Tag Archives: video games

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3, then. Shepard and EDI, at it[/caption] So yeah: by now you may have already read my review of Mass Effect 2. If you didn’t, go read that first.

Mass Effect 3 was released this year (wikipedia), with plenty of fanfare and controversy. First of all, there was the spat about DLCs that featured extra footage (scenes so you will) that were crucial for the storyline. Secondly, EA, owner of Bioware, decided to bring out Mass Effect 3 for their digital content delivery system, Origin, only, therefore ignoring requests from many fans to deliver the game thru Valve’s Steam. Thirdly, many game reviewers jumped the gun by calling this the best game of the year, which it isn’t. So what’s new and what’s not new?

The game is once again heavily scripted, dumbed down and generally, feels shorter than ME2 (I finished the game in 26 or so hours). Maps and levels, generally don’t take long to finish and worst yet, when leveled up, feel easy to take on. You hear that right: it feels shorter and it feels easier. I think, there were only two maps/missions that were fairly tough only because both of them pitted you against banshees. My general feeling about ME3 is that you can’t really call it an RPG: the choices that you have to make during many cutscenes generally have two answers: you can either pick evil or not so evil. Even that is sort of a step back from ME2, let alone ME1.

However: the story line is epic and while hard-core fans didn’t agree with the ending, I feel this game is an appropriate end to the Mass Effect lore. Sure you knew Shepard would die eventually (well, if you play it in a specific way you can actually have Shepard survive, but this implies that you gathered every ‘war assets’ that you can find). And that’s, I guess all I wanted to mention in this posting: Mass Effect 3 is a worthy game if you already played the earlier ones. If you haven’t played the first two games, you might miss references. Dumbed down and what not: my general feeling after finishing this game was a sigh of relief. I’m not sure what Bioware is planning and cooking up, but I surely hope they leave the Mass Effect world alone now. If not, I’m certain I will not buy into their crap any more. And that’s all I’m going to say about this.

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Eye of the Beholder/Grimrock

This is not going to be a review of sorts: However, I bought ‘Legend of Grimrock’ (producer) the other day, which is an old-style hack-and-slash dungeon crawler a la “Dungeon Master”, or, rather, more to my experience, “Eye of the Beholder”. I’ve only briefly mentioned “Eye of the Beholder” before on this site (here).

The game has been a resounding success, if I may say so: It looks like the Finnish developer has already recovered the cost of producing the game. This is surprising: Back when I played EOB (and EOB2) I always thought the introduction of games from Id Software (you know the 3D FPS) basically replaced the trusty dungeon crawlers: from one day to the other, these crawlers became ‘out of date’ technology. No matter how you turn it: Quake, was the turning point for PC-gaming.

While playing Grimrock, I run into frustrations as reported by many others on the Internets: however, most of them are actually neglectable if you think about the type of game Grimrock actually is: It’s a dungeon crawler. You’re supposed to take the time for it. For someone who finished both EOBs, like ages ago, the puzzles are what make these kind of games enjoyable.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While I’m at it: I haven’t had time to put any thoughts on games. Not that I spend my hours on playing games all the time: however, 2 or 3 months ago, I managed to finish ‘Skyrim’ (product page, wikipedia page).

I’ve played but never finished ‘Oblivion’ (review here) or its predecessor, ‘Morrowind’ (never reviewed): Actually the latter I actually played on an XBOX before but I can’t recall I actually finished it or not. Regardless, while I loved Oblivion, like anyone else, I despised the game’s ‘level scaling algorithm’. Good news first then: in Skyrim there appears to be no level scaling happening. I believe I was able to finish the game in 120+ hours and generally, it wasn’t too hard, combat-wise.

Right: Skyrim is an FPS-based open-world RPG. Technically you can do anything what you want to do in this game: while there are main quest lines (and the dozens of sidequests), you could venture out into a town, kill anybody and walk away from the onslaught. I think in one case, I refused to do a specific side-quest for people of a particular town and since I refused it, I decided just to kill all of them. The beauty of the game is that it detects people have died and (in my case) killed storeowners were replaced by unnamed assistant-shop keepers. Not bad, Bethesda.

Combat is still sort of clunky: Switching from magic to swords (and vice versa) is tedious. Bethesda provided keyboard short cuts, however the amount of available short cuts is not enough. If you’ve selected a combat-like character, there’s no point to try to get ‘magical points': you might just as well find or create the very best armour/shielding there is. There are (and I won’t reveal too much) specific quests to find these items.

Technically and graphically, the game is not too far off from ‘Oblivion': the engine is pretty and scales fairly well (I ran this on my 3-year old P7350 laptop). I don’t recall experiencing ‘slowdowns’ during hectic combat. I believe Skyrim auto-detects your graphical display capabilities: I would recommend to ‘notch it down’ a bit.

There’s so much more to tell about Skyrim: in my 120 hours, while I’ve discovered a lot, I can tell for sure that I’ve not seen 100% of the world. It feels humongous and the changing weather patterns (and northern lights!) make Skyrim feel truly a world of its own. Highly recommended.

See below for screenshots.

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Crysis

I‘ve always been hesitant of trying Crysis (2007) mainly because of the fear my current hardware wouldn’t support the notorious system requirements and other related video graphic cards tweaks that are needed to get this to run nice and smooth. Worse yet, Crysis is currently (still) the litmus test how good your high-end PC can run this game. All the hoopla out of the way: I, however, had no problems getting Crysis to run on my laptop. I had to tone it down to a 1280 x 800 resolution and all settings set to medium. The result is actually not too bad and at least it seems very playable (without any lag, that is). The proof is in the screenshots.

Now, I haven’t really played FPS games recently and upon starting up a new game in ‘normal’ mode, during the initial runs, my skills were obviously lacking to say the least and the game does not forgive you for that. Like any other FPS, it’s very fast paced and running into hectic situations has two outcomes: you get either killed or get your butt kicked by the AI. This is also when you learn to rely on the specific nano-suit skills the game provides to you: using a short cut you can adjust to focus on Shield (max. protection), Speed, Strength and Stealth. If you prefer to lay down and scout the environment before attacking a heavy-guarded base, you can do so. However, nothing stops you from ramming a vehicle in a guard post, jump out of it and “run and gun” your opponents. The game flow is so fluid and so dynamic, that it doesn’t matter what route you choose or which approach you use (by vehicle, food or water) as long as you make it to your checkpoints, from where the cut-scenes and main story line will continue. In that sense, Crysis is indeed a typical linear FPS game, make no mistake about that. However, the open-world and the excellent AI, will most likely make every new game a different challenge.

So without a doubt, I highly recommend this game. It’s a game that doesn’t punish you when you take the wrong short-cut. It is demanding though, skills and computer wise, but the freedom of movement in this game and for an FPS, it is magnificent. Truly, magnificent.

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X3: Terran Conflict

I‘ve been a long-time fan of Egosoft’s X3 series: A while ago, I used to play ‘X3: Reunion’, but I have slowly moved to the game’s successor ‘X3: Terran Conflict’ (company info, Wikipedia info and Metacritic reviews).

Following in the tradition of ‘Reunion’, Terran Conflict (or X3:TC) is an open-ended space/combat simulator and if that’s still incomprehensible: think ‘Elite’. There’s no real goal in this game: if you prefer to float around then that’s you choice. However, TC is definitely different than ‘Reunion': first of all, it has multiple ‘story/mission lines’, which you can (of course) choose to ignore. Secondly, TC now provides ‘sector missions’, which are rated missions (from easy to very hard) which you can (again) choose to take up or ignore. These missions literally can fill up your wallet: compared to ‘Reunion’ where it may take months to get to the 10 million credits mark, in X3:TC this is only a matter of days. This of course changes the player’s progress dramatically and with serious consequences: the faster you rate up the harder the competition will get. You’ll find that with all the earned monies, you’ll actually have to buy and use corvettes and carriers to get through some of the hardest missions. Particularly the ‘Patrol’ and ‘Xenon’ missions.

There’s still a lot to explore in this X3-universe: if you’re coming from X3:Reunion, you’ll notice the slight graphical differences, the (changed) user interface (which now offers extensive support for gamers who prefer to play with mice) and several command options that (purportedly) help smoothen out first-time players. In TC, it’s now also possible to board capital ships (as opposed to trying to ‘capture’ them), plus, there’s finally support for using ‘wings’. However, the AI (for your wingmen) is still flaky at times: avoid making too large fighter/support wings.

So, ‘TC’ is the grand finale for the X3 series and (if you’re into these kind of games) a worthwhile buy: However, it can be fairly hard at times. On my game rating level, it’s a 6: the game can be frustrating and has a steep learning curve, but generally, it’s a highly rewarding and one-of-a-kind game. I can’t wait to see what Egosoft is planning next.

See below for screenshots.

04/29/2010: Egosoft bumped up the version to 2.6, which now includes Steam achievements, if that strikes your fancy.

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FarCry 2

The only reason why I got FarCry 2 is that I find the concept of ‘”Sandbox” First Person Shooter’ games extremely compelling. I think the idea started with ‘Oblivion’ (discussed earlier, thanks Alfons), where players could wander about and around for hours and take on any quest or job that was offered on the road. STALKER (the other ‘Sandbox’ game) was another game I tried (and never discussed, for the reason that I don’t own the game anymore): While STALKER is buggy and graphically not-up-to-par, it provides plenty of space to explore. Brilliant and ugly at times.

So, Ubisoft, the maker of FarCry 2 promises 50 square kilometers of land to explorer, take on missions and what not and after playing the first 7 hours (already?), I think the software maker delivered, I admit, hesitantly. You definitely need the map (and the GPS device) to find your ways around. The most surprising thing about FarCry, is that the graphics engine is highly scalable: I’ve been able to play the game without issues on 1024 x 768 (medium graphics) on this system (A T5600/Nvidia 7600 GO). If you have a laptop system that is newer than the one I have, I wouldn’t be surprised that you’d be able to play the game on higher graphical settings than the one I currently play at.

The game content disappoints, though: I question Ubisoft’s ‘respawn checkpoints’ algorithm. If you clear a checkpoint of enemies, they will be back in full force at the same spot the moment you return: this makes the game extremely repetitive because you end up doing the same over and over. The other nitpick is that the Malaria-feature-thing is obviously a ‘game breaker': I think that without it, the game would feel more ‘open-ended’. Instead, every, what, 2 missions, you’ll end up going back to help the ‘Underground’ just to get your ‘malaria’ fix. The biggest disappointment was the lack of (left/right) leaning and other stealth tactics you needed to employ in the very first FarCry: I hear that the PC version was literally a port from the XBOX 360 version and that support for this would handicap the console-game players. I’m not sure if this is true, particularly looking at Call Of Duty 4, which is available for the popular consoles and has support for this.

However, besides these, the game is ‘immersive': at times, you have time to look around and can make snap decisions about taking a detour instead of going with the mission (nothing will stop you from doing so). You can hide (and run away) from your enemies if you don’t feel like taking them on: you can even finish missions without having it end like a ‘Texan machine gun massacre’ (this requires heavily scouting of areas of interest, which the manual recommends). The shooting mechanics are sufficient but at times obnoxious: during the early stages, it seems like it takes a whole ‘clip’ to kill your foes. Eventually, you’ll figure out that you have to buy up specific weapon upgrades to improve your targeting skill and weapon reliability.

So, yes, FarCry 2 is enjoyable if you can live with the particular nitpicks I mentioned above: It’s not a typical run-and-gun game and yes, it’s highly replayable, that is, if you didn’t burn through the ‘5 installs only’ DRM. It’s extremely stable (there are some storyline bugs) and highly scalable: even on the lowest details, the game is playable and a feast for the eye. However, I’d be the first to admit it’s not perfect at all and (obviously) it looks like Ubisoft didn’t make up on all its promises in early previews and tech demos. Hesitantly recommended: however, don’t bother spending 50 what dollars on it if you were planning to spend it on something else (like Fallout 3).

01/31/09: Looking back at Farcry 2, an interview with one of the designers of the game.

Sinking Brick

What is more exciting than a rantThe Sinking Brick about rising gas prices and peak oil? Why, a photo of an oil tanker in the Bay, of course!

This week’s attention grabber was Weezer’s video for their new song, ‘Beans and Pork’, which apparently stars prominent YouTube ‘dignitaries’ (MetaFilter). Maybe I’m not really following YouTube, but I only recognized a couple of them. I’m also not really a fan of Weezer’s music. I read that The Barenaked Ladies were the first ones to have used Internet memes in their video production.

The new Indiana Jones (“Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) came out this week: muchly anticipated with good reviews (7.4 on Rotten Tomatoes). This week, the movie made over 120,000 dollars at the box-office. Earlier, the game “Grand Theft Auto 4″ brought in over 500,000 USD in only one week.

So, today, the Phoenix Mars Lander is landing on Mars (ha-ha) and you can (could) follow this at NASA’s Phoenix website (blog). Looking at the mission’s logo, I can’t help thinking that it was inspired by the FireFox logo.

Update (21:08): I guess the Phoenix just (succesfully) landed.

Call Of Duty 4

A Pripyat sniper missioncouple of weeks ago I ended up buying ‘Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’ (Wikipedia). The game, as the title suggests, is situated in today’s world (instead of the usual WWII setting): the single player portion delivers a slightly unrealistic story about a revolution in an (unspecified) Arab country and ties that together with a storyline about a nationalist faction in Russia. You play two officers: a staff sergeant in the USMC and an SAS operative and (obviously) your job is to stop the terrorists at all cost (no, really).

Before I continue to elaborate on the single player missions: I was pleasantly surprised about the hardware requirements: I had no problems running it on my current preferred setup. The game has excellent frame rates at a 800×600 resolution: with a higher end duo-core 2 processor (5600 and higher) and a better graphics card (Nvidia 7200 and greater) you should be able to run COD4 comfortably on 1024×768 or higher, that is, including shadows and that. So: if you bought a computer just recently (lets say, a half year to a year ago) you should be able to run this game provided that it came with a 3D capable card (NVIDIA or ATI that will be). Parents, do notice that this game is rated ‘M’ (17 years+ older).

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What, Salamander?

By coincidence, I ran into videos of a guy completing the MSX game ‘Salamander’ (Salamander at Wikipedia). The video is in 4 parts and doesn’t include the very first stage: movies 1, 2, 3 and the end stage, 4. I discussed this game earlier: yesterday, last year and the year before that. Do I see a recurring pattern here?

There were a couple of things I recognized while watching those movies: I could identify most of the player’s actions. One of those actions is to spread out the ‘options’ [or clones as they were called too, so once in a while] as wide as possible so that every corner is covered by your firepower. I also recognized at what point ‘enemies’ would come from behind, a thought I find creepy and that only because it has been too many years ago.

While I’m on this MSX topic: In the early 80s, the MSX was heavily pushed by Microsoft (the company wrote the operating system [MSX-DOS at Wikipedia] and the BASIC programming language) under the slogan ‘one standard for computers’. I discovered this old video in which a very young Bill Gates explains why the MSX computers (both hardware and software) were the ‘logical next step’ in home computing.

Shoot-em-ups

Earlier this Salamander!week, we were looking for co-op type of games for the XBOX: we weren’t looking for the typical ‘splitscreen’ first person shooter, so Halo and that kind was out. Eventually we settled on ‘Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks’, which allows 2 players to work their way through all the levels. This ended up to be quite fun but at times, say uh, tedious and repetitive. I noticed that there aren’t too many co-op games out there: a good reference I found in this About.com posting, ‘Top Ten Best Co-Op Games on XBOX’.

This also reminds me of the question asked at the local EB Games: where are the typical Shoot-em-ups arcade games for the XBOX. I mean, games in the style of Salamander, Nemesis (Gradius as many other people may know this game for) and R-Type. Glancing through a short-list of games (all of them tagged as ‘shoot-em-up’) seems to suggest that nowadays a ‘shoot-em-up’ game equates to a first-person shooter game. I guess, semantically that would be correct.

Update: More on ‘Shoot’em ups’ at Wikipedia.

Ghost Recon (Gold Edition)

ActuallyWaiting for tanks to come, I wanted to play Medal of Honor, but since the (original) discs appear to be damaged, I ended up looking at a set of Ghost Recon discs. I bought this set of discs 3 or 4 years ago (for 20 dollars or so), played it and never finished it. Actually, I never played the (extra) expansions, which are called ‘Desert Siege’ (situated in Africa) and ‘Island Thunder’ (situated in Cuba). The main game focuses on a couple of incidents in Russia.

The good thing is that games that were new 3 or 4 years ago, play very well on today’s hardware3. So, Ghost Recon works good and the scenery is quite enjoyable on the highest resolution (1280 x 800): I was surprised to see that an older game like this one supporting wide-screen resolutions. There are some screens that show the wrong aspect-ratio, most notably the map and command screens, however, this doesn’t really affect gameplay though. The problem is still there even after applying the latest patch (see the Ubisoft website for ‘latest’ patches) so I guess, it was never fixed.

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

IView on Imperial City from the mountains‘ve been hesitant writing about the game Oblivion (link goes to Wikipedia). The game was passed on to me by Alfons, who complained that (while amazing) the game concept didn’t really appeal to him: too long and dreary. It appears that after the first few hours of playing, I was hooked: Oblivion is literally, the ultimate open-ending RPG game you can play. Beside the main quest, there are hundreds of other quests you can follow and play. Actually, you don’t need to finish or follow the main quest: if you feel like strolling around, you can do so. This is basically what I’ve been doing too: strolling around in the game, going from city to city; so once in a while solving puzzles, advancing levels and ignoring the main quest. There’s too much to discover and too much to see.

But lets take a step back and look at the requirements: obviously you need hardware to get this game to run in high resolutions. Even my latest hardware has troubles running Oblivion in full screen mode, so in my case I still have to run the game in 800×600 mode. When installing the game, I was also surprised to find that (at this stage) only one patch was ever released for the game: While generally stable, the game has booted out a couple of times: from hard resets [blue screens] to lockups. Most of these problematic cases seem to point to the video. On the good side, the game does use ‘autosave’ extensively so after every crash, you magically begin at the point where the game crashed.

Game play is as simple as playing other First Person Shooter games, however, so once in a while, fighting (still) feels like a turn-based game. Take for example the fact that switching and selecting weapons still requires you to go to the a secondary screen: time stops briefly too. Combat can also be quite obnoxious when battling multiple attackers: this is mainly due to how the combat vs. experience system has been implemented. Basically, monsters “level” with you: so in many cases, you may want to clear out areas before actually levelling up.

Additionally, gameplay can be dreary when walking on the roads: I choose that above riding the horse (you can pick up that horse at the priory). Battling enemies and animals on a horse is literally impossible.

But yes, Oblivion is for sure a highlight in the gaming industry: it’s huge, it allows plenty of freedom and the scenery can be totally amazing (as you can tell from the picture above). On my game rating system (aka ‘Frustation level’), this game is definitely ‘Smooth sailing’. As in enjoyable if you like these kind of games.

You asked: most difficult shoot’em ups

Without a doubt, that would be Salamander, a Konami game released in 1986 (wikipedia). I played the game on an MSX-2 home computer and I actually tried to beat it last year (that older entry has a screenshot plus original sound!).

There are a couple of reasons why I think that game is so hard:

  • The game can be played with two players simultaneously, which shows: there’s so much action going on all over the screen that it is sometimes impossible to break through stages without any help.
  • The game features multi-directional scrolling in all stages.
  • There’s a frequent change of view: in most stages, you ‘fly from left to right’, however, there are 2 or 3 stages that shows your ‘ship’ from a birdsview.
  • ‘Yo Save Games are for losers’. There are no save games in Salamander. You’re supposed to beat the game. And you start with only 3 lives.

That said, I beat the game: However, if you plan to play it (there’s plenty of MSX emulators around nowadays), make sure you buy the right joystick. The game is all about counting.

I read that the Wikipedia article states that the MSX version contained way longer stages. Yeah: like if I didn’t know.