Archive for October, 2009

Did you ever notice, that people only give you certain titles or form of address, when you are in some sort of trouble (and which they would never otherwise use to call you in real life)? That’s what this crap is worth my friend!
Sprung to mind, when Guybrush (Tales of Monkey Island – Chapter 4) landed in front of a court and they called him CAPTAIN Threepwood. Outside they wouldn’t even grant him the category of a pirate… Douchebags!

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Still 10 Days

10 Days

Tali

Windows 7

Venetica

There’s one thing this engine really doesn’t do good (a.k.a. it’s weakest point) – great, wide areas with round shapes. Especially rural areas, with mountains maybe. The performance is the worst there too.
So, where does the game start? Exactly, in a mountain village… To me it felt like an instant letdown. But whoever “survives” this, gets to experience a really great role-playing game. As soon as the locale changes to Venice, everything gets better. The weaknesses loose importance and are quickly overshadowed by all the pieces that are necessary to form a great RPG experience.

The game world consists of relatively large areas, where the next city districts are closed at first, until the player completes tasks that will unlock them. What can almost be called a specialty nowadays, is that despite that, all the areas remain accessible. It’s no problem when quests are unfinished, returning to them is always a possibility. Drakensang, on the other hand, demands that the player finishes everything before moving on, or the unfinished quests will automatically fail (one of its few flaws). The city districts also offer very different vendors and shops, along the guild halls. So this is helpful/fun for various reasons. A decent quick transit system (gondoliers wait at many canals) prevents frustrations from running the same paths all the time. Since the quests require visiting all the places many times, this is not just a gimmick.

I read in tests, that the first release was plagued by many bugs. 1.01 however, offered pretty much a carefree playthrough. I encountered some more or less nasty glitches, but never complete showstoppers like broken quests (I always perceive it as such). Approaching ladders led, in rare cases, to being stuck. Loading a savegame didn’t work, unless the game was shut down first… While it’s normal to choose answers in dialogs, I met several ghosts, which dialog trees let me select their text as well, not just my own… The rest of the glitches were already more of the “unpolished content” variety. In one quest workers promise to visit the mines, but stay at the table where they were encountered first. Although they never leave, the foreman at the mine declares the quest solved, ignorant to the fact of still being alone. People never reacting to the player-made changes around them, happens several times. At least some visible form of acknowledgment would have been nice. One game sequence shows the guards burning down a house, but visiting the house later, shows it in prime/unaltered condition – just the door is now closed.

Learning new feats requires visiting certain teachers, I chose a path where the magic abilities were of great importance, I invested most of my experience points in those. While fighting techniques had numerous teachers available everywhere, only 3 mental trainers existed in the whole game. Close to the game ending, I collected XP to spend it for powerful spells, but 2 of the 3 teachers were gone due to story development (and the game never came around to explain what happened to them!) and the third was just gone. So it became impossible to learn the last spells, since the only way to unlock them, is said teachers… I don’t know if the game designers thought everyone would just focus completely on fighting abilities and overlook this. I wouldn’t be surprised if Venetica gets a “gold edition/directors cut” etc. at some point. To remove these impressions of having some “incomplete” parts in the mix.
The last well deserved critic from the top of my head is about the vanished characters, which were major story parts. Aeris, Leon, Edmundo and Benedict for example. The game ends without giving any kind of closure what happened to them. The whole time I expected any of them to drop by again, but then the credits started rolling… Yet another rushed ending.

Now finally to some good stuff (again): The game does a lot to give the user many possibilities to discover areas and items. I already mentioned the general vast areas – in addition to that, chests sometimes contain treasure maps (that are always valid – espcially the axe giving additional XP is a fantastic booty – so don’t forget to buy a shovel!) and many hidden portals wait to be found (most roofs are accessible too and often even connected to each other, so there’s little the eye can see, that can’t be traversed).
Normally I’m not someone who learns all combos in a game, I often find them hard to master, when little time spans already trigger another (not all games do combos as good as BAA). I’m frustrated easily, when I aim for one combo, but another is executed. The combat system of Venetica works very satisfying here. It’s complex enough and delivers. Various attacks are available for all the major branches of weapons (also depending on what skills the player invests XP in), combined with an optional parry and fast evasion. The enemies make use of all these things as well, so for defeating them, the player has to learn a certain routine. Only then, the enemies are easy to defeat.

I’m still wondering if this game will see further patches, expansions or even sequels – given the “final state” of many of it’s story arcs and characters.

batman arkham asylum-148

There are games that are really decent in what they do overall – these games are already what will please every passionate player and are worth more than just one look. The next category are games, which become interesting for certain genre freaks because of their theme. While Forces of Corruption blows my mind as a Star Wars fan, someone who doesn’t like Star Wars, or even hates it, might only see a mediocre RTS game.
This is why Batman: Arkham Asylum belongs to the best possible branch of games, because it is the combination of both these scenarios. It would be a fantastic title with every character/story, but Batman fans even get a great game with… Batman as the title character.

Games like BAA always make me wonder, where do they come from? Why now? Why like that… Simply because they seem too good to be true. It’s all the more pleasing when they really are this awesome. Usually big license franchises are rushed out to promote a movie and suck. That’s probably a reason BAA is that good. They just made a game, without the need to please too many interest groups. The world has had enough disappointing movie-companion games. Here’s the important lesson to take away from all this!

It’s hard to start describing the game, because everything is sooo perfect. It lacks nothing vital, does (next to) nothing wrong… So at this point it could be nothing but listing various awesome parts. Therefore I’m trying to note a few “kept out of the game” pieces. At no point in the game, is it possible to drive the Batmobile. Although it could have been cool, I rather not drive the car, than have it realized crappy. The absence of driving scenes even makes sense, because the setting is Arkham Island. So justice is served by giving it a proper appearance (even Batwing has one!).

The game is played from 3rd person perspective, with a very good camera work. It works so well, that even crouching in tunnels is no letdown.
Batman offers all movement types that are to be desired from such a heroic figure. Different punches, spiking them up with combos, fast evasion types, batarangs, gliding, tons of combinations of the previous stuff, grappler, hanging down from gargoyles (with maybe the nicest move of grabbing foes from above)… Despite of the rich variations of all those combos, the handling is quite clean – by which I mean, that it’s very possible to precisely control all of this, completely without helplessly punching buttons and being surprised by what happens next. This fuels the fun and excitement of this action title to no small part. After a short time of adaptation it comes absolutely natural, the gliding around and reaching far heights with the grappler hook.
Actions create experience points, which can be spent into new Wayne Tech gadgets, like more powerful Batarangs or better armor. I always find these small role-playing elements very motivating.
The riddler has hidden small challenges and items (240 to be precise) across the entire Island of Arkham and all of them award 200 XP each, so to gain all upgrades, it’s enough to collect the lot of them (don’t forget the zoom feature!).
There is a nice overview of all riddler challenges when pressing TAB, a very helpful option. In the same menu the upgrades can be made and many detailed character bios of friends and foes become available, as they are unlocked with certain game progresses. Several of those bios can even be enriched with interviews of the subjects, that doctors at Arkham taped at one point. The game just never stops to create a rich atmosphere… There’s even one tiny secret left to find, after the 240 riddler challenges are complete…
Yet another nice touch is the detective mode, that alters the color scheme and highlights all kinds of action spots, all points of special interest. The game is really player friendly, when it comes to thus avoiding countless hours of running around, just searching. Without the detective mode, it would be a major pain to e.g. complete all riddler puzzles.

A further high point of the game are the boss fights. They aren’t necessarily hard, but diverse and much fun. Every boss requires a different strategy and has his own kind of lair/base. The amount of effort put into this is really noticeable here. It can’t be easy to design it like that.
The maybe “highest point” of BAA is however, the voice work and the way in which all these recordings were presented in the game. Mark Hamill does an incredible and tremendous job as the Joker. Just outstanding. He should get the voice Oscar or something. He earned it.
Since Batman is usually traversing through some Arkham complexes, Joker (most of the time) can be heard yelling something through the speakers. He comments the situation, taunts Batman – simply has his fun.
The extra fascination lies in the fact, how specific the voice work is used to the current situation. When Batman takes out a hostile, the Joker asks his guys if they ARE MISSING SOMEONE (the inmates wear collars and the Joker uses them to monitor their life signs). The inmates even start to panic at some point, when only 2-3 of a full group are left. The already mentioned Detective Mode visualizes their life signs and diagnoses them as “terrified”. In one room they helplessly started to shoot at every sound, only to find out that it was a false alarm.
This is just one example. In another, Harley Quinn was in her cell, while Batman managed to break out from another (optional event) and she then asks him how the hell he managed to do that…

When the story mode is finished, the game world is still accessible, maybe to grab the rest of the riddler items – so it’s no problem if some were overlooked earlier (given the player even cares to collect them all). The last unlocked possibilities are the challenges, small tasks outside the main game/story, that are especially hard to accomplish. Defeat lots of hard enemies with as many combos as possible, or take out hostiles silently as fast as possible. I admit these don’t motivate me as much as the story mode, but they are still worth a look.

The game still consists of more parts (think e.g. character trophies), but I described the most memorable and at this point everyone should know this game is the equivalent of a dream come true…

I really hope this isn’t the last game of exactly this kind, players will have the chance to experience.

Check out the screenshots.

Dark Country 2009 - 00002

Dark Country is one of these genre gems, that are too easily overlooked. Besides the very memorable cinematography, all mystery fans should give it a go. Although I found the story at some point a little predictable, there is still enough left to think about. Also, it’s a good opportunity to point out, why it often is important to click links.

The podcast I listen to explains stuff like “what does ISP stand for”, but I wonder – if anyone, who wouldn’t already know what that means, would really listen to shows like this, where would all the people come from, who don’t know Jack?

screenshot_200

As if any of you didn’t watch at Salina from all possible angles.^^

Just finished it this week and BOY did I love this game. It was awesome and is clearly one of the best role-playing games of the last years (The Witcher was the last RPG to fill me with this much enthusiasm). I noticed the game because I once played DSA 3, way back in the late nineties. So I was already used to the setting. Usually I’m rather the DnD guy. BUT having the general idea of RPG very much down, in the end, it’s hardly getting used to something really new. And I don’t even want to say this would be bad. Too much is common and well known. I’m just acknowledging, that players used to other settings could tend to dismiss it just because of that. Their loss.

Now, what’s so great about Drakensang? The quests aren’t breathtaking, but clearly belong to the best, the entire genre has to offer. They are complex, long, surprising, diverse, interesting, exciting and hardly repetitive. Clone that industry! Though the graphics engine doesn’t necessarily blow games like Bioshock out of the water, it’s (again) awesome (played it with high def textures). I would roughly compare it with games from Blizzard, which never had the best possible graphics around, but managed to power up in other areas, like animation. This made them always strangely endearing and lively. I always go nuts for that kind, over the 100 GB killer-textures in a sterile and dead world. Blowballs are transported by the wind, grasses grow high and move, birds and butterflies create the illusion of moving through a real nature – when outside of the cities. I was always fascinated by certain kinds of lighting, that can only be produced by 3D graphics cards and Drakensang totally hits the mark. Everything shines and reflects (without annoying or overdone lens flares), caves and dungeons often get their own flair through strange glowing in all the right places.
The game world is big, but not too big. Players don’t get lost (the map is outstanding), but it takes time to reach something, so it feels like really traversing somewhere. Whether it’s necessary to run through woods, cities or a dungeon, they always create the right mood. This is what fantasy role playing (should) feels like!
The game begins easy, but later on I found the battles to be really tough at times. Maybe not as tough as in Tougher Demogorgon tough, but certainly not easy. But even here, it all feels right and adequate. After winning against especially hard enemies, the characters raise their weapons and yell diverse, original cheers. This is the stuff, that doesn’t just raise the morale of the AI characters… Liked that very much. Great idea. I really often missed something like that in other games, where the characters just walk on after a life changing event.

The interface is wonderful. Options everywhere, but not in a way that would shy users away from getting the hang of them. Good RPG’s have to have interfaces, that are as complex as the story, characters and environments. That’s true equilibrium, DUDE! In fact, the interface was this good, that I (from now on) will miss it, whenever games offer less. This ain’t a shooter people! Step up to the task!
The length of the game was roughly twice the size of KotOR, if all the quests are pursued. I always do that, I need to.
An especial highlight were the items. There is a sheer limitless amount of loot. Weapons, armor parts (and everything else) are visible on the characters in great detail. It even affects the character portraits on the upper right side of the screen! That must have been a very tough job, to display every small piece of equipment correctly. I am still shocked and awed.
Hot chicks: Yeah, I know. Drakensang has numerous really beautiful 3D women present (it’s a shame Salina wasn’t a playable party member), probably more than in all other games I ever played. I think I never saw this much hot stuff being present simultaneously in only one game. Seriously. And yes, I know how pathetic it is to point something like this out, but I evolved beyond that. Sorry. Think Picard in Star Trek 8, where he talks about his more sophisticated sensitivity. Boo-yah.
The bad side is kinda small and can’t even begin to compete with all the good stuff and is overshadowed easily. I didn’t like that the end came so fast, that the last part of the game played out in one piece. All earlier story parts/quests were interrupted by returning to Ferdok, the major city of these lands. At one point, there seems to be no necessity to go there anymore, although the player’s base of operations is there. After defeating the first dragon, the caretaker of the base takes the head and hangs it up at the house front, to announce that there’s a dragon slayer around. But except for a single, short glance at it, there is nothing else happening there. No other benefit. You know, every complex and vast game has this point, where it seems to lack, because it simply cannot be infinite in all regards.
In this spirit, I also missed final statements of the party members, or even little tales, like Baldur’s Gate 2 offered, for all the companions.
Last, I obviously used the ingame screenshot option a lot, but this one didn’t work during cutscenes (in the game engine) and dialogs. I don’t know why that is, but clearly screenshotting should always be possible.

I personally can hardly wait for the expansion, that is supposed to be released sometime in 2010.

Is a boring and stupid book/story bad, when it’s mission statement is to describe something boring and stupid?

AutOS

try and fix the problem

Everything works automatically in Seven. Bloody everything. And no one knows by which standards/detection mechanisms this is decided. Secret lists, which are always processed unintermitted, seem to be in control. The next user generation won’t know it any different. Strange stuff! If it would be optional, it might even be a good idea!