Saturday, 26 November 2011

Jurassic Park Review

Telltale known for making games like the Sam and Max games, have taken on the task of making some of the most beloved movies ever made and making them into video games. First of was Back to the Future, which in fact turned out to be a good however a easy game. Now telltale takes on the task of Jurassic Park. Well is this game any good or should we get a hole ready in nevada?

The story revolves around a canister filled with dinosaur embryos. If you remember in the movie, the character Dennis Nedry takes a bunch of dinosaur embryos in a canister of Shaving Cream for a competing company of INgen (Jurassic Park). Nedry meets a sticky end when he crashes his car and gets eaten by a dinosaur. The game continues this side plot with a bunch of new characters, there a vet and his daughter, a mysterious man and woman looking for the canister, a group of scientists and a group of soldiers and maybe a few more. These characters have average/generic personalities, for example the vet isn't getting on that well with his daughter at parts but are brought closer due to the dinosaurs (and maybe something else). It's average movie stuff. The story all together is OK, however like in the movie it's just away to show how awesome dinosaurs are.

Gameplay is, well, not very good. In short it's a point and click game with no puzzles and little challenge. What makes a point and click game fun? Well for me anyway it's the puzzles, for example if we go back to one of the old Sam and Max games the slap stick humour mixed with the fun and challenging puzzles made them great. The problem with Jurassic Park is that almost everything needed in what you could call puzzles is highlighted with arrows. I blame this with bad design, this sort of thing would of been fine if this was on a easy difficulty, where all the puzzle elements where highlighted. Then if you had a "normal" difficulty option that would remove all the hints when doing the puzzles. Then this would make people like me who like a challenge happy and keep everyone else happy with the easy difficulty.

Movement between areas is better than in past 3D point and click games. No longer do you haft to click and slowly watch your character walk across the map, and clicking every time something new comes into the screen. Now you have this type of multiple camera view showing all the areas you can go. This lowers frustration while adding to the feel that your a director.

Now apart from Puzzles there's a Dragon's lair type set peaces, where pressing keys in the right order or rapidly pressing one. These set peaces are used to show of the dinosaurs, the problem is that these set peaces are fun to watch but not really much fun to play. Not being a fan of the Dragon's Lair games I didn't much like these parts. I wouldn't much mind these parts of the game, but the problem is that you haft to use this mechanic for everything, for example there's parts where you go and open a door by rapidly pressing one of the arrow keys. It's unneeded and not fun.

One big problem is that the game feels rushed. Some textures look good while others look like place holders. Also transitions between areas in cutscenes are clunky as the game stops for a second or two, also some facial expressions aren't the best, sometimes out of sync or just random expressions.

All in all I didn't find this game fun, I found it too easy and I didn't like the hole Dragon's Lair mechanic. However if you find point and clicks too hard and you like Dragon's Lair I would think about it, if you can get over the technical flows.

Liam Hackett

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Saints Row: The Third review

Volition has had a pretty bad year so far, with one of their game series (Red Faction) being shelved after a pretty average game. Now Volition are trying to make it up with Saints Row: the Third. Think the old GTA games such as; Vice City, and San Andreas and take all the weapons, characters and vehicles, then make them crazier... that’s this game in a nutshell. However a crazy game doesn’t necessarily make a good game.

The Story revolves around revenge, taking over and destroying everything! You need to take down a group called “Syndicate” because they killed your friend. It’s a pretty weak set up but it’s just a way to give you the crazy levels. In fact the whole story is just a set up to the madness that is the world. This becomes obvious when curtain characters completely vanish after you’ve complete their missions and are never spoken of again. The characters are well written and are very funny think of them of caricatures of every kind of person; it’s just insane and very funny.

Where the game really excels is with the gameplay. In Saints Row anything is possible... well if anything for you is drop kicking an old lady off a tall building, then flying off in a jet and crashing it into a group of people and surviving with a parachute, then yes anything is possible. I don’t mean you can do that ten hours in the game, oh no, almost everything in the game is unlocked from the word go. Being weapons, vehicles and most activities from when you boot up the game, you can do what you what.  

Most levels in the game are fantastic, the designer really wanted to make this larger than life game and they’ve done just that. For example there’s a level where you are attacking zombies... that’s right, zombies. There’s also a mission where you steal a hover plane and go around destroying everything! I would like to tell you more but I don’t want to spoil it, let’s just say that it’s crazy.
There is a levelling  system in Saints Row where completing levels or curtain objectives will give you respect, which is XP, and when you get enough respect you go up a level which give you the ability to upgrade your character (your health, ammo upgrade and so on).These upgrades cost money. The way you make money is by doing missions, which gives you money up front, and/ or buy buildings (Weapon shops and so on), which will give you a chunk of money hourly. The way I made money was by putting most of my money from missions into buildings, then saving up for curtain upgrades. When you get down to it, you’ll only use a certain set of upgrades.    

Activities are side missions, where you can make money, after you’ve played on or two of the same type of activities, you find that they are basically recycled by making them harder or tweaking them slightly, this doesn’t make them bad just a little repetitive, while some of them are fun, especially “Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax”, think a third person Smash TV. Other activities you’ll just ignore after playing them once in the main campaign.

Customisation is a big thing in Saints Row: the Third. You can customize almost everything about yourself and most of your car/plane.  However it’s the things that you can’t customize that sticks out, sort of like the uncanny valley.  For example why can’t I customise most planes? Also why can’t I add custom decals to my car? However all these gripes are completely removed, when you can turn your character into Dr Manhattan and walk around the city nude.  

While most weapons are pretty average, there is a few that are insane, The 5 foot dildo bat, the remote controlled missile and many others, there just very fun to use, weirdly. The radio stations are pretty average, I listened to the 80s and 90s radio and there wasn’t really any big hits (maybe one or two by some people’s perspective), they where all what I like to call “forgettable hits” toughs songs that you hear and recognise, but can’t name the tile for the life of you.

All in all, the game is great. In some ways it falls flat, for example the activities. However the game’s all about just playing to just go crazy. Some people might might not like this but for others just turn on cheats and go mad.

Liam Hackett

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Swords of the Stars 2 : Lords of Winter

KupaRizu here, bringing you a review for Swords of the Stars II: Lords of Winter, Kerberos’s second venture into the Space 4X genre, the next in the Sword of the Stars series, which for anyone who played it was an absolute classic in the X4 genre, bringing great and fluent controls, a smooth yet demanding learning curve and an overall great game. While similar in some ways, this iteration of the Sword of the Stars system is a terrible mutation of the beautiful formula of the original.

From the beginning this game was shaky, Kerberos admitted that its release was a ‘Release or Die’ situation, if they didn’t release when they did, the game would be scrapped. This led to a very rushed, almost Beta like, release where models, scripts and even entire levels were missing from the game files, however Kerberos managed to fix most of these problems with a series of first week patches. So now that the game is playable, let’s get on with how playable it really is.

Upon launching you are given a splash screen with the Paradox and Kerberos logos side by side, now this is usual launching procedure for most games, right? Not in Sword of the Stars II, this is the loading screen, however you don’t know this until around 12 minutes later when the game roars at you and then 3 minutes later actually kicks itself into the main menu. So, fifteen minutes of loading time, so the main menu, at a minimum, should be loaded right? Nope. You are given the game logo, and the menu options, however none of these do anything for a good minute until the background of the menu is loaded. Okay, my boredom and irritation levels rising I look for a tutorial so I can learn the controls and aspects of the game only to find there isn’t one. For new players of the Swords of the Stars series this is going to pose a big problem, as it’s manual is also not informative enough to be used as a tutorial or in some cases it’s not even good enough to be reference material in the middle of battle, which is a not good.

Okay, so it’s approximately been 15 minutes since I launched the game and I still haven’t even got past the main menu, let’s fix that, shall we. I start a new game, choose a level from its over-complicated map select screen and then get onto the customisation of my team. Then I finally see something good about the game, the graphics. While the graphics in the first Sword of the Stars where brilliant for their time they have aged and aren’t as amazing in today’s world, however Sword of the Stars II brings in updated graphics that look beautiful. I choose my cartoony hand drawn avatar, choose my team colours and Colony ‘NewFoundKupaLand’ is ready to go! …or at least it would be if I knew what the hell was going on.

I move the camera around, exploring the galaxy around me, and boy is it beautiful, stars glimmer and my colonies are easily identifiable against the dark background of space. I click my homeworld, and using my knowledge and experience from the first Sword of the Stars I start researching and building new ships. As the ‘Civilisation’ stage is turn based I take a while to peruse the new features and try to get used to the new and laggy interface.

Before I continue I want to make one point: Sword of the Stars II is stupidly over complicated, the level of micro-management, mission control, lack of good tutorials or guides and abundance of new useless features means that it has lost something its original had from the start: the Fun factor. The original, while it could take a week to learn all the features featured tutorials and tips on how to play the game, and these kept you interested as you knew what you were doing.

4X games are complicated affairs in themselves but usually soften this with ease-of-use and good communication and feedback from the game of things that require your attention, a great example of this the ‘Civilization’ series, where the player has access to numerous systems from micro-management to making choices that affected your entire civilisation, however it does a brilliant job of automating what needs to be automated and alerting the player to what needs to be decided or items of the players attention. Complicated, but easy to play.

Okay, so now I’ve got that off my chest and finally start to do something: design some new ships. In the original all of the ships parts were given ratings and brief descriptions so you knew what you were doing, however for some reason in Sword of the Stars II neither the game nor the manual tell you what ANY of the parts do, so you have to put everything together and hope for the best. However a new feature which I quite like is the fact that ships are built by creating invoices which allows the player to save and re-order the same invoice in the future, making the construction of ships a little bit easier the second time around.

Another annoying feature is the expansions to the government spending options, an area where the original game specifically tried to avoid, these new options allow the player to spend different amounts of different things such as research or construction which the leads to different types of governments. Once again none of this is actually explained so I have no idea what the different government types do or what benefits you gain from actually changing from the default.

So, I’ve managed to somehow build a fleet and sent them out into the cold, heartless void of space to explore when I come across a fleet of enemy ships, sparking a fight. Right, I can do this, real time strategy is my speciality! Or at least it should be, but, as with nearly every other part of the game, the combat system has also been ‘revamped’ into a much less intuitive form. The combat now runs on three vertical planes instead if one, but I haven’t figured out what difference being on a certain plane makes, so I’m throwing that into the ‘new and useless’ pile of features. The whole interface has been changed from the one that made sense in Sword of the Stars into a mash of unlabelled buttons, meaning that while in the original it was easy to select your ships and throw them straight into explosive laser death combat, this new system is a lot more tiresome and confusing. Plus, most of the combat time is spent actually finding your opponent, so most of the time there won’t be any actual combat before the timer is up.

Most of the new features in Sword of the Stars II are neat little ideas on their own, but because they are so difficult to access or understand they make the game more complex and frustrating to play, leading to an overwhelming, over-complex and unenjoyable game. If Kerberos had figured out a more graceful way to introduce the player to the plethora of new features then maybe this game could be good, but as it currently is the game fails to deliver the information the player needs and ends up that most of these features get ignored, misunderstood or abandoned completely during gameplay.

It seems that the ‘Release or Die’ situation would’ve produced better results if Kerberos went with the second option instead of delivering this buggy, over-complex Frankenstein’s monster of a game.