PC Gaming

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission

Sun, 2013/05/19 - 1:27pm -- Samuel Tow
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Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is... One of "those" games. It's a game that's incredibly fun and addictive when it works but rage-inducing when it doesn't, and it doesn't work very, very often. It's one of those games that I really really like but could never really recommend to other people because I'm having to overlook A LOT of problems in order to enjoy it. It's a weird experience which mixes joy and pain in such unison that you probably couldn't get outside of an S&M club. I guess what I'm saying is I'd only recommend this game if you enjoy hurting yourself... And also playing exotic-genre games, that too.

I'm not going to run through my usual framework for review because Carrier Command has many faces with most not having that much to talk about. As such, we'll do the good, the bad and the ugly list. But first, a little introduction:

Overview:

Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is a remake/spiritual successor to the 1988 game simply called Carrier Command. It's made by Bohemia Interactive, the guys who made Arma II aka that game you have to buy to play DayZ. They're also the guys who had two of their developers thrown in a Greek prison for allegedly "spying" on a military installation. Suffice it to say that Bohemia are not a AAA studio and Carrier Command here is not a AAA game. And the reason this takes so much of the introduction is that the game's "not-AAA" status will dominate your entire time playing it.

More to point, Carrier Command is a merger of the RTS and FPS genres. It focuses on your command of the titular carrier which can carry a small contingent of amphibian ground vehicles and aircraft, which you must use to take over islands, forming a chain of your own that constitutes the industrial might with which you can carry the fight to the enemy. The carrier and all other units can be directed through a top-down map of each island, giving them RTS commands, or you can control them directly as in any vehicle-rich FPS. And you will, because the artificial intelligence in this game isn't. Basically, the idea is you take islands that either build things, mine things or serve as outposts and you keep doing this until you have the whole map.

The game's real strength lies in its retitled skirmish mode here called "Strategic" where the above is literally the whole game. There also exists a single-player campaign, however, which spices up this action with on-foot segments, rail shooter segments, cutscenes and special events, all of them completely terrible. The story of the game follows that the Earth is at war between the EDC and the CDS or whatever - Americans vs. Chinese, basically. The Americans are the good guys who lost the fight for the world water supply and must now find an alternate source - an ocean planet called... Either Taurs or Gaea, I don't remember. The Chinese are evil, they control Earth and they want to stop this from happening. That's your basic setup. On to the pros and cons.

The good:

The graphics. Surprising me most of all, this game is simply stunning. Vehicles, aircraft, the carrier and all of the islands look beautiful, courtesy of high texture and mesh details, as well as a number of fancy shaders and post-processing filters. This is enhanced tremendously by the game's singularly excellent art design, giving us a world that's part wilderness, part futuristic industrial might without either demonising or celebrating said technology. A large amount of diversity leaves vehicles looking very different from each other based on what they're equipped with, and considering the game has ONE vehicle and ONE aircraft, that's saying a lot. Add in the fact that you can always jump in the driver's seat and enjoy things first-hand and you can be sure that this game is easy on the eyes.

The "tech tree." This being a strategy game, Carrier Command has an expansive list of new technologies that need to be researched. In single player these are taken from Research Centres or given out at scripted times. What's good about this is that the tech tree is amazingly expansive and doesn't yield itself to just one "best" option. There is a staggering array of weapons and upgrades for your aircraft and even more so for your land vehicles. Do you want something that's good against land and air? Do you want an artillery piece? Do you want a conventional tank? Or would you rather have a repair vehicle? Do you want a scout aircraft or a heavy gunship? You have to decide based on what you have, what you need and what you can produce, but suffice it to say that you can make damn near everything. There are no set unit types - you field what you make, and what you make is determined by what modules you put on. Which is quite nice.

Island takeover. As I mentioned before, the game revolves around taking over islands. In fact, just in the single player campaign you take over something like 30 of them. It's good, then, that the process never really becomes repetitive. Islands can be defended by a number of different... "Gimmicks" for instance. Sometimes you need to deactivate a number of structures. Sometimes your carrier's control range is vastly reduce and you need to take out scramblers. Sometimes the command centre is shielded. Sometimes the island is simply producing a shit-ton of units and killing you at every step. More than that, every island's unique geography makes fights on it vastly different. You can use aircraft to wreck everything if you want, but sooner or later you'll need ground vehicles to take it over, and then you have to start thinking about landing beaches, hill climbs, roads and accessibility. Where you put your carrier and what terrain you go through makes a huge difference.

The campaign. The only good thing I will say about the campaign is it has a VERY cool sense of progression embedded in it. Without spoiling much, you start off naked. You and three other people steal an amphibian and dock with this pile of crap carrier that can't do anything, has nothing in stockpile and barely even works. As the game goes on, you start gaining control of subsystems here and there, gaining new vehicles you happen to find, eventually being able to build and eventually even upgrade your carrier. It really tickles my sense of progress when you start with so little and end up with so much. The story may be the pits, but the general structure of the campaign is groovy!

The carrier itself. Carrier Command is named after the single most important vehicle in it - the carrier you sail to take over islands with. It's a good job, then, that the carrier is so frikkin' cool. Not only is its design very much awesome, but the thing is modelled both inside and out simultaneously. I've never seen an RTS or FPS before where large vehicle interiors were modelled to this degree... Well, except Battlefield 2142. All four of your vehicles and all four of your aircraft are stored below-deck in a compartment made specifically for them. And when you see a lift lower one in the water or raise one to the deck, that's not a cheat. You can see through the hole and you can see the inside. Plus, the thing is huge. Despite the game's overall poor draw distance (damn that sea fog!), the one thing you can almost always see is the carrier's conning tower peering out of the mist. It's just cool to look at.

The bad:

Systems design. All of it. Not a single system in this game works right. There are no tooltips for anything, there's no explanation on any icon, you have no consistent inventory, none of the weapons and gear are statted in any way aside from an ambiguous "damage" bar that isn't even true, only very few items have descriptions. And this isn't RTFM, either - I read the manual and it has next to nothing of use in it. It's vague and lacking in information. The game has a number of timers, such as when the supply sub which brings you gear will arrive, but I have no idea what time units it measures in. "34" it says. 34 what? It's not 34 seconds because it takes something like 10 minutes, and it's not 34 minutes at all. It's one of the most poorly-designed games I've ever seen, and I've played Black and White!

Unit controls. Again, all of it. Controlling units in this game is puppy-kickingly frustrating, and that's not even touching the AI or pathfinding. Heaven help you there! You really only have two types of commands you can give units that don't include you driving them personally, and those are 1. Go to location and 2. Dock with the carrier. The game allows you to give "attack" commands, but units don't seem to respect it at all, they'll just stare at the thing for hours. On paper there's an option to have several vehicles "assist" one that you drive, but unless those are aircraft, vehicles are crap at following. You can set them to be "aggressive" but that doesn't make them more aggressive, it just makes them disregard your orders. They're perfectly capable of rushing ahead and dying to gun emplacements even on defensive. Basically, you're playing with both hands tied behind your back unless you do it yourself, and that sort of negates the point to having multiple vehicles.

Direct controls. You'll find very early on that the only way to get anything more complex than "drive down a straight road" you'll need to jump in the driver's seat and pilot things yourself. This is where things go bad. Basic ground vehicles control just fine, but the majority of their weapons are horrid to fire. They're all hideously inaccurate even with aim assist and anything ballistic is next to useless in your hands because there's no barrel lift compensation. The only way to hit anything with grenades is to lift the cannon so high you don't see if you're hitting or not. And forget about using artillery. You can shoot across the island, but you have no feedback on what you hit nor any way to get units to do it for you. Aircraft piloting is just awkward. All the controls are sticky, meaning if you throttle up the thing will keep going forward and slam in a mountain. You turn your mouse, the thing spins like a top until you fight to stop it. It makes firing rockets or really any air-to-ground ordinance just painful, and the things are next to useless at doing this themselves. It's not that bad, but it's pretty bad considering you'll be doing a lot of it.

The story. This is going to show up a lot. The game's story involves a few sections of "on-foot" action and those are just awful. That's literally the first thing you play and it damn near made me drop the game then and there. Your character controls like a car, there's one weapon with terrible firing effects and no recoil, there's no reloading, aiming is terrible... The whole experience feels like a punch in the gut after a while, and it damn near made me motion-sick. Now I see why the developers were so apologetic about introducing FPS elements into the campaign. This thing plays like Duke Nukem 3D, and I would have been happier if they never included it at all. Just tell the story in cutscenes... As if those were any good...

The ugly:

Path-finding. Just... Path-finding. This is the game's single biggest, most ridiculous problem that WILL ruin the experience for you. I spent 90% of the first four hours of this game babysitting vehicles. Even after a number of patches, this still happens. They can't navigate bridges, they can't climb steep slopes, they pick the worst possible paths and, all too often, they'll end up reversing in a circle for an hour ON FLAT GROUND and unable to follow a simple move order. I spent a solid hour - four days in-game based on the day/night cycle - just getting two vehicles from one end of the island to the other. And it was a small island. The real kicker is that the vehicles are actually quite smart in finding their own paths. The problem is that they're being asked to do VERY difficult path-finding algorithms to put some of those real-life autonomous vehicles to shame. These aren't RTS units, this is like giving completely unscripted AI to tanks in a Battlefield 3 map and then asking them to go from any place to any place else. Excusable or not, this will make you want to smash your expensive equipment together, and it will never. Ever. Stop being an issue. Just... Be ready for it.

The AI. Like the above, but more general. The AI in this game is hopelessly stupid, and you have to rely on it. Not only will it get lost on a straight road (I'm not joking), but its behaviour in combat is just... Ugh. When left alone in battle, units will latch onto a specific enemy and keep advancing until they get line of sight of it, exposing themselves to crossfire. Aircraft armed with anti-air missiles and anti-air miniguns will consistently pick ground targets while aircraft armed with air-to-ground plasma will keep shooting at aircraft and missing. All too often, vehicles will fail to engage the enemy, even when they're within range and clear line of sight, even when they're being shot at, while other times they'll waste their entire ammo reserve shooting at a wall that an enemy is behind. Sometimes units will refuse to follow orders, yet other times they'll dash away to follow an order you didn't want them to as soon as you swap control to another vehicle, even though they're being told to "suspend." The AI in this game is not good. Don't rely on it.

The story. The actual story this time. It's just dreadful. These are some of the worst actors I've ever seen, reciting their lines with all the conviction of reading off your shopping list aloud. They're forced to act out some of the worst, most stilted and unnatural dialogue that I've ever seen, and that's when you can hear it over the atrocious sound balancing that drowns out people's lines with engine noise and breaking waves. They follow a storyline that's simply idiotic when it doesn't boil down to gaming's barest essentials of "kill stuff, advance plot" and even then their inane comments are infuriating. The plot itself is so clichéd it's offensive, and yet it continuously manages to surprise me with just HOW bad it can get. And all of this is encapsulated in cutscenes featuring hideously ugly character models animated like something out of the 1990, with characters' cold eyes staring dead ahead and their mouths moving like they're chewing gum. The single-player campaign is never at its worse than when it's trying to tell you a story. And all of this capped with the dumbest, least credible, most inept ending to any story I've ever seen. It's APALLING!

The bugs. This game is just riddled with them. They range from simple ones like poor hit detection on vehicle shots, to annoying ones like disappearing resources and items you've created, to outright showstopping ones like repeated crashes to the desktop that cause save files to go corrupt. There are, as well, a number of dead-end glitches that can leave your game literally unwinnable. I had to stop a power plant on an island by dropping coolant in a volcano (just roll with it). Instead, I took over the island thinking that would shut the plant down since I control it. Nope. And not only that, but going back to the island now doesn't spawn the coolant. Can't stop the plant, can't beat the game and your saves past that point are useless. If you destroy the enemy carrier and then immediately engage it thereafter, the game will crash. Every time. It will crash playing cutscenes, it will sometimes even crash just from nothing at all. It's buggy as all hell, suffice it to say.

Overall:

I really don't know what to say. Carrier Command: Gaea Mission is kind of like a really cool sports car that goes fast and stops on a dime, but every time you sit down to drive it you're overcome by a stench of rotten eggs and old fish. Yeah, it's cool cruise around the freeway in it, but you have to put up with a really foul stench to enjoy it. And this thing will set you back I think $30. That's expensive by any stretch, and for a mess like this? The rare glimmer of hope just isn't worth it.

I'll take the fairly rare position here of NOT recommending Carrier Command: Gaea Mission to you, no matter what kind of games you like. Yes, its heart is in the right place and it can be tremendously fun, but a game this broken, this poorly-designed and this badly supported just isn't worth $30. Maybe if it goes in a sale on Steam, but it would have to be a huge sale. I wouldn't pay more than $10 for this thing, and even then it'll hurt. Maybe if you enjoy torturing yourself and have extreme tolerance for awful design, maybe then you will be able to see the glimmer in this mud stew. But most people will just drop this thing within an hour of trying it because it's just that broken and just that much of a mess.

And it's a right shame, too. This could have been a decent game. Well... Back to Hostile Waters, I guess.

Dead Space 3 review

Wed, 2013/05/01 - 3:13pm -- Samuel Tow
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For those who accuse me of my opinion being influence by reading critical reviews beforehand, here's full disclosure: I've been reading and watching reviews of Dead Space 3 since it came out, and they've all pretty universally slagged it for a rainbow of colourful reasons. Yet when I played it, I found it to be fun, entertaining, atmospheric and plain awesome on a number of occasions. "Oh, but it's no longer survival horror, and we have too many shooters!" they say, and I agree. It's not survival horror any more, nor should it really have been that in my opinion. Yes, we have far too many shooters, but few are really this good or this immersive. I say again what I said about Resident Evil 6 - just because it's not survival horror doesn't make the game bad, and Dead Space 3 is, in fact, very very good. Better than either of its predecessors, in fact. That's not to say it doesn't do anything wrong - it does plenty very wrong - but all in due time.

Overview:

Dead Space 3 is the third game in the Dead Space series. No, really. It picks up the story with series protagonist and the world's most badass engineer, Isaac Clarke several years after the events of Dead Space 2. A long voiceover narration will recap in brief the previous two games and the story that follows is actually too complex to summarise, but suffice it to say that religious fanatics, mutated monsters, aliens the omnipresent Markers will show up over the course of the game. In practice, Dead Space 3 is a cooperative-focused over-the-shoulder shooter, pitting a deliberately slow, lumbering player against hordes of fast-moving, aggressive aliens. The selling point of this game is the "weapon crafting" side of gameplay, which I'll probably have to devote quite a bit of time to, but suffice it to say that it has been sold short no matter the hype.

What Dead Space 3 is most definitely NOT is survival horror. Not unless you intentionally crank up the difficulty, and I played on Easy. There is an inventory management and resource-gathering side to it, but resources are usually plentiful and come from a variety of sources. This is an action game through and through. Don't go into it expecting Silent Hill.

Graphics and Design:

Dead Space 3 is really kind of a mixed bag in this regard. As I found out with Resident Evil 6, console graphics simply suck, and this game is no exception. It has been "uprezzed" for the PC, sure, and isn't nearly as laughably bad as RE6, but you will still be faced with constant low-resolution textures, low-polygon models and the worst, ugliest faces I've seen in years. Despite this, though, the game still looks relatively nice if you look at it from a distance and squint a little. Most of its shortcomings are either well hidden behind graphic design tricks or simply overshadowed by the game's exceptionally good art design. This is helped by almost seamless scene transitions, with only a few instances of EA's patented trick of hiding loading screens are really long elevator ride. I mean seriously, how many decks does this ship have? I've passed like 100 of 'em!

Art design is really where this game shines, though. Excluding people's faces who look like they got stepped on... Excluding that, everything is "sci-fi" in a way that really tickles me. It's not just one thing that's futuristic, it's everything. Doors open via holographic interfaces over their locking mechanisms when powered on, but display a manual crank wheel when the power is off. Space suits come with a number of control jets and those really cool foldout helmets. You constantly run across utility areas where people had lunch of had their offices and so on. And in this instance, the game even has an excuse to be dark and dirty - it takes place almost exclusively in 200-year-old ships and structures. And yes, there's even the lack of any kind of interface, forcing you to rely on a number of visual cues along Isaac's suit and so on. And just because it bears repeating, I LOVE the space suit designs in this game. Overall, despite obviously running into graphical limitations. Dead Space 3 really does end up looking spectacularly good.

Something I don't comment on frequently but really should here is sound design. Voice acting is amazingly well done where it plays a part, with a standout performance from Simon Templeton... Because if Jennifer Hale doesn't feature in a game I review, Simon Templeton has to... But it goes beyond just competent voice actors, too. The game's actual sound design is simply lovely. No, this isn't a horror game, but it still managed to make me constantly look over my shoulder. You see, the technology of Dead Space isn't iPod-designed. It's heavy, industrial and loud. Doors open with a clang, generators start up with a roar, even holographic interfaces light up with a clang. And a lot of those things respond to your presence as you walk past them. I've jumped out of my seat on a few occasions out of nothing more than a large rotatory door violently swinging open as I walked by its console and I thought it was aliens. Considering how limited your field of vision is and how lumbering Isaac is, hearing a loud racket behind your back can be very unsettling. This is even more so true in combat, where aliens like to rush at you out of nowhere and duck under your line of sight to swing at your knees, meaning you HAVE to react to sounds and you better have surround sound.

Overall, I'd say the game looks and sounds quite good for a console game, which after Resident Evil 6 is praisworthy, at least.

Gameplay and Systems:

This is where Dead Space 3 really shines. At its core, it's a third person over-the-shoulder shooter, but how it goes about achieving this where things shine. Isaac Clarke is always wearing a bulky, heavy space suit. He doesn't run, he walks with a brisk pace. His "sprint" is at most a slow jog. He turns around slowly and, when forced into melee, swings his weapon in weighty, long arcs. At the same time, his enemies are very fast and not very dumb. They will dart in and out of sight, try to circle around and attack Isaac from behind, dash in for a quick few swipes then dash back out of range and - worst of all - are utter ammo sponges even on the easiest difficulty. What's worse is the even as generous as the game is with ammo, you still need to aim for "kill shots" in order to not run out, and in this game, kill shots are not headshots. On the contrary, blowing off a Necromorph's head doesn't even slow it down. You need to sever its limbs with limb shots. Now imagine hitting those darting, flailing limbs on top of being swarmed and you may get some idea as to why this game passes for horror.

However, despite being outclassed so badly, Isaac is not defenceless in the slightest. Two suit "modules" - Stasis and Kinesis - provide a tremendous advantage. The Stasis module shoots out a blue pellet that explodes on contact and slows all enemies in a small area significantly. This makes shooting off limbs much easier, and can also buy you a reprieve to run out. The Kinesis module is basically the Gravity Gun. It can be used to pull collectables to you as well as to chuck things at the Necromorphs, including their own spike-tipped limbs that you rip from "dead" ones. For the most part, however, Kinesis is used for puzzle-solving. It allows you to turn cranks, rotate generators, open doors, remove obstructions and all manner of other manual labour tasks. Towards the game, this starts to get a bit ridiculous, but that's for in-story reasons.

Finally, there's SPAAACE!!! It ain't called Dead Space for nothing, and this, I feel, is what the game needed more of. Isaac Clarke's EVA suit is an honest-to-God space suit, meaning it can survive in the vacuum of space and manoeuvre in zero gravity. In the vacuum of space (or in gas-choked environments), the suit will seal up and give you an actually pretty generous amount of time - upwards of four minutes at base - to either find an oxygen source or get to a breathable environment. In the vacuum of space, there is no sound. The only things you really hear are the thugs of your own gunshots as they reverberate around the shell of your suit, and Isaac's own breathing. Why can't more games remember that there's no sound in space! Moving around in zero gravity is also quite a lot of fun. Isaac can either stick to metallic surfaces with his boots, on occasion walking upside down or along the sides, or free-float, giving him far more freedom than he's ever had. One of the first major environments the game will present you with is you standing outside on top of a derelict spacecraft, where you can free-float and visit all manner of larger pieces. Some even have doors you can open to find hidden caches.

I should mention in brief that this game is a bit trigger-happy with the minigames and puzzles that really come down to minigames anyway. There are at least two very simplistic hacking minigames, there are a few takes on rotating plates to align connector parts, there's a "jet boot flying" minigame where you have to speed ahead and dodge debris, there's a rope-climbing and rope-descending minigame and I'm pretty sure there are a few co-op mandatory minigames that I didn't see because I didn't play co-op. There are puzzles in the game, too, but they really do come off like minigames, themselves, just because they're not that complicated and are usually self-contained. And kind of obvious... But suffice it to say that the game isn't just about stomping along dark hallways while aliens pop out of ventilation shafts like reviewers would have you believe.

Overall, Dead Space is a lot of fun to play.

Story and Characters:

Where to start with this one... OK, the text narration at the start will tell you that 200 years prior to Dead Space, mankind discovered a "Marker" - an alien artefact - on Earth, which seemed like it could be a source of unlimited energy. It turned out, however, that it drove people nuts and then mutated them on a molecular level. When these people died, they turned into murderous monsters. All Marker reconstruction projects were abandoned and markers buried on planets which were later abandoned. Still, a religion developed around them called the Church of Unitology, which worships the Markers and seek to be "uplifted" by them. Thus far, Isaac has lost one girlfriend aboard a ship that dug up a marker in Dead Space, driving him mad. He then gained another girlfriend aboard a station where the Church of Unitology had made a new Marker, in the process getting over his madness. Him being a dick drove her away, however. This is where we pick up, with "EarthGov" having been overthrown by the Unitologists and Ellie - Isaac's surviving girlfriend - off on some God-forsaken planet to find a way to end the Marker threat once and for all, collapsing the Church of Unitology once and for all by robbing them of their "gods." Saying more than that goes into spoilers, so let's leave the story at that.

Characters this game has a few of. First is obviously Isaac Clarke, the engineer turned Duke Nukem on two separate occasions. He starts off an asshole and dips back into that from time to time, but is otherwise one of the more sympathetic characters in the game, and the single-player protagonist. Then there's John Carver, AKA Player 2. The only reason Carver exists is to provide a character for your co-op partner to play. I don't know anything about him because he's actually edited almost completely out of the single-player campaign. This isn't Resident Evil 6 where the computer takes over your co-op partner. No, here the story constantly contrives reasons for him to go another way. Therefore, his character growth happens off-screen and I know next to nothing about him. Then, finally, there's Ellie Langford. She's actually probably the most sympathetic character in the game both for her actions and her conduct. She does have a few quarrels with Isaac given their history, but I dare say it's all Isaac's fault because the things he says are stupid.

Past this are the "supporting cast," by which I mean the cannon fodder. Leading the charge is Jacob Danik, "the bad guy." Seriously - you see this guy on a billboard, you hear he's voiced by Simon Templeton, you KNOW he's the bad guy. His role in the game isn't big, however. In fact, he only really shows up about 2/3 of the way through, and he constantly acts as the deluded fanatic antagonist. His performance is astounding, I'm just sorry I didn't get to shoot him in the mouth with my magnum. Finally, there's "the Captain" whom I tended to refer to as the "obvious love triangle guy." His deal is when Ellie left Isaac, she hooked up with him. Thus, his entire contribution to the game is to be an antagonistic asshole and constant whiner. He also gets the role of perpetually bitching about how we should have gone back home and left the planet alone and how it's all resolved is really unfulfilling.

The characters past this really don't matter, and I actually have trouble telling them apart. They get picked off in various stupid ways, like dying in a crash, being dragged off by aliens or dying off-screen. Really, past the three protagonists and the antagonist, this game really doesn't do well. I think the problem is that that's more characters than the previous two games combined, hence the problem of their being faceless - these people exist so they can die horribly. Ignoring them, however, the actual important characters are interesting, well-developed and sympathetic. To a large extent even the villain. I'm a huge fan of the interplay between Ellie and Isaac as the game progresses, but this really isn't a game I'd play JUST for that. Most of the game has nothing to do with characters or story, but rather with taking a dozen utilitarian steps between major objectives.

Weapons and Suits:

This is somewhat unique to Dead Space, and I dare say easily the best part of its gameplay. Dead Space lets you build your own weapons, and I mean that pretty much literally. In fact, there really aren't any "weapons" in the game, just collections of parts. A shotgun, for instance, isn't one item, it's a heavy frame with a military engine and a conical tip. Let me explain, because this gets good.

Every weapon in the game HAS to have at least three standard parts in order to even exist. It requires a "frame," which can be either one-handed or two-hande. Upgraded "better" frames exist later in the game, but they only vary in terms of stats. A weapon also requires an "attachment," which defines what it does. Does your weapon fire bullets, electricity, plasma, rockets ETC? Finally, a weapon also requires a tip. This modifies what the attachment does and determines how it does this. A "military engine" as I mentioned before is a shotgun, but the tip can turn it into a submachine gun, a semi-automatic rifle or even a machinegun. Once you have these three parts, you have a weapon which can be added on to. You can add an entire second attachment to the weapon, for an "under-barrel" second whole weapon. Ever wanted to have a rifle with an under-barrel grenade launcher? How about a weapon which fires buzzaws that are also electrified? How about a flamethrower that can also freeze people? Now you can!

This really is where the true magic lies, based on how these things interact with each other. All of the attachments work on both frames, but which frame you pick modifies what they do. Plasma on a Compact frame, for instance, makes a linear plasma cutter, whereas plasma on a Heavy frame makes a plasma rifle. Subsequently, all of the game's attachments use the same tips, but based on which attachment on what frame you put them, the tips can have vastly different effects. Beyond this, you have still further ways to enhance your weapon. There are two "addon" slots that can hold either buffing or utility items. You can, for instance, have a scope on your weapon, or you can have more ammo, or you can make it shoot fire bullets and so on. You can have two of these. Past that, you're still not done because you have a number of "chip" slots - potentially four for each of top and bottom weapon, that can modify base stats like damage, reload speed, clip size and rate of fire, and those make a huge difference. Me, I played with a spikethrower shotgun with an underslung melee hammer attachment that slowed enemies on hit and a scoped magnum revolved with an underslung SMG that shocked things with electricity! Smile

Finally and somewhat less impressively, there are suit upgrades. The game gives you a few suits to choose from, unlocking more as you progress, but which suit you wear really has no impact on your stats. They're just for looks, which is kind of really awesome. You start off in an EVA suit that can already do everything, so why change? The upgrade system to them is actually not too complicated. It has to do with physical attributes (health, armour, air tank), Stasis attributes (duration, recharge, number of charges) and Kinesis attributes (distance and damage, I think). The main point I want to make here is  you can upgrade the stats of your suit without affecting your appearance and still wear the suit you like the look of the best. And I really wish more games would do that.

Overall:

I loved Dead Space 3. About the only thing I DON'T like about it is you need EA's Origin crap to buy and run it. Yeah, the game has its problems - it can get dull and repetitive, some of the optional missions just run you through copy-pasted environments over and over again, the graphics aren't great and I wish more of it actually took place in space... But I can't say any of those gripes really ruin the game for me. The biggest one that I just want to throttle people for is the complaint that Dead Space 3 is not a horror game. No, it isn't, but it's still very good. But should YOU get it?

Well, I'd say get it if you feel any of the weapon-crafting systems sound fun for you. It's a major part of the game and it's awesome! But don't be put off if that's not to your taste. Blueprints exist to make stock weapons that are not bad at all, and there are a number of other frames which come pre-equipped with upgrades that you don't have to micromanage. If you're interested in a slightly non-traditional over-the-shoulder shooter that pits a slower player against faster enemies and relies on the player's wits, play this. If you're like me and you just like space sci-fi, definitely get this. It doesn't have nearly as much space as I'd have liked, but what it does have is simply awesome!

However, if you MUST have a survival horror game, look elsewhere. Unlike its predecessors, this game doesn't even pretend to be one. If you're not into shooters and would rather have a "smarter" game, give Dead Space a pass. Oh, sure, it has its moments of clever design and puzzles, but let's be honest here - you'll spend most of your time shooting monsters in the dark. It's what the game's about, all told. If you're only interested in a game's story... Well, Dead Space has one and it is interested in broad sci-fi terms, but it makes up less than a tenth of the game, if that. Most of your time is spent restoring power, then getting supplies, then unlocking doors to restore power to other things and so on. The game's goals are utility, with storyline goals being rare and long-term. Finally, if you don't like gore, do not play this game. It may not be proper horror, but this game is often very gross. You'll run across severed heads, gutted people and more. Hell, a major part of the game's resource-garthering is stomping killed enemies because that causes them to drop items.

Honestly, though, unless you happen to hate Origin (hi, Marq! :)) and aren't appalled at EA's business practices, I'd have to say give this one a shot. Despite the hype and expectations, despite all the criticisms, Dead Space 3 really is a good game. Despite all the "evil corporation" shit that was involved in making and selling it, I can't deny that it is, at the end of the dame, simply that - a good game.

Antichamber: What is this I don't even

Sat, 2013/04/27 - 2:42pm -- Samuel Tow
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If you've ever heard much of the hype surrounding Antichamber, that's probably the impression you've been given, and there's a good reason for this - the developers are quite adamant about you perceiving their game as an incomprehensible mind-bending escher-esque experience. Pretty much all of the reviews of it have been vague and insisting that there's really no way to explain what this game is... When it's actually quite simple, but more on that in Gameplay. I guess the point is that you're supposed to be so overwhelmed with the expeirence and the colours and the mechanics that this becomes something much more than a game.

Once you get past the unique mechanics and diabolical puzzle design, though, you'll find that Antichamber is actually a very ridigly-structured, static, rational, reasonable game which follows strict rules and offers a discrete bag of tricks that it tries to use in order to confuse, misdirect and mislead, creating an experience that's much harder to figure out than to actually do in most cases. In this sense, Antichamber is a lot like Portal. In fact, it's a lot like Portal in nearly every aspect, from the irrational-seeming but fiendishly logical puzzles to the quirky laconic "storytelling" to the solitude to the act of starting you without any setup whatsoever and ending you in a scene that feel like it could mean so much and lead to such interesting stories but really doesn't do either. Like Portal, Antichamber is a very conventional first-person puzzle game that is sold on the strength of its puzzles and the iconography of its visual design.

And it does both quite well. But what is this thing, after all?

Overview:

Antichamber is a 3D first-person puzzle game that relies very heavily on impossible architecture, mind games and trial-and-error gameplay. This is not an action game of any shape, as there is no way to die and no real way to fail such that a puzzle can't be retried. It has no story, the setting is unclear and somewhat abstract and - to the best of my knowledge - does not have a point. In fact, a major part of this game's overall "narrative" and specific puzzles is figuring our what you're supposed to do.

However, there's a reason I keep bringing up Portal - Antichamber is basically that game, but where the portals are hidden so you don't know you're going through them. If you want a good free example, then get this map for Portal 2 and try it. That's basically half of Antichamber right there, at least in terms of game mechanics.

Graphics and Design:

Purely on a technical level, Antichamber's graphics are actually quite poor. The game is monochrome for the most part, with colours used occasionally in VERY loud and garish fashion. The entire thing is bathed in a constant cel shader so dense you can sometimes lose track of geometry shapes in the game. Textures, for the most part, are criminally low-resolution and actually quite ugly, where they exist at all. Because the game is so heavily based around "hidden portals," it ends up having to draw multiple sets of geometry over each other, and it's not entirely very good at it, causing frequent instances of you being able to see through walls for a fraction of a second. There are, as well, no real graphics settings, beyond picking your resolution. Not even vertical sync, which ought to be quite unacceptable.

However, most of those graphical decisions are the cause of a very specific visual design aesthetic. The entire game looks unreal and almost impossible, with most architecture comprised of featureless white walls making up large cubical rooms. Very often, the only way you'll be able to tell 3D shape is via the game's edge detection, giving everything an almost hand-drawn animation feel and serving to fuel a few of the game's puzzles. Colour in this game exists fairly rarely, and when it does show up, it's there to help anchor you in the world and give you some context so you don't get hopelessly lost. In a lot of cases, colour also serves to tell you how far you've progressed or, alternately, ward you off so you'll return with better tools.

For a game on the Unreal engine, Antichamber has really poor graphics. And yet for a game with such poor graphics, it's amazingly memorable and... Well, pretty. This isn't a game which shoots for realism or flashy graphics, but rather one which has a very stark visual style it wants to exude, one that both anchors you into some kind of comprehensible reality and yet at the same time always seeks to confound you with every step you take.

Gameplay and Systems:

Antichamber uses a very simple control scheme. You move with WASD, you jump with Space, "walk" with Shift, look around with the mouse and use the left and right mouse buttons for the "gun." Oh, and the Escape key to return to your "grid room." You cannot rebind those keys. Ever. In fact, the game does not have an options menu whatsoever. The closest you have is an interactive wall where you can alter your resolution and mouse speed between "slow," "medium" and "fast," as well as invert it. I hope you find Shift convenient for something you'll need to hold down for long periods of time. Because if you're like me and your hand stance doesn't account for that, well... Tough cookies!

Antichamber seems confounding at first, but most of its "escheresque non-euclidean geometry" really comes down to two aspects. One is hidden portals. Many, MANY corridors in the game will have portals in them that you don't know about, which will take you between vastly different but similarly-looking locations, destroying any sense of orientation you may have. There's a maze, for instance, where every turn but the "right path" will instantly lead you right back to the start. Secondly, the game tracks where you're facing. Many pizzles will require you to either look at something or not look at something. Very often you'll be "in two places at once" and the game will swap which place you see based on where you look, meaning that you'll often walk down a hallway, turn around and see something completely different. Get used to that. Basically, these are the two major mechanics you need to look out for.

Beyond this is the "gun." It's not really a gun (even if that's what an Easter egg in the actual game calls it), but rather a tool. The tool exists to pick up certain manipulable voxels/cubes which you can carry with you and place elsewhere. These can be used to bridge gaps, block tripwire laser beams and so on. Four guns - or rather, four versions of the same one - exist: Blue, Greem, Yellow and Red. Any colour block can be picked up by any colour gun, but that colour usually tells you at least which one you need to run the puzzle. The various gun upgrades also come with cumulative special abilities which both make old puzzles considerably easier and also make newer ones possible at all. Picking up the different-colour guns is basically the game's mark of progress, and it'll run you past the "Exit" gate many times before it actually lets you use it when you have the right gun.

Finally, some esoteric puzzle elements also exist. Some white blocks in the world can't be picked up, but will still appear or disappear based on whether you walk, run or jump and which direction you approach them from. "Unstable lifts" also exist, which you can jump on to force down slightly to use as a spring. Some very rare large block can be pushed, though most will come back while at the same time actuating a machine elsewhere in the puzzle. A very suspicious lookalike to the Material Emancipation Grill also exists, and it comes in two types. Both will fizzle any cubes you have in your gun, but placed cubes can actually pass through one, while the other will fizzle them.

That's about all I can say without going into spoilers.

Story and Characters:

There is no story and there are no characters, unless you count the Black/Shadow Cube which shows up from time to time where you can't get to it. There's no way to know what you're playing - be it a person, a robot or some kind of construct. Unlike Portal, this game doesn't let you see yourself even when it's blatantly obvious you're looking through a portal to the room you're already in. The gun's grip is hidden from view so you can't see what's holding onto it. The game has no real story, either. You never have any clear idea what you're supposed to do, where you're supposed to go or why any of this was happening. Again, like Portal, but at least Portal gave you clues as to a much larger world beyond Aperture Laboratories as Valve are wont to do, but this game does not. At no point is there a hint at a superset world right up until the end, and what shows up at the end, and that's only really interesting to speculate about because that, too, is meaningless.

Honestly, if I have one major qualm with Antichamber, it's that this thing has no story whatsoever, and it could have. What made Portal so memorable wasn't just "thinking with portals," it was GLaDOS providing a character and providing dialogue and an actual character. The whole thing still felt so very lonely, even more so with her monotone voice, but it still hinted at a story. This... Really could have had one, even if it's the token "Wat a tweest!" ending to hint at one, but no. This really is just a puzzle game with no aspirations to tell anything more than that. I guess the only thing I can hope for is the game does well enough to garner a sequel with a bit more substance to it. Which brings me to:

Overall:

This thing costs 19 Euro, which will likely come up to $25-$30. Antichamber is not worth $25-$30. This is a $15-$20 game, if that. It should be priced as a budget title, no matter how "revolutionary" it may be praised as. I get that it's still new, but I'd also suggest you don't rush ahead to get it even if you want the game. Wait for a sale or some kind of discount. Should you even wait, though?

I'd say buy this game if you really love platformers and REALLY loved the weirder aspects of Portal. One of the creators, I think, described the game as being in a sensory-deprivation chamber - an anti-chamber if you will - so if you enjoy games deliberately designed to mess with your head and bend your perception, get it. If you're a fan of VERY simplistic graphics and a sparse colour palette, definitely get this one, because its visual aesthetic is remarkable.

If, however, you're easily confused and get turned around often, this isn't the game for you. If you're liable to get ill from a 3D perspective, this game is HORRIBLE about that. I've been playing FPS games for 20 years now and I nearly puked on two separate occasions. The perspective shift and bare-bones visuals will not be kind on your vestibular apparatus. Play on an empty stomach, is my suggestion. It goes without saying that if you want story or characters this isn't the game for you, but there's more to it than that. If you need your games to have a deeper meaning, then this one will piss you off. In nearly everything Antichamber does, it seems like it's trying to be pretentious and say something thoughtful, but it never really does. As one of the game's own blackboards will tell you, sometimes there's no hidden meaning. Well... This whole game has no hidden meaning, or any meaning whatsoever. It's just a puzzle game.

Overall, I'm torn. Antichamber really is a good game by all counts and I do want you to play it, but I just don't think it's worth what it's been priced at. Up to you.

Project Awakened

Sat, 2013/04/13 - 2:40pm -- Samuel Tow
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You know how we always lament the loss of City of Heroes and how no other game really does it justice? You have Champions and DC and such, but they all come with their downsides and they're more MMO time sink and fetch quest than anything else, sadly enough. Well, while browsing the Steam Greenlight, I came upon something called Project Awakened. Here's the game's Greenlight page.

My suggestion here is to have a look at the Greenlight videos and take in everything these guys are suggesting they want to do. Ignore the fact that they honestly seem to believe that this is character customization "for the first time" when it obviously isn't and focus on what the game offers. It's a very character-centric, customization-heavy game focused on letting players create any character they want and play any way they desire. It may not be literally ABOUT comic books, but I've always seen CoH as being about more than just Western comic books from any specific "age."

The only real problem is that the game doesn't exist yet. Apparently they tried a Kickstarter and it didn't work, so now they're collecting money on their own site, seen here. You can pledge anything up to $10 000 (I love optimistic fundraisers :)) and if the whole thing fails to raise the money, you get refunded. It's not quite as "clean" as Kickstarter, but I feel it's worth a shot. Like Castle Story, pledging a decent sum promises you a few prototypes and betas but like Castle Story, those aren't quite ready yet. I saw a developer comment to the effect that they're very buggy and require console commands to work.

Personally, I'm already down $35. Worse come to worst, I get my money back short some change for transaction fees. Best case scenario, I get a character-focused, story driven game that really could step up to the plate and put the MMO customization of yesteryear to shame. Check it out!

Tasty Planet: Back For Seconds mini review

Fri, 2013/04/05 - 6:58pm -- Samuel Tow
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Ever since I played part of Katamari Damaci in the PlayStation, I've been looking for game with that sort of feel of progression and change in size. There really aren't many, however, with the Wonderful End of the World being pretty much the only PC contender, and that's neither very good nor very long, plus it's packed to the gills with esoteric levels, like a 1980s arcade level and a candyland level and a newsprint level and so on. There was this one game I played, though, which was kind of fun. They called it "Tasty Planet," and it told the tale of a cute nanobot organism which got released into the world and grew until it consumed everything and literally ate the fourth wall. Unfortunately, the game looked fairly ugly and was rife with ridiculous locations, seeing the critter go from a city to "the clouds" to outer space where it found badly mis-sized space ship sprites. So while I appreciated the idea behind the game, the execution let it down.

Enter Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds, and I seriously cannot be more amazed at what I'm seeing here. It's the same basic game as the original Tasty Planet, only it looks better, it plays much more smoothly and it's MUCH more varied, with the camera pulling back to reveal more of the location once you've grown big enough. It avoids the stupid locations altogether by setting itself in a time-travelling scenario, exploring prehistory, exploring several different periods culminating in the "future." Unlike the original, this one also has something of a story and gameplay has been fixed up considerably to eliminate nearly all the cheapness. If ever there were an indie game I could recommend (besides Aquaria!), this would have to be it.

However, as this IS an indie game with a size of around 30MB, I won't do a full review. So, keep on reading for a few basic reasons for why you should get this game.

Tasty Planet is a 2D top-down "eating game" where your only controls are the four direction keys. You control the Blob - a very cute, cuddly grey puddle of semi-sentient goo - with your only objective being to eat the largest things you can. Your ultimate point is to eat literally everything, but can only eat things smaller than you. Eating grows your blob larger, allowing it to eat bigger things, but certain "dangerous" items and enemies can hurt you, making you smaller, or even eat your "food." That's literally all there is to the gameplay - eat to grow big, reach your size target before the timer runs out, and don't get killed. Your "controls" consist of four buttons that are auto-mapped to the WASD, the arrow keys and the numpad, and you can also even use the mouse if you want to. Yet for as simple as this game is, it's still a lot of fun.

Tasty Planet: Back for Seconds also has something of a story. "The professor" has just finished his time machine when his idiot assistant notices a small blob under a glass. The professor explains that he was "playing with nanomachines" and made this critter that can eat ANYTHING as long as it's smaller than itself and self-replicate instantly. The assistant, proving the merits of his education, decides to feed the little critter some candy because it "looks hungry." From then on, the blob gets loose, eats until it's larger than the people and then eats the professor's time machine, disappearing into the past. At the end of each chapter, the blob does something to alter history, manifesting comically implausible effects in the present, whereupon it jumps forward in time, resetting its size in the process. As a framing device, it does its job, plus I like to read the professor's voice like it's coming from the doctor in that terrible dub of Diatron 5.

Besides the two bumbling human characters, the only real character in the game is the blob. And you wouldn't think "a blob" could have much character, but I'm happy to say that it does. Sort of. At the very least, it's an endearing, cute world-destroying monster. The critter never speaks, but it's drawn up with large, wide-open cartoonish eyes that make it look almost like a child. Though it never speaks either in voice-over or text, the blob does occasionally emote sounds like "Mmm!" and "Yum!" in a tiny, soft, adorable voice. Aw! Who's a cute eldritch horror! Was that entire city tasty in your tummy-wummy? I don't know, I'm generally not a fan of deliberately "cute" characters, but for the blob here, I'd say it works. It's dissonant between the terrible things it does and the endearing way in which it behaves, and yet at the same time it seems to make sense in context. The little critter is just hungry. Aw!

I feel Tasty Planet: Back For Seconds is a great game. It has replay value in the form of a "New Game +" mode which features some brand new levels, it has single-PC two-player and even playing it full-tilt, it still took me a good several hours to finish. If you're a fan of simpler, indie games, this one's a definite must. Sadly... It's not available on Steam. And I say "sadly" because this is considerably better than the Wonderful End of the World and Tales From Space: Giant Blob Attack.

Darkout mini-review

Mon, 2013/04/01 - 9:15am -- Samuel Tow
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This might be a first, in that I'm about to promote a game I positively LOATHE. Never let it be said that I'm not a fair reviewer Smile This will, however, have to be a small, short-ish review since we'll be discussing a fairly "small" indie game that really shouldn't be judged by the standards of AAA titles.

Overview

Basically speaking, Darkout is a 2D sci-fi version of Minecraft, but minus the retro look. Unlike the literal dozens of games to do this precise concept, Darkour does not shoot for a retro 8-bit look to its graphics and does not display obvious giant pixels. Instead, it's basically an HD game with probably the best graphics of its genre. As well, unlike Minecraft and its ilk, this game has something of a progression curve. In addition to material-gathering and item-crafting, it also employs a fairly complex system of research and construction which gives the game both something of a purpose and something of a broader scope.

Darkour sets the unnamed female protagonist crash-landed on a hostile alien planet populated by shadow creatures that must be defeated by a combination of bright lights that make them tangible and physical weapons that actually kill them. The protagonist - you - must quickly dig through the escape pod for tools then dismantle it for experience, then build a quick shelter before night-time comes and monsters start spawning. Beyond this, you're tasked with creating an ever-larger dwelling with room for various complicated machinery which eventually leads to electric lights, power generation, machine shops and more. At the start, 99% of the world is covered in darkness. As you light the area around you and create areas that monsters can't spawn in, that percentage drops, with the eventual goal being to drop the planet's darkness level to 0%. I wouldn't know I haven't gotten that far.

What works

The controls: Surprisingly for a 2D platformer of this nature, the controls are pretty tight and intuitive. You move fairly quickly and easily and are, in fact, rather more nimble than even the fastest of the monsters. I've never had problems getting stuck on terrain or falling through the floor. At first it seems like you're walled in on all sides by either sheer cliffs or tar pits, but one of the first things you can research is sort of a wooden peg - a block that you can jump up through or drop through by pressing down. Once you figure this out, the world is your oyster as you can build ladders both up and down and technically reach any location. Let me put it this way - this is a world where I can go just about anywhere if it weren't for the monsters constantly killing me.

Crafting: I'm generally not a fan of crafting, but Darkout makes this easy as can be, once you find your way around the subcategories. You have a list of categories of things you can make and each list holds "recipes" that never run out. Each recipe takes a number of specific resources to make the item you want. Certain items you can make on your own, but for certain others you need machines. You will find a "Combinator" right at the game's start, but the rest you'll have to make. I have, so far, made a forge and a worktable. You need to be close to these in order to make the items that need them. Some times are made instantly, but some take time and are put in a queue with limited slots. Occasionally you'll find yourself not knowing how to get a prerequisite material, but that's for "resource management."

Research: This is surprisingly well done here. Almost every action you take in the world that isn't infinitely replicable in the same place gives you research points. Mining natural rock, digging natural dirt, crafting items for the first time, etc. Once you have enough research points, you can queue a research project up into a queue of limited slots. These tend to take a long time, but then unlock a recipe for you to make. You can clearly see what the research unlocks and what materials it will required. Some items can't be researched until others are. For instance, you can't research a wall socket until you've researched power cords. The game doesn't tell you this, it just reds-out wall sockets, but it's logical for the most part.

Terrain manipulation: This is quite well done in this game. You get four tools for the job - a shovel for dirt, sand and uprooting plants, an axe for trees, a pickaxe for rock and a mallet for most hard background materials. Terrain in Darkour is made up of "squares," where each square is a specific material, but the game doesn't let this on. Most natural formations interpolate between different squares in terms of visuals, giving the illusion of organic terrain, rather than a serious of blocks. This makes mines and natural caverns quite beautiful. When breaking blocks, you can break them one at a time quickly, or three at a time, although that takes thrice as long and doesn't always pick the blocks you want. You can break foreground blocks (those you can stand on) and background blocks separately. It's a lot of fun, but do make better tools when you can. Digging larger areas takes a while and monsters like to chew on your ass while you're doing it.

Graphics: I said it before, but it bears repeating. The graphics in Darkout are simply beautiful. The entire game is based around darkness and light and employs a very pretty real-time lighting and shadows engine which looks very pretty. The world looks nicely organic, with large alien trees, weird plants and natural-looking land formations. I haven't gotten to it, but I've read about deserts, lava lakes and even floating islands in the sky. You can swim (and even make diving gear), climb, eventually fly as I understand it, or go caving and dig straight down. There's a lot to see in Darkout, and all of it looks very good.

What doesn't work:

Combat: Darkout has no death penalty. You don't lose anything, you don't drop your items. Which is just as well, because combat in that game is wretched! Monsters have far too much health and you far too little ammo and decent weapons. First of all, the monsters are shadows so you can't actually hit them. You need to attack them with light until they turn white and THEN you can hit them. Thing is, it takes until a third through the game to make a weapon that can do this a range - flaming arrows - and those are resource-expensive to make. Before that, you have to clobber them with a fluorescent light tube. I get that the point is like in Minecraft - you stay home at night, you go out during the day. Thing is, monsters spawn during the day, too. And no matter how many you kill, they always respawn. There's no rhyme or reason to when and how they show up. You basically have to be lucky and not have the game gank you. Combat in Darkour is simply junk

Resource management: Oi lordy is this ever bad! I hate resource management in games at the best of times, but in this game it's just draining. You have limited inventory space so you need to store materials in chests. But the game doesn't know what you have in the chests. You have to pull stuff out manually to use it, which means you have to either keep going through your chests or otherwise have genius level memory to remember this stuff. Also, certain recipes need resources you have no way of knowing where to find. Where the hell do I find a jar of gas? I have jars, but I've never seen "gas" and I ran out of beans. It's clunky and cumbersome and you'll fill up on dirt that you have no use for, generally speaking. This is inventory management as bad as I've seen it since possibly Mass Effect 1 or, indeed, since Minecraft itself!

Tutorial: There isn't one. Not even the very basics, like "Hey! Root through the crashed ship for an axe!" Unlike in Minecraft, you can't chop down trees with the back of your hand and break rocks with your fist, so if you didn't get those tools from your crashed ship, the game is literally unwinnable. I had to restart, like, four times to figure out what to do because you have to Shift-Click the ship to go through it. Ugh... Where do you get tar? Well, you have buckets, but how do you "use" them on the tar? Not how you'd think. You have to "activate" the bucket from your quickbar UNDER the surface of the tar. FFS! Did you know that you can break the background after digging through a stone vein and get more stone that way? I didn't. What's the difference between "night" and "day?" When where and why do monsters spawn? What's that 99% thingy in my UI? What do my new suit upgrades do? Never explained. You'd have to watch a tutorial video made by a user or otherwise read up on this. Yeah, I think Minecraft made indie developers lazy because it convinced them they can just sod the tutorial and let players sort themselves out. I disapprove.

Construction: You'd think this would be the height of the game, but it kind of isn't. Unlike in Minecraft, you can't really make any interesting, elaborate structures. You just basically make rectangles to protect yourself from monsters, and you have to do this block by painstaking block. But that's the easy part. Once you start dealing with large furniture is when things get funny. To put down, say, a Combinator, you need to drag it into your hotbar and activate it from there. But if you want to move it, you have to pick it up, which puts it back into your inventory, so you have to root around in there, find it, drag it back to your quickbar and THEN set it down again. Doors open with Shift+Left Click. Shift+Right Click picks them up. I let a shadow wolf inside of my house once because I picked the door out of its frame entirely when I meant to close it. It's just a slow, meticulous, laborious process without much to show for it. And construction resources cost too damn much, especially for the more advanced ones. I have a scant 20 iron, and even if this produced 100 wall plates, I couldn't plate one floor of my house. Just think about a room that 25x8 squares (6 squares room height, one square for floor and ceiling) and you end up with, like 200 for just a small room. It's ridiculous.

Bugs: This game is VERY buggy. First of all, you can't even run it on Windows 8 unless you specifically force it to run as administrator. So, um... Good luck playing it if you're security-minded and use a limited account for your ordinary gameplay. Moreover, you have no way of knowing that you have to do that. You try to run the game and it just starts and stops with no error message. You have to then go trawling the 'net to find out. Then it has the tendency to crash a lot if you DARE to Alt-Tab. Sometimes it crashes on its own, item placement is often buggy, there are a lot of graphics missing - like if you die, your sprite just blinks out of existence. Melee hit detection is complete ass. Many time when trying to attack a monster with a light tube you'll instead set it down and then can't pick it back up... The game's version says 1.5.something, so it's not a Beta any more. It's just not a smooth experience.

Overall:

I HATE Darkout, but I would also recommend that you try it out. If you like Minecraft or Terraria - which I know many of you do - definitely give Darkout a shot. It turned me off because it's the kind of game I hate, i.e. a game about inventory management and dying a lot if you don't know what you're doing. But it's also very pretty, very ambitious and a direction I really hope more sandboxes like this would head. What direction? It has a point. Not an overpowering linear objective, no, but at least I know that everything I do serves to make some kind of progress towards some kind of goal. I HATE games that ask me to make my own fun, because I typically pay actual talented game designers to do this for me. Darkour still lets you make all the fun you want, but it also gives you an actual game to wrap it all around in. And unlike Minecraft, I don't think it has "consumable" resources, in the sense that you don't have to burn coal or eat food or such. Well, aside from healing items, but you can always just die.

So should you try this game? I'd say yes. Just expect it to be rough, unpolished and very very awkward.

Telltale making a game based on Vertigo's Fables comic

Thu, 2013/03/28 - 8:57am -- marqaha
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PCGamer has details about the upcoming Fables-based game, titled "A Wolf Among Us," due out this summer.

Quote:
Taking place as a canon prequel to the events of the comics, The Wolf Among Us follows Bigby Wolf, a humanized Big Bad Wolf scraping a living in New York City as a grim-faced detective. In the comics, Wolf can shapeshift between forms at will, wield his “huff and puff” wind power, and smoke a pack of cigarettes faster than you can say “lupine.”

DMC: Devil May Cry

Sun, 2013/01/27 - 1:33pm -- Samuel Tow
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AKA Devil May Cry: Devil May Cry, AKA the Devil May Cry remake. If you've followed any sort of game-related news, you can't have missed hearing the "controversy" over the game's remake, and specifically about "the new Dante." I... Don't really have an opinion on the matter, and I'll tell you why: I was never a fan of the old Devil May Cry games, nor did I play many of them. So please, keep this in mind as I go forward into the review - I'm not a long-time fan and am thus unable to yell "Betrayal!" I will say this much - Devil May Cry's original Dante is responsible for a lot of my preferences in visual design, with the white hair and sword/guns combo, and has done much to influence the look of Samuel Tow himself. That doesn't mean I like Dante himself, just his rather iconic design, and it doesn't mean I'm going to hate the new one for being different. We already saw the failure that was Nero in Devil May Cry 4, and he was basically an exact copy of the original Dante.

That out of the way, the game's good. Better than any of the other series I've played. It looks better, plays better and has a better storyline which makes me care about the characters and what happens to them. It's also quite gross, but that seems intentional.

If you want a nano-review of the game, there you go. From here on down, it's all details, and I'll include comparisons with the original where appropriate. As the Lemings are fond of saying, let's go!

Introduction:

DMC is a remake, starting the story all over again. We're introduced to a human world that's already under the control of demons, specifically of the demon Mundis. He takes on the shape of a fat-necked businessman living in a high-rise corporate HQ, already well past "controlling the world through debt." He's created a blind consumer society where people are mind-controlled into buying his products that further make them docile. They're blind to all the demons who roam the world because they all exist in "limbo" - a sort of parellel reality where the world twists and turns and the truth is revealed. Dante is something of a slacker living out of his trailer at a carnival, drinking, partying and wasting away his life when Mundis' "hunter" finally finds him just as Kat - a female mystic working for "the resistance" finds him to help get him involved.

DMC is a level-based hack-and-slash action game in the style of the original. It comes broken down into 20 missions, some of which contain creative boss fights. It uses a rather simplified combat system that removes the different "styles" of previous games and simply gives Dante all of his moves at once, with a rather complicated and distracting combat system. Puzzles have been taken out all but completely and replaced with "limbo traversal" platforming segments that see Dante swing, jump, glide and fly from platform to platform using a variety of skills. The system is a LOT more newbie-friedly, especially on lower difficulties, but for those looking for a challenge, the game keeps score and offers a ton of difficulty settings.

Graphics and art style:

The graphics of the game are surprisingly good for what it is, but that comes with the territory. It's built on the Unreal engine, which is just about the best, cheapest way to get a game looking good, and DMC makes quite extensive use of it. Character models are very detailed and many of their animations have been motion-captured, including (I believe) their facial animations. You see the finer points of this during cutscenes, where characters emote and gesture... Not necessarily "realistically," but "believably" let's say. When Dante is angry, I get it just from his face. When Kat (I'll explain) is afraid, I can tell it from her body language. It's to the point where I found myself sort of rooting on the characters, like when Dante gets into a verbal fight, I kept thinking "Dude, get between that guy and Kat!" Maybe that's just me, but when characters emote and go through their feelings, I buy it.

The art style in this game is actually very "out there," and in a good way. Nearly the entire game takes place in "limbo," where the real world distorts and takes on weird shapes. It allows the stages to be very creative, to the point where I had several points of gasping disbelief at what they'd come up with. In limbo, the walls can twist, buildings can rearrange, hallways can elongate or bend, a building's interior may split apart and turn into floating platforms over a void. It's all quite creative and each separate section has its own unique feel to it. As well, "limbo" is sort of an alternate reality that's not entirely separate from the real world, and is in fact something closer to "the truth." Going into limbo allows you to see the demons walking among us, see the flashy billboards as just blank sheets saying "OBEY!" and so on. It's a pretty disturbing visual, and it's expertly well done.

I wanted to say that art design sort of fails in the real world because it's all grey and boring and everyone's design is uninteresting, but I get the feeling that's the whole point - the real world IS grey and boring, and it's in limbo where everything goes crazy. That said, where it DOES fail is in monster design. They're all sort of brownish and messy and difficult to tell apart, unless they're blue or red versions of themselves, but that's a purely gameplay difference. The bosses are WAY creative, the environments are very cool, the signature characters are very well designed, but the monsters are just... "Monsters" is pretty much all I can say about them. That's really the problem with high-fidelity graphics - you put so much visual detail into your "twisted" critters that they all look like differently-shaped balls of spaghetti, theoretically very different but visually pretty much the same. The only enemy that really stands out is the "Witch," and only because she always surrounds herself with a very distinct, obvious blue shield that's like nothing else in the entire game. But beyond that? You'll learn to tell them apart, but not at a glance.

Story:

There's actually a lot I can say about the story because much of it is dumped on you within the first two levels, so none of it is really a spoiler. In fact, the game's entire story is pretty much straightforward bereft of any real plot twists, mysteries or revelations. If anything, the game's a bit light on that, since so much time is spent on such utilitarian tasks. The whole plot of the game revolves around killing Mundis, for which he has to be weakened, for which various of his institutions need to be destroyed. A factory for mind-altering soft drinks, for example, is broken up into at least three levels and there's almost no plot in-between the levels. It's all "go there, do that." It makes the game feel like it's dragging its heels, because what story there IS is actually quite good, it's just spread out very thin across the 20 levels.

That said, where the story shines, it REALLY shines, and the basic idea is actually quite solid, if not entirely original. After helping Dante with the Hunter, Kat - the woman who warns him and guides him - recruits the man into "the resistance." This, it turns out, is led by Virgil. Yes, Virgil from the old games - Dante's twin brother and arch-nemesis. Here, he's a freedom-fighter who hates Mundis. However, Dante has no memory of his brother or his childhood, and so is taken to his old home to remember. There, he remembers that he is the son of Sparda (a powerful demon and brother to Mundis himself) and Eva (an angel), making him a Nephilim, in one of probably a dozen recent games to use that term (Diablo 3, Darksiders 2, etc.). This gives Danta the powers of both heaven and hell, and reminds him of why he should hate Muntis, who murdered his mother and ate her still beating heart (did I mention the game is gross?) and then banished his father to an eternity of torment.

The rest of the game's story is basically "go there do that" with brief character moments to define the characterisation of Dante, Kat and Virgil. And Mundis, partially, though he gets almost no character at all, other than being evil and easily angered. However, the other three actually gain quite a considerable amount of characterisation, Dante most of all as he goes through sort of a hero's journey that left me feeling all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside. Which is good, considering how cruel the game is, otherwise. All in all, despite dragging its heels, DMC has a very good story.

Characters:

There are only three that really matter, but let's start with the fourth: Mundis. Mundis is the demon king who rules the world through debt, and that's about the extent of his personality. He's vulgar and rude yet always wears a suit, and he tends to get very very angry whenever Dante deals him a nasty blow, in terms of undermining his organisation. He does get a decent character moment towards the end, but sadly I think the writers ran out of legitimate drama by that point and it goes nowhere. Don't expect much from him.

Virgil: Resistance leader, Nephilim and something of a handler for Dante, Virgil is the "elegant" of the two brothers. He uses the Yamato - a magical katana. He dresses in a nice suit and coat, usually with a bowler hat and white gloves. He's always calm, always polite and always methodical. And you can tell from pretty early on that he's also a selfish jackass because he really puts very little value in the people who have devoted their lives to his cause. He's the sort of "ends justify the means" sort of character who kind of grows really obnoxious really fast, but the game manages to stave this off well enough, as he never grows unsufferable.

Kat: A young human woman and something of a "witch," Kat's sort of like the sidekick of the group for the entire game. She can't go into limbo with Dante or Virgil, but she can still see into limbo to guide them. She has a number of "spells" prepared and canned and acts as a support character, providing gateways to and from limbo on demand, as well as adding a few other utility magics to help with level traversal. More than anything, though, hers is probably the most touching story of them all. Kat is something of a lost soul, hurt and broken, whom Virgil has saved from something, though she won't get into detail. She's always in over her head but holds it together, and is always sincere in her desire to make Dante care about mankind, despite his dismissive attitude.

Which brings us to...

Dante:

There is much to say about Dante as the entire game pretty much rests on him, so let's start with what's changed about him visually. First of all, he's all but lost his original look. He now has short brown hair, rather than the medium-length white hair of previous games. He's also lost his red coat, which is now mostly brown. To some, this may be a betrayal, but I'd say the look works for him. His overall less remarkable appearance matches the "slob" that he is in this game - a man who cares about nothing and nobody and would just as happily drink himself to death, if his liver didn't keep regenerating. He's a slacker, a loser and a punk, and giving him a very iconic style would have seemed out of place. And yes, his mentality has changed from the goofy, almost childish Dante of previous games who treated everything like a joke and was basically having fun all throughout the game.

In comparison to the original, Dante is a completely different character, but he's good in his own right. His new backstory gives him a lot more reason to be angry and, to be honest, he handles that anger without turning it into wangst, and indeed manages to sort of beat it by the end. His is the most powerful character arc of all, taking him from the jerk who says "I didn't ask for your help." and "What makes you think I give a fuck about humans?" to someone who grows to respect the power of the human spirit and sympathise with the plight of the world. To some, it might seem a bit abrupt and a bit forced, but I found it to make sense. It's not an epic change of heart and more character growth that sees an aimless soul get used to the people around him. If you don't care about anything, you can never be hurt, but you can also never be happy, if you will.

Gameplay:

I put that off, but it's not because it's unimportant. Gameplay in Devil May Cry has - at least to my tastes - never been this good. Gone are the "fighting styles" of old games that you had to pick at "save points" and now all of your moves are available at all times. Gone is DMC4's HORRID rev system that required you to "rev" your sword with every hit. If anything, this game now plays almost exactly like Darksiders, of all things. You have three attack buttons - attack, lift and special. Attack is a slash with all weapons, lift is unique to each weapon, and special is guns when using the sword, an attack that pulls things to Dante using a "devil" weapon and an attack which pulls Dante to things using an "angel" weapon. For the most part, you'll be expected to chain attacks between all three types of weapons more so than chaining types of attacks, with the others designated more as utility to put enemies in range to be hit.

Where this game tied my fingers in a knot was the concept of "devil" and "angel" weapons or modes. Basically, melee weapons come in three categories - the sword, devil and angel - with some weapon variety in all categories but "sword." You have a "devil mode" and "angel mode" buttons which put you in those specific modes only as long as you press the buttons - this makes for faster combos but is practically impossible to do on a keyboard. There are, also, toggle buttons that put you in that mode until you switch, which makes using the weapons easier, but swapping between them harder. The reason to have devil and anger weapons to begin with is that certain enemies weak to certain weapons and certain enemies are only vulnerable to their "colour" weapon. Red enemies only take damage from devil weapons, blue only take damage from angel weapons, and the game is fond of throwing those mixed together and mixed in with regular enemies. All of the weapons have their own move sets and are good for separate situations, but suffice it to say that combat in this game is never dull.

The only other gameplay past combat is traversal. Angel Mode allows Dante to air-dash and glide a certain distance and the "special" attack in it can pull him to special "blue rings" floating in the air. Devil Mode doesn't have its own traversal skill, but its "special" attack can pull environment objects to Dante, creating new paths. These two mechanics make for quite elaborate platforming, as you're expected to pull to a ring, glide, pull to another ring, pull rock to expose another ring, grapple to it, glide, pull a platform closer, glide to that and only THEN hit solid ground. It's involving and it's a LOT of fun once you get the hang of it. Beyond this, there are three types of breakable walls, two specific to a particular devil weapon and one generic to all angel weapons. It's annoying to run those before you have the weapon, sure, but you can always replay the levels after the fact. Suffice it to say that there's a lot to do when not fighting, even if it uses simple mechanics.

Overall:

I like it! Which is saying a lot, since I tend to not like console fighting games. This one is about as solid a port as they get, with the exception of a terrible camera, but what are you gonna' do? It plays well, it looks good and it's inspiring to go through, at least to me. Still, let's break it down.

Play this if you like console fighting games but don't own a console or don't like game pads. It's practically the best of its kind you can get on the PC at the moment. Get this game if you enjoy fighting absurd bosses or navigating very creative but somewhat surrealist stages. Get it if you're a fan of good voice acting and characterisation, and especially if you like good storytelling. You won't get a LOT of it, but you'll get quality when you do. Really, get this if you want a fun game, because this really is it.

Skip this game, obviously, if you don't like console fighting games, particularly if you don't like awkward controls.  They don't get much more awkward than Devil May Cry, at least to play it like the game wants to be played. Skip this one if you're not a fan of foul language or gross violence. There's quite a bit of that here. And - it goes without saying - skip this if you couldn't imagine Dante being anyone but who he's been for the last... 4? 5? games.

Me... I like it. I'm not going to replay it right away, but I WILL definitely play it again some time down the line. It's a ton better than Darksiders 2, I'll tell you that much.

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