Archive for January, 2012

Trine 2

Every time I read something like: “Battlefield 3 has the best graphics right now, bla” I’m always thinking first, “what? don’t they know of Trine?!?”… Because let’s face it, these things have nothing on the gorgeous, almost breathtaking looks of Trine! This is what I call beautiful graphics!
There’s not that much new stuff in the sequel, I would even say that the aspects that are just different outweigh true novelties (which isn’t a bad thing, if you come from a fantastic game anyway – in that regard it’s similar to BAC). The wizard can’t create triangles anymore (I can understand why they removed those) and inventories/items are gone for all characters. The latter weren’t completely forgotten though. When the heroes take a dive for the first time, the thief is asked what happened to the amulet that allowed her to breath underwater (that was awesome and the game could have used much more of that!). :)
Obviously new were the giant creatures and what I liked (in addition to their visual brilliance), was that they didn’t do this thing (which I almost always end up somehow regretting), where everything is evil just because it’s big/there; there’s an octopus who kinda helps the player by holding up platforms with its tentacles so it’s possible to jump to the other side. Another creature is just in the way and leaves without aggression, after the puzzle is solved.
The single negative part of this game, to me, is the story is more or less just a placeholder. One had to be there, apparently, so this template was chosen. It’s not as bad as I might have made it sound right now, it’s not insulting or anything, it just lacks depth and doesn’t hold any surprises. Trine is really all about the environment (its looks), all the puzzles/physics, the heroes and their abilities, the wonderful soundtrack and how flawless it all melds together into… Trine 2 (not necessarily in that order).
I bought the Collector’s Edition (retail) and it has an artbook (to me it’s actually interesting and not some superfluous goodie), the game and soundtrack on disc and a Steam code for Trine 1 as well (so it’s ideal for people who are new to the series – “sadly”/luckily I already had Trine 1 since…). There’s (naturally) a digital CE too, which has the artbook and soundtrack in the game’s folder after download – exactly like the retail version. So with the latter you get the physical AND digital artbook. Therefore, I really have no idea for which type of customer the fully digital version could be the preferred version. And all these realizations hit before considering that the retail is – on top of it all – cheaper… Crazy, right?
I finished the game, but I will get back to it, to collect more of the secrets I overlooked so far. As I already mentioned, the items (Trine 1 featured as secrets) are missing, so this time secrets are poems and paintings.

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I guess I’ve already covered, that I’d love Batman: Arkham Whatever more than my life if I didn’t need it to PLAY Batman: Arkham Whatever, so I can probably (indeed I can) jump right into babbling about whacky details I can remember!
Lucky for me, they didn’t descend into the madness of considering any significant changes to an already almost perfect gameplay & handling. Sometimes developers think they need to change an already great concept for the sequel and that’s when everything goes down the drain. BAC kept most aspects that were good and enhanced many of them/built upon those. I missed only one thing in BAA and that was a bigger world – so with BAC I got exactly what I hoped for (the free gliding is quite addictive).
Of course a bigger game world can mean that the (main-) story isn’t as tightly paced as it could be in a smaller environment, where nothing else is going on anyway, but that was no downside for me. In great games I never rush to the finish line as fast as possible. Besides, even in Arkham City, players could just run from one main-mission to the next. Hotspots are even marked with the bat signal shining above them in the sky. :) Another design decision paying tribute to the bigger size of AC is a relatively huge crowd of different characters. Couple folks seem to perceive this as some sort of an overload. But given the choice of having tons of the villains (they addressed this nicely btw, because Batman doesn’t fight the same guys again [except for Joker, because he’s… Joker]; Poison Ivy might be in the game, but only Catwoman has to deal with her this time) in one place at the same time (and having to accept that this is maybe a little bit unrealistic), or lacking many interesting ones, I will still have to choose the former. The mere thought of a big, _empty_ game-world is demotivating to me. By the way, they struck a next to perfect balance. I deem the size of a game-world near perfect, if it’s neither so small, that there can be no exploration at all and there’s basically only one path to everything, nor so big, that traversing it is often uneventful and feels dead and barren (and everything looks alike). I’d vote details over unnecessary size any day. BAC is really the prime example I’d use to describe this near perfect balance.
What I didn’t like was only very little and hardly of the nature that would have a negative impact on my enjoyment. Another of the greatest parts of BAC was Catwoman. She wasn’t just some gimmick or minor selling point, her handling, animations – everything was as good as playing Batman himself (Batman of course has more moves and gadgets and…, but that’s beside the point). Given how flawless she was implemented, it was quite sad, that her mini-campaign was so short. I get it, it’s a Batman game after all, but still… I’d buy a Catwoman spin-off immediately.
The real downsides happened outside the game. The PC version was delayed a month (naturally many people assumed this was to give the title some additional polish) and when it came out, even the developer recommended not playing the game using the DirectX 11 mode (the launcher had it disabled from the start, even on machines that should have been able to run it – just so fewer people would play using DX11 – they totally knew from the start). The funny part is, that this game was used to advertise Nvidia graphics cards (BAC codes were given away with Nvidia card purchases) and then this selling point, of all things, was bugged.
I wasn’t really bummed out about it, because DX9 looked like a dream come true already (all screenshots are DX9!) and the differences wouldn’t have been that big – the real problem was, that there was only little communication about the issues and it was easy to think, that Rocksteady didn’t care at all about the PC version. After a patch came out in December, it took another month (!) just for them to officially offer a standalone download for the first patch… It’s really only such a minor, little thing, but they didn’t bother. Although it has been suggested, that there will be another patch, there is basically no information on what this second one might contain, or what the status is. The game itself is so fantastic and brilliant in all the glory of its content, but I’ve seen small indie developers with 5-10 dudes do a better job at supporting a game after it shipped, than what happened here. It sold pretty damn well AFAIK (4,6 million units shipped in the first week alone! one of the fastest selling games ever…), so it doesn’t make sense to treat it like that. It seems as if supporting a title after it has shipped really isn’t their strong suit. They manage to craft such an awesome masterpiece and then it’s like they all just go home and forget about it. The first installment received only one patch too (although I have to admit that I don’t remember any problems with BAA).
I’m planning on playing the “new game plus”-mode next, but I will certainly wait for the patch to appear (since they are taking their time I’m getting a vibe this might also be the last one), because otherwise I will regret having played it again without enjoying possible improvements. Seeing the DX11 effects for the first time might be another nice motivation.

Miscellaneous:

The final Riddler segment is triggered after “only” 400 collected secrets, because people without Catwoman DLC (comes with 40 extra secrets) must be able to complete it too (only DLC on consoles, PC has it integrated generally). So after gathering all 440 riddles/secrets, nothing happens anymore. :(

Why the hell did he carry out *beep* at the end of the game, when he could have carried out *beep*? Weird choice Bats, weird choice!

I was delighted that the game started with Bruce Wayne as a playable character. A truly wonderful idea. Making your way towards your gear was quite engaging.

I never learned how to do the blade takedown (or however it was called) properly (just jumped above them and punched them from behind or used a combo takedown – quite lazy, I know), while I mastered all other moves (it was a great decision to include most moves in the riddler challenges)… Maybe next playthrough?

Rage

[…] this game’s most impressive component is its gunplay…

“Rage Review.” Game Informer. Issue 223. November 2011. Page 99

I really thoroughly enjoyed Rage. In fact, someone from id must have insulted someones mother or something to trigger all those lackluster reviews I read or saw in the past. :P I expected something a lot less fun. Too many people seemed to have warped expectations or outright misunderstood what the game was supposed to be about. I also encountered none of the issues that seemed to dominate the usual coverage (just a glitch). Turning around as fast as possible was one of the first things I tried and I didn’t have delayed loading of textures at all (I had cache set to max though). But obviously I already played it with the first patch and current driver versions (waiting paid off… again), so either that fixed it nicely, or my PC wasn’t affected in the first place. And I’m playing on/with an AMD Radeon (descriptions stated that this brand was primarily affected, after the initial release of Rage).
In my perception id just tried to make a game like their previous ones and decided to throw in a couple of other stuff on top of _that_. That’s it. And at that, they certainly succeeded. So if now someone criticizes, that Rage’s story doesn’t hold up against Fallout’s… It wasn’t supposed to. It didn’t try to (if it would have, the story would indeed be quite unsatisfying :P). There’s just some stuff they threw in as a “bonus” (Rage has even a few mini-games – a card game, some dice betting and playing with knives). No one ever asked in older id games, why it’s only about grabbing a gun and starting to shoot at monsters. Everyone knew, that this was what they were signing up for. Maybe that’s not everyone’s cup of tea (anymore?), but it’s a little bit weird/double standard, if games like Painkiller/Serious Sam/… are applauded for delivering this exact experience and Rage is criticized, although it should be known what it’ll be like. Even games that were 13 years late, had questionable humor and offered mediocre fights found their audiences. But I don’t really mean to compare…
Although it’s certainly true that many textures in Rage were more on the blurry side than crispy sharp (something that was probably done to be super-fast on consoles – I’m guessing, I’d be stunned if this would be the limit of the engine [1]), the level of detail was still very impressive (it probably didn’t help much either, to have blurry textures in a game that was supposed to promote a technology called _MegaTexture_, of all things). In that it was like Batman: Arkham Whatever – a game that rather wants to be the “most detailed world”, than “the biggest world” and I very much prefer this design decision (more on this if I ever get to write something on Skyrim/the Bethesda open-world games :P). The levels were designed masterfully – although they turned out to be guiding the player most of the time, it hardly ever felt this way. Sometimes I felt successful for discovering an exit, when in reality, this was the sole path I could have continued on anyway. Despite that, there were still enough nooks and crannys to search for all kinds of items. The method with closed doors that needed extra items to open them, reminded me positively of Dead Space (where you have to give up power nodes for some rooms with goodies). The missions were noteworthy by themselves, there was always something going on that added a nice flair. Either there was a character that needed to be saved and accompanied the player a bit, or the “boss” of the location teased/threatened the player over speakers during the fights, or… It kept things fresh and interesting.
The character and facial animations were very good as well. Enemies don’t just drop dead or pull the always identical ragdoll routine, there are many spectacular animations, where they still run a few steps and stumble and somesuch. It’s too rare a detail, to overlook this. Few games have this; some enemies even “jump around” (e.g. using walls) before they attack, which makes them harder to hit. The last game that surprised me with something like this, was the final fight in Mass Effect 1.
What also highly spoke in favor of this game, was the really different enemies and their lairs. Missions usually have the player run into a cave, subway shaft, ruins, factory, creepy hospitals/science buildings… And nothing looks alike. Nothing feels like it’s just another tunnel. The player knows exactly where he is. Even the roads connecting important locations can be easily distinguished (driving/racing is fun btw – way cooler to drive to a mission, than being simply dropped off there). Every single of these locations is unique. There is even all kinds of crap lying around everywhere. This is something most games fail at (or don’t intend to succeed at). To me this is always a major reason, why games like… say BioShock are so superb. It took me around 16 hours to complete the campaign and I didn’t even use the job board in Wellsprings much (those seemed more on the generic side, AFAIK). That’s a lot of content. Especially for such a shooter. I’m not trying to determine which has the shortest campaign, but those usually start showing the ending credits after ~8 hours. Point for Rage, as far as I’m concerned.
On that note I was a little disappointed, that you couldn’t return to the game, after the ending credits were done. Another crack at the jobs board would have been nice, without having to start the game all over again, or reloading an earlier save.
On the more disappointing side was, that the ending reminded me of Half-Life², there was no real boss fight. I was really stunned when it just switched to the outro, after fighting normal enemies. I was just getting warmed up and expected a big boss to show every second – but that never happened. The game had only 1 real boss fight and that was quite early in the game. That felt somewhat unbalanced/unfinished. It’s like they developed missions separately and pieced it all together in the end and somehow there was nothing special left for some parts, but it was already too late to do something about it.

PS: Those wingsticks were a good addition to the player’s arsenal! I already thought the boomerang in Arcanum was quite rare and I liked it to see something similar in such a first person game. :) Is it too late to mention the engineering system, that allows the construction of various items, as long as the plans and ingredients are at hand?

PPS: Doom 4 is still happening, right?

[1]

On August 1, 2008, John Carmack, the co-founder and technical director of id Software said that Doom 4 will look three times better than Rage does, as it runs at 30 frames per second, on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, rather than 60 that Rage targets.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doom_4

I have a real talent for falling through the map in games. :D This time: RAAAAAAAGE. :P Too bad I don’t have a collection, maybe it’s a good time to start. ;) All you gotta do is trying to run off the elevator that leads to the resistance base in Subway Town before it’s really fully done descending. Voilà!

Steam claims that it took me 10.7 hours to finish this, which would make it the longest DLC I ever played. The piece does basically everything as good or even better than the rest of the game did (yes, I dared to claim DLC can be part of the “real” game[‘s story]). It already includes the developers reaction to feedback received for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For some reason the boss fights weren’t universally well received (I’m used to boss fights playing differently than the rest of the game – boss fights are supposed to be “special”, after all – so _I_ didn’t really mind either way) and the confrontation with the boss in The Missing Link works now completely different. Maybe I should browse the web a bit to find out, what people dislike now… :P Anyways, there’s story, dialog, guards are next to always in conversations when Jensen lurks around and even lone guards make comments every now and then (I’m bored…). I’m not sure they did that in the main installment.
A similar level of detail can be observed with the environments. Some desks now have unique photographs on them and even some of the obligatory offices look memorable. Secrets aren’t just back, a few of them are now a little bit harder to find, than just having to crawl through a vent. Because Jensen starts without augs (I smell a plot hole here, because how is an EMP chair supposed to stop Jensen, if he already had the EMP protection?), stapling crates becomes necessary every now and then to reach the unreachable. :P I liked that, it made it important to observe the environment carefully. It’s nice when there’s more than just having to look for guards and cameras. That’s definitely part of why I didn’t have the slightest interest in rushing through this adventure and it pulled me in in exactly the same way the full campaign did. Twice.
Missing Link also shows, that achievements don’t have to be dumb and lazy, when they are only rewarded for finding actual secrets, instead of getting one for every inevitable occurrence like booting up the game.
The DLC is installed as an extra game. It’s not technically a part (only the story, which adds more details to the whole picture, is) of the original installation. That makes it especially ridiculous, that only owners of the main title can buy it in Steam. I’m guessing it would work for everyone and doesn’t seem to require any resources of the original. That’s probably why it’s over 2 GB in installation size too – some of the files are now using up space needlessly twice. To complete this impression, the DLC is launched in the Steam games list using a separate, extra entry. It behaves as a stand-alone expansion would.
I got it when it was 66% off and _that_ sum it was totally worth to me, especially when considering that I certainly will play it again at some point. Their dirty mind game worked on me and I’m excited to see, if they can come up with more adventures of this scope.

PS: They still haven’t fixed this crash, that often occurs when switching a lot between normal inventory and quest items and selecting examine on them. And the other crash, when choosing to exit the game (yes the game crashes when wanting to close it anyway, funny…) is alive and well too. So I’m assuming that not too much has changed, although the 2 separate exe files for DXHR and The Missing Link have different version numbers (and sizes). :)