Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Haze (PS3)

I know it's been a while; not a good thing for such a new blog, but as Moomin put it so well, university "threw up in my face". I've just watched some Zero Punctuation to get me out of Java mode and into the mood for doing something more interesting, so here's my preview on Haze for PS3.

Originally sighted for eventual release on Xbox 360 as well as PC, the word on the street now is that Haze is going to be a PS3 exclusive, and I think it's about time that Sony got a bit of meat under their belt.

Haze is set in the near future (2048 apparently), where a company called "Mantel Global Industries" has basically taken over the world, as the main supplier of weapons and protection, as well as medical supplies and other assorted goodies for most countires. Having made the UN redundant, they now partake in all peace-keeping operations worldwide (so they're basically North America). The team at Free Radical Design have actually made a Mantel website which you can view here - it's actually quite good - though a little sloppy on the grammar for some reason.

In the game, you play the role of "Sargent Shane Carpenter", a member of the Mantel military arm. Your original mission is to subdue a group of rebels in South America, but during your mission you will eventually switch sides and join the rebels. There aren't a lot of specifics on the story line, for the obvious reason that the game isn't out yet, but the apparent facts are that something will happen to trigger Shane's realisation that Mantel Inductries is actually evil, and he will then decide to turn his gun on his previous colleagues, and fight on the side of his previous enemies.

On reading the previews and doing a little reseahc online, my first impression of game was "oh great, another team-based fps with sterile-looking characters, set in the future after some great war. And oh look: they have bullet time. Wonderous!" Though this might have been my first impression, it didn't take long for me to find out that there's far more to it than that.

For starters there's Nova-Keto-Thyrazine, referred to in the game as Nectar, a performance-enhancing drug which gives you the edge in combat. It highlights hazards such as enemies, as well as grenades etc, as well as increased aiming skills and melee damage and a decrease in the damage you recieve. an over-dose of nectar however will make it impossible for you to tell the difference between friend and foe, something the enemies of Mantel will deffinately try to take advantage of. From what I've seen, it's nothing like bullet time; it doesn't even slow the world down (Haze is intended for an online and split-screen audience, so a slowing of time would be impossible anyway).
While under the influence, so to speak, a Mantel troop will have the horrors of war clouded from his vision. Dead bodies will seem harder to notice (or may disappear completely), and a supposed scenario will feature Shane's helmet accidentally opening while in the field, showing him for the first time what combat really looks and sounds like.

The team switching will actually make a difference to how you play the game. As a rebel in the second half, you will have access a few new features, such as rolling and feigning death. You will always use the Mantel guns; they're the best, but you will also be able to scavenge Nectar from fallen Mantel troops and use it to makeNectar-tipped throwing knives and grenades - allowing you to force enemy Mantel troops into an overdose (alternatively you can just shoot the dispencer on the back of their helmet for the same effect).

There will also be a melee ability - something that is often over-looked in many first person shooters. As well as striking with your hands and kicking, you will also be able to stike with your gun and perform disarming moves against your enemies. In the trailer, you see a Mantel troop on a Nectar dose picking up a rebel with one hand and crushing his wind-pipe like Darth Vader.

The mantel might have drug abuse on their side, but the rebels have a few tricks up their sleeves too. As well as the previously mentioned feign death, they will also be able to plant grenades in the floor to act as mines. How good the AI will make use of these features is still to be seen.

The gameplay will be primarily squad based. Although a trailer I watched today made the game look like a traditional one man army showdown, multiplayer will be all about co-operation, with vehicles playing a part in the combat, and who you have on your team making a big difference to how well you will do (a team-mate on a Nectar overdose will pose a far grater hazard than your rebel enemies - you may find yourself having to put down your friends just stop them from accidentally killing you). When a Mantel troop is on an Nectar overdose, the yellow sections of his suit turn bright red.

From what I've read in magazines and online, Haze is going to be quite good. It looked a little odd at first with the black and yellow colour schemes and weird helmet design, but i think it has the potential to be a winner. The storyline looks set to be very immersive -a rare (though to be fair getting slightly more common) treat for an fps- and the multiplayer should prove good with the tried and tested method of teamwork and vehicles, but with the twist of Nectar for the Mantels and the rebel tricks.

So far, my only gripe with what I've seen is that the suits of over-dosed troops turn red. Why would you design armour that turns bright red when the user is weakened? It's kind of a beacon to the enemy; surely an encoded radio message sent to all nearby Mantel troops would prove jus tas effective and wouldn't reveal the predicament to the enemy.
I also think the crushing-windpipe melee finisher is a little extreme; i doubt the Mantel troops would have such a personal vendetta towards the people they're been assigned to exterminate today; though maybe the Nectar makes them more violent and barbaric.
The advertising has been terrible - a boring monotone developer drooling on about what he's doing on the new gameplay trailor, as well as what I consider to be a poor choice by having live actors posing as the characters from the game in the adverts; cheesey, tackey and embarrasing.

Final opinion: I think it will be worth buying. Even after all this time the PS3 has had very little on offer and Haze might just be the version-exclusive break they've been looking for. I'm sure PS3 owners who buy this will for the first time get their money's worth out of their console.

Release date: end of 2007

Haze official website (UK)
Free Radical Design
Mantel Global Industries


Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Streets Of Rage 2 (Xbox360, Wii)

Hey kids, I'm here to tell you why you should stop playing the latest 'ActionFest 27: Now with 67% more gore and sex!', and instead move to the BEST 16-bit 2d side scrolling beat 'em up, Streets Of Rage 2.

First, a brief synopsis of the story: The evil crime lord known as 'Mr. X' is back, and has kidnapped your colleague Adam Hunter, meaning you and your vigilante crew must beat up all of his evil henchman, save the city and Adam, and take down Mr. X once and for all (until he returns in the third game. Cough.) Granted, this story isn't the best, but it's enough excuse to plough through bizarre locations and punch everything in the face.

Or kick. It depends on who is chosen from the four brawlers: Axel, Blaze, 'Skate', and Max. Each has their own distinct fighting style, and attributes. Skate is the 'quick yet weak' character, Max is the 'slow but (ultra) strong fighter', and Axel and Blaze are the middle-ground duo, with their stats evenly placed in all areas (making them the safe, 'newbie' choice). They all have their own different special moves; stronger attacks that knock down foes, but sap away a bit of your health, meaning they should be used sparingly compared to the basic punches, kicks and grapples. Occasionally, an enemy will appear, carrying a weapon (a pipe or a knife, for example), which can be taken by force and then turned against them, adding a extra layer of variety to the bashing.

Which happens a lot. While the earlier stages contain weak street thugs and burly brain-dead peons, later on speedy kick-boxers, fire-breathing fat guys, karate masters and ninjas (complete with swords) all join the fight, meaning some strategy needs to be developed to consistently counter the new attack patterns associated with them.

Graphically, all the sprites are vibrant, detailed and well animated, with all the characters being instantly recognisable. The level backgrounds are also all brilliantly designed and significantly different, featuring such locales as a theme park, construction site, motorised factory, and a jungle. They even have some flashy set-pieces, with a gang on dirt bikes (in stage 2) trying to kill you by running you over outright, throwing grenades, or jumping off their bikes mid-run to beat you up themselves. Granted, why the heroes have to cross these strange areas (there isn't any explanation whatever) is questionable, nothing beats the feeling of smacking around enemies in a baseball stadium and then beating up a wrestler in underground fight club.

Another huge plus point is the awesome soundtrack, which starts off fantastic and doesn't drop in quality throughout the whole experience. Even with the lo-fi midi soundchip the 16-bit era had, the heavy bass and techno-inspired tunes are a treat. Seriously, every level has at least one aural masterpiece for you to savor.

There are a few unfortunate downsides to Streets of Rage 2, one of which is the repetitiveness of the gameplay. With a limited moveset compared to newer beat 'em ups, and no move customisation outside of who is chosen at the beginning, it can get a bit monotonous towards the end. The vast contrast in the difficulty settings are another hindrance; the 'Easy' mode is possible to beat with one hand, while 'Mania' will overwhelm an average player in seconds.

Despite those flaws, the game handles perfectly. Pounding a regular enemy with your punch-combo is fun, the characters play differently from one another and are fun to play, and the stages are functional, adding both new enemies and scenery with each stages progression. All of this, and I haven't even mentioned the superb 2 player co-op. Helping your friend take down a giant boxing champion with a child on rollerskates and a female gymnast has never been so much fun!

Why should you buy this?
Streets of Rage 2 is still a classic and the gameplay holds up so well that it can be recommended even to those without fond memories of the original game. At 400 Microsoft points (about £3.40), or 800 Wii points (about £6) its a bargain.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars (PC)

Though I've never been a fan of the Quake series, I was nonetheless looking forward to this release. However, being a tight son of a... Well I downloaded the demo.

My first impression of the game was "Why can't I change the resolution?". I assume in the final version you can have a resolution higher than 1024x768, so I won't really count that (Still, it was an oversight in the demo really, since having a low resolution will impede the graphics). So ignoring that, I'll base my opinion on my first 5 seconds of combat.

Here it comes: I was run over by my team-mate - a bot in a tank. N1.
After respawning, I discovered that this is a pretty hard game, you can take only a little bit more punishment than you can in CS:S, and anyone on a vehicle is probably going to own you.

It's actually quite similar to Battlefield 2: a huge open area, both teams have classes that they can pick from (rifleman, medic, etc.), and your spawn area changes depending on what objectives have been completed (i.e. repair a bridge, get a vehicle to a certain position, etc.). There are ridable land, sea and air vehicles. However, unlike Battlefield 2, Enemey Territory is actually fast paced. I didn't think they'd be able to keep the old Quake pace going in such an open battlefield, but they did. So well done Splash Damage.

Both the teams have access to 5 classes, rifleman, engineer, medic and someone who calls in airstrikes. The unique classes are (for the GDF) sniper, and for the Strogg: Infiltrator (can turn into the enemy). Both teams also have the capacity to lay mine fields.

The game itself is pretty solid. All the voice commands are clear and you won't need to do any reading HUD text while playing the game, the teams look pretty well matched, and the only map I played made it impossible to get lost in.

There are different game times, including multi level campaigns that I assume include forked roads so that victories actually make a difference. You earn xp while playing, which rewards you with rank increases and possible rewards.

My main problems I had with the game were the AI (Your bots don't work together at all, like I said one even ran me over. They do wait for you if they're in a vehicle that's not full, but that's about it), and the fact that I could never see who was shooting at me, because (again the AI) the bots are programmed to be able to see through bushes.

All in all the demo did not do it justice in the slightest. I can see a great game in the making here, voice acting is a little... unusual, but a great game in the making. If you think this has ruined Quake; then tough. Running down a corridor blazing away had to get old at some point (though there are indoor areas in Enemy Territory anyway, so they really did think of everyone).

There's not really a lot else to say about Enemy Territory. If you like Quake, you should like this, though the gameplay is different from what you'll be used to. If you like Battlefield, you'll deffinately like this; it's what Battlefield should have been. If you haven't played either before, I reccomend you give this game a try. The good graphics, vehicles, and very different looking characters will at least keep you visually interested, and you might develop a real liking to the game. Unfortunatley, like all online team-based fps', having a crap (bot) team will drastically reduce your sense of satisfaction.

Final Impression: Quite good. Don't know if I'd personally play it instead of CS:S, but worth your time. Might get frustrating if you're not in a clan. Deffinately a good buy if you don't want Halo 3.

Cheapest I've found it: http://www.play.com/. £17.99, Free delivery.


Thursday, 4 October 2007

Lunar Knights (DS)

Lunar Knights, an RPG from Kojima Productions (!), is apparently the spiritual successor to a game called "Boktai". I'm not ashamed to say that I'd never heard of Boktai before, I didn't have an advance back then and I hear it wasn't that popular, so when I bought Lunar Knights, as far as I knew it was a one off.
Lunar Knights is set in a realm where vampires, assisted by aliens, have taken over the world. Humans are either killed on sight, or taken to the capital city to be treated like cattle. You play the part of Lucian and Aaron, a somewhat reluctantly drawn together team of vampire hunters. Aaron has a gun which doesn't work at night, and Lucian has a sword that runs on demon cat (He's called Nero). Anyway, I'm not making this game sound very good, so let's skip to the first impressions.

My first impressions of the game were quite good. Plenty of anime-style video clips thrown in, well drawn sprites, I liked the characters, I even put the tiny free poster i got with the game up on my wall. It was genuienly enjoyable. Was.

The game is basically a series of dungeons crawls, often ending with a boss fight and seperated by a map screen. You get to switch between Lucian and Aaron, each one has his own fight style, strengths and weakneses, but they share experience points and an inventory, and since you can only play as one of them at a time (switch with the select button), they can both have the same equipment equiped. The dungeons can get a bit boring at times, but they are usually quite different from eachother, and the bosses are very different (ususally requiring you to switch characters at the right moments). After each boss fight is a stylus-controlled space battle, which are quite fast paced and fun.
You can unlock new weapons from doing certain missions, and after each boss battle you unlock a new 'Terrenial', which is basically an avatar that gives your attacks an elemental type. The weather can be changed at a lab that you can travel to between levels, and the levels, and the power of some armour and weapons, change depending on things like wind speed, temerature, rain, etc.
Some of the levels even have "Stealth Missions", where you have to run around withotu being seen to achieve some objective (you can blow into the mic. to make your character whistle. I'm looking at you, Hideo), and there are similar "Trap Missions", where you're locked in until you defeat everyone.

I think all this sounds quite good. Involving weather systems, different fight styles, magic, space fights, level variation (there's even a train level!)... But I don't like Lunar Knights. Last time I played it, I wanted to throw my DS at the wall and flush the game cartridge down the toilet. I didn't do those things, but I did rip the shitty little freebie poster off the wall.

The game starts off so easy, you think you've wasted your money on a children's game. This fear is increased when you realise your only friend is a talking, floating cat, and everyone's voice is so cheesy and innocent that it makes you want to cry. When you unlock Aaron, his floating friend is a sunflower, which was also pretty bad. The big nasty vampire bosses in their casket armour don't look tough at all -one even has a bowler hat and a beer belly, and rides around on a robot crab- and there are talking humanoid dogs and foxes rather frequently considering.
It's really hard to take the game seriously, and thus 'get into it', when everyone acts like they're from Wonker's chocolate factory. I mean, it is good that there are frequent video clips and are voices. It is. but they could have chosen some better voice actors, really. This is Kojima; they did Metal Gear. Surely they could get someone who doesn't talk like a moron or a child to work for them.

The two characters that you can eventually pick from are also a bit... undesirable. Lucian starts off pretty cool with his eyepatch and sword, but his "I'm only in this for myself even though I've clearly gained allies and friends" ideal starts to get a bit lame quite quickly once he meets Aaron. Aaron, on the other hand, is basically a red scarf brandishing child (with a slection of firearms). Unlike Lucian, who is actually very good at fighting, Aaron is almost impossible to play effectively as unless you use his Witch gun. From a choice of about 6 weapons, only having 1 that's actually any good is a bit of a let down.
Lucian uses a sword, but he does actually have 2 other weapons that can be obtained through side quests, qhich brings me onto my next point rather well: side quests. Lack of them.
Apparently there are 2 additional missions in each level for you to find and complete, but I got all the way to the end without seeing a single one. Hiding things like that too well means that most players are never going to experience how much the game has to offer. A rather poor oversight by Hideo there.

Okay, so once you get to the part of the game where you have both of your playable characters, then the game really kicks off. Actually, it doesn't, until the last level. The game is rather flat all the way through, with only very slighty increasing difficult levels.; it's not until the last level of the game where it suddenly becomes a challenge, and then it's almost impossible.
It seems like Hideo and his mates suddenly realised they'd made their 6 hour game too easy, because every enemy in the last level, unless you kite it, is either a far higher level than you, or else there's loads of them. you can't actually kite properly though, because enemies can only go a certain distance until they despawn and reappear where you encountered them. You are also suddenly expected to know how to 'counter' enemies, something you're not told about before, and there are pits everywhere (falling down a pit is game over; reset your DS time, even if your other character hasn't been "KO'd").

Final opinion: I don't have anything else to say about Lunar Knights. It's too easy and then it's too hard, it's embarrassing to play around other people because of the voices, Aaron sucks, and it's childish. Lucian's eyepatch jumps from between his eyes if you run left and then right. If you are able to go all the way through a level without having to bottle it and go back to the shop for more health packs, you are rewarded by getting to the boss fight only to find that you've been in the dungeon for 3 game days, and all your health fruit has gone wrotten and will poison you if you try and eat it. N1.
I don't recommend this game, unless you are 8 years old, and have enough time on your hands to level up your characters before the last area and find all the side-quests/ armour and weapons etc.

Cheapest I've found it: http://www.game.co.uk/ £15. Free delivery and you can use your £2.50 vouchers with your game card, if you have enough points.



Wednesday, 3 October 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky will be out at the start of next year, so I thought it would be worth talking about Shadow of Chernobyl before it's been replaced. I recently bought the game, and I've gotton to 'the bar area', and to be honest so far I'm not impressed. The game tries to make a claim to fame with a number of different features, so I'll break the review down into those, as well as my usual first impressions etc.

First impressions of the game were very mixed. The opening video was pretty average (they didn't balls it up). In-game there was no lip sync and all the people look slightly odly proportioned. Your first mission is a real gunfight, though you're not told that actually you do own a pistol and a knife (use number keys to select), and that you can loot the bodys of dead people for ammo or whatever. Also, if you turn right instead of left at the camp entrance, the army will see you and lead a proper assualt on the camp - and you'll probably die. It also didn't take long for me to encounter lots of bugs.


The AI in S.T.A.L.K.E.R is beyond poor. Most enemies don't seem to be able to see you if you lean round a corner and start shooting at them from 3 metres away (although minor things like bushes/trees and concrete walls don't seem to break their line of vision). People and mutants alike will do the most stupid things at times, such as run in a circle before they decide to engage you, or point their gun at the corner of the room because 100 metres away there's a wild dog sitting down by a tree (not exaggerated).
Something that is good - though it doesn't make up for the poor AI - is the AL (Ariticial Life). This is something that GSG developed themselves, and it's the only thing I'd credit S.T.A.L.K.E.R with. Basically, entire groups of bandits, stalkers, mutants, the military or whatever have their own life system - a bit like Oblivion's. This means that things will happen all the time, i.e. raids, faction wars, infestations, hold-ups or whatever, and none of them are scripted. One day you might come back to the shack you've been staying in to find everybody dead, because one of the stalkers you lived with decided to ambush some military, because they probably did something to piss him off. I think this is quite clever, and adds a nice touch to an offline game.


Anomolies are a main feature in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. They are basically death traps that can spawn randomly and occur throughout the Zone. Anomolies can create things called Artifacts, which add an RPG like element to the game in that they are equipables that enhance certain aspects of your character (though they always have a disadvantage too). I like artifacts, I think they were a good idea. Anomolies, however, I think should not have gotton past the drawing board.
Basically, anomolies are small almost invisible pockets of radiation, that often also have the ability to create small tornados and stuff. If a nuclear power plant exploded, the entire area for miles around would become irradiated - not just the odd square metre here and there. And why does radiation create tornados or electricity? I just think it was a stupid idea that they should have left out. The fact that they're doing the opposite of that and adding more of them to the sequal is reason enough not to bother buying it for me.


Part of GSG's vision for S.T.A.L.K.E.R was to make the player feel like they are free to do as they want. Think of it as nuclear Morrowind with guns. The truth of the matter is that they failed.
All of your missions - for some reason - have time limits on them. Spend too long on a side mission and you'll run out of time on the others. This means that unless your clear your mission log, you will never get the chance to just go and explore.
Your inventory also will only hold a maximum of 60KG, meaning that after you stock up on that sniper rifle and sawn-off, and enough medi kits, bandages, food and ammo to last more than an hour or so, you won't have enough room left to carry any loot that you might acquire from exploring. Coupled with the threat of bandit, military or mutant invasions all the time, there really is no reason to deviate from the missions just to look around.
You also have the opportunity to make friends with whatever faction you want, and your actions while working for one faction will affect what other factions may think of you. Being a member of a certain faction can grant you access to certain advantages, but it feels more like a gimic than an actual mechanic of the game.

All in all, I was rather dissapointed and I won't be buying Clear Sky. The graphics are rather shoddy, with a low poligon count and rather weak textures for the characters, and a generally bland landscape. The constant sinister music in the background is quite good, but all the abandoned buildings you go in are totally barren, and you don't get half the feeling of desolation and ruin that you got from playing Half-Life 2. The game is full of bugs (many involving missions), and nothing seems to be finished (Example? Apart from the real proper main characters, everyone speaks like a hand-puppet). I have a lot of gripes and with the game that I won't list here, but if they cleared up half of the errors and half-arsed jobs, it would make the game twice as good.

Final opinion: Weak. Buy it if you're really bored, but you might as well just wait for Half-Life 2 episode 2 or Fallout 3. Clear Sky should be better from the screenshots, if you really want to experience this genre blend then get that instead when it comes out.

The cheapest I've found it: http://www.play.com/ £10. Free delivery.


Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Windfish Launched!

Welcome to Windfish!

Authors: MoominBiscuit & Live-D

Games reviews and previews coming soon!