PC Gaming

Darksiders Review

Thu, 2012/08/23 - 7:46am -- Samuel Tow
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I don't remember if I ever made a review for Darksiders, but even if I did, it's on the old site I can't access and based on an incomplete picture of the full game. In either case, as I play through Darksiders 2, it becomes clear that many of the mental notes I make for the review I will eventually put together really require you to know the original at least in passing in order to understand why certain things work while others don't. It is for this reason that I've decided to do a proper review of 2010's Darksiders.

Before I start, I want to give you a quick synopsis: Darksiders is a great game with inspired visuals, a unique style and pretty entertaining gameplay, which tells a story you don't see touched on much these days. It has quite a few technical and writing issues, but most of those can be worked around or overlooked.

With that said, on to the review categories:

Graphics: Spectacular! Yes, I realise this is a 2010 game and graphics engine monsters have come out since, but Darksiders somehow manages to look better than most current top visuals holders. Yes, it suffers from low-res textures here and there and it does "cheat" with low polygon counts and buildings painted on skyboxes here and there, but the visuals hold up remarkably well. Where this game's graphics really shine, though, is in the use of special effects to punctuate many actions and often hide graphical shortcuts. Falling from a great height causes protagonist War to land hard and cause stones to jut out of the ground, sword swings have very complex and quite neat arc line effects, energy explosions feel impactful and the game has a very, very pretty "liquid explosion" effect that many demonic entities use to show up in, as well as for lava to bubble up and explode.

For a game that's at this point quite old, Darksiders still somehow manages to have more graphical fidelity than most games coming out now. I say this on its own because it's a central theme of the game - everything here is over-designed. Yahtzee described War's design as "like someone started drawing him and never fucking stopped." Most games that try to do this pretty much fail unless they're running on a "next-gen" engine and a PC from outer space, but Darksiders pulls this off quite well, rendering a mural of twisted faces on a sword, multiple spikes on a shoulder pad or overlapping straps overtop a boot. Darksiders is one of those games that seems to keep giving you more detail the longer and harder you look, and in places you wouldn't even think to look closely.

Suffice it to say that the graphics are not "old."

Story: An excellent choice! Darksiders tells an almost biblical story of a war between heaven and hell taking place in "the third kingdom" - the kingdom of man. Long ago, a governing body known a the Charred Council imposed a truce on heaven and hell, forbidding open warfare until the day of Armageddon, when all will be judged. In the meantime, the Council used four enforcers - the four horsemen of the apocalypse, here appearing as War, Death, Strfe and Firy. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, a battle between heaven and hell erupts on earth, and War alone rides to fight it, as is the law. It transpires, however, that no call was given, and suspicion falls on War for having broken the law and started Armageddon by allying himself with the demons. With every human on earth now dead and demons infesting the husk of a world, War sets out to find those responsible for framing him and restore balance.

At its heart, Darksiders to is a gothic story presented though the filter of high fantasy yet set in a modern world for the most part, and you just don't see that any more, not since that Messiah game where you play a baby angel or some such. The game draws heavily on Christian myth, referencing names like Samael, Uriel, Abbadon and a number of other concepts, yet the way these are executed is what makes them stand out. A cast of very solid voice actors do a good job of hiding their gritty overacting to present a sort of reverse hero's journey as War begins to realise there is more to life than "balance, and your ridiculous law," as Samel puts it, eventually carving out a path of his own, no longer slave to his "purpose." You do have to look for this, as the game's narrative seems to have been written and re-written many times, leaving some conversations feeling disjointed and some motivations irrational, but those are technical problems. Once you actually get a good idea of what the "missing lines" were supposed to say, you'll find that this game's story is actually one of the better ones. Yes, it is simple. Bare bones at times, in fact. But a story doesn't need to be complex to be good. In fact, as I've found out, the simpler your core story is, the more leeway it gives you to play with execution since you have much less exposition dumping that you need to do.

Basically, this is a simplistic but powerful story.

Gameplay: About average. Darksiders is about three parts standard Devil May Cry combat to two parts puzzles to one part RPG elements. You'll often hear people describe it as a "one-button combat" game, but this isn't true. At least, it doesn't have to be. Basically, combat comes down to three "buttons." You have a "sword" button, a "secondary" weapon (one of two available) button and an "equipment" button. Equipment is generally used to solve puzzles and for some exotic combat situations, with basic encounters involving just the primary and secondary weapons. You CAN fight with just one weapon or the other, but the combat system actually has a pretty comprehensive means of crossing over between the two. I have, just as proof of concept, done a combo which started with the scythe, went into a sword combo, launched into the air and then went into the tremor gauntlet and back to the sword. You can mix-and-match quite a bit, and each weapon has its strengths and its weaknesses. You can be cool AND effective if you wanted to. Rounding out combat is War's ability to block, counter-attack and dodge, as well as use one of four "wrath" abilities, culminating in his "Chaos Form," which is basically a limited-time god mode. Basically, there is a LOT of stuff you can do in battle, and it's only "one-button combat" if you don't want to do any of that.

You'd think, with a Devil May Cry style game, that puzzles would be simplistic, but they really aren't. Specific set piece puzzles are rarely very complex, but you have to realise that most any "boss level" is itself one giant puzzle which you need traverse in order to even reach the boss, usually requiring a new power found in the puzzle itself. And War has many tools to solve puzzles with. There's a Zelda-style bumerang that can be used to carry fire to bombs or activate switches, a chain that can be used to swing around places, there is the Portal Gun (yes, seriously), War is adept at both swimming and climbing so there is a fair bit left to do. Most puzzles in the game are fairly simple once you know how they work, but the process between entering the room and knowing what to do can be a lot of fun in itself. And beyond the basic boss-reaching puzzles, the world is littered with chests and other collectables, usually requiring new powers to reach. Luckily, the "overworld" is small enough to where you can just backtrack and check everywhere when you get a new power, but it does add a decent amount of exploration on top of the puzzles themselves.

Finally, the game aspires to be an RPG, and this is pretty much where it bombs, and it bombs hard. For one, it uses currency - the souls of the dead. These come out of chests (again, yes, seriously) and from defeated enemies. The merchant demon Vulgrim will sell you things for them. These come in the form of consumables (but "empty vessels" to hold them must still be found in the world), skills for the Chaoseater sword and the two secondary weapons and "wrath powers." While good in terms of general idea, where this fails is EVERYTHING he sells is far too expensive. There doesn't exist enough money in the world to get even half the Wrath powers, so the overly-expensive consumables are simply never worth buying. The game heals you to half when you die anyway. Beyond this, War can find "health cores" and "wrath cores." The former give you an extra whole health bar and the latter give you another bar of "wrath," which is basically mana. Beyond that, "enhancements" exist, which are single artefacts that can be slotted into one of the three weapons for active and passive bonuses. Some of those are huge. Finally, each weapon gains experience as it's used, a certain amount per hit with longer combos giving more. I say this is where the game "falls apart" because all this does is force you to grind for souls or grind for weapon XP. I, myself, solved both of those problems with "+8" trainer that gives me free souls and weapon XP, which I then paced throughout the game on MY terms.

Darksiders' gameplay is perfectly serviceable, and it can be a lot fun once you get the attack patterns and timing of the fairly limited selection of critters down.

Style: Easily the best part of the game. Darksiders is ridiculously overdone and overstyled. It's a story that's excessively grim in its approach, most characters are scowling or at least taking things seriously, War is a 12-foot-tall giant with a sword longer than he is tall fighting giant gothic monsters and tossing out very serious one-liners. If you really wanted to, you could see Darksiders as a parody of the mediocrity of modern gaming and storytelling... But it isn't. There isn't a hint of irony nor any sight of satire. This game takes itself seriously and all of the characters are pulling off straight-face performances. This is a story so extreme that it would have to be a parody, and yet it's played completely straight. And THAT, my friends, is what makes it so glorious. This is a game which isn't stopped by storytelling conventions, art style concerns or even common sense. This is a game willing to go where few have gone before for fear of being ridiculed, and it wears that title proudly. Darksiders is a game which should never have worked because it's so implausible, yet it still does, and I have trouble expressing just how awesome that is.

"Awesome" is pretty much Darksiders in a nutshell, really. In everything it attempts, the game shoots for one thing and on thing only - that it's awesome. It doesn't have to make sense, it doesn't have to be necessary, it doesn't have to be logical. So long as it's awesome, it will happen, and I simply haven't seen games do this without breaking the fourth wall. For instance: most games like this would give you a puzzle where you need to push and pull statues to arrange them in a certain order to open a door. When Darksiders does it, War looks at the statue in question, then kicks it off a balcony to smash the floor below and open a hole to another area. When faced with a boss in an old train depot, War proceeds to smash the boss's face with a rusty rail car. That sort of thing.

And it's all brought together in what has to be one of the more unique art styles I've seen in years and years. "Fantasy" these days is struggling, because it's old and boring to look at. Green forests and brown dungeons and people wearing generic armour describes just about any Fantasy game to come out in the last decade. Darksiders isn't like this. It takes place in a 20th century human world, or what remains of it. The world looks like gothic fantasy, with pits of fire, demon spires jutting out and huge volcanic rock towers looming in the distance, but in every place, this looks like it was once a human-inhabited location. Everywhere, tilting skyscrapers tower in the distance. Almost everywhere you'll see remains of roads with road markings still intact. In the middle of a pretty stone garden, you'll see a street light growing out of a patch of sidewalk next to an old shop sign. You'll cross a spider web bridge, only to realise that that's actually a city bus webbed up to both sides of a collapsed street. Demons comprise a collection of outright monsters and deformed humanoids, while angels look like they're wearing power armour from the future, flying on mechanical wings and using rifles and cannons as their primary weapons. And there's a pistol as big as a shotgun which has four barrels that all fire simultaneously, and it never runs out of ammo.

Simply put, Darksiders is awesome. You just need to let go of your reservations and let the game be what it's trying to be.

Overall: Darksiders is one of my all-time favourite games. I bought this thing almost as soon as it came out for the PC, and I haven't regretted a moment of it. If you're a fan of exaggerated themes and aren't bothered by a bit of pretension, get this. If you enjoy fast-paced but not overly-complex action games, get this. If you enjoy 100% completion, definitely get this, as it's not that hard to achieve here. However, if you can't buy a game that's "trying too hard," then Darksiders probably isn't for you. I'd also avoid getting this as an RPG. It isn't, and it has pretty much some of the worst aspects of the genre without some of the better ones. If you can't enjoy a game unless it has several pages of combos you'll probably never use, this one isn't for you. But if you just want a game that's awesome all the way through and ends up making you feel pumped for more when the credits roll, definitely get Darksiders. It was pretty cheap last I looked.

Darksiders 2 first impressions

Wed, 2012/08/22 - 7:13am -- Samuel Tow
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Terrible.

Now, keep in mind this is a FIRST IMPRESSIONS review, but that one word pretty much sums up the feeling I get from playing Darksiders 2 for a few hours. I really want to like this game because the original is so good and, to be fair, I'm sure the sequel will get better once I advance a little bit more, but HOLY HELL! This is easily one of the worst experiences I've had getting started with a game... In living memory! And the real shame is it's not a bad game. Far from it. But it's rife with horrid, inexcusable problems that, if I weren't a huge mark for the original Darksiders (and I hadn't already paid 40 Euro for it), I'd have tossed the game in the bin. Let me break it down so you know what I mean:

Controls: HORRID! This is a console game. I may be playing it on the PC, but it's still a console game, and one that suffers hard from it. Remember back 20 years ago before the mouse was invented how games like Duke Nukem 3D would let you look up and down and lean but would always snap your camera back to centre horizontal? Yeah, that helped since we were steering with the keyboard, and old games built on older engines (say, Half-Life) still have this. Well, Darksiders 2 does this... And there's no way to turn it off. Let me elaborate. Every time protagonist Death moves, the camera tries to snap to the direction he's heading. Want to strafe left? Can't. The camera will start turning left as you strafe, launching you into a circular motion. Want to look up as you ride your horse? Can't. The camera keeps trying to snap to horizontal. So the game wants me to look dead ahead at all times... Except when I'm climbing stairs, at which point it will try to auto-pan UP. Same for going down stairs. Now, I can "wrestle" the camera by constantly pushing the mouse in opposition to the snapping, but this causes my screen to jitter and display horizontal tearing and it's ANNOYING. And the fun of it is this is a very "vertical" game with collectables and secrets hidden up down and sideways... Yet it won't let me look around.

And I'm not done yet! Remember that mouse? Well, I should feel luck I have a sensitivity setting at all... Right? Except this doesn't work like how you'd think it'd work. In "normal mode," by which I mean walking around, you get one sensitiviy level for any given slider setting. In "aim mode," you get around 10 times the sensitivity... And it's controlled by the same slider! So I can either make looking around sluggish as all hell so I can aim worth a crap, or I can make looking around workable at the cost of making aiming impossible. Or I can do what I ended up doing, which is make BOTH uncomfortable, but to a smaller degree. Well, at least I can remap keys. That's something for a console port, right? Yeah, except the system is horrible. You know how, in most games, when you remap a key, the slider on the key list remains where it was? Not here. You remap a key, the list shoots right back to the top. So, if you need to remap, say, your horse controls which are in the middle of the list, you'll need to scroll down about 10 times. You can't override conflicting keys, either, which is just... Ugh. And also, unlike the original Darksiders, when this one gives you button prompts like "Press Space to confirm," you can't actually click on those with the mouse.

Still going? You bet, because the controls are THAT bad. The original wasn't great. For instance, its "radial menu" for Wrath powers required me to hold down Tab and hit a number from 1 to 4. Cumbersome, but OK, because I could actually bind powers to radial menu slots so I could choose which powers were in convenient places. Not here. Here, the radial menu pauses the game and has me select via the analogue stick... Which the mouse stands in for. Powers CAN be accessed directly via key presses, but I don't pick which keys activate which powers unless I go remap my keys by hand... And I've already gone into how much of a pain that is. Oh, and the button for "Reaper Mode" doesn't work. At all. We'll get to that. Oh, and to conclude, there's no "map button." The original Darksiders had two "inventory menus," one with all the tabs for the inventory and one with several different map tabs. What this means is if I want one of my inventories, I punch the inventory key and if I want the map, I punch the map key. Not here. Here, there's just one "journal" that has the map, the inventory, the skills, the "quests" and even the key remaps. Yeah, you have to know the key to open this journal (O by default) in order to find where to remap your keys. Charming.

QA: Inexcusable. This game is bugged up the ass, if you'll pardon my English. I haven't had a more frustrating experience since the old days of shareware, when games like Fallout 2 would come out basically unplayable until they were patched. For instance, the VERY FIRST side quest I got became bugged. It asks, in MMO fashion, that I kill stuff and gather parts from them for a spell. Thing is, I need to gather the parts in order since I need to speak with a guy who'll tell me where to get them and THEN they'll start dropping, because they're quest items and don't show up normally. So I killed a floating head before I was supposed to and was tagged as having obtained the item so it won't drop, but I don't have the item so the quest won't complete. Charming. It's always fun when a game ships with easily-breakable tasks. It's almost like it was rushed out the gate or something.

Speaking of rushed out the gate, the game's "fast travel" system is garbage. In Darksiders, War could fast-travel along the world map using so-called "serpent holes" as provided by Vulgrim for a cost and with an in-game story explanation. Here, you just pick an icon on the world map and... And do what, actually? I had to look it up because the game doesn't explain it, but unbeknownst to me, a "Press Enter to fast travel" prompt appears if I take my cursor over to certain map markers. I didn't see this because it's lost in a sea of button prompts and because it doesn't show up for all icons. What can I fast-travel to? I couldn't give you a general explanation. To some people, to some locations, but not to all people and all locations. Beats me what decides it. And I was lucky on the PC. On consoles, something happened last-minute and the fast-travel button was changed... But the prompt wasn't, so the game was telling people to press a button to fast-travel that was the wrong button.

And then there are tons of niggling little problems. Death's answer to War's Chaos Form is his Reaper Form, basically a short-time god mode power. It's standard fare, and it has a button mapped specifically to it that you can remap in options... But it doesn't do anything. Yeah, press it as hard as you won't, it doesn't work. The function is simply broken, so I have to dig through my radial pause menu to activate it. The power works, but it's such a hassle it's annoying. Oh, and the gun shoots sideways. Like in Darksiders, Death is given a pistol, more often used to solve puzzles than in combat. Every time I go into aim mode, I not only have to contend with the ultra-fast mouse speed, but the gun doesn't actually shoot where it looks like it should shoot. I'm given a crosshair, but the gun doesn't shoot at the centre of the crosshair. It shoots below and the he right, basically at the bottom-right of the crosshair graphic. I don't know if the graphic shifted, if it's because I'm running 1920x1080 or QA just suck, but I've had to train my eye to aim by the corner of my crosshair, rather than... The cross of the hairs, so to speak.

Then there's the old bug from Darksiders where I'll call "the horse" but it won't come so I'll call it again only for it to come and be immediately sent away since it registers as two button presses. Then there are the problems of getting stuck on geometry and constantly getting hung up on little things. Then there's the crap with the horse controls where the horse will want to stop and turn in place since my stupid camera snapped around and changed the direction of my key presses. Then there's the nonsense that if you run up to the end of the ledge but don't wait the extra second for Death to "bump" against the edge he won't jump to the side but jump up... And I do that a lot, because I want my climbing to look smooth without many unnecessary pauses. Or the nonsense where he'll run UP a wall instead of doing a wall-run along it because I was a fraction of a degree off on my angle. It's just a TON of little things that really, really, REALLY sour the experience for reasons completely unrelated to the actual quality of the actual fucking game! Ugh!

The style: What happened? This, I think, is the biggest place where Darksiders 2 drops the ball. See, what made the original Darksiders so great wasn't the gameplay (it was adequate) or the RPG elements (there were barely any) or the innovation (it's cobbled together from half a dozen different games). What made it really stand out was the sheer, oozing style of its core concept and the unmatched balls to take a concept as derivative as this and make it something special. Yes, Darksiders looked like WoW, played like Zelda and was rife with standard Fantasy clichés. For most any game, this would just make it bland and faceless, but Darksiders took itself seriously and crafted a solid experience with those tools which was, as a whole creature, different from any of its parts. It took the "dark and brooding" storyline and played it straight, it took the absurd premise about Armageddon, about angels and demons and the four horsemen and it put it all in a world that I have honestly never seen before.

See, Darksiders opens to an early 21st Century America getting torn up by demons falling from the sky in great balls of fire, demonic spikes jutting from the ground and the skies raining fire, and you just don't see that very often. Even after the apocalypse, I could still recognise much of the human world underneath the "ashes of the dead." I threw cars at people, I smashed people over the head with lamp posts, I could see what was a library, what was a train depot, I could see the ends of highways, fallen down and overgrown. I could see where the human world had been carved up and turned into a fantasy environment. "The Ashlands," for instance, have the feel of a great and ancient desert, but rotting skyscrapers can be seen in the distance. Dive beneath the sands and you will find an old car tunnel. It's a post-apocalyptic world, yes, but not a Fallout one of science and mutation. It's a vision of our world turned into a hell, but slowly.

Do you know what Darksiders 2 shows me right out the gate? A frozen fortress. Here's a pro-tip to future Fantasy writers: STOP putting death-themed characters in frozen fortresses. Blizzard killed this idea. Killed it dead. They ran it into the ground so hard it will never be original again. But OK, that's just a short, no-explanation tutorial level. What of the ACTUAL game? Well, it takes place in a forest and a series of dungeons. Be still my beating heart. Setting a Fantasy game in a forest is as trite as setting up a horror movie by having jackass teens drive out to the woods to get drunk and have sex. I've seen it a million times before and it's not engaging. It lacks any of the unique visuals and unique style of Darksiders. It's generic Fantasy forest #127831. About the only thing distinct about it is a giant Shadow Lurker looking thing made of corruption blocking my path. And let's talk about the Shadow Lurkers for a moment, actually. Or rather, let's talk about the plot and the stakes.

In Darksiders, War is involved in a major storyline which decides the fate of our world. We KNOW this because we see our world come apart right at the start. We see the Charred Council, we see Armageddon, or what looks like it, we see Abbaddon who sets up a mystery, we see Uriel before she becomes important... We even see Straga, for all the no point he has to the story. It's a story of angels fighting demons and the doom of mankind, a story of biblical proportions, if you will. It feels like an ambitious story, an ambitious idea come to life that someone took dead serious. Here? Let me ask you something - do you know what any of that stuff is that I mentioned before? If you didn't play Darksiders, I'm guessing no. Which is OK. See, Darksiders 2 brings up these things... And then drops them completely. The general premise is that all of mankind is dead at this point and Death wants to bring them back, to help his brother War who is accused of starting the apocalypse that wiped them out. Then he gets sent to a green forest and the story grinds to a complete halt as I go around "activating towers," as Warrior Within put it.

And what IS Death's motivation, anyway? To help his brother, we're told, but why? Out of affection? Out of a sense of justice? For the lulz? We're never told. Sure, I'm still at first impressions, but War's motives in Darksiders were very clear. "Send me back, and I will punish those responsible. And if I fail, then the demons will have carried out your sentence." For as much of an emo brick as War is, he still has a character - it's that "stop at nothing" type of brute who cannot be bargained with and cannot be stopped. When one of the chosen offers to bargain, his response is "You won't like my terms." Because, you see, he came to rip out her still beating heart so Samael can chew on it. But Death? His only defining character trait is to find ways to be an insufferable jackass. A character says "Most people call me pup, but I prefer my own name." to which Death responds with "Pup it is, then." Why? Why make it a point to be an asshole? Is THAT going to be his defining characteristic until he learns his lesson of morality? Death had a basic personality, yes, but it was justified and well-defined. Death is just some raspy guy doing his best Michael Ironside impression and THAT is pretty much his entire character. Basically, Death IS Michael Ironside.

My biggest problem with this game is that it simply lacks the style of the original. I don't mean just the settings or the characters, I mean the balls to take all of this seriously. Darksiders was "srs bzns." Despite the utterly ludicrous premise, everyone played it straight. It wasn't high drama, it was simply a story played straight, and it worked because it gave everyone weight. I admire a writer who can take an absurd concept and play it straight. The DUMBEST of ideas can often make for the best of stories if you just take them seriously. To me, Darksiders was a parody where none of the characters were in on the joke, and that's what makes it work. Not so in Darksiders 2. In Darksiders 2, we have comic relief. We have pup who's goofy, we have a giant woman (funny how the male giants are wider than they are tall, with short legs and knuckles that reach the ground but women are still "shapely" but very tall) and her brother who only talks in grunts and whose only "friend" is his hammer, we have a goofy construct that speaks silly and wants to eat rocks and we have a basic character design more at home in a cartoon. I could see Death as a wise-cracking asshole who just doesn't respect anyone who isn't a horseman, but even so, he shouldn't be GOOFY, and he comes off as goofy much more often than he comes off as cool. Say what you will about War and his corny one-liners, such as "Tell me what I must do, Angel of Death." or "I would not have the last of heaven's honour die with its champion." but that guy gave weight to everything he said. Death just comes off like some guy fell over backwards into a world of idiots, and that's not conducive to taking the premise seriously.

Overall: Darksiders 2 does a horrible job of convincing me this is a game I want to play. It tries to ensnare me with "loot" with just ends up removing the uniqueness of the scant few items in the original, it tries to ensnare me with collectables but asks me to gather 40 of about ten different things which just turns it into busywork, it tries to ensnare me with MMO elements... But it shows me nothing I haven't seen a zillion times before. Yes, Darksiders was just a puzzle of elements stolen from other games, but the completed project had ambition, weight and style behind it.

Darksiders 2 is fantasy in the woods. And that's about the worst thing I can say about a fantasy game any more. I sincerely hope it gets better.

How Easy Is It To Play Windows Games On Linux?

Tue, 2012/08/21 - 10:19am -- marqaha
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RPS has a nifty articlewhere the author details what he had to do to play Windows games on Linux.

Quote:

With Windows 8 causing PC prophets to forecast doom in the lands of PC gaming, with its philosophy of freedom and rightness, and with Valve getting behind it, Linux, the open operating system, is clearly the future of PC gaming.* But is it still a total pain in the ass? Turns out it really isn’t… I know! I was surprised. Here’s what happened.

*Maybe.

An underestimated part of Microsoft’s hold on the OS market is down to DirectX and games. We’d all jump ship if only we could play all games on Linux, right guys? But then I would say that, because games are what I DO with computers. I’m sure you’re the same. If not, why are you here? But there’s a problem: Linux has always been a nightmare for those who don’t want to make time to learn its inner workings. The last time I made any serious effort to use it was Hardy Heron, about 4 years ago. It was getting easier back then, but all too often: Urgh, command line! And “hey, where’s my driver?” Things that Windows users aren’t so used to wrestling with.

Plants Vs. Zombies 2 announced

Mon, 2012/08/20 - 11:23am -- marqaha
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EA/Popcap have announced Plants Vs. Zombies 2. The release date is "late Spring, next year."

Please forgive me lazily pasting the press release but time is tight this morning.

Plants vs. Zombies Sequel Will Feature Hordes of New Plant and Zombie Types and Mulch More

August 20, 2012

Dublin, Ireland – August 20, 2012 — PopCap Games, maker of some of the world’s most popular video game franchises and a division of EA, today announced that the underground growth of the sequel to Plants vs. Zombies, one of the world’s most popular video games, is germinating and advancing with rigor.

The sequel to Plants vs. Zombies is expected to launch by late spring 2013, and will include a bevy of new features, settings, and situations, designed to delight the franchise’s tens of millions of fans around the world. No other details of the highly anticipated new installment in the franchise are available at this time, beyond the following comments from some of the game’s denizens.

“Spring is crullest curlie ungood time, and plantz grow dull roots,” noted an unidentified spokesperson. “So, we are meating you for brainz at yore house. No worry to skedule schedlue plan… we're freee anytime. We'll find you.” 

“There was a time we relished a bracing, hearty blend of zombies, in the morning,” said Sonny F. Lower, a representative of the Flora Forever Foundation. “But first, a brisk shower and some strategic pruning are required. Tomorrow is near!”

Also note that there are rumors of a PVZ first person shooter in development.

If there was ever a thread that can get SB to post its this one.

Battle.Net Security Breach

Thu, 2012/08/09 - 8:00pm -- marqaha
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Here we go again...

Blizzard reveals an "important security update" announcing that Battle.Net has been hacked.

Quote:
Some data was illegally accessed, including a list of email addresses for global Battle.net users, outside of China. For players on North American servers (which generally includes players from North America, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia) the answer to the personal security question, and information relating to Mobile and Dial-In Authenticators were also accessed.

Go change your passwords and secret questions and monitor your credit card statements closely over the next few weeks.

Warhammer 40 000 review, now with multiplayer

Sat, 2012/07/07 - 1:34pm -- Samuel Tow
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For years, I've been talking about a theoretic game where you don't play as the lowly hero opposing incredible odds, but rather as the level boss as you crush lowly enemies under your mighty heel and can easily stand toe-to-toe with the strongest the game has to offer, only succumbing to defeat when your enemies cheat or outnumber you. Space Marine is that game, and I couldn't be happier with it. I'll admit right out the gate that I don't know much about Warhammer 40K outside of what was in the original Dawn of War, but what I could gather from the game, the world of WH40K is a Fantasy story taken into space, with humans constituting a kind of insane, horrible despotism led by religious fanatics who exist in a universe of eldritch abominations all seemingly hell-bent on killing humans out of spite. The Space Marines - super-charged armoured badasses who are only the "good guys" by virtue of being by far the least crazy people in the universe - are essentially the Imperium's finest and strongest, divided into respective chapters or clans or some such. And, in short, Space Marines exist to shoot Orks, Chaos Marines and other vermin in the face while hacking them to pieces with a whole array of insidious melee weapons, such as chain swords. OK, I can roll with that.

Space Marine tells the tale of Captain Tidis of the Ultramarines, which I assume to be a Space Marine chapter who wear blue and gold armour adorned with skulls and wings. Captain Tidus and his Marines - a Sergeant and what I infer to be a Private, though his rank is never given and he acts like a rookie - are sent to a Forge World, which I assume to be a factory planet, to stop an Ork invasion. It's unclear why the Orks are attacking, but it is inferred that they are there to cease the Titan Invictus, a massive, powerful war machine the importance of which is repeatedly stated to be "Absolute!" I love Warhammer for its overacting. It's not "Critical" or "Vital." It's "Importance: Absolute!" We need more of that sort of lack of restraint in a modern gaming landscape populated by ultra-realistic shooters where soldiers wear iron sights like sunglasses. Anyway, the Titan Invictus is the reason why the planet cannot be bombed to shit to just kill the Orks outright, civilians be damned, and so Captain Tidis and his squad of all of three people are sent in as advanced support on the planet surface while the main fleet arrives many hours and even days later.

I make fun of just three Space Marines being sent to contain what is effectively millions of Orks invading an entire planet, but this is actually played entirely straight. So badass are these Marines that the question is never IF they are able to accomplish any particular goal, but whether they can do so in time. Just as a random example, there is an orbital defence battery that has been infested by hundreds, possibly thousands of Orks. Captain Tidis muses that the Ultramarines could probably clear out the infestation just by themselves, to which his Sergeant nonchalantly responds "Yeah, if we had a week!" I love these guys. Thousands of Okrs to cleave in half between us an our objective? Yeah, we'll be there in an hour or two. Dangerous? What do you mean? And it's not just those three super-macho dudes in huge power armour doing this. EVERYONE relies on the Ultramarines. They're welcomed as masters everywhere they go on the planet, everyone addresses the Captain as "My Lord" and not entirely without merit. These three guys are walking juggernauts of pain and destruction that routinely take on massive enemy hordes not only without breaking a swear but without ever even being worried about it. Astounding!

I apologise for spending so much time essentially singing the Space Marines' praises, but it's only because "The Space Marines are awesome!" is essentially half the game. Still, let us move on to a more productive review approach, divided in sections.

Graphics: Excellent. I suspect this is rendered in the Unreal 3 engine, but I can't say. Textures are spotty and low-res at times, some models are a bit limited in detail and enemy dismemberment isn't all that visceral, reminding me more of Unreal: Return to Na Pali than Unreal Tournament 3. But these are minor, niggling concerns against what is a very solid, very beautiful experience. The Ultramarines are big, easily twice to three times the size of ordinary people. When they run, they shake the screen. When they fight, they bash through opponents just by running into them. Their melee weapons sent Orks flying, their firearms shoot with a very satisfying feel of power and impact in impressive splatters of enemies down-range. In fact, I'd go as far as to praise the game for NOT going overboard on graphics and slapping unnecessary bloom, sheen and all the other "cutting edge" crap that modern games seem to feel is mandatory. This is a solid, pretty game that focuses on aesthetics before graphics.

If I had to lay down any serious criticism, it would have to do with level design. Most of the game is spent inside indecipherable dungeons with a "Gothic meets Unreal" sort of feel to them and the other half in unrecognisable wreckage. This will soon make the terrains blend in before your eyes and make you feel like the game is running you through the same location multiple times. With the subject matter, this really couldn't be avoided, but even so, the recycling of resources is evident.

Aesthetics: This is Warhammer 40 000. That's all you need to say about the Aesthetics. However, I WILL say that the game captures the WH40K aesthetic quite well. The Marines are huge, their weapons are powerful, the Orks are ugly and stupid, the architecture is dark, gothic and very imposing, the constant droning voice instructing factory workers to remain at their stations and carry on production and not concern themselves with what's happening outside all the while their whole world is being murdered... That's very well done, and very in-spirit with the source material. Everyone speaks a slightly archaic, very formal kind of English and pretty much every character comes off as a prude. Again, true to form.

More than anything, though, this game is brutal. I'm not talking about "murder porn" levels of visual gore. There's actually very little of it, as a point of fact. There's lots of blood spatter, but not all that graphic gore. What there is of is brutality. Tidis has a selection of finishing moves he can perform on enemies, and all of them look very painful. He would hoist an Ork up in one hand and drop him chest-first on his revving chainsword to be sawn in half, he would stick his axe in the head of a large Ork and let him tug on it for a second before pulling his entire head off with his axe, he'd kick an Ork down, then smash his head with a hammer and so much more. And the game encourages you to seek these "executions" out, as they heal you when they happen.

This is a violent game which relies on brutality more so than violent, and it is a game about big things shooting other big things with big guns. What more could you ask for? smile

Gameplay: Comfortable but limited. Space Marine is a "beat 'em up meets shoot 'em up" type of game, where the majority of the gameplay is direct combat. There are no puzzles, there is no inventory, there are no branching paths. Tidis just kills a LOT of stuff. Unlike games like Devil May Cry, gunplay plays a major role in Space Marine. I'd go as far as to say a primary role. You can carry up to four weapons at a time, though two of them cannot be changed, and all too often the game will throw ranged enemies at you to be sniped, and equally as often melee enemies will approach in large waves to be gunned down as they close in. Large enemies, as well, are much easier to shoot down from range if you have a heavy weapon. That's not to say that melee combat is sidelined, though, far from it. Tidis always carries a melee weapon, one of four in the game, and that weapon is very, very effective on enemies up close. Also, the melee "stun" attack can allow you to execute enemies, which refills your health.

Space Marine has a combination of weak regenerating shields and static health. Regenerating shields regenerate, but health only recovers if you execute enemies. There are no med kids, no health packs, no hypo sprays. If you want health, you have to brutalise your enemies. Honestly, this presents a more interesting tactical challenge than you might think. Executing enemies refills your health, but it leaves you exposed while you're doing it, negating the benefit. It's up to the player to decide when to back off and let shields recharge and when to charge in and consume the blood of his fallen enemies, so to speak. There is no cover system as such, and though you CAN take cover, you'll very rarely need to. Ranged enemies exist, but they can flank you, throw grenades and shoot rockets over your cover, so you're always better off either charging their positions or sniping them as soon as you can. Later in the game there are a few enemies that you may want to take cover from, but for the most part this is not Gears of War. Nowhere even close, even with the chainsword.

Basically, Space Marine is an in-your-face shooter/fighter hybrid where both mechanics work surprisingly well, but both are highly uncomplicated. Melee combat uses a single button so you really only have one combo and no ability to block while gunplay is rewarding but doesn't comes with a limited selection of weapons and very straightforward point-and-click mechanics. It's not an involving game by any stretch - your fat Space Marine ass can't even jump without a jet pack - but it's one of the most solidly WORKING games I've seen in a long time.

Characters: Given the source material, I wasn't expecting much, but I was surprised. Characters in this game are very well developed, surprisingly so considering how little they actually do aside from kill. Tidis is an almost unbelievably awesome good guy. He's always polite, always calm, concerned about the well-being of his own men, his allies and the civilians on the planet and he likes to reinterpret the Codex as is appropriate to the situation, rather than being locked in rigid adherence to dogmatic decree. He's entirely and wholly resistant to evil and shows himself to be quite compassionate. I'd say he's a Mary Sue, but really - in Warhammer, just being a "nice guy" makes you a Mary Sue. To me, Tidis is a nice guy. He's exactly the kind of protagonist that's very easy to have sympathy for. He's a good guy, and he works his ass off to afford the luxury to be nice.

The Sergeant seems to overall be a nice guy, as well, though he's more of a war dog - he finds joy in combat and he never backs down from a fight. He's an older man, and scarred like a dog, but he acts the part of the trusted, unwavering ally. The Rookie is an idiot who constantly quotes the codex, speaks in formal statements and is ready to compromise his mission to adhere to procedure. Willing to follow orders but liable to cause problems, he's pretty much where his character needs to be. There's also the Lieutenant, a tough lady who has managed to single-handedly save what remains of the Rangers left on the Forge World. She is a strong, determined leader who is at the same time not too proud to show respect to the Space Marines and render them any help they need, even in the face of horrible danger.

You might say the characters are cliche or one-dimensional, but in a gaming landscape populated by smartass dicks who are only good guys by virtue of the bad guys being ten times worse, it's nice to see a few genuine good guys be the good guys without having to suffer guilty conscience. Furthermore, Warhammer isn't really the right franchise to have deep, self-doubting characters, I don't think. It's built on crazy people following cultish dogmas. Simply having people who can think for themselves is deep enough against enemies like the Orks and Chaos.

Ending: Pretty good. Without wishing to spoil the plot, the ending is mostly satisfying, but seems open for a sequel. It's not a literal cliffhanger, as the situation is thoroughly and soundly solved, but there are a few hooks left that could be explored in another game, and a few characters actually do undergo some pretty profound character development. I'm honestly not sure, though, if this is sequel bait or if it's just Warhammer being Warhammer and being physically incapable of allowing any good deed to go unpunished, like some kind of depressing lesson on the harshness of life in the Imperium. I'm just going to say that if you're looking for a decisive finale with all loose ends tied up, the game delivers in spades.

Overall: Warhammer 40 000: Space Marine is a great game in a slightly retrospective way. It's not complex, involving or cinematic. At its heart, it's a nuts-and-bolts shooter/fighter, but it's one that works and is easy to pick up and play. It looks great, it feels greater and it has that rare property among contemporary games of making you feel good about yourself for playing it. If you like Warhammer or the Warhammer aesthetic, if you like functional, uninvolving shooters, if you like simpler stories, Space Mrine is for you. If you hate Warhammer, on the other hand, or dislike violence or need some kind of deep social commentary in your games, pass on this one. There's social commentary in it, but that's not the point of the game. It's a game that rewards you with the simplest of pleasures as you watch Captain Tidis slam an axe into an Ork's ribs, then proceed to Big Boot said Ork in the face, causing his head to explode. If that sounds like fun to you, Space Marine will deliver.

GoG Summer Promo: Battle of the Games

Tue, 2012/06/19 - 9:07pm -- Orion Pax
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Good Old Games, now known simply as GoG, is having an awesome summer promo.  From June 19 - July 9, 2012, 2 games will battle against each other for a huge discount.  The winning game receives a 60% discount, and the losing game receives 40% off.  I think no matter which game comes out the victor, we all win with great discounts on amazing games *good*

Full Details from GoG:
For each day between June 19 and July 5, two games will battle one on one and you will decide which title wins. VOTE NOW! Each Round of the Battle begins at 1 PM GMT (9 AM EST) and ends after 24 hours. After each round, the winner of the popular vote will be discounted 60% and the runner-up 40%, for the following 24 hours. Bookmark the Battle of the Games page, check back every day, vote, and buy amazing games 60% off during our summer Battle of the Games!

To check out each day's epic gaming battle, visit: http://www.gog.com/BOTG

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