Saturday, January 31, 2009

GERARDAMO: Game of the Week 3

Alright, this is kind of late. Actually, I'm not even posting this in the right week anymore. (But I actually editted the date I posted this so I could write my next game without looking like I did a double post) I was just going to skip this week entirely, but it's 10:30 in the morning, and society has broken the rule that is "Don't wake the Gerard before noon" by having the asshole next-door start revving up his truck, only to realize that his penis is still the same size anyway. So I write this from bed as I'm still trying to wake up.

I had trouble thinking of a game this week, mostly because instead of playing any old games this week, I clocked in about... 30 hours of IIDX (Google it, YouTube it, whatever. It's FUN, but also too new for me to use as a game of the week.) Do you know what it is now? Good. So I was in a techno-y, trance kind of mood this week, so I've decided to highlight Rez by Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Rez was originally released on the Dreamcast. It's the strange combination between arcade shooter and music game. The entire game is made up of vector graphics (Again, if you don't know what I'm talking about, Wikipedia can also be your friend.) and it looks freaking awesome. Rez doesn't have much of a story, but none of my favorite classic games do, for that matter. Apparently, there's some big computer virus that... I don't know... Threatens to make everyone stop using PC's and ruin the world of computers as we know it or something... It's REALLY not important at all. 5 levels later you find out that the virus just wants to be loved, and I'm pretty sure there's some innuendo for sex in there somewhere.

Anyway, the actual gameplay in this is nothing short of an experience that I truly believe everyone needs to, well, experience. It moves like a typical rail-shooter, you know, move your camera around and shoot, that simple. However, you can lock on to up to 8 viruses and shoot them. Every level starts in an empty, black abyss with a bass drum quietly pulsing in the background. A few viruses fly by, and make for easy combos, and then some tiny box flies by. Shoot that box 8 times. The level will then start to develop. Nothing too much, maybe some cubes will appear in the environment, and a synthesizer will start humming something. You'll start to see more complex patterns of enemies. And you keep going on with this. Enemies fly by, shoot them. Box flies by, shoot it a lot. The level starts to become more detailed until you see vectorized architecture everywhere, and the background music transforms into an absorbing, thumping trance track. This game just sucks you in.

Of course, what would any rail shooter be without things shooting back at you? Most of the viruses do, and since you're not invincible, it will do damage. If you get hit, you level down. You'll go from an almost human looking thing to a less looking human thing to a less looking human thing etc. to a sphere, and then you die. But there is hope! You can level up, too. Viruses drop powerups, and if you collect enough of them, you can level up back to your human form, until your human-type thing reaches a state of enlightenment and becomes a pulsing amoeba of trancely awesome.

That's it really. The game is stupid simple. You don't play Rez for the challenge, you play it for the experience. Interesting note of trivia. When Rez was released for the PS2 in Japan, it came with a USB device called a Trance Vibrator. It was an oval-y shaped piece of plastic that, as the name suggests, vibrated. It had stronger vibrations than the DualShock2 did, and it was designed so it could be held on to, put in your pocket, or my favorite (In terms of where this trivia is going!), sat on. Yes, they advertised that you could sit on it. So, once you had your Trance Vibrator wherever you wanted it, it would pulse along to the music, pulling you into the game even more. However, vibration feels good, and you don't think I would have said Vibrator that many times just because it tickles my lips to say it, do you? Yes, as you would have expected, there were several reports of Trance Vibrators being used as... Well... You know... OTHER vibrators.

Rez is available on the Dreamcast and the PS2. In 2008, it was re-released on XBLA as Rez HD, with super shiny awesome new HD graphics! It still remains my favorite and most played Live Arcade game to this day (That's right SoulCalibur, maybe you should have given your XBLA port a better widescreen, instead of a Windows 3.1 wallpaper border!), and I HIGHLY reccomend, no, DEMAND that you stay on your couch and make the best 10 dollar purchase you can ever make, or at least just get the demo. You have no excuses anymore as to why you can't play this game.


This video is from Rez HD. Video by cktg

Thursday, January 29, 2009

20cc reviews: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Yes yes I know, I'm going backwards. If anyone out there has an idea of a new game for me to review, let me know. I guess really it would have made more sense chronologically to review this one last week, but I wrote last week's review before I realize that WoS came out in October, probably because I just played it. I get it, I'm supposed to be reviewing new games, but don't worry, I plan to have opinions on F.E.A.R. 2, InFamous, and the Watchmen movie soon after they're released. Specifically, they better all be awesome or I'm gonna be pissed.


Back to the game at hand. The Spider-Man games have always been one of my guilty pleasures. I really don't want to like them, but they're just so much fun. It seems to me that as I've gotten older, the games too have changed to fit my tastes. I've played and enjoyed the N64 port of the 2000 Spider-Man game, the 2002 Gamecube version, Spider-Man 2 on the Xbox and on DS, and Spider-Man 3 on PC. Granted, the latter two were less than satisfactory, but putting that aside, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a well worthy addition to the series.


In my mind, what's made these games so fun since back in Spider-Man 2 is the addition of physics, and the introduction of a sandbox style environment. The ability to leap from the roof of the Empire State Building, plummet through the air, and catch yourself with a web line seconds before you splat on the pavement added a whole new level of enjoyability. Suddenly, it wasn't just about beating the levels. Just getting around was fun.


WoS is another improvement on this model, in that it's no longer based on the film series. The plot is actually fairly interesting, in a decidedly comic book kind of way. I won't go too far into it, but following the return of Venom, the Symbiotes try to take over New York, and Spider-Man is once again infected with the symbiotic black suit. Your job is to stop the invasion, the only way Spider-Man knows: by punching stuff.


There are two major innovations in this latest installment. First, the ability to switch between the red and black suits on a whim. Second, the renovation of the combat system to account for Spider-Man's trademark acrobatic style. These two combined allows for particularly asinine players, like myself, to switch to the overtly destructive black suit and wreck havoc among the unsuspecting city goers. The combat is remarkably simple, and, if you wanted, you could beat the game with only one attack button. This button allows the player to web zip at an enemy, tackle them, and vault off of their head. However, a punch button, suit specific attack button, and special attacks allow you to vary your fighting style, and can also be used to modify the web vault attacks.


There isn't much else to say about the mechanics of the game. As for the story, if you're a comic book fan, you'll probably like it. Otherwise, you probably won't. Several times throughout the game, I suddenly became aware that I had chained attacks through the past twelve enemies using nothing but the Y button and a little timing. Then I realized that I didn't care, because it was still really damn fun.


Unfortunately, as I remember was the case with Spider-Man 2, WoS is plagued by glitches. The web zip sound occasionally disappeared, and on one occasion, all of the game's sounds suddenly vanished for about a minute. On another occasion I jumped into the river and died, but instead of getting a game over screen, I sat and watched Spider-Man drowning in the river until I restarted the Xbox. The most annoying glitches were that occasionally, the targeting system had problems, and the citizens often failed to react to me appropriately. These two facts combined made it very difficult to save the assigned number of civilians from [gang wars/super soldiers/symbiotic monsters]. That's probably okay though, since I didn't tend to bother with those missions. On another note, the realism is slightly broken in that the web lines don't necessarily always attack to buildings like they did in 2 and 3. However, the camera is usually clever enough to keep you from seeing that.


That's about all there is to say. I may be wrong about that, but I'm certainly out of ideas. The game's great, if it's the kind of thing you're into. I'm aware this isn't the greatest piece of writing I've ever produced, but I'm pretty tired. I may add to this later. Until then, have fun.


Here's a video. This guy is pretty bad, and there isn't much action, but it does a pretty good job of demonstrating the look and feel of the game, including the destructible building facades, and the often irritatingly cheesey dialogue.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

23 reviews: Lugaru

Name: Lugaru: The Rabbit’s Foot
Author: David Rosen (Wolfire Games)
Version: Final
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Price: $20
Players: 1
Website: Lugaru page on Wolfire
Video: Quicktime Video posted on the site

Intro
Lugaru is 3rd person, anthropomorphic, adventure/fighting game. With a solid story and unique and intuitive fighting system, this game stands out in the indie world for quality, playability, and a fun, but difficult to master fighting system.

Game Modes
The game has two modes; campaign and challenge. In both modes the goal is to kill all the enemies on the level. In the campaign mode you play as a rabbit, named Turner, whose world is being taken over by wolves and corrupt rabbits. I won't ruin the story too much, but I will reveal that it's a tale of honor, revenge, and betrayal. Also your whole village gets brutally murdered at some point. The story is told via dialog with semi-cut scenes, and levels of combat.

The other mode; challenge, is where you can improve your skills (and your score) in story-less challenges which you progress through one-by-one. In challenge you can go back to any level and play it as many times as you want (unlike the story mode). With 14 challenges, each with increasing difficulty, there’s great replay value and the opportunity to go back to any particular challenge and try to complete it flawlessly.

Game play
The game play is defined by the engrossing fighting system, as well as the challenging AI (Artificial Intelligence) to pit your skills against. The whole fighting style is based on the context of button presses. The controls use WASD for directional movement in relation to the camera, which is controlled by the mouse. The left mouse button controls all your standard attacks, but don’t think that this is “the attack button”, the fighting system is controlled by timing, button combinations, and the context in which they are used. This makes the controls feels less like attack buttons and movement buttons, and more of a streamlined, intuitive system. For example crouch (default shift) is not only used for crouching and sneaking around, but also for fast running, flipping midair, and blocking, all of which are defined by the conditions used. This may sound kind of confusing, but once you go through the simple tutorial it becomes much clearer.

You also have weapons at your disposal on some stages. The weapons include a short dagger, that you can throw at enemies for one hit kills (on most of them) or use to cause extra, permanent, damage, a staff, which has a very long range and is pretty powerful, but breaks easily, and a sword, which is the most powerful weapon in the game, it is unbreakable, and one good hit on an enemy can potentially kill them. The AI can also use all these weapons to their full potential (except throwing the dagger).

The AI in this game, while being confined to mapped out paths, is well built. The AI is very challenging, which can be viewed as a downside or a perk. Fortunately the game is designed so when you start (for both your campaign and the challenges) you fight against a small number of basic opponents. Later these opponents change to become harder and they are more numerous.

Knowing how to fight well isn’t the AI’s only expertise; the NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) have a fairly instinctive alert system, as being able to rely on each other. The alert system is mostly visually based, so if they see you, or a dead body, within a certain range, they will start attacking, but they also can be alerted through ‘sound’, and ‘smell’. NPCs will also alert other enemies; if they are close to death in a fight with you they will potentially run off and get others (if there are still some un-alerted enemies on the stage).

Another neat feature is that the AI actually punishes the player for using the same attack too much. While the AI does get a chance to block/counter your attack normally, if you use the same attack 3 times in a row it is guaranteed to be blocked, and possibly countered, which really forces you to be a master of the fighting style.

There are 3 main fighting styles to this game. You can creep about, trying to score stealth kills, which are triggered by sneaking behind an enemy, undetected, and attacking them with either a knife or no weapon. You can also decide to charge in and take on everyone at once, which is helped by the fact that your attacks have the potential to hit more than one enemy at a time, but hindered by the pounding you’ll receive from everyone on the stage. Then there’s the main style of fighting that seems to be promoted most in Lugaru, alerting one enemy, having them chase after you to a more private location, and killing them, then repeating with all the enemies until you win, because if you can get into a 1 on 1 fight, you have more of a chance at winning and less of a chance of dying. By the way, there is also no visible health bar, although your character does accumulate scratches and scars over the course of fighting, also when you’re low on health the screen will start to blur.

Art style
The visuals on this game are decent for an indie made in 2005. While not nearly comparable to any of today’s games (especially mainstreams), it still is not hat bad. The music is what is really timeless about this game, it provides a subtle background when needed, but kicks into a fight track when you alert an enemy, which is very useful because otherwise knowing when an enemy sees you can be very subtle, or they might even be out of your camera angle. Even though this game features anthropomorphic animals as the characters don’t expect a kidsy Disney style feel, this game is very graphic (for it’s graphics) and mature (I’d give it a Teen rating). The blood is animated and the deaths can be gruesome, so, be prepared if you where expecting something a little more light hearted.

I admit that this game isn’t perfect, the gameplay can get annoyingly difficult, the game doesn’t have a huge campaign, the graphics aren’t perfect, and there are some glitches occasionally with a flying camera after death, and disappearing enemies, but these are very few and far between. The game play is very enjoyable game if you have the time to get good, and the replay value can be more then doubled if you take the time to download some of the mods.

End
Now, with all this in consideration, would you believe me if I told you that it was made by one guy, in high school? Well, it was. David Rosen made the whole thing, back in 2005, as a hobby, so the graphics are more than forgivable. Team Wolfire has grown out of that, now on the alpha stage of their first game together; Overgrowth, the sequel to Lugaru, and it already looks great. Lugaru is absolutely amazing considering all of this, and truly is worth the $20 (although their free promotions are a great deal, and if you use that (or even if you don’t) I advise pre-ordering Overgrowth for $30 to check out the alpha and support Wolfire). With an expansive development blog with great posts on gaming in general and game development it'd be a good idea to check out their blog too. So try the free demo, see if you like it, and maybe buy the game, which is money well deserved.

Lugaru has a huge fan base, so I highly advise checking out the wiki for some great advice on playing the game, as well as on how to mod the game and even some mods for download. I really look forward to Overgrowth and expect me to post my interview with Wolfire, once it’s finished.

Civilization IV: Colonization, by BoltAction

Civilization IV: Colonization
Freecol gets a Facelift

Those of you that have played Freecol will recognize Civilization IV: Colonization (hereafter referred to as Civcol) as a remake of this game, using the engine from Civ IV instead of that of Civ II, with updated gameplay and graphics. Those of you that have not (sad, sad folk), will find a simple but addictive game modeling the development of civilization from unclaimed wilderness. Except for the fact that the land was already claimed by Native Americans. But then, that's what muskets are for!

The player starts off with one ship, one soldier (i.e. colonist with gun) and one Pioneer (i.e. colonist with tool). As the game continues, the player establishes cities, harvests rescources, manufactures goods, and sells them to Europe. Them comes back with guns and slays some natives. I enjoyed the simple mechanics of starting the colony. Colonists are defined by what they do. Men with guns become soldiers, men with tools become pioneers, and since there are no women, the game uses an accurate expression of the origins of life as percieved by scientists of the time, with new colonists springing fully formed formed piles of wheat.

As the colony develops, more and more people will be required to produce liberty bells, which build rebel sentiment and increase production efficiency. The player also recieves members of the continental congress, which provide special bonuses to things like production, religion (which inspires immigration) and the cost of goods.

Colonists harvest resources from the squared around their cities, and then create goods in the buildings in the cities. Since any colonist can do anything, the game has a freeform, organic feel. Wanna buys a ton of guns from europe and create a roving army of former criminals? Go ahead. Want to establish a trade empire based on tobacco manufacture with farms run by converted natives? You're free to do so! Build up tons of rebel sympathies and declare war on your former owners? "NOT GONNA HAPPEN," cries the king, right before he sends a buttload of professional soldiers to stomp on your uppity, wigged ass.

My complaints about the game are few, and this is one of them: the only way to win the game is to declare independance and then fight off the royal expeditionary force, perhaps a subtle jab at Canadian foreign policy. And this must be completed by the yea 1776, which is a problem, because the game does not implement the Civilization IV policy of slowing down time as the game progresses, which means that you have a paltry 384 years to complete the monumental task of establishing a colonial empire, developing an army, and breaking away from a vengeful European monarch. This is especially difficult in a combat system that seems to be incredibly faulty (veteran soldier in fortess defeated by indian brave on horse? What???).

Aside form this, a number of the problems that plagued freecol have been fixed, such as natives not showing up in the foreign policy screen. Overall, the game is an excellent improvement, both graphically and in gameplay, of freecol, and a fun management/strategy.

Gameplay: 15/20
Storyline: 10/25
Graphics: 3/5
Streamlined: 10/10
Innovation: 5/15
Fun: 20/25

Overall: 63/100

For the Optimists:
-In-depth but easy-to-learn system
-Open-ended for a strategy game

For the Pessimists:
-Faulty combat system
-Continenetal congress a bit confusing

Recommendation:
I, BoltAction, recommend Civilization IV: Colonization if you like economically focused strategy games.

And you thought LEGO Star Wars was cool

No, this story did not catch my eye just because it was Sega. However, it IS Sega, and they are developing a new arcade game. No, you won't play it with a joystick or some buttons or a dance pad or anything like that. You'll control it with Legos. Block Pipo by Sega looks like it will be controller by stacking blocks up in front of the screen and getting your character to climb up said blocks. It looks like it could be very interesting. They can at least get props for coming up with an original arcade game. 

There aren't too many details yet (In English anyway), but this game is scheduled to be released to arcades in Japan this summer. It's also set to make its first appearance at AOU 2009.

Story by Siliconera. Full story available here

WOAoR: A Traditional Review

Alright, alright, I'll go back to the more traditional review format, but only for the sake of comprehensibility. Yes, it's a word. Deal with it. :-P

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
A vast improvement of the MMO experience

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is an MMORPG set in the world of the tabletop fantasy wargame, Warhammer. The game pits Order, consisting of Dwarves, Elves, and the Empire (Humans) against Chaos, composed of Orcs, Dark Elves, and Chaos (Really Unpleasant Humans). While it follows the traditional MMORPG model with standard "kill this many of this thing" and "go find this person and talk to her" quests, it offers a more varied and serious play experience than other MMOs. And by "other MMOs," I am, of course, referring to World of Warcraft.

For one thing, the graphics are more realistic than previous MMORPGs, going for a grittier feel and starker imagery. This goes well with the game's main theme: war. The player in this game is not some magnificent hero or chosen one. She is a soldier, like everyone else, and her job is to get to the front lines and do some killing. Sure, there are quests, but they feel related to the war effort, especially such inventive quests as "Go nail x enemy players." Overall, the focus is on the Realm vs. Realm combat, to which each area has a substantial amount of space devoted. RvR provides opportunities for characters to earn Renown (which can win them special abilities) and Influence (which can be used to purchase special items). Despite the game's focus on RvR competition, players tend to be surprisingly mature during RvR play. In my time playing the game, I've seen very little grief and even less complaining about unfair play. That characters incur only small penalties from death encourages them to get back to the war.

The game's public quests provide an alternative to simply "grinding" for experience. Each quest has a few stages, in which anyone in the area can participate in return for influence (special items) and XP. This encourages people to group, as these quests are exceptionally difficult to complete without the support of other players. Rewards upon completing are given based on level of contribution.

The game has some notable flaws. Setup requires the user to create her own shortcut - a wonderful experience, especially when the WAR.exe file isn't the one you're looking for (it's the patching file). Also, there is so much cash to be earned that even after purchasing the best equipment available and dyeing it your favorite color set, you're still probably going to be loaded with gold, silver, and brass (no, I don't know why brass either) coinage.

These flaws, and the obvious fact that WOAoR is an MMORPG aside, it presents much more engaging and varied experience than other MMORPGs.

Gameplay: 19/20
Storyline: 15/25
Graphics: 4/5
Streamlined: 5/10
Innovation: 8/15
Fun: 24/25

Overall: 80/100

For the Optimists:
-Mature and developed Realm vs. Realm combat
-RvR and Public Quests provide variety and reduce "grind"
-Class variety and special mechanics differentiate play experience by race and class

For the Pessimists:
-An MMORPG, need I say more?
-Setup is cumbersome
-Not enough cash sinks

Recommendation:
I, BoltAction, recommend Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning for you if you like a more serious and mature MMORPG experience.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

23 news: 1.27.09

So, i figured that i should do a wrap-up of some of the news in the indie gaming world. These posts might be weekly, maybe monthly, or maybe just whenever I feel like it... But I felt that I should keep all you up to date on the new stuff, as well as introducing you to the good stuff. Anyway here's some news from the past, oh, i don't know, lets say... month:

Edmund announces Super Meat Boy: Edmund McMillen (creator of Gish, and various other good games) finally officially announces Super Meat Boy for PC and WiiWare. Although the news of this game has been floating around the internet for a while, Edmund gives the official press release, as well as the official website/blog.
Original Meat Boy, Official press release, Official Website

Nabi announces Toribash for the Wii: Toribash, the first game I reviewed here, is finally coming to a console. Toribash has been around for a while, always with an active community, but it's always stayed on the computer, but now you'll soon be able to download it from Nintendo's WiiWare channel on the Wii. (lets hope it's free!)
Blog post, YouTube Vid

IGF mobile finalists are announced: IGF (Independent Gaming Festival) has been around for a long time (pretty much as long as indie games), and every year (since 1999) IGF has had an indie games competition, picking the best of the year (and nominees) in various categories. They have the main section, for official developers with finished and unfinished games (not always on PC), the student section, for gaming design students who's games are for class projects (like Toblo), and a couple years ago they introduced IGF mobile.
IGF main site, 2009 finalists, 2009 student finalists, and 2009 mobile finalists

Pixeljam and Cactus get a new sites: Pixeljam Games (makers of Dinorun, and some pretty cool music), as well as Cactus Software (the very strange maker of Clean Asia! as well as a wide variety of other oddities), have both renovated their websites. While this is nothing too ground breaking, these are some great developers you should check out, and Pixeljam has some really great music free to download!
Pixeljam Games, and Cactus Software

I make my own blog: Ok, ok, I realize that's a bit of shameless self promotion, but if any of you want to see some more about indie games, the internet, and me, feel free to check it out (and maybe subscribe...). It's in it's infancy, so it's even smaller than anyButton, but I plan on doing daily updates.
23's Personal Blog


Okay, so that about wraps it up right now, I might add more later if I remember. Hope you're almost as excited as I am! Expect my review of Lugaru (and Black Shades) to be up soon (as well as maybe a little chit-chat with the developers...)

Additional:

Blurst announces Blush: The indie game developer Blurst (run/owned(?) by Flash Bang Studios) announces a new, more serious game, entitled Blush. The gameplay looks like it still has to be worked out, but the main concept and art seems to be there already. They already released their first video and it looks great. With Blurt's physics engine this looks like it will be a very nice game. Anyway check out the vid and Blurts' other stuff (which is a little high end, so, be prepared if it laggs on a crappy computer.)
Announcement with video

Monday, January 26, 2009

23 reviews: Toblo

Name: Toblo
Author: 5 students at Digipen
Version: 1.2
Platform: Windows
Price: Free!
Players: 1-10(?)
Website: Official Toblo homepage
Video: Video found on youtube (and one on the website)

Toblo is a student made capture the flag physics game. The environments are made of various size blocks, which you throw at your opponents from the other team to knock them out and bash their base. You play as either the “Cloud Kids” (little blue angels of virtue) or the “Fire Friends” (basically forum trolls), yes, it is a little childish, but the design is colorful and very fun. The objective is to take all three of your opponents flag blocks and return them to your base. You can only carry one flag block and you can not throw any blocks while carrying the flag block. As well as the special flag blocks and normal blocks the environment is built out of, there are the bomb blocks, these create explosions when thrown and can cause massive damage to the opponent’s base and/or knock out multiple opponents at a time, these are very useful for breaking into and/or completely destroying the enemy base.

This game is very easy to understand and play, as well as fun enough to play again and again and use new strategies. This game can be played over LAN, and comes with 5(?) maps but new maps can be added and created if you have enough technical savvy and effort to try it (the tutorial is on the main site).

The physics in this game are very impressive (it's sorta like playing Boom Blocks), and the design may be fairly simple, but it fits the feel and is very friendly towards young, old, and anyone in between. Definitely download this game and give it a try, you might be surprised by how fun it is and how much you’ll get attached to the design, your teammates, and even your opponents. Even more personality is added to the characters with little snippets of text in a bubble that fit the situation that occasionally pop up. If you like these slightly less fancy pick up and play games with unique game play try visiting digipen and checking out their massive collection of student made games, or even IGF's nominated top student made indies.

P.S. Toblo was the 2007 winner of the IGF's Best Student Game award. And it's as fun now as it was back then.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Boats are fun. Rocket powered boats are even more fun!

If you were living under a rock from the 90's until... Well... Now really, and you've never, EVER set foot in an arcade or picked up an N64 contoller, you might not have heard of one of the most fantastic racing games ever: Hydro Thunder. For all you normies out there, you know that this game is absolutely brilliant. As an avid fan of most arcade games, I needed a change of pants after reading that Midway was FINALLY developing a sequel to this masterpiece, to be called H2Overdrive. Here is a video of the watery fangasm (Ew.) that is soon to result.

I chose this video because it appeared to be the most reminscent of the original.

Video by 1UP. Full preview and more videos available here.

GERARDAMO on: Windows 7 (Beta is clearly some strange accent on Better)

So I installed the Beta for Windows 7 on my computer today after being infinitely frustrated at Vista constantly crashing on me while I was working on important documents. Yes, I still heart Windows. Anyway, this clearly was the logical thing for me to do, because nothing says stable upgrade like running the Beta version of a Windows OS! (Sarcasm for those who can't hear my tone through text.) I have to say, I think it's damn fantastic software. 

First, oh my god, my computer is running so much faster now. I have 4 gigs of RAM and even that struggled with Vista and all of it's resource eating. Yes, Windows 7 still has about 60 processes running in the background, but... It works.

Second, it sure is tidy. All the shortcut icons in the right-hand corner of the screen have all been brought into a neat little hidden window that only pops up when you need it too, and the number of times Windows lets you know that it needs to download a patch to add a new font to that version of Office that you aren't using has been reduced to almost none. The only complaint I have about it is my lazy-ass sometimes doesn't want to open that little window to exit out of AIM. But definitely an upgrade from Vista's constant nagging. Actually, speaking of nagging, one of the best features I've noticed that was removed from Vista was the "Are you sure you want to delete this empty folder? Really? Are you really sure? You're probably gonna want to be an administrator to authorize such a dramatic change. Really? Really? REEEEEEALLLLLLLY?" feature. Yes, that's right, that random .txt document that's cluttering your desktop can now be removed hassle-free. 

The one feature I was somewhat skeptical about was the WindowSX taskbar. Instead of having a nice, sleek, little bar at the bottom of the screen, you have a somewhat larger one with icons that are locked onto it. They are run by clicking them from there, and the only way you are made aware that they are running is the glow that appears around them. Sound like a certain OSX? Well, yeah. They're pretty similar. However, you can see what you have running in a program group much like you could in older versions of Windows just by highlighting the icons in the taskbar. I have to say, I like it a lot. It gives the computer a much more organized feel, and it lets you open other programs without having to go back to the desktop. (The button for that has also been placed in the far right hand corner, allowing for easier access, unlike its awkward positioning next to the Start button in Vista.) Not to mention, this ability to minimize Windows and have them become practically unknown is especially nice when certain nosy people are looking in your taskbar when you're... Say... Streaming pornography.

Er... What?

Windows 7 is essentially what Windows Vista was supposed to be, actually providing useful features instead of just a facelift (Though Windows 7 IS gorgeous). There are lots of little features that I haven't gotten into yet, like a Device Station that lets you know what device is plugged in (Though why wouldn't you know that already?) and the features of that device. I know I'll definitely be getting the final version of this when it's released, and I would highly recommend that anyone reading this download a copy of the Beta themselves at Microsoft's site.

Seriously? It's windows.com

23 reviews: A New Zero

Name: A New Zero
Author: Cryptic Sea (Alex Austin)
Version: 0.71
Platform: Windows
Price: Free!
Players: 1-16
Website: A New Zero homepage
Video: Official trailer

A New Zero is Cryptic Sea's “bomb the other base” game. You play on either the gold “Condor” team, or the blue/grey “Eagle” team. You choose from 3 vehicles; a jet, a missile boat, and a gunboat. The objective is to destroy the other team’s base before they destroy yours.
The gameplay, controls, and concept is simple enough for a beginner to get the hang of, but the content, LAN play, and strategy keeps the game new and fun for hundreds of hours. Each team has a spawn base, and 5 destructible buildings; two towers (right now, only used to protect the capital), two factories (which generate money at a certain rate, needed to buy/spawn more vehicles) and a capital (also generates money, and if destroyed the other team wins the game), as well as some destructible turrets to guard each structure. Each building (besides the base, which is invincible, and the two towers) has a green core, which if hit (with either a bomb or a missile) will explode and destroy the whole structure with a huge explosion. Each vehicle is designed with a cube on the top which represents the player/camera. While in first person view the camera will be shown from there, but a third person view is also available for a wider view. The camera does act as a tangible object, so if it is hit (and struck from your vehicle) not only does your vehicle get destroyed in a small explosion, but your camera flies off, taking the first and third person view with it, while your vehicle just keeps on moving in the same direction with none of your control.
The games’ design is a very simple and sleek geometric/cubic design, with destructible environments (all structures, beside the base, are destructible, including wings and tail fins of the planes), the colors stay in a kind of golden/yellow sepia feel, which the haunting and unnatural music accents nicely. Not only is the game beautiful but it also has a very nice physics engine. This game does have very nice graphics, so a higher end machine is suggested to fully enjoy it, although the download itself is slightly under 1mb.
A New Zero is still in beta, so it lacks any form of true online play (other than LAN), campaign, and only has 3 vehicles, also the settings (such as full screen on) don't save over game plays, and it crashes my other computer, but it already is a very fun game, and I highly anticipate the final release and hopefully they will add online play. I expect that the final product will be even more polished and enjoyable then it is now, especially looking at Cryptic Sea’s other works, including Gish, blast miner and Golf?, which are all very fun games and very well polished, but those are games for later reviews and, hopefully, maybe an interview. I’ll be sure to post an update next time a version is available, meanwhile, enjoy!

20cc asks: Are you afraid?

It's back. What's back, you ask? F.E.A.R. is back. I'm aware that this is somewhat preemptive, but I just downloaded the demo on Steam, and it's brought the game to the front of my mind.

I'm not counting this as a review, since I only played a little of the demo, partly because it was damn scary, and partly because as soon as I tried to move, my computer started screaming in pain and flailing with protest. Apparently it's a problem that my processor is roughly half as powerful as required. It seems I'll be buying it for 360 when it comes out.

More on topic, I've been harboring high hopes for F.E.A.R. 2 since Sierra butchered the plot in Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate. From what I played, it's hard to tell if the plot is any good. However, it has retained the feel of the first game. Since most of it takes place in Auburn after the Origin meltdown, I imagine it will be rather more, as they say, fucked up than the original. The Replicas make a return, and I found myself fighting hordes of semi-visible creatures resembling the psychic monsters from Perseus Mandate, except more human in shape, and harder to see.

Unfortunately the interface has been streamlined quite a bit, and I'm not convinced that's good. The numbers have been removed from the health and ammo displays, and in general the layout has been simplified. The graphics look promising, but it's hard to tell when I have the settings turned down so low. I could say more, but I want to save some stuff for a full review once I get my hands on a copy of the full game. I just hope the 360 version doesn't eliminate the action button and force you to melee open doors, like F.E.A.R. Files did.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

GERARDAMO: Game of the Week 2

My game of the week this week is probably one of the most addictive games I've ever played. It's No One Can Stop Mr. Domino for the PlayStation. The game's protagonist is (GASP!) Mr. Domino... Or Ms. Domino, or a small variety of other dominos. The point of the game is to... Well... Lay dominoes. You run around on a two-and-a-half D plane laying down a trail of dominoes in order to trigger switches, that will activate somewhere else on the stage, and they can keep your chain going if you set it up right. The switches start out as little things, like making a stack of dice fall down or just raising up a little tiny slope, to bigger things, like triggering a roller coaster or summoning a tank. It's not as easy as it sounds though. You have a limited number of dominoes, so you can't just lay them down wherever you feel. You have to use them sparingly if you want to set up a chain ranging across the level. You do get your dominoes back, though, after you knock some over. (You knock them over in some hot domino-on-domino action. Well... Mr. Domino just runs into your dominoes and knocks them over.) You have a time limit as well. Overtime, your domino gradually fades to black and slows down. (You'd think turning black would make him run faster, wouldn't you?) This game has very simple gameplay that's easy to learn and difficult to master. The balance between action and puzzling is absolutely perfect, but hard for me to explain, so I'll have YouTube do it instead. As with most of my favorite games, this game has a very strong Japanese personality that doesn't appear to have been translated... At all. (The menus have been translated, but this game is obviously VERY Japanese.) 


Video by WTFOMGMyNameDoesntFi

This game has great music too. I would have put up another video that came with the music, but this was the only one I could find.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

20cc reviews: Left 4 Dead

It's very sad how few games worth notice have been released lately. And this is in the aftermath of the Christmas rush. It seems like we should have something to play, and yet so little of what there is is any good. I had high hopes for so many games at the end of last year, and so many were disappointing.

Essentially I'm trying to justify writing about a game that's been out since November.

The first thing I will say about Left 4 Dead is that it's a Valve game. This means two things. First, that I had very high expectations for it. Second, that I had to wait more than a year after the originally scheduled release date to play the damn thing. I understand Valve's commitment to quality, but generally it results in my forgetting about the game by the time it's finally released. This was the case with the Orange Box, and Left 4 Dead. I followed it faithfully for several months, and then when Valve continued to ignore the release date, I lost interest.

Well, it's out now, and I've played it, and I have to say it's pretty good.

I'll give a summary, for those of you who don't follow Valve's work as closely as I do. Like so many of their games, Left 4 Dead is inspired by, or rather blatantly copied from, a mod made on Valve's Source Engine. This was true of Counter-Strike, Portal, Team Fortress and, I believe, Day of Defeat. In other words, all of Valve's games except Half-Life. I don't hold it against them, though, because they tend to greatly improve on the third party games.

In the case of Left 4 Dead, the inspiration was an entire line of mods, themselves based on the omnipresent and seemingly inexplicable human fascination with zombies. There isn't much of a plot, since the game is designed mostly for the multiplayer. This is a problem for me, since I don't like playing online most of the time. However, unlike Counter-Strike or Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead is still fun to play alone. The player selects one of four campaigns and is then thrown into the shoes of one of four survivors, lost in a zombie infected city or countryside, depending on the campaign. The objective is simply to fight through the endless hordes of flesh-starved monsters to reach the next safe house. A safe house marks the end of each of the four levels within a campaign. After the forth level, the players reach the extraction area, and are required to hold off the horde until help arrives.

Valve has taken this amazingly simple, quadricentric format and made it into something undeniably addictive. For one thing, the zombies themselves are fascinating to watch. Those of you who know the game will probably wonder why I chose to mention this before the Director. Because it was the first thing I noticed. When you watch from a distance, the zombies stumble around, rest on the ground or, strangely, with their foreheads against walls, even fight and kill each other. When they hear you, you can almost see the recognition on their faces, the sudden dawning comprehension, and when they run at full speed toward you in a meticulously lifelike sprint, it can be really terrifying.

The next thing about the game is the aforementioned Director. This is what gives the remarkably short game such good replay value. It was made with a program that observes your progress and factors in your life, ammunition, speed, and other values. It uses this information to decide where to put weapons, medkits and ammunition, where to spawn zombies, and when to bring the horde to harass you. This means you will never play the same level twice. You can never count on finding a new weapon in the same place. You may reach a box in which there used to be a medkit, open it and discover only a bottle of painkillers. It isn't the kind of game in which you can peek around each corner and snipe each zombie, since if you move too slowly the zombies will decide to come looking for you.

In addition to the cannon fodder zombies are four (surprise) “Special Infected:” the Hunter, the Smoker, the Boomer and the Tank. These four don't abide by the normal horde rules and instead move around the edges of the level, actively hunting the players. In online Versus mode, other players take control of the Specials, and each one comes with a special abilities. The Hunter moves quickly, pounces and survivors, and tears at them with its claws. The Smoker has a long tongue that it uses to catch and throttle survivors, and it releases a cloud of smoke when killed. The Boomer vomits a pheromone-laced bile that attracts the horde, and explodes violently when shot. The Tank is big, and it throws things, and not at all easy to kill. Just to add a little more fun, there is one more Special that cannot be controlled by humans in Versus, the Witch. The Witch sits quietly in a corner and cries. If you shine a light on it, or shoot it, or walk too near it, it gets up and kills you. Don't screw with the Witch.

There are, however, a few problems with the game. For one thing, the graphics aren't quite up to the level of the current generation. That's not so much a problem for me, however, since I'm running it on my laptop with a 1.7 GHz processor that can't handle the game at high quality anyway. The bigger problem for me was the way they designed the weapons. When I first heard what weapons were available in the game—a pump shotgun or Uzi at tier 1, an automatic shotgun, M16 or hunting rifle at tier 2—I was impressed with the way they seemed to be trying to use weapons that would be relatively easy to find in the case of a zombie apocalypse. However, this attempt at realism is negated by the fact that you can carry so much ammo, it doesn't really matter which gun you're using. Zombie just within sight? Carrying a shotgun? No problem, take the shot. If you don't hit it the first time, take another shot, you can spare a couple shells. If you do manage to run out, which will probably happen only if you're playing on Expert difficulty, then you can switch to your pistol, which has unlimited ammo. I recognize that Valve makes shooters, as a rule, but that doesn't mean you should be able to enter every room guns blazing. The rest of the inventory is well designed to create a feeling of desperation. You can carry, in addition to your two guns, one medkit, one bottle of painkillers, and one thrown weapon, either a Molotov cocktail or a pipe bomb, on the occasions that you find them.

The game is definitely worth the price, my only wish is that they had limited the pistol ammo, and lowered the ammo cap a tiny bit.

As a closing comment, if any of you are too cheap to buy the game, or are just interested in seeing some of the third party zombie mods, I would suggest you take a look at Zombie Panic. It's free, can be downloaded from Steam (If you're into PC gaming and don't have a Steam account, I highly recommend that you get one. You can get them at <http://store.steampowered.com/>, just click on the button on the left side of the screen for a free client download.) and is a good deal of fun. It has a tense, quick paced feel, a good variety of interesting weapons—like a golf club or computer keyboard—and a weight-based inventory system, something that is generally reserved for the the RPG sphere. I would play more of it myself but, for some reason, my computer seems to have a problem with multiplayer mods.

23 reviews: World of Goo

Normally I would save reviews for these larger and more well known (and not completely free) games for later, but, seeing how they just released the soundtrack for free i thought i should stay on the ball and link to the soundtrack as well as review the game. Anyway I hope everyone watches the inauguration today and I hope you enjoy my second review!

Name: World of Goo
Author: 2D boy
Version: Final
Platform: Windows, Mac, and Wii (via WiiWare) (Linux coming soon)
Price: $20, free demo
Players: 1 on PC, up to 4 on Wii
Website: http://2dboy.com/games.php
Video: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/k10vs5hKabZJgMNNRc

An engineer's dream, that's simple enough to be picked up by anyone. 2D boy presents his first game, a real time physics/engineering game with interesting puzzles and an amazing art style. When I first saw this game, as Tower of Goo (http://www.fun-motion.com/physics-games/tower-of-goo/ ) I was impressed by the design and how fun it was. The game has taken leaps and bounds since that (although it did keep a side game that is somewhat similar to that game). Although it kept the same basic game play the art is much more beautiful, the puzzles are much more challenging and the game has tons more personality.

In WoG you play as, well, it's not exactly clear, but your job is to manipulate goo balls that stick to each other to create structures to get to the pipe at the end of the puzzle. Originally you start out only using the black goo, which has no special properties; they just stick to each other when put together and stays there, and moves around when free. Eventually you get many different types of goo which you have to use in order to solve each puzzle.

The puzzles always have the same end goal; get as much goo (sometimes of a specific type) to the pipe as possible; the way of doing this, though, varies dramatically throughout the game. Although most puzzles require you to build some sort of budge or tower you have to use the right goo in the right situation. The puzzles are varied enough to keep you interested, and challenging enough to keep you engaged. The challenge level of this game can waste a lot of your time, but it's not anymore challenging then it should be, so it is highly advised for both avid games and casual gamers with some time to play, be prepared to actually think about each puzzle though.

The art style in this game is amazing. I absolutely love the intentionally imperfect yet still awesome, unique art style. The music for the game fits well, with tracks long enough and ambient enough not to get on your nerves, even if you are stuck on a puzzle for a prolonged period of time. Each song has a unique personality to go with the just as unique level. Speaking of the sound track 2D boy is offering it for absolutely free at: http://kylegabler.com/WorldOfGooSoundtrack/ and it is defiantly good enough to download and listen to even if you haven't played the game, and if you have played it it's a great way to invoke those friendly memories.

The story telling is great, it meshes seamlessly with the music and art style, it just goes well with the whole feel of the game. The game is split up into different chapters, each with slightly varied styles and feels, this provides a great way to add a little cut scene at the end of each to move along the story as well as providing the player with a sense of accomplishment. Other then the cut scenes (which are short and sparse, nothing more then whats required to tell the story), level design, and music, the story is told through signs posted in each level which give you hints on how to complete the puzzle, tidbits to unravel the story, and a little humor, all of which are signed by "the sign maker". The plot has many twists and turns to keep you engaged, so I wont ruin any of the story, as well as a lot of meta comedy to keep you smiling.

World of Goo is intuitive, fun, unique, and extremely enjoyable. I highly advise this game for anyone who wants to face some serious puzzles (each one with an "OCD" challenge for, well, the OCD people who just NEED to finish the whole game, or anyone looking for more difficulty), which can be solved multiple different ways , or just looking for a fun game with a great design and story where you get to make some cool stuff. Defiantly at least download the demo (available off the site) and give the first chapter a spin, it should be enough to have you fall in love with the game, and it is well worth the $20. Let's hope that 2D boy continues on their path of greatness, because this is definitely one of the best indie games of 2008.

Monday, January 19, 2009

BoltAction: Intro and Warhammer Online

For all of you who know me, the vulture flies not when the cafe is unoccupied, so bring a deck of cards. And for those of you who don't know me, I'm BoltAction, lover, gamer, senator, postal worker. As to my gaming tastes, I enjoy good roleplaying games, strategy games of all varieties, engaging puzzle games, and anything new and interesting. My approach to reviewing is as follows: video games are like lovers. Each has her own distinct personality, complete with convictions, mannerisms, and faults, some lovable, some less so. Almost all are worth meeting, and many an enjoyable afternoon or weekend can be spent on them, but only a few will really jive, commandeering thoughts and devouring time, energy, and, often, money. Thus, I will present games with a list of vital stats, and a more in-depth paragraph describing overall feel and personality.

That said:
Warhammer Online, Age of Reckoning (WOAoR)
Hair: Dark brown, mid-back length
Eyes: Hazel, red w/contacts, or black-rimmed glasses
Skin: Pale European
Body: Thin but strong
General Appearance: Mousiness and innocent appearance belie a dark beauty and violent sexuality
Turn-Ons: Wrestling, good music, storms
Turn-Offs: Sickness, poorly-written poetry, primness
Favorite Sex Position: Against the wall of a scalding shower
Kids?: Ugh - not even thinking about it until after I finish my BA

Personality: Though WOAoR resembles WOW on an artificial level, those that know her cringe at the comparison. Her intellect is better developed, and her tastes more mature. She enjoys competing with her lovers, and seeing them compete, but always on a friendly level. As content to be a lover as "one of the guys," WOAoR nevertheless takes herself more seriously than WOW. Her art is more intense, her stories more compelling, and her attention more demanding of cleverness and sensitivity. She's good at making a guy, even one with little experience, feel comfortable with her, and makes sure her other lovers treat him with respect and companionship. She never loses sight of the fact that guys hang out with her to have fun, but when asked if she'd like a more permanent and committed relationship, she responds with a resounding "Lemme think about it." WOAoR is a complex person, but one who neither needs to understand everyone else, nor seeks to remain incomprehensible.
Good For: Friendly competition, mental stimulation, fun, "summer love"
Not So Good For: Long-term attachment, passion, your wallet

We're moving!

That's right, after this whole one week that you've had to get used to our URL, we are moving to our own server at any-button.com. By the time you read this, it should be up. Bare with us for a while as we set it up, as it's going to be sort of a rough transition while we figure out just what we're doing, but we should have a layout that works more the way we intended for it to, one that can't be provided by Blogger. Plus, it's nice to have our own .com. I will, and I hope my co-authors will, continue to also post here for a short while as we get used to the switch, but stick with us as we jump to our own part of teh internets! It's gonna be awesome. And don't forget to tell all your nerdy friends about us. It'll help us take over the internet.

GERARDAMO

Saturday, January 17, 2009

23 reviews: Toribash

First I would like to say that my reviews will be coming majorly in two forms; reviews of individual games and reviews of indie game companies. Also, expect more than just reviews, I'm planning on doing top 23's, news, and, well, whatever else I decide on. Enjoy:


Name: Toribash

Author: Hampa of Nabi Software

Version: 3.96

Platform: Windows, Mac, Power PC (old mac), and Linux

Price: Free!

Players: 1-2

Website: http://www.toribash.com/

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzjl0Cu9HgM


If most video games are mindless violence, then Toribash is mindful violence. Toribash is a free turn based hand-to-hand fighting game between two controllable rag doll models. As far as I know there is no other game like it; the unique play style and graphics set it apart from the rest. The game play is based on two roughly human shaped models contracting, extending, and relaxing their 20 muscles to deal damage to the other character; see a game play video and it'll all make sense. Toribash is playable either offline versus another controllable dummy (basicly just playing against yourself or a rag doll, although there is an AI possibility, which isn’t especially smart), or online versus a live person. The online matches, 1 vs 1, are played through servers of usually between 2-10 people. Other players wait in the queue watching the games; every match the next person in line gets to play the winner (or there’s a rematch if there’s a tie). Some of these servers are organized into ranks, so while you’re a noob you will be pitted against other noobs, even though you will probably advance through the ranks fairly quickly, reaching the semi pro level, if you play often.

Toribash also features a very large mod database (mod is a general term to refer to a modification of the game, usually to make the game slightly different while maintaining the same basic gameplay). Mod matches can also be done online, but only if a server is hosting one, or you create one that uses a mod and people actually join. This game has a decent user base from all around the world, whom you can communicate with through the text chat while waiting in the queue, or out of game through the toribash forums. There's enough players to be available when you want to play, but also few enough not to keep you waiting in line all day.

I highly advise this game, although it does have a fairly steep learning curve (which can be slightly lessened if you use the ingame tutorial and the toribash online wiki) and not everyone will love it, but once you know how to play it is really fun to pick up for either a few minutes or a few hours. With a nifty rank and point system, which earns you “credits” to buy model characterization either through the in-game store, or the website hosted free market. So give this game a download, take some time to learn how to play it right, do some cool moves, join clans, and pwn noobs, or if you don't feel like playing online you can just mess around and perfect your technique offline.


Oh, also, you can save all your matches as replays, the game comes with a list of hundreds of replays for you to see the awesome stuff u can do in toribash, the game also comes with hundreds of mods, oh and did I mention thats it's all FREE?!

P.S. Turn on the damn shaders!!! (if your computer can handle it)

Biscuits!?!? About me.

I don't have a lot of time right now so this will be in bullet format. I'm Biscuits and here are some things to expect from me.

--Rare updates.
--Poor grammar ie practically no commas. I don't believe in them.
--Extremely Rare updates.
--Rarely will my updates stay on topic.
--Practically no updates.
--STDs.
--This could very well be my last update.
--Extreme laziness.

Friday, January 16, 2009

GERARDAMO on: Sonic Unleashed

Wait, what? GERARDAMO does reviews on new games? Damn right I do, I just seldom play them. Now, I realize that this game has been out for a small while now, but most of the other reviews I've seen for this game simply write this game off as another Sonic game, and therefore bad. Well, it is a bad game, probably because it is a new Sonic game. But, where all of these other reviews couldn't find anything decent in this game, there were parts of Sonic Unleashed where I couldn't help but turn into a grinning doofus from the plain, simple fun the game offered. Well... For the 1/3 of the game that was fun anyway.

The game is split into 3 different parts: daytime levels, nighttime levels, and looking around for the levels. The daytime levels are reminiscent of the Sega Genesis trilogy, but it also innovates on that classic game play by... well... Being new. There are also 3D sections that play like the Sonic Adventure series, just a lot faster. Sometimes it can be too fast. Your little blue blur will be running along, and suddenly, he'll disappear, and a few seconds later, you'll have realized you fell in a hole, but it will have been too late. Minus 1 life. Speaking of lives, I've noticed that many people are complaining about the life system, calling the game out for using a trail-and-error system. I say, isn't this what games used to do anyway? Have gamers really gotten so bad at games that don't involve shooting down squads of terrorists and dropping the fag-bomb over Xbox LIVE that they resort to throwing hissy fits when a game is too hard and punishes you by making you start over because you just plain fucking suck? That's just sad. Yes, it's frustrating when you die, but learn from that mistake and TRY GETTING PAST THE OBSTACLE SOME OTHER WAY. Anyway, yeah. 2D part is very fun. The transitions between 2D and 3D are fantastic, and there are times when they will be combined, feeling very reminiscent of NiGHTS into dreams... (Which is quite possibly Sega's greatest game ever.) 

Unfortunately, some moron on Sonic Team decided that Sonic needed to take a break from all that running... A loooooooong break. So, they decided that Sonic should turn into a werewolf, a stretchy werewolf, a stretchy werewolf in a bad beat 'em up platformer. Well, it's not that bad. If it weren't in a Sonic game, it probably would have went over very well. It has a rather deep combat system to prevent the monotony that comes from most beat 'em ups with the regular "PRESS A OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND HE DEAD NOW YAY" gameplay. But... It's Sonic. For one thing, he's a hedgehog, not a werewolf. For another, nobody wants to play a slow Sonic game... Nobody. Get it right, Sega. 

So, that's another 1/3 of the game. Wait, Gerard, that's only 2/3, you suck at math. No I don't. The other 1/3 simply consists of trying to find the damn level you want to play. This is not enjoyable at all. I don't want to get rewarded for playing a game simply by getting to actually play it. It can take upwards of half an hour to actually find the level you're supposed to play, and because of that, I could only stomach about 4 hours of this game before I quit. You go around trying to find some towns person to talk to, and they might tell you where the level  is, or they might just try to sell you a hot dog, or ice cream, or mushrooms, which would probably be a good investment and make this part of the game stomachable

So, when the majority of gameplay in a game is bad, yes, it's a bad game. It's sad, because the part that Sega got right is fun. Really fun. Really really really really really fucking fun. Sega did take a step in the right direction, and I have high hopes for the next Sonic game they might be releasing (When's the last time that happened?) After all, they did develop an entirely new engine for this game, I doubt they would use it for one game. Hopefully, Sega will learn from these mistakes. They're so close to fixing a problem that they shouldn't have had in the first place, but as an avid Sega fanboy, I'm not going to give up on Sonic. No, Sonic 2006 is still a terrible game that I'll never, EVER play, but it looks like Sega is starting to finally get things right. It's just a shame that if they had just shortened Sonic Unleashed and removed all of the shit that didn't belong in it, it would have been a perfect game.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

20cc on: Myself

Since my co-authors have posted short personal biographies, I thought I should follow suit. This way, anyone reading will have a better idea of where my interests lie. I've often found it nice to know what kind of preferences a reviewer has. That way, if I'm reading the review and I think, “This guy is a tasteless lemming.” I can read into it and realize, “Aha! His favorite game of all time was Star Fox Adventures. That explains everything.”

Hopefully most of you will find my taste unobjectionable. If not, I will at least strive to be funny. If not, at least occasionally clever. At the very least some of you can find amusement in a little self deprecating humor. If that's still too much to ask, then feel free to leave angry comments. Any publicity is good publicity, as they say.

I digress.

For the purposes of the blog, my name is 20cc. My greatest passions are writing and video games. A game reviewing blog seemed the logical conclusion. My tastes tend to be rather varied, and as a result I don't have much of a specialty in any particular area. I'm interested mostly in games that mix elements of shooters and role playing games, though recently I've been trying hard to find a good new action/platforming game.

As an amateur author, I like to think that I can judge storytelling and character development aspects fairly well. Also, as a consumer, I am willing to occasionally sacrifice the finer artistic aspects of a game for what is probably the most important aspect: fun.

Admittedly I tend to fall victim to pre-release excitement. This can lead to my convincing myself that I like a game, for instance, The Witcher, only to discover a month or two later that I don't. As a result, I will make a point of not reviewing a game immediately after first playing it. Also, I would like to think that, as a result, when I give a game a negative review, it would carry a little more weight. I am aware that by trashing Call of Duty 5 in my first review, and subsequently Perfect Dark Zero, Frontlines and Jericho, all in one review, I may have nullified that power a little. However I maintain that all of those games were truly terrible.

My favorite game developer would most likely be Monolith. F.E.A.R., Condemned, and AVP2 will all keep special places in my heart, and I can honestly say that I have never played a Monolith game that I didn't like. (Actually those may have been the only three I've played, discounting prequels and sequels.) However, I remain open to any developer's works, without any preconceptions. Though I tend to be skeptical of EA.

I'll also review movies, or whatever else catches my eye. I hope you find my writing informative and, more importantly, amusing. That is what I'm here for. That and to indulge my probably unfounded belief that people care what I think.

23 presents: 23 and indie games

Seeing how this is my first review I see it suitable to introduce myself. I’m 23, as you can see, and although 20cc did a pretty good job of telling you who I am, he left out a few things. Firstly I will probably also be reviewing webcomics and tech (mostly open source), because, like indie games, I am addicted to them. I spend a lot of time searching the internet for indie games, webcomics, and general cool stuff (mostly science-y, because, well, I am a geek). I also am still a student, so, posts may become less frequent when I get a lot of work, (or more frequent, depending on how much I procrastinate =P). We are not professional here at anyButton, so don't expect regular updates, stellar writing, or exclusive reviews. What you can expect is some interesting insights, a place to get some cool reviews and info, and a little bit of humor. But enough about me and the blog, I'll now explain what an indie game is, for any of the noobs (that means newbie in gamer talk).

An indie game is a game developed by an independent company with no publisher, and usually very little funding or man power (see the Wikipedia entry for more information) (20cc says: "indie=independant, if you didn't get that yet."). If you didn't know that (or even if you did) you’re probably in the right place, I will be introducing even the most famous and well known of indie games, so veterans and noobs alike can enjoy, and no one is left out. Even if you're a veteran indie gamer who's played all the big (and small) names out there, or someone who's never even heard the term before, you are welcome here.

Now you might be wondering why you would want something which isn’t supported by a multi million dollar business, but made by your average person (well, as average as game makers get). The most simple answer for that is this; because they don't have limitations. And the little longer answer I have; because the game is then made for the sake of having fun/whatever objective the author has, and is not necessarily appealing to mass audience, and is not conforming to the standards, but rather made for the sole purpose of the game. The author doesn't have to worry about the game bombing, because they usually make little to no money on it, they just are making the game, well, to make the game, compared to all major games which have to sell, and aren't necessarily unique, creative, and fun.

If your wondering where you can get these magical games, they’re mostly (if not exclusively) downloadable from the internet. A lot of indie games are also freeware/shareware games, which means they are absolutely and completely FREE, that's right, all you need is a computer (usually one running windows, but a lot of the games I'll be presenting also work on mac and/or linux) and an internet connection to download them. Thats right, a game that is completely free and legal, all you have to do is click the link! Some other indie games are sold for moneys, usually to support the author and cover the production costs, and they tend to be very cheap, and usually have free demos (usually under $30 for the whole game).

In the following posts I will be talking mostly about indie games. But, calling these “reviews” is not completely accurate, because a review tells you whether something is bad or good and what makes them that way, but these first reviews will only be of good games (to give you something to play). Later on, once I get a good list on here, I'll venture into some of the potentially less enjoyable games, but that doesn't mean it's all downhill from here, oh no sir, I'm going to deliver everything, including more obscure titles and maybe some flash games, a little something for everyone... well... eventually, so, stick around, we've got tons to offer!

20cc on: Gimmicks

Games use gimmicks. That's just a fact of life. I've heard some games referred to as gimmicks, but that's not what I'm talking about. I mean the little tricks that a game comes up with to make it unique. Pretty much every game has at least one. For instance, Half-Life 2 had physics—because yes, back in '04 a real physics engine was a gimmick. At this point you're probably starting to disagree with my definition of gimmicks, but I maintain that this will start to make sense later.

What makes a gimmick most obvious is when a sequel to an older game comes up with a new gimmick. This gives the game a feeling of newness. I'm sure you've all felt it at some point. You pick up the sequel to your favorite game and put in the disk and it doesn't feel like your favorite game. It's not always a good feeling. A perfect example is the Halo series.

The first Halo was a (now) standard FPS that switches to a third-person camera while in vehicles or on turrets. What made Halo special is that it increased realism (read, simplified controls) by limiting you to two weapons at a time. This was new at the time, and was done mostly to allow for workable shooter controls on a console, whereas most older shooters allowed the player to carry an entire arsenal, somehow.

Halo 2 added the idea of dual wielding certain weapons, which allowed players to customize their playing style more, while maintaining an easy control scheme by eliminating grenades when a second weapon was being used.

Halo 3 was the most gimmicky of the series, adding both heavy weapons and the generally next to useless “equipment.” And this is where I make my main point. Some games, like Halo 3, go out of their way to make space for their new gimmick. In this case, aside from the turrets that can be torn up from their mounts, constituting the main heavy weapons, Bungie came up with some other weapons that could be used the same way, similarly switching the camera to third-person. Why, you might ask, does a first-person shooter provide you with weapons that change the camera to third-person? Because that's the gimmick, and that's how it works. It's not necessarily bad. If you're like me and are easily entranced by the subtle, graceful curves of Sangheili Assault armor, it adds a little more enjoyability to playing online. Or MJOLNIR armor, whatever you're into. At the same time, however, it just doesn't quite feel like Halo.

One of the most recent examples is Gears of War 2. In this case, the makers must have been observing the players and thought, “This guy on the Troika is sitting there ripping all of his enemies to little pieces, but he's only using RT and the right stick. We need a new button.” And thus was born the idea of cooling rotary barreled weapons by pressing RB. This led to the creation of a whole line of air-cooled weaponry, including most vehicle mounted weapons, and the highly amusing “Mulcher.”

Not all gimmicks make this much sense, however. For instance, after the release of Star Wars: Battlefront, the designers must have realized that it was terribly irritating how slow the units are. So, in Battlefront 2 they added a sprint button, for everything, including vehicles. If a vehicle could sprint, it would move that fast all the time. They're machines, they don't get tired.

Some gimmicks stick, like the Quick Time Events popularized by Resident Evil 4 and God of War.

Some don't, like—hopefully—the ability to make an AT-ST sprint.

Really my point is that, a game and its influence can often be told best by which gimmicks they choose to rip off. For instance, when playing Perfect Dark Zero and Frontlines: Fuel of War, you can tell from the control layout and third-person vehicle system, respectively, that they are both taking inspiration from Halo. The main difference being that Halo was a good game.

That's pretty much all of have to say. Bear in mind that I'm not necessarily complaining about gimmicks. They add character to games, and account for a lot of the novelty of some new games. Plot and graphics are important aspects of course, but so is the feel, and the gimmicks make up a big part of the feel. Personally, I admit, I rather like Quick Time Events.

Except in Clive Barker's Jericho.

Jericho can fuck itself, seriously.

GERARDAMO's Game of the Week 1

Alright, as this is my first post here, I've realized that I should do a short introduction first. I'm not terribly fond of the third dimension. It tends to be a problem when it comes to playing new games, so I don't play many. Don't get me wrong, I'll happily play new games, like 3rd-person platformers or something, but when I can't see my character because the camera is in the first-person, I can't actually find out what I'm doing. But, the most enjoyment I get out of games are from games in the 2nd dimension, so I tend to favor games from 1996 as opposed to 2006 (Actually, 2006 isn't really relevant anymore, is it?), which leads me to this. Once a week (hopefully), I'll be providing you with a mentioning/review of a game from before the 6th generation (PS2, Gamecube, Xbox) of gaming for you to check out either on the actual console it was for, or the lazy way with an emulator. (I would highly recommend you get Fusion 3.6 if you plan on trying out most of the games I recommend. It's the Sega Master System/Genesis/32x/CD Emulator. It's pretty fantastic.) 

That being said, my first review is for a Sega Genesis game that's slightly more popular than most of the other games I'll be recommending. It's Toe Jam & Earl. Toe Jam & Earl is a very bizarre game to say the least. You play as two aliens (Toe Jam and Earl, shocking.) who crashed their rocket ship on earth, and they must journey across, well actually, I don't even know how many levels trying to find the 10 pieces of their rocket ship, which have pretty awesome names. I can't actually remember any of the names of the parts, but come on... They had a friggin boom box built into their ship. That brings me to my next point. The game has a terrific sense of humor. Toe Jam and Earl are the two funkiest aliens Sega ever created. Seriously, Toe Jam wears a huge gold medallion with his name on it. 

There's also a slight RPG element to it. There are 9 levels your character can reach, and each one will give you more health, and sometimes an extra life. The titles range from things like  Wiener and Dufus to Homey and Funklord. 

Almost all of the other characters you encounter are "earthlings." Some of them help you, like the Wise Carrot (It's an old guy in a carrot suit), or Santa Claus. Most of them are out to kill you, though. They range from an angry lady pushing around a shopping cart and a guy pushing around a lawn mower, to some rather unearthly things like a giant hamster in a ball and a possessed, evil mailbox. (My favorite is the Phantom Ice Cream Truck.) 

My very favorite thing about this game is the items. They all come in the form of presents, and since they're presents, you don't know what they are until you use them (After you've used it once, you'll know what it is... Until you open a Randomizer, which messes up your collection, and you have to identify them all over again.) Some presents are good, like Super High-Tops, which let you run really fast, or wings, which obviously lets you fly. Some presents are bad, like books. They make you fall asleep, and you need to start shouting "Wake up" until your character wakes up. Or sometimes your present will make it start raining tomatoes, or you'll open a Total Bummer, which kills you. 

There have been two sequels to this, Panic on Funkotron and Toe Jam & Earl III: Mission to Earth, available on the Sega Genesis and Xbox, respectively. Panic on Funkotron isn't actually a sequel at heart though. It just borrowed the title, and replaced the platforming/treasure hunting on a 2D plane with an action 2D side-scroller. I haven't played the third version, but I believe it is more similar to the first. 

This game shouldn't be that hard to find, actually, if you're interested in playing it. It's available on the Wii's virtual console, and most stores I've gone to that sell used Genesis games almost always have a copy of this game lying around somewhere.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jeremaid

A new guest author has just signed up to write with us. Jeremaid is a FPS aficionado. You know, one of those people that makes playing Counter Strike hell for us noobs. We look forward to his work.

20cc reviews: Call of Duty: World at War

CoD5 came out a little under the radar. Granted, when I say under the radar, I mean to say that I didn't notice it was coming out until shortly before its release, and I can't claim to be a careful follower of gaming news beyond that which is on Wikipedia. I should probably work on that, but it's not the point I'm trying to make.


Back in '07, I saw ads for CoD4 in theaters and was vaguely interested. That was about the end of it though. I played it at Dan's and mostly enjoyed the fact that the reload animation changes when the magazine is empty—something every game should be able to do now.


About a year later, Caleb brought CoD5 to my attention, and we shared high hopes, because of the cooperative campaign mode, and because the game was going to be set back in World War II which, while horrendously overused, is several leaps more interesting and realistic than the present day formula of “Terrorist steal nukes. America save world. We best nation in world. Yay America.” This is not to say that CoD4 was a bad game. On the other hand, I hoped that such a game could be followed by a truly stellar WWII shooter, something that's rather hard to find. Unfortunately, it was not to be.


When I recently got my hands on a copy of CoD5, I found it plagued with most of the expected problems, and a few others. The game was touted to be a “realistic” shooter, one that would accurately depict the conditions of the Pacific Campaign, and war in general. The game starts off with our beloved protagonist tied in a hut with another American, being interrogated by a Japanese soldier and his commander. We watch as the officer pushes a cigarette into the other prisoner's eye and leaves. The soldier then draws his knife and slits the American's throat, turns on the protagonist and is suddenly stabbed in the back by the typically well timed rescue operation.


And that's about all the horror you get.


I'll admit that I haven't beaten the whole game, but unless the last two levels suddenly turn into a burned-face, screaming-children gore fest, I feel that the supposed point of the game was missed. I have never been shot, but I imagine it would be rather unpleasant, and yet the injured soldiers in this game lie silently on the ground and, irritatingly, aim perfectly with their “last stand” pistol. In the real world, when a person is lit on fire, they scream and writhe and their skin melts off and they dehydrate. In CoD5 they die, very quickly and apparently painlessly.


That's okay, right? It would be pretty interesting to have a game that really made me feel the horror of war, but would it be fun? Maybe not. It certainly would have been a good game, if that was the only problem.


The next warning sign came after the second Japanese ambush. This brought two things to mind. The first was, don't these soldiers know how to fire a gun, or just charge at you with the bayonet? In my experience, it was mostly the latter. My second thought was, why are my allies so thick? Haven't they been fighting the Japanese for months? How many times are they going to walk into a clearing, see apparently uninjured soldiers lying on the ground (in Japanese uniforms) and think, “My, we haven't had any soldiers here. These men must have dropped dead of their own accord. It certainly won't be ANOTHER ambush.”


(Spoiler alert: IT'S ALWAYS ANOTHER AMBUSH.)


There were two things that really ruined the American campaign for me, however. First, the commanding officer is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, whose reputation in my eyes has been forever ruined by 24. This is more a matter of personal opinion. However, around the third American level, I found myself carrying a heavy, belt-fed machine gun. I was firing it accurately without anyone feeding the belt, without bracing the gun, while standing, and moving.


At this point I could no longer hope for anything redeeming from this campaign. But the Russian campaign, that'll be fun. Alas. The stunning brilliance of the German infantry is showcased in the first level, when you take up a sniping position in the middle of the street, and kill one of two guards standing a short distance away. His partner responds with nothing but mild surprise when he sees his friend's head explode, and of course can't think to take cover before he himself is killed. You do this three times. It's okay though, because planes were flying overhead. It's a very clever technique. The planes cover the sound of the gun firing, and apparently also eliminate the muzzle flash.


I won't drag this out too much longer, but suffice it to say that the rest of the campaign is plagued by clich├ęd dialogue, two dimensional, poorly written characters, and a magical regenerating tank armed with both a cannon and flamethrower. Apparently the Soviets weren't broke after all.


My final complaint, less of a major issue and more just a demonstration of messing with something that doesn't need to be messed with. When playing in cooperative mode, the game doesn't use the full screen. Each player's screen is letterboxed and moved off into a corner of the screen. Apparently the game wasn't good enough on its own, so the makers had to stylize the screen itself. This wasn't so much an issue with me. My 65 inch screen made even a smaller than average playing area workable, but most people don't have 65 inch screens. This leads me to ask the good people at Treyarch, WHAT IN GOD'S NAME WERE YOU THINKING?


I recently reread a review in a certain unnamed gaming magazine that said the only thing that could be found to criticize about CoD5 is multiplayer that “Isn't quite as good as Four.” I'm inclined to wonder if we played the same game.