Shadowgate - PC Review

This throwback to the NES classic hits almost all the right notes

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 - Vita Review

The original game was charming, but flawed. Re;Birth 1 fixes almost all of that.

Akiba's Trip - PS3 Review

It's like playing an anime

Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar - PC Review

Some good takes on the tactical genre, but somewhat lacking in depth in the end

Whispering Willows - PC Review

A memorable, haunting point-and-click adventure

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gaming thoughts... 5/21/11

Don't have a ton of them today - but I have a potentially busy couple of weeks coming up so I figured I'd toss a few out while I'm thinking about them.

PSN Store should be up soon and I am curious to see how that goes. Sony's saying that they will be rolling out updates twice as often as usual to try and catch up on their backlog of games that publishers want put out there.

Speaking of backlog, I've been working through a ton of games - some bigger than others. A few titles I'm planning to review very soon:

Bloodbowl - Legendary Edition
Archon
Fairy Solitaire
Bob Came in Pieces
FX Pinball
Marvel Pinball
Arcanum of Steamworks and Magic
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Uncharted
Tiger Woods 11 (sure, it's last year's version)
Prolly a couple of others I can't recall

My currently played list is rather large as well as I work on:

Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agon
God of War collection
Elven Legacy
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Puzzle Quest 2
Snoopy's Flying Aces
Portal 2
Star Craft 2


Any new or upcoming games that have you excited?

Hunted: The Demon's Forge
LA Noire
Dungeon Siege 3

Are probably the upcoming/recent titles I'm most interested in, but as you can see from above, I've got a full plate (plus summertime activities kicking in shortly).

What have you been playing, what have you beaten and what's coming out soon that is of interest to you?

Friday, May 20, 2011

King's Bounty - Legend - PC Review

I have played a lot of strategy games over the years. One of the first that comes to mind is Shining Force, though I'm sure I played some prior to that as well. (there's some Godzilla game that I can't place right now that I believe I played on the NES that was a turn-based strategy game I *believe*). When I got a new PC this Christmas, one of the first games I picked up was King's Bounty on Steam. This was originally a PC game, and there was a Sega Genesis iteration by Electronic Arts as well. The most common comparison I hear made is to Heroes of Might and Magic, and though I have a couple of the games recently acquired for my PC, I haven't had a chance to play them yet.

So what is King's Bounty - Legend? It's primarily a turn-based strategy game. You move around on a world map that 'lives' in real time, with creatures wandering to and fro as you navigate through forests, caverns, mountains and more. Along the way you'll find items on the ground you can pick up, from scrolls, to gold, to runes and more. You'll also encounter people who give you quests for varying rewards. Most of the quests are of the typical fetch or kill a specific baddy nature. The story itself is pretty thin stuff that basically gets you from one skirmish to another.

There are some pretty heavy RPG elements here: you gain experience, levels, branch your skills out in varying ways, acquire, buy and sell various items and equipment and more. However, all of these things affect your troops - you are the general, and you will not be fighting on the field of battle yourself. Instead you command a huge assortment of creatures ranging from human knights to black dragons, with elves, dwarves, giants, spiders and so much more in between. I found the troop assortment pretty impressive. So, let's get into the specific now, shall we?


Graphics - 8:

This is a slightly older game, I want to say 2006 or 2007 release. The graphics are not incredibly detailed, and it is an area some of the professional review sites really picked on, but I actually liked them quite a bit. I thought the vibrant colors made both the creatures and the landscapes pleasing to look at. Particle animations for fire and magic are only so-so and there were certainly times it bogged down my cpu during some of the battles. The art direction itself is not terribly inspired - it's all stuff you've seen before, but the large number of terrains and creatures really helps. One complaint is that the world map was sometimes a bit of a chore to get around visually, because things can be packed in very densely, but it looked good. Squirrels dart around and into trees, webs cover parts of the cave and add to the atmosphere, and the battle areas had plenty of moving content in the background. Compared to a lot of strategy games with little to no environment movement (Culdcept Saga and Record of Agarest War immediately come to mind) , I found this one a bit more refreshing. There are no real cut scenes however, no real 'movies' built into the game, which does perhaps dim the presentation value a bit.


Music and Sound - 9:

Most of this is for the music, which I loved. It was composed by Lind Erebros - not someone I had heard of before, but I found several of the tunes to be very catchy. They're perhaps not strikingly original, but they fit the game itself very well, and several of the songs stuck with me even when I was not playing. I looked up some of the songs on Youtube, and found out who the composer was. Not a lot of games convince me to put that much work into finding the music, so I have to score it high on that.

Sound effects are alright. They're not terribly varied, but the game doesn't beat you over the head with them either. They pop up here and there as needed, and let the music do most of the heavy lifting, which was a good choice in my opinion. No spoken dialog at all however, which goes hand-in-hand with the somewhat limited presentation graphically.


Gameplay - 8:

The game is smooth and easy to play. It relies on a point and click interface for both movement and combat. Menus are very easy to navigate, which is good since you do reference some of them quite a bit. Hotkeys are scattered throughout for things like quick map and quest log references. The combat is very deep for a game of this nature. There are no terrain options and a fairly limited map space - which makes me a bit of a hypocrite if you look back at my Record of Agarest War review, because these are 2 areas I panned that game for. That said, there are some 'objects' in the terrain that add variety - either the impede actual movement, or cast random attacks/spells on units, and there are also treasure chests that are sometimes randomly generated that can have anything from gold to runes.

However, the combat found here is much, much deeper. There are a huge number of troops, as I mentioned before, and while many of them are similar, they have various attributes and skills that make them feel different as well. Werewolves and vampires both change shape for mobility, but their perks and attacks are completely different There are several types of dragons, and they all fly, but their basic attacks are not the same nor are their specific abilities.

One area I've heard the game picked on for is degree of difficulty. I beat it on one of the easier settings, but I've read people saying even the easy difficulty was very challenging early on - I disagree. I only lost 2 fights ever, I never struggled for troops and had an abundance of gold. On my first-ever playthrough I landed 4th on the leaderboard listing (though I have no idea where the game draws that data from, but there were 8 others on that board - including #1 who nearly doubled my score).

Now, there is a steep learning curve to the game. There's a very basic tutorial at the beginning, but it leaves out a lot of the game's better nuances. For example, you can mark and annotate your maps - which is really handy since each map only has a handful of named items on it, even if you have been there before. Once I started using that function, buying my favorite troops and completing quests got a lot easier.

Also there are some combat items that are not discussed, or if they were - I missed them, like the direction you attack from. Ranged attackers simply click on their target and you shoot them, but for melee you click on a side of the hex to attack from that direction. That point confused me a bit early on. Still, once you discover these things, there is a lot to do in this game.

Last complaint - the demon lands. I really hated the little floating panels to move from one area to another. They looked cool, and at first I thought they were a neat idea. It added a level of depth to the area, which was one of the more visually interesting in the game. But there were just too many of them, and no way to 'skip' the floating scenes that were only 15 seconds or so each time, but it got annoying by the time I was done with that particular area.


Intangibles - 9:

This review's getting pretty long, but in defense of that - it is a pretty long game. According to my Steam data, I put 72 hrs into it. I did do just about every single side quest and explored each and every map.

There are a lot of dialog choices, but without another playthrough, I can't really verify if they accomplish anything. I'll have to try it again and see, but I have my doubts. Most of the choices I saw simply generated a bit more dialog. That said, you can choose from one of 3 classes - a warrior, a paladin and a mage. These are reflected in the 3 rune types: might, mind and magic. I am curious enough that I might try another playthrough with someone else soon (I chose warrior this time). I doubt I'll complete another playthrough, but I'd like to try a harder difficulty, trying a few different choices and taking a paladin perhaps.

There's no online mode, which will bug some people. Strategy games are at their best when played against another person, but I don't know how well this one would scale. The leaderboard was a nice touch though (using a ton of criteria such as battles won, lost, earnings, time played, etc).


Overall - 8.5:

I enjoyed this game a lot. I picked it up nice and cheap right around Christmas time, and have the sequels as well, and I plan to give those a shot somewhat soon. There were a few performance quirks - which is odd for a game a few years old since my system easily handles modern games without a hiccup most of the time. Still, while the story itself was unremarkable, the amount of depth in both character building, exploration and strategy make this game a winner with me, as a fan of this genre.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mortal Kombat - final thoughts

I posted my review on Mortal Kombat amid several other articles, but there were still a handful of items I wanted to follow-up on. I'd say after a re-read of my review, the score and overall sentiments are still ones I stand by, but there are some additional insights I'd like to add quickly:

- Online play is just not as smooth as I would have hoped. And this is across the board.
  • The first two nights I played online once the PSN was restored the combat was really laggy. It got better on subsequent nights, but was still worse than say, Super Street Fighter 4 or Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in my opinion
  • I still haven't been able to do a King of the Hill match. I've read about it, and I've tried to connect every single night since the PSN restored, and it just searches for a match but never comes up with anything. 2 nights ago I let it run for about 30 minutes in the background while I played 360, toggling back and forth between TV inputs every few minutes.
  • It takes way too long to find a match. I can't help but think there's just some sort of server problem - but it takes about 1-3 minutes to find a match every time it succeeds - and a lot of times it just never succeeds at all. I'd say better than half my tries do not wind up in an online match. And I've tried a lot of different settings, but generally just try a simple ranked match with no qualifiers.
  • Again, not sure if this is a Mortal Kombat server issue, PSN or some combination of both, but I would say I've spent about 3 hrs trying to get into matches vs about 20 minutes of actual playtime. Disappointing to say the least.
Got to the last match in the Challenge Tower. There's 300 levels of it, and you have to do this to unlock things like various levels of difficulty in test your might/sight/strike. I did do a lot of skipping (once I bought everything in the Krypt, I really didn't have anything else to spend my koins on, so I shot up the ladder as quickly as I could. Some of the challenges were actually pretty cool - some were pretty lame and some were just really hard. Here's some quick thoughts on it:
  • Many of the challenges were built in such a way you take advantage of certain character abilities. They can also serve as a training device to learn how and when to use certain moves from certain characters
  • Some of the challenges were just silly - like when you throw/heave your limbs at your opponent, and they regenerate a few seconds later
  • You get to use Goro for a level. That was cool and unexpected.
  • Some of the challenges, like beating an army of 3 Goros in a row? yeesh
  • The final challenge? Too much for me. You're fighting the final 3 bosses at a high level of difficulty, all in a row and without life regeneration between rounds. I can beat the first two, but that's it. Not getting that trophy
There is a lot of unlockable stuff here:
  • There's 2 'hidden' characters you unlock in story mode
  • There's 4 'secret battles' that are fun - if sometimes hard - to make happen
  • The Krypt has a ton of content in it, though about 1/3 of it will only interest you for a handful of minutes
  • Babalities. Had not discovered these when I wrote my review. I have since.
  • Scorpion is still my favorite character. And he has the throwback MK 1 costume, throwback fatality as well. Good stuff
One last point I had been curious about was the online redemption code. I was not sure if my son would get to play or not - it looks like his account does get authorized as well. I say looks like because I recall trying to get online before I put the code in, and it said something about me not being authorized to do so. I put the code in, and that night PSN went down, so I never got to test with my son's account until last night.

It does let him connect to the lobby and see the online options. So, it looks like he is allowed to, but it's hard to say 100% since the online matchups still never happened - we spent about 25 minutes trying 4 or 5 times to connect to an online match in various modes, and he was never able to find a match. We switched over to my account to see if I could find one, and I did on the 2nd try. Not sure what the deal is, but that's just sort of how the online has been so far for us.

The reason I'm not too quick to blame the PSN itself is we hopped off and played Black Ops and Mod Nation Racers online right afterward and had no issues at all with either of those games.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Potato Sack #8

Last, but hardly least - Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

This game is all about atmosphere. If you enjoy horror survival, then this game is probably for you. And that is what it is - surviving the horrors around you. This is not Resident Evil or Silent Hill. You don't have guns that ward off the monsters. There's some parallels to Eternal Darkness, the old Gamecube game that focused on sanity and evil - but even then combat was a bit part of the gameplay. In Amnesia, make no mistake - there is no combat here. If you engage one of the castle's horrors, you're dead and reloading the game from a recent save point.

No, this game is about an immersive storyline told largely through flashbacks and notes after you awake with no memory. The way the story is pieced together as you find notes - sometimes from yourself prior to your memory loss (reminding me of a movie I like quite a bit, Memento), serves to encourage exploration as you try to make sense of your dark surroundings.

The graphics look a bit dated at first, there's no powerhouse engine running the show - but they do the job and set the scenes. Darkness creeps in on you from every angle, and as you are exposed to unsettling sites (doors opening of their own accord, rumblings, things like that) - your sanity suffers and a sort of watery filter is applied to the proceedings. It makes your character's movements slow and awkward, and can make your adventure even more dangerous should you encounter a creature.

Light is your friend. It's sort of the opposite of the shooting game The Darkness where you want to snuff out light at every turn. Here, you want to light candles and keep oil in your lantern. These light providing tools are limited resources though, and without them it is not only hard to see your surroundings and possibly miss important clues - but your sanity levels drop as well. You have traditional health as well that you will want to monitor, and the downside of using light is the creatures inhabiting the huge, strange castle, are more likely to notice you when you are in or near light. That creates an interesting balancing act in some of the later stages of the game.

There's a real sense of being immersed in the world as well by manipulating objects. You can pick up and rotate objects, giving them a sort of tangible, 3D feel. You don't just click on doors and drawers - but click, and then drag your mouse as you simulate the act of pulling a drawer open or pushing a door open. It's a small touch, and sometimes a bit clumsy - but overall a welcome one that adds a sort of tactile sense to your actions.

The sound effects are fantastic. The voice acting is generally good, if not great, but the best parts of the game are when you are alone, clinging to a source of light, surrounded by darkness and there's a scraping sound nearby. Were those footprints? Is that my breathing or something else's? Is there even anything else there? Most of the time, no. Thankfully the game is paced in such a way that it doesn't bog down with lots of needless encounters, but you can't take for granted you're alone in those moments either. Just as soon as you do, you round the corner - and you're dead.

You will be solving a myriad of puzzles, and most of them are not too hard. The clues are laid out logically and what you need to complete a particular puzzle is usually somewhat close at hand, whether it's a key, or a book to pull or an object to throw at a crumbling wall - you don't generally get stuck doing a lot of backtracking to solve them.

It's actually a good enough story on its own, but all of these addition elements are very skillfully blended. I liked horror games and horror movies. I almost dare them to spook me - and most of the time they don't do much more than cause an occasional chill, but this game pulled me in effectively enough to keep me on the edge of my seat almost throughout. So how would I score the game? Probably an 8.5. It's not a terribly long game. I'd have to check my time, but I'd guess it rang in at a bit less than 6 or 7 hours. There's also not much to do once you've beaten it. There is a neat sort of 'director's commentary' you can listen to as you play the game, to hear what the developers had in mind during certain parts of the game. It cuts down on tension but offers some interesting insight into the game's creation.

I didn't record any video of this particular game - I played it full screen, which made recordings a bit harder to do, and quite frankly you just don't get the full effect if you're not playing it yourself - preferably in a dark room with loud sound effects.

Wrapping up the Potato Sack

I will be honest, this game was a huge part in my acquisition of the Potato Sack from Steam. I had been wanting to play it for quite some time, and while the $20 price tag was not in and of itself off-putting to me, I was waiting for it to go on sale. This particular sale was just the reason to acquire it when I did. I got a slew of others good games out of the deal in the process - overall it was a good investment for me. For about $35 bucks I got to play 13 different games, and probably spent about a hundred hours or so in total in doing so. Some of them were more obscure than others - I had never actually heard of Audio Surf or Killing Floor, while others like Amnesia and Super Meat Boy had received a good deal of acclaim from professional review sites and users alike. Some fare better than others, and with such a diverse collection of games, everyone's mileage will no doubt vary.

Since getting a new cpu this last Christmas (thank you dear!), I've had an opportunity to play a lot of games previously not available to me, and I've been enjoying it immensely. Steam is one of my regular websites to check now, looking for a good game at a good price. Some come out to be better deals than others, and while I'm not a huge fan of the digital rights stuff that requires I be online to play them, I have to say that overall I am very pleased with the service so far.

Thanks for hanging in there as I wrote up this large collection of articles - I've appreciated the comments and hope you enjoyed them as well!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PSN "welcome back" program

Gamers can select two of the five following PlayStation 3 games:

  • Dead Nation
  • Infamous
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • Super Stardust HD
  • WipeOut HD + Fury

Those with PSPs can also cop two of four following PSP games:

  • LittleBigPlanet PSP
  • ModNation Racers PSP
  • Pursuit Force
  • Killzone Liberation

Additionally, the PlayStation faithful can look forward to the following:

  • "A selection of 'On Us' rental movie titles" for use on a single weekend. The weekend in question and the titles available have yet to be determined.
  • Non-PlayStation Plus subscribers get 30 free days of PlayStation Plus.
  • Existing PlayStation Plus subscribers get 60 free days of PlayStation Plus.

Australian and European gamers are going to get Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty in lieu of Super Stardust HD.

Any thoughts on this? I have been watching a lot of forums. Overall, most people seem pretty happy about the offer. The potential loss of credit card info still bugs me, from from a 'loss of free service' - well, this seems like a pretty generous offering as well. What do you think?

Myself - I already have LBP and Infamous (still need to play both more) - so I will likely pick up Super Star Dust and Wipeout HD. I don't have a ton of hard drive space left on my PS3, but I'll make room.

The PSP games are a bit trickier. I currently only have a 1 gb memory stick I got when I bought the unit. I haven't downloaded any games to it so far due to the memory limitations. I'm tempted to pick up a 4gb stick and grab Killzone and... dunno about the 2nd game. I've been eying Killzone for awhile anyway though, so this may push me over into getting the necessary memory stick to hold it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Potato Sack #7

One of the game that I got as part of my Potato Sack acquisition from Stem was Defense Grid: Awakening. I've got this for my 360 as well, having acquired it last summer when it was on sale for like 200 points. It's an awesome game, but obviously was not one of my biggest factors in acquiring the Potato Sack. I have been meaning to give it a good review for some time, so we'll just count this as a PC and 360 Arcade review since the game is pretty much the same on both platforms.

Defense Grid is a tower defense game - which basically means you have swarms of invaders (aliens in this case) who travel various paths to try and reach a goal (in this game, they are trying to go to your core reactor, to steal energy cores for themselves, which then will then try to march off of the map). Your objective is to create defense towers to stop them. You do this by gaining resources - and these increase a couple of ways. First, you are always gaining, though the more cores you currently have protected (you start with 24 and if all of them are stolen, it's game over) and the more resources you have on hand, the faster that value goes up. So for example if you're sitting on 24 cores and 1000 resources, every second that goes by you may gain 3 more resources. If you have 3 cores and 10 resources, you may gain an additional one every 30 seconds or so. It creates an interesting dynamic where you want to sit on resources as long as possible - but not so long that your defenses are under-developed and unable to thwart the invading aliens.

The other way you gain resources is by destroying aliens. They came at you in a variety of shapes, sizes and powers. Weak herds of them may band together, trying to swarm through fifteen at a time in a cluster, making it hard for guns to single them out and pick them off - so perhaps a flame throwing tower works better here. Boss aliens are better armored and so flame throwing is not nearly as effective as a gun tower. There's faster than average aliens, flying aliens, aliens who spawn more aliens, and it's a challenge to set up a proper defense that can best handle all of these things. A missile tower might keep the skies free and clear, but they don't help you at all against ground units.

Aside from a large variety of towers to choose from, you can also spend to upgrade them. This improves their abilities - but usually at considerable resource cost. It's a wonderful balance of strategy and management, all wrapped up in a visually pleasing sci-fi package. The music's nice enough, and there's a narrator with a calm, likable voice as the somewhat thin storyline is advanced by him and new towers and tools are skillfully integrated into your arsenal level by level.

Time flies when you're having fun, and I've always found this game to be personally very fun. I remember playing it the first time and then realizing around 3am that I had been playing for about 5 hours. I had beaten most of the maps in that time, but there's varying degrees of difficulty, leader boards, and the very nature of the game begs for experimentation and replay as you attempt to protect each and every core the next time. The graphics are not exactly powerhouse, but I thought they looked better than most tower defense games, and this one can be had on Steam for $10.

I already had this one so for me personally the value as part of the Potato Sack was slightly negated, but for fans of this genre I would encourage giving the demo a try. For me the title's a 9 out of 10. Quick video below of one of the earlier levels:


Sunday, May 15, 2011

PSN up and running

Well, I finally got a chance to try and get my account squared away on it. The process was actually pretty simple - the toughest part for me was figuring out which PS3 (I have 2 of them) we originally created the account on. I was 4 of 5.

When we bought our first PS3, my wife and I - and I thought my son - had created our PS3 accounts on this PS3 #1. I went to log in, it asked me to create a new password (seems like the rules are a bit more stringent now - not a bad thing. 8 characters, letters and numbers, can't be the same as your old password). When I tried to log in my son's account, it said the directions to reset his password were emailed to him.

Then we went and checked his email, and it was easy to do via that form as well.

We made our way to PS3 #2 and configured both of my daughter's accounts. It all pushed through nice and easy. Looks like basic functionality is there. I haven't had a chance to actually play on it yet, but I was able to sync my trophies, which bumped me up to level 5 (which, looking at my card on my blog here, those may not be synced anymore. Might have to redo that), I had a message from a friend, and another friend showed up online as actively playing DC Universe Online - so it appears just about everything but the Store seems to be kicking along now (if you try to access the store, you get a message about it being under maintenance).

We're doing a bit of spring cleaning today, but already my son's saying he's going to play some Black Ops online, and my youngest is going to play Little Big Planet (my oldest couldn't care less - she plays video games about twice a month).

IGN had an interesting article asking people what the first thing they would do was going to be. Some of the answers ranged from predictable:

- Play Brink
- Play Portal 2
- Play Black Ops

To slightly less predictable:

- play my single-player games I fell in love with again during the outtage
- sync my trophies and watch my level (hopefully) rise up a few times

To ones that made me grin:

- change my PSN credit card info
- plug my ps3 back in


Me? I'll likely try to get some rounds of Mortal Kombat in later and just make a quick blog post in the next day or two about my online impressions since I didn't get to include that in my original article.