Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

ZX Spectrum

April 23rd, 2012

I think this is a fairly unusual thing for me to write about, not only is it the second time I’ve updated this site in a week but it’s not a rant on a subject I know little about.

It’s also a surprise as I wasn’t expecting to write this. The news that the Sinclair ZX Spectrum has turned 30 shocked me a bit, not because I doubt they’ve figured it out correctly but because it made me think about the massive impact it had on my life and everything that came after it, essentially it defined most of the last thirty years for me.

Unlike many people I’ve noticed on Twitter this morning, I didn’t get hold of a Spectrum and become inspired to programme, it tweaked my interest a little but  I was much more interested in consuming anything that other people created. The Spectrum was my first initiation into video games and I think it’s fair to say it stuck.

Actually that might not be quite true, in the 70s I did have a Binatone Pong console thing, it was rubbish.

My launch into the world of home computing came as a complete surprise. I remember one rainy Saturday  in 1982 that the postman brought my Dad a curious brown box. I had no comprehension of what a computer really was, why we would need one or that one was on the way. I remember watching as it got set up on the portable TV upstairs (yes, we had a second TV in 1982) and some vague reassurance that it would help me with homework or something. With hindsight I now realise my Dad didn’t have a clue what a Spectrum was either.

The only software that came with the Spectrum was there Horizons tape. This gave you everything you needed for an insight into the powerful world of computing, once you’d figured out how to connect a tape player to the back and found that ridiculous, unique, combination of volume, tone and balance that allowed you to load software, life became easier once dedicated tape players were available but that first day was mostly guess work.

Horizons isn’t something I have much recollection of, mainly because most of it was rubbish. Much of it was tutorials that taught you how the Spectrum worked and some software. The obvious stand out was Thro’ the Wall, this was the thing that really opened my eyes to video games and made me realise why we needed a computer.

At the time there were very few other games about and those that were available didn’t tend to be in shops in Eastbourne where I grew up. The only two games that WH Smiths had in their embryonic games section were 3D Monster Maze and Meteor Storm. Looking at the Internet it seems like my recollection of 3d Monster Maze is wrong, all I can find is a ZX81 maze game, whereas the one I’m thinking of was a top down 3d maze with monsters in, maybe that’s why I’ve created my own unique memory of it. Meteor Storm was the most exciting prospect as it combined Asteroids and speech, yes it could talk. Every now and then it would shout “meteor alert”, or at least something like that. The Spectrum sound chip was so bad that you would only know there was speech if you’d already read the tape case.

There other problem I had was that games cost about £3.99 in 80s and that was a ridiculous amount of money to get together.

Consequently the only initial route to getting games was to type code into the Spectrum from a magazine. Sometimes pages and pages of code, generally pages and pages of faulty code. I remember my Dad really wanted a flight simulator, and the only one about was the most daunting thing that Your Computer had committed to page. I’m pretty sure it never worked, I think they were printing corrections to the code for months.

Many people will tell you that this experience of coding taught them how to become programmers. This experience of coding taught me I needed to find a more efficient way to pirate games off other people.

The next few years were devoted to perfecting the technique of tape to tape piracy and accumulating as many games as possible. As we fondly remember the Spectrum most people will not mention that 90% of the games released on it were truly appalling. I’d be surprised if there were many games that got much more than one or two hours play out of them. This was mainly because there were so many of them and nobody really had any concept of quality control. The 10% that were good were inspired and stunning example of what can be fitted into less memory than your average Word Document.

The birth of this new industry also caused an explosion in magazines devoted to games. The most influential for me being Crash Magazine. This was notable for me because the people who made it related to their customers in a way I’d never seen before or since. If there was part of a game that you couldn’t figure out you could just ring the magazine office and ask if anyone there had any ideas. It seemed odd to just have the people that wrote stuff I read, on the other end of the phone and happy to talk.

This was an attitude that seemed to be shared by many of the games companies themselves. Three or four years after the Spectrum was released I upgraded to the Commodore 64 with its colour palette and dynamic sound. Over the years I’d accumulated many games on the Spectrum that were now on the Commodore 64. After ringing round the companies that made the games I had most of them replaced in the other format for free. At the time I’d assumed this is what companies would do, now I realise that it was a strange but great response.

The Spectrum started my 30 year obsession with video games and my most consistent interest. It’s been a strange evolution in terms of technology and quality but has been universally good.

And to finish, my all time favourite Spectrum game was Combat Lynx, I’m not sure why but it had exact combination of freedom and helicopters that was all I wanted from a game.

It’s worth following Kebablog via Twitter today, he’s spending the day playing (or attempting to load) as many games as he can. He seems to have a lot of them.

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Free Stuff

February 8th, 2012

My first blog post  of 2012 and it is an exciting free stuff give away.

If you’ve been here before you might well know that I’m an enthusiastic supporter of OnLive. Since I wrote that post I’ve found myself using it more and more. I’ve also now got two of the Micro Consoles, one for downstairs and one for upstairs. It means I can continue games where ever I am in the house.

Recently Pro Evolution Soccer was released on OnLive and I thought I’d give it a go. It works really well but that isn’t the point in writing this. OnLive have a habit of giving things away at silly prices and for pre-ordering Pro Evolution Soccer they threw in a free console. I’ve got more than enough consoles so it left me trying to think of something to do with it. I could flog it on Ebay or I could give it to someone that would appreciate it.

I decided to do that latter.

If you want it there are a few things you should consider first. Sorry, but I am aiming to give it to someone I know, either in real life or through Twitter, so random people asking for it won’t get far. I suppose that raises the question of who and how we know people but we can work through that.

There are some things you need to consider as well. This console will not work for everyone. You need a fairly quick internet connection and ideally one that isn’t capped. This thing can transfer about 5gb of data in an hour, if your connection is limited you will reach that limit quickly. You also need to have a TV with an HDMI connection and be able to plug an ethernet cable into the back of the console. These are all easy enough to sort out but I would advise you to know if you can do it before you ask for it.

The best way to test whether you can run the thing is to set up an account on the OnLive website, down load the app to your PC or Mac and try a demo of a game. If it runs alright on your computer the console will work.

Ideally I want to give it to someone that isn’t going to own a PS3 or XBox 360 and wants to get back into games again, or wants to get their kids into games. I know I’m being quite picky about this but it’s free so humour me. Also it would be good if you are in Birmingham to save me postage, though that isn’t absolute. The most important thing is that it goes somewhere where it is played. Also this might seem strange, but if it doesn’t work with your connection I would like whoever gets it to give it back so I can give it to someone else. I have had a previous experience where I gave someone something and they then sold it on Ebay.

If your internet connection can support this you won’t be disappointed, it’s a great way to play new(ish) games cheap and they have a constant stream of stupid cheap/free offers.

If you would like it let me know, it’s currently sitting on our sideboard looking for a home.

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OnLive OnLine

October 8th, 2011

Back in March 2009 I wrote about cloud gaming. Reading it back to myself two things spring out:-

1) I’ve had a blog since 2008, I did not know that.

2) I appear to have written something with seemingly no opinion in it, it’s a loose collection of vague facts.

Anyway, OnLive launched in the UK a few weeks ago. I felt obliged to sign up and buy one of the micro consoles that connect it to the TV (£69). I felt obliged because I’d written the previous thing a few years ago, or at least that was the tenuous explanation I gave myself for buying another much needed gadget.

You don’t need to buy the console to sign up. You can get OnLive to run on any PC and Mac as long as you have a sufficiently fast internet connection. I think this is a crucial point. If you sign up for free you can play demos of any game they have on OnLive, also for free. Also if you sign up before the 9th October (in the UK) you can get one game for £1. This includes any of the big releases they currently have. I got Dirt 3 for £1 which is a bargain.

Overall I’d say my experience of using OnLive has been very very positive. Much better than I thought it was going to be. It is important to say that all of the games I’ve played, at least graphically, have not been as good as the console/PC equivalent. The quality of the graphics is determined by connection speed and with 20mbps (I never get that speed) all of the graphics have a slightly washed out feel. Overall I reckon they’re about 95% of the way there.

Other than that gameplay has been flawless. After a couple of hours playing Space Marine I had forgotten that  the game was being generated remotely.

Mentioning Space Marine reminds me of another nice touch, after ordering the micro console it did take some time to turn up, this didn’t surprise me, after all I’d ordered it on the launch day and sometimes  things are delayed. Never the less  I had an email from OnLive saying I could have any game for free, a great bit of customer service.

Though this did highlight one of the biggest problems with OnLive, the choice of games isn’t great. There are some great games from the last  year or so, but mainly ones I’ve played on the PS3, when it came to choosing an extra game I found it hard, so went for Space Marine which isn’t something I ever intended to play. As it goes it isn’t a bad game.

Although the range of games isn’t great they do offer a monthly subscription of £6.99  a month which gives you access to package of over 100 games. Mainly old ones, but quite a few I had intended to play years ago and never got round to buying, it seems a good deal.

Other nice touches are, whilst playing anyone logged into OnLive can sit and watch you play, any interesting thing that happens in game can be instantly loaded as a video on to your profile and the controller. The controller that comes with the micro console is fantastic, by far the  most comfortable controller I’ve ever come across.

The thing with OnLive is that I’m still not sure what it’s market  is. For people with a Mac or older PC it is a great way to play more recent games but, at present, the quality does not compete with a high end PC or console.  Having said that the micro console only costs £69 and theoretically will never need to be upgraded.

I can’t see it replacing my PS3 soon but I will use it to play games, especially demos.

The technology is very impressive and with a greater prevalence of proper broadband I can see this as being the way we will see games in ten or twenty years  time. I see that there are plans to integrate the console into TVs and provide an app to play games on tablets and phones, this is the surely the future, but not quite yet.

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Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

February 1st, 2011
I started writing this a few weeks ago, when I finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and then sort of stopped. It took me a while to realise I’d just started trying to write a review rather than keeping to what I thought of it.
Actually I finished it almost a year to the week after I finished Assassin’s Creed 2. I’m not sure if that is noteworthy or not. It gives you a bit of an insight into what I’ve had for Christmas for the last few years (that’s not a complaint, I’ve really liked both of them).
I suppose it is interesting in that a sequel has been released so quickly. I’d expect the development cycle on a game like this to be massive, 12 months might make you think it’s been rushed. Given the attention to detail I have a feeling it probably wasn’t rushed.
It isn’t too different to Assassin’s Creed 2 but legging it around renaissance Italy sticking knives in people doesn’t get boring, so I don’t mind. The addition of a Championship Manager element, where you can train assassins to do the assassinating for you panders to my inherent laziness.
It’s still refreshing to see a story that has been thought through and is as far from the paper thin Call of Duty nonsense as you can get. Having said that I’ve only got a vague idea of what  was going on and a sense of regret that I wasn’t really paying attention at the end. I think I might have missed something fairly vital as the final scene didn’t make a lot of sense.
I understand that the multiplayer is worth investing a bit of time in but I’ve been getting on with other games, I’ve finished another three since Assassin’s Creed and still need to write them up.
Reading this back it seems a little half hearted. That’s a shame as Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is one of the best games I’ve ever played. The problem with it is that it has fixed the few minor things that were wrong with the last one, consequently I think I said it all last time.
If you get the chance to play this, jump at it. It’s a truly great example of a City that seems to live and breathe.

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2010 My Year in Games

December 24th, 2010

It would be unseemly to finish the year without some sort of list, so this is my summary of games I have played this year.

This was my first attempt to record all of the games I have completed and overall I’d have to say it hasn’t gone very well. I currently have nine listed, though with Christmas coming it’s possible that will nudge up a little.

It does mean that I’ve completed games at a rate of less than one a month, which is a big decrease on other years. I know I’ve started loads of games that I’ve never got round to finishing, including Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, God of War III, Star Craft II: Wings of Liberty and Final Fantasy XIII. All of them very good games but all of them left uncompleted to varying degrees.

There are a number of reasons for this, mainly because my PlayStation died and took all my game saves with it. For things like Final Fantasy this would have meant repeating a good twenty hours, I didn’t fancy that.

I’ve also got married this year which hasn’t had a direct impact on my ability to play games but did take some thinking about and a degree of preparation.

I suppose my final reason is that games this year just haven’t seemed as good as other years.

So, rather than making excuses here are my favourite games of the year in some sort of order. These are games released this year rather than ones I’ve played. I have no idea why, but it does mean that I haven’t included Assassins Creed 2, for an entirely arbitrary reason.

10) Angry Birds: It seems strange to include a game from my phone on here but I’ve played it a lot and it is great. It’s free on Android and I’m bewildered why some people don’t own it.

9) Sports Champions: The development of PlayStation Move was a blatant attempt to make in roads on the dominance of  casual gaming by the Wii. Given the relative difference in technology it is no surprise that Move managed show how this really should be done. Sports Champions is a great showcase for how motion controls should work. The minute adjustments you can make to you table tennis bat alone justifies inclusion on here.

8) Starcraft 2: You will notice this is also on my list of games I haven’t completed as well. For some reason I just haven’t got round to it. I’m not sure why. I love any game that makes me consider resource management and Starcraft love resources. I missed out on Starcraft the first time round but have loved this one. I do need to finish it.

7) Rock Band 3: Rock Band is a vital part of my life. It gets played consistently through the year and has been a drain on my income on a weekly basis. I think Rock Band 3 is close to perfect. The ability to change the band round mid set gives it much more flexibility in the post pub situation. The addition of keyboards has also led to a much better range of songs. I suppose quite a lot of this is also cumulative. We have hundred of songs now and there are very few situations where playing Rock Band is not the most appropriate use of time.

6) Fallout: New Vegas: I went into some detail about this a few weeks ago. It is a good game that could have been great. I understand that most of the problems have been sorted out now. If they have then everyone should give it a go.

5) Heavy Rain: Again, a game I wrote about a while a go. It’s something that has stuck with me in the nine months since I’ve finished it. It is a bit clunky but the innovation makes it worth it. I keep meaning to give it another go since it has been patched to work with Move, I’ve never quite got round to it.

4) World of Warcraft: Cataclysm: Is it fair to include this? Probably not. It has got me back into Warcraft after a few years off and, currently, I love it. Though, to be honest, most of what I’ve been playing was actually added in Wrath of the Lich King. I love the fact that the world has been remade and the new style of quests has removed much of the drudgery. I need to consider that this has only just been released so in a few months I might well have got bored again.

3) Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit: This was released at roughly the same time as Gran Turismo 5 and you couldn’t get two more different driving games. Whilst GT5 is just dull Need for Speed is unadulterated mayhem. I was a massive fan of Burnout Paradise and I think Criterion have brought the Need for Speed franchise back to life. They seem to understand how multiplayer should work and have seamlessly integrated your friends into  the single player experience.

2) Red Dead Redemption: Yeah, I mentioned this before. What was a good game at the time has been improved by the constant release of downloadable content. I hadn’t realised that it was hiding, what turned out to be, a very strong multiplayer game. In fact everything that Grand Theft Auto 4 should have been. The addition of Zombies, in Undead Nightmare was a random move that has been much appreciated.

1) Battle field Bad Company 2: This had to be number one. It is actually one of the best games I have ever played. Since completing it back in July I’ve stuck with the multiplayer and loved every minute of it. This is the game that Call of Duty thinks it is and it’s a crime that the developers have not got the accolade they deserve. This has also been supported with really strong downloadable content, capped off by the release, this week, of Vietnam.

If you do yourself one favour this year, try and play a game of rush. This is what the Internet was invented for.

Well, that was my year. Not an outstanding year for the number of games but certainly outstanding for my number one choice.

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Fallout New Vegas

December 14th, 2010
I still can’t decide whether or not Fallout New Vegas was one of the greatest games I have ever played or a soul destroying experience from start to finish.

After Fallout 3 last year I had been really looking forward to playing this. Though that’s not to say I was a great fan of Fallout 3. I found it a really strange experience. The world it created was thoroughly depressing, complicated and well written but overall depressing. The feeling of the post apocalypse was realised through a stunning attention to detail but I was really pleased to get the thing finished.

I noticed over the months after I’d finished Fallout 3 that it was an experience that really stuck with me. Unfortunately the additional content for Fallout 3 was originally licensed as an XBox exclusive so it was some time before I got the chance to get back into playing it.
As an aside I’m very dubious of the value of licensing additional content as an exclusive. Do people really make their purchasing decisions for an entire platform on additional content? I would think the number of people aware of the exclusivity is marginal.

Anyway, once I did begin some of the additional content it was over a year after I’d finished the original game and I didn’t have a clue how to play the game, what decisions I’d made or why I seemed to have a collection of broken gnomes. Then my PS3 died and took all my game saves with it. This left me with having to start Fallout 3 from the beginning. I didn’t really fancy that.

With the release of Fallout New Vegas I thought this was a real opportunity to sort of start again.  Much has been written about how Fallout New Vegas isn’t really a proper sequel.  It’s essentially the same game engine with a different story.

The graphics haven’t developed, with the same building and car models that will be very familiar to anyone who ventured into the Capital wasteland.

This didn’t bother me as Fallout did the job, actually it also did the job in Oblivion so at least it should be dependable.

Apparently I had  a bit of a fortunate experience with Fallout 3. I didn’t have many problems with the game crashing or weird things happening. Fallout New Vegas on the other hand was a disaster. On average I could only get through 30 to 45 minutes before it crashed. This meant constant saving and a complete failure of any sort of immersion.

There are also horrendous bugs in some of the quests. I like the idea of games forcing you to give due consideration for your decisions. If you make a decision with one character then it has an impact on the you later in the game. What shouldn’t happen is that a decision you make has an impact because in the future characters simply just vanish from the world or characters lock up so they can’t move to correct locations. This is shoddy programming and Fallout Vegas is littered with it.

I spent an entire hour trying to push one character through a door because he refused to go into the only room where he was allowed to talk to me. I failed an entire quest chain because a seemingly important character vanished from the game.

What I have found, this week, is that the game has had a massive patch on the PS3 that seemingly fixes all of these problems. Too late for me now.

Having said all that something made me carry on with it and put over seventy hours into completing it. Even exploring until I was certain I had found every location. That has to say something about the quality of what is hiding in there.

The story itself doesn’t have the weight of  Fallout 3, I was never convinced I was saving the world. I wasn’t really convinced I was involved in anything other than a local squabble but the could be entirely down to the path I chose and the ending I got. The variety of side quests seems to be enormous. They also provide excellent detail of everyone you meet, and you meet a lot of people.

You do get the impression that there is a history that underlies everything, you can find all of this detail in the notes that are found in houses, in the dialogue and the email trails on abandoned computers. I love the sheer scale of all of this.

I know it is probably down to the limited graphical options but I still wonder why everything in this world is so dirty. Alright I accept there was an apocalypse. I accept that this probably had a bit of a knock on effect on the wider economy but it does not explain why basic hygiene appears to have gone out of the window.

As you navigate the hundreds of locations you will notice one overwhelming consistency, all of the bathrooms are filthy. There is clearly a hygiene penalty to Armageddon that has previously been ignored. I fear this more than the flames of hell themselves.

It is a great game and deserves much more recognition than the likes of Call of Duty. I just hope that it comes to a point where it is actually playable.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops

November 23rd, 2010

It’s not been a good year for getting games finished. I’ve  started many more than I’ve got to the end of.

I’ve been playing Call of Duty since the first one came out in 2003 and have always had a bit of a tradition of playing through the single player campaign in one sitting. Calling that a tradition is probably overstating it a little, it’s not the equivalent of eating turkey for Christmas, it’s just playing a game.

I think I mentioned before that Call of Duty is a game I’ve invested a lot of time in, in fact most of my time from 2004 to 2005 in fact. There was a group of us that rented a server and hosted our own maps. It’s strange that I’ve never really found anything approaching the online multiplayer experience of the original Call of Duty.

Consequently I think the Call of Duty series has been going down hill for the last seven years.

The latest iteration is not a bad game, it’s fun in its own way. The story hangs together better than most I’ve played recently. Obviously it is just hamming it up, from one set piece to the next chasing some unidentified Russian. I have a feeling that is the set template for most games these days.

It just doesn’t deserve the hype that has been lumped on it and the fact that it will hoover up the Christmas cash can only be a very unhealthy thing from the point of view of a sustainable game industry.

One odd thing I noticed relates to the media nonsense attached to the recent Medal of Honor release. Liam fox calling for Medal of Honor to be banned was quite amusing because it was based on stunning ignorance. Ignorant of how multiplayer games  work but also ignorant that the UK troops he was so concerned about were not even in the game in the first place. Call of Duty on the other hand actively requires you to shoot UK troops. There is some vague context for it but no media outcry.

I am not suggesting this should be banned. That would be stupid.

The campaign leaves you with the same empty feeling inside you get when you watch a Michael Bay film. It looks very pretty but is ultimately vacuous. In itself there isn’t anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t seem to be very good value for money considering how much has been spent on developing it.

Oh, and whilst talking about value for money it is worth mentioning that the bloke who plays JFK does the worst JFK impression I’ve ever heard.

I have given it a bit of time to see whether or not I like the online element before I bothered to write this.

Unfortunately I’ve been spoilt by the genius that is Battlefield Bad Company 2 multiplayer. Whilst BFBC2 encourages team play and tactics, Call of Duty encourages running around like a nutter. It has some beautifully crafted levels but misses the essential gameplay.

So in summary, I think Call of Duty: Black Ops would probably be the greatest thing in the world if you are 10 (though legally not allowed to play it) but falls just short of being anything special.

I reckon it’s worth about £20.

Theoretically the BFBC2 Vietnam expansion pack is imminent and that will hopefully demonstrate how this should have been done. I realise I’m laying a ridiculous level of expectation on something I know virtually nothing about.

[Edit]I can’t believe I forgot to mention this. Call of Duty: Black Ops is also the first game I have completed in 3D.

3D is apparently the future though I’m not overly sure if I’m convinced yet. The first session I played was about five hours and it is fair to say it gave me a cracking head ache.

The effect itself is very good. It’s also subtle to the point that after a few minutes you begin to stop noticing it. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. I think, probably good.

The one issue I had with the campaign is that 3D was clearly an after thought. With some cut scenes people had their shadows sort of attached to their limbs producing a very weird effect.

For the multiplayer it is effectively useless. You need more time to aim and compensate for distance. Other people don’t, and consequently shoot you dead.

I think it is something that is almost there but not quite yet. [/Edit]

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2

July 14th, 2010

Another week and another game. I know, it’s mental.

I’ve never really got on with the Battlefield series. I missed the first one, 1942, I didn’t have a PC that could play it. I loved the idea of combining all the elements of combat on foot, tanks and flying all in one large game, but I didn’t get round  to playing it.

I played a lot of Call of Duty: United Offensive. Actually a lot is an understatement. I played it pretty well constantly for well over a year. It was great but didn’t provide what I believed Battlefield promised in a fully integrated…..er… Battlefield.

I gave Battlefield 2 a go as soon as it came out. The odd thing about the Battlefield series is that it always insisted on throwing you straight into multiplayer. This was fine because it is, at heart, a multiplayer game. The problem I found is that everyone else in the world seems to be really bloody good at it.

One of my principles in playing games is that if I don’t at least achieve a basic level of skill quickly, I give up. Life’s short and there are a lot of games out there.

I gave up on Battlefield 2 even though it looked like they’d done a really good job of it.

I didn’t really pay attention to Battlefield 2142 and to be honest it’s really only looking on Wikipedia just now that even reminded me that it even came out.

Battlefield: Bad Company came out around the time of COD4 and consequently I didn’t pay much attention to that either.

This is all going somewhere.

I hadn’t really been inclined to play Bad Company 2 as I couldn’t see what it could do that Modern Warfare hadn’t. I was massively wrong about that.

The Bad Company series, apparently has added in the single player campaign in order to, I assume, make it viable on a console. I think this makes a big difference, it teaches you how to play the game before throwing you in.

Although the single player is essentially a tutorial it weighs in at about the same length of Modern Warfare 2 but is much more thought through. The levels are constructed well. There is a story that vaguely makes sense. There are characters that elicit some sort sympathy. You can even blow up most of the buildings.

What isn’t to like?

I loved everything about the single player campaign and could happily play it again.

This is the point where I would usually say “I haven’t tried the multiplayer yet”; having realised this I thought I might actually play it for a bit and see if it is any good.

It’s very good. Also, unusually, for a game that has been out for a while now, there are a good number of people playing and it isn’t impossible to survive for longer than a few seconds.

I’ve found it very easy to get into and a multiplayer experience which I’ve missed recently.

I don’t think it is much of an exaggeration to say this is the game that modern warfare thought it was going to be.

Go and buy it now.

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Heavy Rain

March 4th, 2010

Bloody hell. That was good.

Which probably sums up in five words why I would never get a job reviewing games.

The idea of Heavy Rain seemed strangely familiar when people started whispering about it. The idea that you’re  basically watching a film that invites you to interact with it by pressing the right button was pretty well the concept of  Dragon’s Lair. Clearly Dragon’s Lair was far from watching a film, more of a cartoon.

Just like Heavy Rain, Dragon’s Lair was talked about in hushed tones back in 1983. I remember seeing it on….. I can’t remember, the telly. It looked beyond anything I could imagine. A proper cartoon that you could actually take part in.

I grew up in Eastbourne which, being by the sea, had quite a few arcades. That meant there was a better than average chance I’d get to play Dragon’s Lair. The odd thing was that when it did turn up, it arrived upstairs in The Enterprise Centre (actually I’m not sure that link is right or it’s even the same place. It looks posher than it did 20 years ago and I thought it was named after a fish). There’d never been an arcade game in there before. They’d definitely never been one that was going to change the world.

I remember hearing a rumour at school that there was one in Eastbourne. I remember going down to have a look at the weekend and it turned out to be true. That’s about as good as it got. Dragon’s Lair was a truly dreadful game. You just smashed a random button for, seemingly, no reason and hoped you didn’t die. Invariably you did die.

So 27 years later I’d assumed that technology was unlikely to have improved much beyond Dragon’s Lair.

As it turn out it has.

Heavy Rain is really good.

Things seem to be looking up in terms of story as well. At last a story that I wanted to take part in and it made sense.

The game itself is far from perfect. Mainly because some of the stuff you take for granted as being cut from a film is a staple  in video games. In a game when you walk from one room to another you bloody well make sure you walk from one room to another. In a film the transition is cut to make sure you don’t lose the pace of the film. I have no idea how you resolve that conflict and make people feel that they’re still in control but I did feel it quite often while playing.

I suppose that really comes down to what the hell this is. It clearly is a game but it’s also straying into the area of more passive entertainment.

I had thought a game that you essentially just influence every now and then would be  a bit of an objective experience. That ‘s just wrong. Some of the action sequences suck you in purely because you don’t know when you’ll get to influence them, whilst simultaneously trying to take in what you’re seeing, digest it and getting ready to press triangle really fast.

It’s interesting that after mentioning moral choices in Mass Effect, they form the basis for how Heavy Rain works. There are decisions in there that I almost agonised over.  They clearly influence how the story develops as having seen adverts on the Telly, everything they’ve shown me is different to my first play through.

If you have spare cash then I heartily recommend Heavy Rain. It’s a game that you won’t regret playing but as soon as you finish it you’ll think “the sequel will be amazing”.

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Aliens vs Predator

February 21st, 2010

When it comes to writing anything that involves Aliens and Predators there is a very long and established custom. It is important to stress how cool Predator was and how Aliens is better than Alien because it has Space Marines in it.  It’s then important to look off wistfully into the ether and contemplate how brilliant it would be if Predators, Aliens and Space Marines could all be combined into one masterpiece. I’m probably not going to mention any of that.

We all know it.

Having said that I am probably one of the few people in the world that thought AVP: Aliens vs Predator wasn’t that bad a film and it taught us how important pyramids are.  I even sat through AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem which wasn’t that good. I haven’t got any real recollection of what happened in it.

I suppose that all points towards me being a bit of a fan of the AVP concept.

The one thing I’ve never done is play the Aliens vs Predator game. It was 1999, I had a Playstation, I didn’t play that sort of thing. I remember it being popular but as I didn’t have a PC that was ever going to play it I just let it pass me by.

I was quite excited by the build up to the newest version of Aliens vs Predator. If the first few attempts have worked out alright and the films had sorted out the importance of pyramids then how could this go wrong?

It’s difficult to say it went wrong. It’s just mind numbingly average.

I can see why they split the game into the Marine, Alien and Predator campaign but this, cynically seems like an excuse to just reuse levels three times. Fair enough if they are good levels but these aren’t. They are very much your standard “future complex” building blocks with a bog standard jungle and some ruins thrown in.

The Marine campaign goes on for, what seems like forever, and it plays like a standard FPS except with Aliens. Aliens which don’t seem the hardy bundles of terror I was expecting. In fact they’re really easy to kill and towards the end you’re just wading through piles of them hoping it ends soon.

The Alien and Predator campaigns are a little bit more interesting but there isn’t a vast difference between the two. The one thing they have in common is the control system being a nightmare. This is especially the case with the Alien where walking on the ceiling becomes a disorientating mess. Though both of these campaigns seem to take minutes to complete in comparison to the Marine section.

Unusually for me I decided to get this on the PC. Mostly this was through laziness as I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shops. I pre-ordered through Steam; actually that indicates I knew I wouldn’t be bothered to go to the shops which demonstrates some foresight. It was only £24 which is about ten quid cheaper than on the PS3. I notice that it’s now £18 on Amazon and it only came out on Friday. I think that points out it isn’t in danger of getting a game of the year award.

I do think there is still some justification that FPS’ work better with a mouse and keyboard. This isn’t a game where I would ever be able to prove this one way or the other. I’m left handed so I have to go through a fairly lengthy process of reconfiguring keys for games on the PC. Aliens vs Predator happily lets you change the keys for the Marine campaign but, seemingly, not for the Alien or Predator campaign. It is quite possible that I just couldn’t find the menu but that in itself is pretty bad and is very lazy programming. So I ended up playing it with a controller.

This is my first game I’ve finished in 2010 that  was  made in 2010.  I hope this isn’t indicative of the quality to expect.

More annoyingly I’ve still got a pile of other better games that I’m still working through. I need to prioritise better.

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