Joe Dever's Lone Wolf HD Remastered - PC Review

I grew up on these books, but it's been years. It was surprisingly easy to sink back into the world once more

Thomas Was Alone - Xbox One Review

Simple graphics hide a deceptively deep story in this platform puzzler

Geometry Wars 3 - Xbox One Review

It's time to take aim at some familiar shapes - but with some new twists in the gameplay

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - Xbox One Review

Some signs of new life in this yearly shooter are more than welcome

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth - 3DS Review

A new console and a new visual style - but the same great characters and stories

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas - Playstation 3 Review

I've been let down by a couple of games recently due to bugs. We borrowed Fable 3 from a friend, and I just could not get into it the way I could Fable 2. I'm going to give it another go soon and try to play it, hoping that it gets better after the first 5 hours or so, but I'm not a big fan. My son however, loved Fable 2 and 3 (though he enjoyed 2 a lot more). Problem is, he had a game-killing bug in Fable 3 that does not allow his character to move from the spot he's in now. It's fully patched and updated, but he put at least 20 hours into the game, and now it's basically flushed, so he's upset.

Why am I telling that story? Because like Fable 3, Fallout: New Vegas was horribly bug-riddled when it first came out. Obsidian did a decent job of fixing some of the bugs, but it still has some technical issues and I managed upon a bug that broke the game's main storyline for me as well. After doing research on several forums, I'm not alone in this - my options are:

1) start over

2) load a save before that event that broke my play through (which would take me back about 6 1/2 hours)

3) or give up on it.

I chose #3. I borrowed the game from a friend at work and let him have it back today. These two events really frustrated me, as both were franchises I have been very fond of in the past, and felt like both of them let me (or my son) down in their current states. But, I did log over 30 hours of game time into Fallout: New Vegas, so I'm going to share my impressions of it - the good and the bad.

In previous Fallout games, you were someone who lived in a vault and for one reason or another, came to the surface to see a world after nuclear fallout changed everything about it. There's mutants, destruction and violence as far as the eye can see. Places of beauty and safety are few and far between. It's an action/rpg hybrid, with first and 3rd person views. You gain experience and levels, and there's a lot of customization in how your character develops. There are a good number of conversational options as well. Combat is mostly real-time. Mostly because New Vegas kept the VATS system (sort of a pause-and-select system where you target specific parts of an opponent in exchange for slowly regenerating action points) that Fallout 3 introduced. I'll come out and say Fallout 3 was easily one of my favorite games when it came out. I had played the original Fallout on my computer, and while some of the themes are pretty similar, the games are nothing alike. I bought all of the expansions for Fallout 3 - something I almost never bother with. So it's safe to say expectations were high for Fallout: New Vegas.

Graphics - 7:

The engine looked a lot better when Fallout 3 released a couple of years ago. There really is not much improvement in the overall graphics, I the framerate was stuttering far too often for a game that just does not feel like a graphical powerhouse. The human characters look stiff and awkward moving, and their expressions are okay, but far from great. The actual world looks pretty cool at times, and I've always been a sucker for post-apocalyptic themes in games and movies, so that helps. Be prepared though - the color schemes are generally pretty bland, though it's an intentional choice that fits the theme of the game.

Sound & Music - 8:

There's really very little music to be had, which works for this game. There's often a sense of lonely isolation as you traverse the wastelands. You do have a radio that can be used to pick up specific radio stations if you get within range, and while they add a bit of flavor to the proceedings, they grow repetitive over the course of this large game.

Sound effects are pretty solid across the board. You can hear gunshots in the distance, the sounds of mutant creatures approaching you from behind and even the weapons have a fair amount of variety to how they sound when firing off. Additionally the voice acting is very good, and that is a blessing since so much of the game and its narrative is told through conversation with other NPC's in the game.

Gameplay - 7:

The game plays a lot like Fallout 3, which is a good thing. Character progression is handled well, the VATS system is fun (I like going for headshots) and there is a ton of gear to collect, modify, repair and sell. There are a lot of side missions as well, and these are generally pretty interesting and fit into the overall world nicely. They also added the ability to look down sites in this game (Fallout 3 lacked this) and that helps the combat out quite a bit. Companions are handled a bit better as well overall, than in Fallout 3, with a bit more control over them and the ability to converse with them. Some technical problems do hold the game back though on this front. There are a lot of pause times as you walk around the environment - a lot of them. Sometimes as often as every 30-60 seconds. They're short pauses, a half second or so - but enough to become very annoying. I've heard that on the 360 it is very bad, but that installing the entire game to your hard drive fixes it. I consider that a horrible solution - I have less than 3 gbs of space on my hard drive, I shouldn't have to dump an entire game onto it just to make it run smoothly. Also, I'm on the PS3 with my version, and did the install, and the problem never went away for me.

Intangibles - 2:

I'm killing the game on this one. When it released, it had an absolute boat load of bugs. It was borderline unplayable in certain places. Obsidian released patches and it got better, but I wound up in a state where I can no longer finish the game. At one point you have to recover something from someone - and you can do it a few different ways. I went with the guns-blazing route, and got that item (I'm trying not to spoil any storyline here). Quite some time later, after doing a bunch of side quests and investing 6-7 hours more into the game, I decided to get back 'on track' with the main storyline. I returned the item to the owner, and he instructed me to go use the item to unlock something and progress the storyline. Problem is, he didn't return me the item in question. I looked it up online, thinking maybe I had missed something, but it's happened to a ton of other people too. You cannot complete the primary storyline at this point - I spent at least another hour trying to, and could not advance it. Even if they patched the game now, it would not help my situation I'm sure.

Let me be fair and say these games are huge in scale. There are so many side quests, so many variables and so many things you can do. But I've also helped design games. If you break a core mechanic or storyline partway through, and people cannot complete the game and have no recourse to get around the issue, it's a deal-breaker for me. There's really no other way for me to look at it.

There are still gobs of other issues as well I've seen. Your companions frequently get lost or stuck, and you wind up having to go back to find them. One quest, I was told to go talk to a group of people and they would forgive me for my past transgressions. It was an integral part of the storyline. I went to them as instructed, and they began firing on me at will. I found several hugely exploitable bugs too, like one faction's camp - if you kill everyone, gather what you need, leave and sell it all - you can come back and re-loot their bodies again. And you can do that to your heart's content.

Load times are another annoyance for me. The constant pause/skip issue was bad, but there's a load scene every time you enter or exit a building, or use fast travel. You do those things a lot. Sometimes you get them while moving around in the building from one floor to the next. I realize there are a lot of things the game keeps track of, but it just seemed like a lot.

Also the game was freezing for me somewhat regularly - as in locking up my PS3 and forcing me to cycle down the power by holding down the power button. It did not happen a ton - maybe every hour, but enough that it was really annoying. I looked around online and checked with my buddy I borrowed it from, and they had seen all of these issues too.

Overall 6:

It's a shame really, because there is a very good game in here (though the storyline was not nearly as interesting to me as Fallout 3's was), but it's lost among so much technical debt that it started to become a bit more of a chore to play. There were improvements made to the successful Fallout 3 formula, and while Fallout 3 was not without issues, they were never quite as glaring to me as this. Then when the storyline came to a premature end to the game were lost to me due to another bug, Fallout: New Vegas just did me in. I know a lot of other people have rated the game well, and plenty of others have finished the game. I can't rate their experiences though, only mine - and mine was very disappointing in the end.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 4/20/11

I recently posted some thoughts about how the internet and connectivity have affected gaming in general, and one of those bit items - for better or for worse - has been achievements. My first brush with them was with my Xbox 360, and I thought they were cool at the time. I'm competetive (most gamers I imagine are), so if I can have a bigger score than most of my friends, cool - right? Also, it gives you incentive to play a game through a second time and try to do things a bit differently than the prior time.

So basically, I loved them at first. Then, I went through a period where they almost sort of annoyed me. It was like the Developers were dangling achievements in front of you to get you to do things during the game you wouldn't normally do. Not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the activity is fun - but some games have achievements you can only complete by playing online (and if you're a 360 user without a gold account, that makes them frustratingly unattainable).

So I've gone back and forth on the whole trophies/achievements thing several times. I guess overall - I do prefer they be there. I have a fairly large gamerscore on my 360, and my PS3 trophy count is slowly trending upwards. I have a buddy who used to rent every last game he could get his hands on and would spend hours just trying to get the achievements. I've never gone that far myself. In fact one of my 360's is in my den, back here next to my desktop and it has no internet. I have a completely separate 360 account from my main Chalgyr one used on the 360 in my living room. I don't get 'credit' for beating all of the games I do, but I don't care really. Basically I look at achievements as something interesting, but not terribly important.

One side-trend I've seen of late is getting avatar items (this is more for the 360 than any other system) for accomplishing certain things in game (like I got some helmets for my avatar due to accomplishments in Halo: Reach, and for Limbo, and for Risk: Factions). Those are cool. I unlocked some gamer profile pics on my off-line 360 for doing certain things on Final Fantasy 13. Again, kind of neat, but is it a big deal?

I think it sometimes depends on the type of game too. Take Facebook games for example - you can often post specific accomplishments for others to see. As of this writing, I'm the highest person in Dragon Age Legends that I'm aware of. Several levels over anyone else in my friends' page. I might even be the highest in the whole game. I have to admit, if I get to level 40, and do so before anyone else, I'm looking forward to posting that for others to see - but it's not the sole reason I play - which is for enjoyment.

How about you? I know a lot of people really love gathering achievements, and some people feel like they are actually bad for gaming. Any opinions on it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Metroid - Retro Reflections

I've been on a Metroid kick the last several days. I thought that fan game IGN showed a video of on Wed was pretty cool, and overall I enjoyed my time spent with Metroid: Other M and put that review out there recently. But this is about the first game in the series, Metroid for the NES.

Now, I didn't play this game right away. My first couple of games were Elevator Action and Dragon Power. I actually had gotten Kid Icarus pretty early on as well, but Metroid was a game I got from a friend via trade when he was sick of it a year or two after it released. I loved the game though, barely getting through it on my own the first time, and then played through it almost immediately after using the maps in a spread of Nintendo Power to get every last little item the game had to offer.

So, I gave it a while the other day for a time (which was a bit of a challenge since my PC game controller's not working right now - I need to pick up another one it seems), so I used my keyboard for a time. Overall, the game holds up pretty well though. Response-wise running, jumping and shooting were all good, and the graphics were pretty solid for a game of that age. The sense of progression as you find and unlock new items became a staple in Metroid games going forward, and quite a few other games as well. Overall, this one stands up better than most of the others I've played with since starting Retro Reflections.