its version of mini-bosses, are lazily designed and not fun in any way, shape or form to fight against.
So, instead of me talking about those games, let me bring your attention to this excellent little strategy gem from W!Games, Greed Corp.
Greed Corp is a hex-tastic, turn-based strategy game; fairly simple to learn, while it has enough depth for it to be interesting. The central conceit is that in order to attain victory against your foes, you must mine for resources in the tiles compromising the play area, but by doing this you eventually end up destroying the space around you. This is A Pretty Bad Thing seeing as these tiles are suspended in air, and if any of your units or buildings happen to be on one of these tiles as they’re collapsing, you can wave them bye-bye. The resources gained from these tiles are used mainly to purchase units and buildings, though they’re also needed for other abilities. The goal of the game is to destroy all your opponent’s remaining tiles or units, before they do the same to you.
There are at least a couple of reasons I like Greed Corp (three, if you count the fact that when I bought it, it was at 160 MS Points, which is almost nothing).
First thing, the game’s got personality and character – and wise man once said, personality goes a long way.
The second thing is how pure and streamlined the game experience is. The interface works fantastically well, and is quick and easy to navigate through. Although I think the lack of a ‘cancel’ button for some actions is regrettable, it’s no mortal sin, either. Similar to chess, and other turn-based strategy, the path to victory is through careful, intelligent planning, thereby rewarding thoughtful play. Going back to its simplicity, I like the way the game is boiled down to one unit type, one type of production facility, one type of mining facility, and one type of stationary artillery. Instead of it being about rock-paper-scissor-style arrangements, the key here is very much focused on a risk–reward formula, which in my opinion is at the heart of what makes a good strategy/puzzle game. Try to mine every tile recklessly, and you’ll likely end up digging your own grave. At the same time, this is an arms race as to who can grab the superior territory first and in the greatest numbers; hence, behind every war machine is required a large and hefty bank account. Balancing yourself between aggressive and conservative play forms, learning from previous mistakes and adapting to new strategies, is what keeps you playing; and the AI, while sometimes patently stupid, is challenging enough whilst not being too difficult, resulting in a pleasant, gradual learning curve.
In terms of content, there is a substantial single player campaign, as well as skirmish and multiplayer modes. Disappointing, like most XBLA games, there seems to be no one playing it online. Overall, I think, Greed Corp is one of the best turn-based strategy games on the 360 – better than some full retail games, like Civilization Revolution, even. I’m not sure it’s worth 800 MS Points, but anything lower than that and I think it enters into the “It’s a deal, it’s a steal” banding.
November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
Most of this week I’ve been playing Black Ops, or “BLOPs”, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First off, the funny news:
This, reported from VG247:
“Crytek: ‘You don’t make a 90 plus rated game with a 30 rated bush in the game’”.
‘Let’s say you’re making a 90 plus rated game. Everything you do, every aspect that goes into the game, every person working on it, has to be 90 plus rated, or you don’t get to 90 plus rated.
‘You don’t make a 90 plus rated game with a 30 rated bush in the game. Everything has to reach this quality bar. Every person working on it has to put that kind of effort into it, otherwise you have to do some things that are at 94/95 to pull the average up to 90. This threshold is so difficult to attain. That’s a really difficult task for any developer to accomplish.’
Of course, this is all true. A game that is otherwise excellent can be marked down below the 9/10 mark for having some significant flaw – such as a poor multiplayer mode, for example. A lot of the time a game will hit the 7/10 or 8/10 mark, but it’s rare that they’ll get or go above 9/10. Usually, anything 9/10 or over is “game of the year” (GOTY) material.
I find this funny because it’s true, but also sad. Some publishers and development houses have become obsessed with their metacritic ratings, thinking a 90+ guarantees them blockbuster sales. Again, this very likely has some truth to it, but it must be a tremendous strain on studios to know that if they don’t hit 90 they’ve failed. To believe that one bad review can drag all their hard work into the gutter– that’s pretty harsh.
Second story, a lot less funny and more depressing, is that Activision is looking to find a buyer for Bizarre Creations, and if that doesn’t happen they, Bizarre, will likely face closure (via Gamasutra):
The statement from Activision comes as rumors hit the web that 200 workers were let go from the Liverpool, England-based studio.
But the rep told Gamasutra that all Bizarre staff thus far have only received a 90-day notice that some type of restructuring or closure could take place, in accordance with UK labor laws.
It’s possible that parent Activision could sell off Bizarre as a whole, shut it down, reduce the headcount or sell off its assets, among numerous other possibilities. Activision has yet to make public any firm decision.
Activision also states within the article that:
“Although we made a substantial investment in creating a new IP, Blur, it did not find a commercial audience.”
Very quickly after, tweets were flying about, denouncing Activision as money-grabbing whores, or something to that effect. Really, though, when you look at their recent output, Bizarre hasn’t made any truly great games – with the exception being Geometry Wars, which was a bit of a commercial fluke. Their third-person shooters, including the recent James Bond game, have been crap. Arguably, the only area in which the studio has seen success is in the racing genre, but they lost the right to continue making the Project Gotham series, as that IP belongs to Microsoft Game Studios. And Blur, their supposed return to form, didn’t sell. Sure, there are extenuating circumstances to that. Red Dead Redemption virtually creamed any and all opposition when it appeared on game shelves, seemingly out of nowhere. The fact is, though, Activision is a publisher whose modus operandi is to produce blockbuster-sized games and create mega franchises. High levels of investment; high risk; high reward. And in that equation, failure isn’t an option. While it isn’t particularly charitable, it’s completely in line with how the company is run nowadays. So, can anyone really act surprised over this?
And now… on to Black Ops.
I am dissapoint.
While the multiplayer is still as addictive as ever, the single player is pretty mediocre, sometimes bad. A lot of this, I think, comes down to a lack of playtesting. At significant points in the game the AI scripting just isn’t good enough and seems to rely way, way too much on the player having taken a certain path or done a certain thing. What’s worse is that it feels even more linear, more contrived, more unfair and less interactive than before. The smoke and mirrors aren’t nearly effective enough this time around, and so, frequently, you are walking into set pieces and having to think in terms of “gaming” the system – working out exactly what it wants you to do so you can progress. It’s a total immersion killer. Because everything’s so tightly scripted, so patently wired to a trigger, nothing is unexpected. Treyarch has overplayed their hand in how many tricks they can throw at the user, and the result is an experience that feels formulaic, predictable and cold.
Multiplayer? Yeah, there’s nothing else out there like it. There are plenty of new maps and game modes. They’re decent without being anything special. Nazi Zombies is also back, which is either a good or bad thing depending on you feel about the original mode in World at War. Apart from the levels, it’s an identical experience – in that it’s still as poorly balanced and dull as the original. I’ve always thought of it as a completely redundant game mode. I haven’t changed my mind.
The final thing I’ll touch on is the implementation of CoD Points in multiplayer. While you do get new weapons as a result of levelling up, almost everything else needs to be bought with these points. I think that having these two systems running alongside each other functions okay, works, but also comes over a little convoluted. It does allow more freedom in what you unlock, but it’s also overwhelming – even to someone who’s played MW2 it’s overwhelming. The interesting thing here, though, is that this is very clearly Activision attempting to monetise the CoD franchise further, and my gut is telling me that you’ll be able to buy additional points, which will be sold as DLC, at a later date.
November 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
Not like this. (Note: last time I use this meme. Promise.)
Seriously, I could probably do a whole blog on poor product placement.
Offenders: Microsoft and How I Met Your Mother.
CrunchGear very much hits the nail on the head here. But, in essence:
For shame, Microsoft, and the producers of HIMYM, for even believing for one second that this would fly.
If this is how far down the show has sunk, I think I’m pretty much done with it. I mean, jeez, even I, Robot wasn’t this bad (though it was also terrible):
Product placement isn’t evil, but as soon as it becomes obvious, it has failed. As soon as people get wind of it, they turn against the product. When done badly, it’s incredibly lame.
Is that really the response you want the consumer to associate with your brand?
November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’ve been busy job hunting over the last few days, so I haven’t had much time to write anything. However, there has been some interesting stuff going on that I haven’t covered, which I thought would be cool to highlight here.
- XBox LIVE Indie Games developers saw their titles moved back to the Games & Demos section of the 360 dashboard, as they rightly should have stayed in the first place. Great news for those devs that reportedly saw their sales halve overnight, and it puts Microsoft in a pretty good light, too – listening to the little guy, and responding. (Via Eurogamer.net.)
- A bunch of Black Ops stuff: strong review scores all-round; record-breaking sales; problems with the PC version of the game; and patches and promises from Treyarch. Pretty bummed out to see the PC version released in a state that left the multiplayer unplayable for a lot of people, and in the end it convinced me to buy the cheaper 360 version instead. I just can’t be arsed with the hassle of broken games any more, and then waiting for a patch to come out. Too little, too late, for me. (Multiple sources.)
- This slideshow presentation on “Gamification” and how marketers misunderstand the concept, where they go wrong with it, and what makes games actually “fun” to play. These are essential, fundamental ideas that marketers – both social media and digital – need to get their heads around for their efforts to succeed in this space. Badges aren’t enough, people! (Authored by Sebastian Deterding.)
- Trouble for Windows Phone 7: after initially optimistic reports of high demand around the world, it appears that handsets featuring the new OS have only sold 40,000 units in the US so far, while in Europe the numbers stand at around 250,000, faring slightly better. I suggested it could be a supply problem holding back demand. Nevertheless, it’s not auspicious news, but the expectations for the phones have been remarkably, somewhat unfairly, high. The word “flop” has been thrown around too quickly, in my opinion, and in others’. It’s certainly possible that the phone will indeed flop, but it’s still too early to tell, and I think it’s a mistake to count Microsoft out just like that. I hope the platform achieves some sort of success, as competition breeds innovation and, generally, lower-priced deals for consumers. (Multiple sources.)
- More phones news, but this time it’s Android: alleged photos on the Nexus S, the heir apparent to the much beloved Nexus One, from Engadget; and TNW has some very limited information on what kind of carrier availability to expect. Not a whole lot of substantiated facts, to be honest, but at this point I think it’s plausible that there will be a Nexus-branded phone coming out at some point, if it wasn’t already in the making. Too many people want it to happen. (Multiple sources.)
- In a pretty clever PR stunt, Sega set up a road crossing in London for one day to raise awareness around hedgehog-related road fatalities – and also to promote their new game, Sonic Colours! It got coverage across gaming sites and in at least one broadsheet. (Hey! The Daily Mail counts, right?) Worth it if only for the above featured super-cute picture of an actual hedgehog wearing teeny-tiny Sonic boots. Priceless. (Via Eurogamer.net, again.)
- Giant Bomb published a Quick Look on Tron: Evolution (thankfully, someone came to their senses and got rid of the additional sub-title, “The Video Game”). Having not really followed Tron’s progress, I was totally surprised by what I saw: it actually looked good – like, really, really good; like a game you’d want to play for more than five minutes, as opposed to the usual film-licensed shovelware. I don’t know why I should be so surprised, though. Disney Interactive has really started to take gaming seriously: they released Split/Second: Velocity earlier this year, which I derived immense enjoyment from, out of both its innovative concept and slick execution; they’ve got Epic Mickey on the Wii coming out, also looking like a quality product, from Warren Spector, one of the industry’s greats; and they’ve got this, Tron, too – also looking phenomenal. (Via Giant Bomb.)
- Rockstar has announced a new trailer and release date for L.A. Noire, which seems styled like a Chinatown-esque, third-person action game. It looks stunning, really; I’m at a loss for words. I’m a big fan of film noir, and it’s hokey, pulpy, melodramtic elements often can play out very well in a video game setting. (Via Joystiq.)
- Finally, we get to me shamelessly self-promoting my new article featured on Resolution-Magazine, entitled “The Miser’s Guide to Gaming On A Budget“. Hopefully it will serve some use for people who, like me, don’t have all the money in the world to spend on games – but wish they did. (Via Resolution-Magazine.)
And that’s all, folks! Tune in next time for… something else, I suspect.
November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’ve been playing this game a little over the weekend and yesterday, and I’m pretty much done with it now. Sadly, I never got the chance to try out the Undercover Cop or Cops & Robbers modes, as there was no one online playing them. Hell, just trying to get a game together for Fragile Alliance was difficult enough.
The game is super short, but in all honesty I had had enough by the time I finished the main campaign and played some of the arcade mode. Having said that, though, there is a slightly seedy feel to Kane & Lynch 2 that is oddly quite refreshing, and IO Interactive has done a bang-up job of recreating the scuzzier side of Shanghai. Although it’s a little depressing, it feels authentic. Probably its best quality – reinforcing the pulpy, gritty atmosphere – is the way IO has added a graphical filter, special effects and a “shaky-cam” third-person perspective, making it seem like the action before you is being recorded off a digital camera. It’s a clever trick, one which I don’t think has been done before. I can see that it might divide people – that it makes everything look a bit crummy, that the camera bob is nausea-inducing, etc. – but I really think it’s the best thing going for the game.
These are all things that make Kane & Lynch 2 unique and interesting and worth playing. My big problem, though, is that the gunplay and combat, while an improvement on the original, still feels off in this sequel.
Specifically, the animations for the character models look weird and jerky, and the AI is substandard, as if everyone’s on speed and doesn’t quite know where they’re going or what they’re doing. Another aspect, the “Down Not Dead” mechanic, where you’ve been knocked back on your ass but are still able to fire while you get back into cover, feels contrived and looks a bit bizarre. Also, I don’t like the way accuracy works in the game, where you can miss even if you have the cursor perfectly centred on an adversary’s face; enemies towards the tail-end of the game are bullet-sponges, taking way too many slugs in the chest before they go down; and cover is strangely ineffective, even when seemingly out of an enemy’s line of sight. Crucially, the gunplay here is substandard, and when you have a weak foundation like that, it tends to bring everything else down with it.
The Story mode, which can also be played in online co-op, is basically the typical deal-gone-wrong plotline out of any number of heist films, and as I mentioned it’s short. The Arcade mode feels like filler content, with very little thought put into it. It’s essentially a version of Fragile Alliance without any of the human elements that make it interesting. Similar to a Horde mode, the player repeats the same map over and over, whereupon entering each new round the AI gets stronger and more aggressive. However, because enemy placements remain the same throughout and the maps are so small it gets tiresome quickly.
The multiplayer version of Fragile Alliance is a lot more interesting for the reason that you’re playing with and against people on your team, not bots. The whole idea of Fragile Alliance – its design – is superb, and it deserves its own game, not to be tacked on like this. With a larger range of expanded maps, more sophisticated AI and placement, and better gameplay, that could be IO’s ticket for success.
As it stands, Kane and Lynch 2 is a mixed bag. It has moments in it of genuine inspiration, but they’re mired by mediocre gameplay and a lack of content.
November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
It seems like everyone’s talking about Black Ops at the moment – and I hate to buck a trend. I’m quite looking forward to playing the game, given that I was a fan of Treyarch’s last title in the Call of Duty franchise, World at War. Never really understood the absurd amount of disdain the fanbase had for these guys; nor was I very impressed when Infinity Ward’s community manager at the time, Robert Bowling, publicly attacked Treyarch producer Noah Heller. (Pretty unprofessional, to be honest.)
Since the mass exodus at Infinity Ward, sentiment towards the much maligned studio has shifted significantly. They’re now seen as top dog, where as before they were the annoying little brother tagging along for the ride. It’s good to see them get their dues, and I’m hopeful that this new game will at least equal Infinity Ward’s (RIP) effort in quality.
As with Modern Warfare 2, this is looking to be one of the biggest releases of the year, and the supermarkets have already geared themselves up for a price war against each other and the specialist retailers. Consequently, they’ve been some cool deals popping up here and there. Cheap Arse Gamer has a whole thread dedicated to them, as do several other websites. My current favourite is Tesco’s £25 offer for the game if you also buy a 3-month Xbox LIVE Gold or 2100 MS Points card, which I would probably go for if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m buying the PC version of the game.
Why PC? Well, someone’s got to stick up for the platform – and it is a great platform – but I guess the biggest thing is that Black Ops, unlike its predecessor, includes support for dedicated servers. From my rant last year, you can rightly assume I’m pretty happy about that.
November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’ve been thinking about what to write about today, and truthfully I haven’t seen anything that interesting other than this wacky shit.
Oh, and Kinect came out in the US. And despite a bunch of gaming websites plastered with coverage on the device and its associated games, I really haven’t been paying that much attention to it. From a sales standpoint, and in relation to how well Sony’s Move does, I’m curious, but purely as someone who plays video games, it’s not something I’m at all interested in.
Now, I was blown away when I first saw it at E3 in 2009, because it just seemed so crazy then. I was intrigued by the possibilities around voice recognition and motion-controlled UI navigation, the latter in regards to how it could be utilized in RTS games and on the 360 dashboard. The voice recognition apparently works but the UI navigation appears lacking from what I’ve seen and heard so far. There are also limitations, such as the distance you need to be for Kinect to pick you up properly, the notable latency issue and the lack of fidelity in the way that it can’t, as far as I know, pick up more precise movements. Can’t say I’m blown over by the current software line-up it has either, they being the usual proof of concept demos all gussied up. Regardless of all these misgivings, however, is a larger, more fundamental issue I have with Kinect: I don’t want to be jumping around my living space when playing a game for long periods of time; I want to slouch all the way back in my comfy chair, joypad in hand, and chill the eff out.
That’s just me, though, and I’m well aware of that. I’m well aware of the fact that Kinect wasn’t made for my benefit, wasn’t being targeted towards my gaming demographic, and is trying desperately hard to convert the Xbox 360 into a family-oriented product, directly against the Wii. From a business point of view it makes sense; it’s just that as player who enjoys teh Haloz [sic], Mass Effects and Mortal Kombats of this world, I don’t really care. Although, I do think that if Kinect picks up and becomes a Wii-like phenomenon – and early reports of stock shortages are somewhat encouraging – you can absolutely bet your car, mortgage and significant other that the next console iteration will include all, if not most, of Kinect’s features built-in.