Category Archives: Videogame Reviews

Reviews of different videogames. I’m not much of a writer, but there we go.

Games of 2010

While I’ve still got a major post (ie; involving lots of screenshots I’ve not finished yet) on a ton of indie games I got in packs in the Steam sales, this is a quick overview of the better games released in 2010 I’ve played; quick because I don’t need to bother with screenshots, huzzah! (I’ll also promise to myself to post more stuff here…). This was also posted on the WDG forums I frequent often, although expanded a bit with some late additions. Some of these games I should post about in more detail sometime.

The Verdict

Some good games; no real priority, certainly no stupid top 10 or rankings or numbers. Nothing stood out as “dammit beyond dying you must play this”. Wow, having revised this list it still has so many sequels…

The Games

Metro 2033 – Not finished the SP yet, for goodness knows what reason, it’s like the last level (expanded note: It was an annoying last level). Still utterly fun though up to that point. Kudos points for not being a sequel of any kind!

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 + Vietnam – I was late to the party, but loads of fun in multiplayer. The SP is passable and helps you to learn the weapons a bit. Vehicles, large maps and always team based gameplay with no silly perks appeals. One issue is the stupid levelling system, go go gimped new players…urg.

Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising – Excellent expansion pack since I thoroughly enjoy the singleplayer; just so over the top action. Can be quite hard too which is great. Can redistribute your squads points after the first mission (thank goodness), so gets points redistributed to more powerful aspects for that πŸ˜‰

Fallout: New Vegas – Everything Fallout 3 fell down on (factions interacting, banal main plot, out of character factions, some terrible weapon selections and the game being damn easy with insta-stimpacks, and also terrible companions) was improved and bettered. An interesting world with actual fascinating intrigue and a better enemy faction of your choice, and still retained all I liked about Fallout 3 – exploration and so forth. Improved massively with a radio mod for more tracks though.

Mass Effect 2 – Fast paced “epic” shooter-RPG-kinda-thing. The combat/RPG levelling was to me oversimplified and the combat, if not especially difficult, was certainly frustrating in places since it is basically only you killing things and you get limited ammo. Still apart from some blatant plot hiccups (bloody idiot Shadow Man being the most blatant and dumbfounding one) it had some more fascinating characters and places to visit, and I still love the voiceacting and sheer character of the games. Mining minigame can bugger off though, so much wasted time on that stupid thing. Extra points for being a sequential sequel – one where actions in the first game, some rather small, do have some kind of impact on the new game.

BioShock 2 – Dare I say a good sequel – enjoyable levels, nice upgrades this time (fear my drill and named sentry bots!), a more coherent plot throughout and some very inventive work put into some parts of the game and it certainly is much more fun to play. Bonus points for

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat – A great end to the first set of STALKER games (they’re making STALKER 2 now right?), being part of the military gives me the ample canon for a faction I otherwise was fascinated with but never got to talk to, the levels were well tuned and some more demanding decisions being made of me to actively do one thing or another, rather then general side missions (which more fully influenced the much more complete ending too). Was fun to decide what to do; and the AI was great this time (more times you played in a group, was good fun doing so). I don’t think I even needed a weight mod this time, but those are easy to find to stop the curses of inventory management.

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth – A damn fun game. Not too challenging, but was rewarding and seeing you move around more actively was just more pleasing then static screens and more involvement in evidence use and “logic”. No courtroom drama is a real shame, but it still pulled something similar off, and was much better then the last Ace Attorney game (which suffered from a terrible main cast; this one actually has some good cast members, and I still love Gumshoe πŸ™‚ ).

Assassin’s Creed II – Still playing, but damn it is so much better then the first game. Sadly no skippable cut-scenes still, but they’re not hours long either (still a shame if you exit and have to re-watch them again if you close the game). Extra assassination missions outside of the main plot and more combat moves/enemy types make it very fun; you really feel you have the power to kill anyone this time. Slightly more checkpoints, mission restart/cancel options and less “stop playing the fun part of the game for 10 minutes of walking around a single room” experience then the first helps too (the over the top plot is instead ingested with minigames in the past world).

PokΓ©mon HeartGold – Yes, addictive handheld nostalgic (but still good) play-on-the-bus fun. Best game in the series is still the original Gold and Silver, and this remake captures most of that again (missing is the much better AI that was always on in the original, the room decorating and Espeon from Red πŸ˜‰ also why can’t you flight from one side of the map to the other?). Now I am just waiting for Black and White… πŸ˜‰

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty – Singleplayer == good clean, if very predictable levels (mainly) although utterly unsatisfying plot-wise (with points docked for horrible NPC’s, backstory “we knew each other all along honest” cutscenes, some really really awful actors, and no mention of the UED at all with most of the original game having seemingly not happened). Multiplayer still makes me wince, and I dare not go back there unless I had severe help.

Mount and Blade: Warband – Multiplayer is a damn fun addition to the game actually – the c-rpg mod makes it a wee bit more persistent and less wacky then the normal one (which is still pretty fun but strange how gold is distributed in a kind of Counterstrike way). The revised map and actions in the game are okay too – much better then the original, more balanced, and you can become king/queen now – recommended if you’ve never played the game at all πŸ˜€

Just Dance 2 – As a party game, utterly great silly fun you don’t need to “play certain things to unlock the good stuff”; yes I love silly disco dancing πŸ™‚

Mafia 2 – Still playing this one, about half way in. Some major clichΓ©s and parodies/homages/references don’t stifle the quick-witted dialogue and actually likable main character and close friend, mixing some humour into the drama which moves along through mostly short cutscenes (which are skipable, take that Assassins Creed!). Reasonably fun melee fighting on top of cover-based fighting makes for a patient combat system, but is kept interesting by each mission essentially being setpiece upon setpiece. Exploring the pretty dead city isn’t great except for buying flashy suits since the police, for how little the missions actually involve them so far, do take some effort to get away from in the old cars (they don’t, however, do much unless you are speeding or hit them or a pedestrian, which makes navigating easier). Gets double points for basically including, so far at least, 2 era’s and separate seasons. Sliding around in an icy 1940’s or the summer of the 1950’s. Fedora’s look good in both πŸ˜‰

Got to play more of: Alpha Protocol (why haven’t I played this? just…kinda left the disk and never installed it!), Napoleon: Total War, Civilization 5 (this just does not appeal still for some reason; I think I love civ4 that much more, I did try again recently…) Just Cause 2 (although should be completely insanely over-the-top), Batman Arkham Asylum (I only brought it this year…not even booted it up), Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (still playing…is it all a dream again? or is this going to go mental and be actually real?) and others.

Still not brought Golden Sun: Dark Dawn or Super Scribblenauts yet though. I’ve also played a wee bit too much AI War, League of Legends (still a PITA to install dammit, but good with friends) and Team Fortress 2 from earlier years, heh.

Man, I really should play Alpha Protocol; at least then the list of “original 2010 mainstream games” I’ve played will double from 1 to 2 (admittedly there are more originals I haven’t or wouldn’t or can’t play here). I’ve resigned myself to knowing next year will be little different according to what’s going to be released; I should probably do some kind of list…wait, no, lists with no content are terrible, and there is already one here (spoiler: almost all are sequels).

DiGRA 2009 Conclusion

So, here is my conclusion on DiGRA 2009!

I thoroughly enjoyed most of the conference. Lets get over the parts I didn’t enjoy; presenting since I just didn’t feel I did a good job (rushed, little practice), so next time, more practice and less rushing. Vocabulary both needs to be clearer and, simply, have more of it – or at least have it better explained in talks. This might have just been me being an “outsider” though. The programme which was sadly poorly organised, even if the days were actually well organised (3 sessions of 20 minute talks with 10 minutes each for questions). I hope the next one is much better in this regard. πŸ™‚

So the bad is out of the way. The good thing is, I made lots of notes, and will update these more thoroughly with the abstracts and other people’s notes links when I’ve sorted the photographs (since to me, knowing who is who is important!). I did attend a few sessions I didn’t take notes on for bad reasons – transcript reading and incomprehensibility (then again, others might love these, but I stand by what I have put up mainly since the actual papers they’ve done might be much better!), and of course there were at least 5 times the amount of sessions then those I attended.

The breadth of research was quite good (noting so little I saw!) – with a high proportion of MMO/Virtual Worlds research (which I’m only half interested in), but a lot of good things on design, criticism and journalism (more needed!), technical aspects and issues like sex, gender, death, achievements – a whole host of metagame items actually – and art. If you need to find some first point of information on a subject in some detail, it is a good idea to check DiGRA (or research in general) to see if they’ve worked on it first, whatever the area might be.

Sadly the DiGRA proceedings are not freely available (so I’m wary about posting the 70% or so that were available on the CD provided to us), but I’ll get up the preservation ones on the IGDA wiki since they are our own to post up.

Additionally meeting such a varied amount of people from around the world was great. People did know what they were talking about (generally, depending on if they knew about the subject at hand πŸ˜‰ ), and it was a lot easier discussing topics in person since the papers are pretty hard to read without first reading lots of other papers, and getting a handle on the language used.

There were several good talks (apart from us doing the preservation panel), in date order with a short description of why there was:

Ethics in Videogames Workshop – cut short, but was some good discussion on ethics, moral choices and examples of both. So few examples though, really.

The Achievement Machine: Understanding the Xbox Live Metagame – very “positive” about the effects of achievements, the paper itself likely is much better and more in-depth then the limited 20 minutes he had to explain the entire recent history of achievements.

β€œRemembering How You Died”: Memory, Death and Temporality in Videogames – Very rough cut since it isn’t full research, but interesting comparisons between Hindu death and rebirth comparisons with games.

Sex and Videogames: A Case of Misappearance and More Than Just a Combo of Slaps? Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Trans Gaming give good overviews of sex and LGBT activity in games. Not much analysis, though.

β€œYou Played That?” Game Criticism Meets Games Studies – a call to do critical writing as academics, with a mix of game journalism questions, examples of good writing and how to do critical writing, reasons it is necessary and the problems with game reviews. A great presentation The New Gatekeepers? On the occupational ideology of game journalists brings to light the problems with European (specifically Dutch, Finland areas) game “journalism”, although Americans did say it mirrors America. More research into the area is needed – I hope to write a piece on the history of game journalism (with it’s pitfalls and all) at some point, but I doubt it’ll readily change without more critical dialogue on the subject. I wonder if they discuss it with themselves often (I’ve not heard of a “Videogame Journalists Conference” as it were).

What I Don’t Want To Hear About MMOs was a fine ranty keynote on MMO research, with some valid points for many types of game research.

Evolution of the tetromino-stacking game: An historical design study of Tertris – a history paper – basically, boils down to reciting the fascinating and long history of Tetris, especially “what is Tetris” as a whole. I have permission to upload the paper somewhere significant for the Digital Game Canon project, which is great (also, 20 minutes is not nearly enough time to recite the history of Tetris).

Gameplay Design Patterns for Game Dialogues was pretty inspiring – basically, recounts the various ways of “dialogue” in games (usually dialogue trees) and puts forwards ways of improvement (more in the paper then the presentation), all while acknowledging the massive amount of work it is.

A little on other things; the conference location was okay – Brunel as a whole is nice neat little university. The London Tube is pretty random, so I missed my original train back, annoyingly, so that’s Β£35 for me not leaving early enough and no seat until Bedford. I would have loved something organised in the evening apart from the conference dinner – an (optional) game thing or quick pub quiz is always nice, but that’s just me sometimes. The games at the event – well, I’ve no idea who won them for starters (a proper closing talk would have been great) but they were okay, just not my thing (twitter was one of them). I don’t know about the Keynote placement either – if there hadn’t been one cancelled, 4 in a row would have been killer. I guess spreading them out would have been nice (1 a day?), but it doesn’t matter much since 3 in the afternoon would (and did in this case) work.

The actual way of presenting – 20 minutes to do it/10 minutes for questions was okay – sometimes much too short, sometimes much too long depending on the topic and speaker. At least it only meant you had to be board for 30 minutes if you really didn’t enjoy the talk, but vice versa you hadn’t enough time to get all the information from some sessions – but the fact there were submitted papers helps mitigate that significantly.

So, that about wraps up DiGRA. I’ll probably do some pieces inspired by DiGRA in the future, and I hope to get in contact with some of those I saw at the event about their material. First comes sorting out my gallery though πŸ™‚

Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor and Joint Operations

Here we go! A writeup of the Company of Heroes expansion Tales of Valor which I’ve finished this weekend, along with Joint Operations, a very cool Company of Heroes modification.

Tales of Valor

The actual game, Tales of Valor, let me say now is probably not worth the full price of admission (~Β£25 they were asking for in various places). It is a standalone expansion, as far as I’m aware, which is nice of them, however it doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of playtime that Opposing Fronts has. I’d recommend waiting and getting this cheap, or bundled, if possible. It does, however, add some nice bits and pieces, and I had fun playing it πŸ™‚

The extra units – you get no extra armies (we’re never going to see the Russians it seems) range from pretty hopeless or very specific tactically (replacing my Cromwell tank with a open-topped troop transport? you must be joking! the British barely get any AT or tanks to begin with!) to the better-then-before (you can replace the Tiger Ace with a even better Tiger Ace from the campaign, neato). With only a dozen, it’s not really necessary to get Tales of Valor just to play multiplayer.

The mini-campaigns

ToV Causeway cutscene - go Mr American hero, I salute your cutscene death!
ToV Causeway cutscene - go Mr American hero, I salute your cutscene death!

The 3 mini-campaigns (each one taking place on the same map, but over 3 levels) are actually pretty fun. They’re not too long, maybe a few hours for each campaign, making them quite easy to get through, except for the first and second levels of the Falaise Pocket campaign, which was a nightmare for me. The mini-stories are a bit overblown from the source material, but certainly are pulled off rather well. A bit more engaging then some of the original campaigns and Opposing Front missions.

One favourite part for me was having some bad-ass airborne squads which you upgraded with XP, which certainly helped push a mission onwards. The Tiger Ace campaign was pretty fun, but one tank isn’t as much of bad-assery, despite pretty much being invulnerable in the mission. If these were mid-point missions in a set of larger overarching stories, it’d be much more awesome as a kind of contrast to the base-building large-army missions most of the normal campaigns have.

Online Operations

There is, nicely added, some new online game modes. The online part of Company of Heroes really is difficult to get into (I had my ass kicked by the AI recently, and with playing with friends – the units are just that hard to get your head around). The new modes include the defensive Stonewall, my favourite, as well as the terribly balanced Assault (using hero units) and not-very-fun-to-me Panzerkrieg.

Stonewall is, in a word, fun – simple 4 player co-op, doing defensive actions against troops coming from multiple directions, and allowing you to play as the Axis or Allies. Biggest drawback; only a single map! The game also can take around an hour to play, making it a bit of an investment of time. However, it is very fun – and since it scales with the amount of people, with a full complement of 4, you really need to work together and cover each other properly (usually, with half of the people using infantry, half using tanks). Victory or defeat isn’t always that clear cut either, noting my screenshot of victory with barely any men left (and the last levels always have a massive load of elite tanks drive into your base!).

Stonewall - Defeat is not always mandatory, we won with this many remaining!
Stonewall - Defeat is not always mandatory, we won with this many remaining!

The addition of tactical buildings to hold (or lose) helps modify strategy too. I’ve now pretty much played out all the options, so no doubt repeated plays get less intense, but it does randomise many waves and you get more variety in your allies actions that really changes how it plays.

Assault is, in a word, unbalanced. You have 3v3 where you have 2 NPC armies face each other, constantly spawning, while the players take up hero units. However, Heavy Weapons men just kick ass at killing buildings – and how do you win? by killing a building! (you can actually also run past most of the defences and bunkers with such a unit too). I’ve managed to repel such attackers using a sniper, but this is still distressingly unbalanced and thus unfun. The actual NPC attackers are pretty lightweight, and losses of forward buildings don’t seem to do much – DOTA this sadly isn’t. Only one map doesn’t help this, especially since it’s a huge one!

Setting up Panzerkrieg - you can see the map layout/spawn points
Setting up Panzerkrieg - you can see the map layout/spawn points

Panzerkrieg is, in a word, hard. For a start, the few games I’ve played my team mates have been worse then me – so perhaps I need to give this a second try. It’s based on relatively intense small tank battles, since you can have 3v3 and a choice of 3 tanks, which you upgrade using XP you gain. You lose points (and thus can lose) by losing tanks, or win by holding victory points to drain the enemies points.

Joint Operations

reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-04-23-25
reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-04-23-25

Joint Operations is a mod which has been out for a fair while now, and is getting highly polished. There are basically various campaign-like missions – defensive, offensive or a mixture, with maps for 1, 2 or 3 players. Since I can’t cope with competitive play, this mod is amazing amounts of fun. You need to bring a friend though!

reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-19-64
reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-19-64

The maps do range in quality, but most are top bits of work. Defensive operations might be timed (last X amount of minutes), sets of waves (which are unlimited), or objective based (holding onto a point/keeping officers alive) or a mixture of all 3. Offensive operations have either set squads and reinforcements, or base building to complete objectives.

reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-50-12
reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-50-12

The main great thing is the co-op nature of it. Company of Heroes lacks a co-op option for it’s campaigns (something they added in Dawn of War 2 most notably), with Stonewall basically being the only option for it. Even failing a mission, it’s fun to do so with friends against impossible odds (well, impossible to us, who are not great players!). The only thing is possibly the difficulty, which can tend to “murderously insane after 10 minutes”. There is a large amount of variety in maps though, with 1, 2 and 3 player options, with some supporting AI allies.

However, the mod is excellent overall. Well worth getting, and gets a bigger thumbs up then Tales of Valor considering the amount of time I’ve put into it!

Conclusions

Well, if you like World War 2 themed RTS gameplay, then Company of Heroes now has everything pretty much – competitive and tight online multiplayer, co-op play (at least via. Joint Operations) if you don’t like the hardcore competitive online games, and a wide range of campaign missions that will suite most everyone.

I have a gallery of some more shots from both the mod and the game.

Consolevania at the IA

I’ve been working on getting Consolevania on the Internet Archive, which I finished today. Now you can download all the episodes off the archive’s servers, located here. This is good, because I really enjoy Consolevania and it is a really worthwhile piece of videogame show history. Certainly anyone who can appreciate the (UK-orientated) humour, characters and sketches can also enjoy the reviews, which come thick and fast.

It even has gone onto the BBC with VideoGaiden, although the archive obviously cannot host any copies of those files, some people do mirror them. VideoGaiden is a little more toned down, and self-referential, but has higher production values (sets! costumes! graphics! a man going “Gaiden”!) and are really worth watching. They are doing another season, so I will avidly wait for the streaming video at the BBC site.

I am glad they allowed it to be preserved, and hopefully more people can enjoy the earlier episodes (the originals were not available via. HTTP, only bittorrent). It is almost an institution, certainly in Scotland, and certainly is popular enough on the internet – and more episodes are being made.

They also have done a Scottish Gaming Industry fluff piece, which is actually surprisingly in depth in places, and sums up some of the benefits and problems of being in the gaming industry in Scotland from people in the industry, along with some humorous moments, and much rushing around since they did it in the space of 3 days. Seeing it at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival screening was certainly worthwhile.