Madden 15 - Xbox One Review

It looks good, but how does it stack up to the prior years?

Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star - PS3 Review

This ambitious RPG might not be for everyone, but is worth giving a chance

Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut - PC Review

The definitive version of an outstanding game

Dialbo III: Ultimate Evil Edition - PS4 Review

The title might say 'Ultimate Evil', but the game is oh-so-good

Starpoint Gemini 2 - PC Review

Assume the role of a ship - it may sound strange, but is worth trying out

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gaming Thoughts... 10/15/11 Game Difficulty

So, recently I loaned out the game Splinter Cell: Conviction to a buddy of mine at work and he made a comment to me about how he put it on the easiest level of difficulty to beat it. This is something I have found myself doing a fair amount over the last few years as well. Sometimes, it is more fun to get through the storyline and not deal with frustrating death after frustrating death. I did the same thing, playing through Splinter Cell: Conviction in an afternoon. Sometimes, not always. Sometimes I will give the game a second playthrough at a higher level of difficulty.

I admit that sometimes achievements and trophies can affect my difficulty decision. When I played through Halo: Reach I choose the normal/default difficulty in part because the achievements for completing chapters could not be earned on easiest. I am currently slugging away at Record of Agarest War one more time - having gone through Normal already but on Hard now to see the true ending. Then again, sometimes for games like Madden, I turn up the difficulty most/all of the way just because there is no storyline really, and I need a good challenge.

When talking to my buddy at work, he said he plays most of his games on easy - like Call of Duty. It is not that he is a bad player -in fact, in multiplayer he's about the best I know in Black Ops and Modern Warfare, often finishing tops on the map, but for him he just wants to sample the storyline in single player and then move on.

I also really like difficulty adjusters in general. Would games like Demon Souls be less appealing to people if it had an easier mode? Probably, but does that make it the right choice? I don't know to be honest. I have some friends who proudly puff out their chests at having beaten the game, and I have others who gave up on it or refused to play it due to the difficulty and reputation the game carried. The software developer is obviously fine with this choice as their spiritual follow-up is supposed to be even harder. Will I purchase it? Probably not - the first one frustrated me a LOT at times, and I would rather just play something else despite the fact I did enjoy Demon Souls. If the game had an easier mode where you could still earn trophies and get through the storyline? I'd probably pick it up. It's an interesting dilemma the developer gets to figure out for themselves.

I read a report a few months ago that most players do not finish their games. The vast majority of games have something like a 30-40% completion rate, and many of them in the 20's or lower. If I was a developer, I would be a bit disappointed if I put all of that work into a game knowing that most players never saw the content I made. Personally, I like the idea of multiple difficulties and still offering 'rewards' for people who best the easier ones, though there should be better rewards for the greater levels of difficulty.

What about you? Do you like multiple difficulties? If so, are you someone who always goes for the hardest, sticks to the defaults, prefers less of a challenge or vary it by title and number of playthroughs? Any games out there you wish had variable difficulties but did not?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Angry Birds - iPad Review

Angry Birds is a game that needs little introduction. Just about everyone has heard of it by now. The other day passing through Walmart, my wife and I stopped at a huge rack of plush Angry Birds that came in a variety of sizes and types. I kept waiting for her to hurl them at me as if we were reenacting a level from the game, but thankfully that didn't happen.

For those who have not yet played the game, the formula is both simple and addicting, which no doubt are the main reasons for the game's success. You use your finger to draw back a slingshot and how far back you pull and what angle you aim at propels your feathered artillery toward green pigs (or are they piggy banks?) to shatter them.

There are different kinds of birds, and some have secondary effects while they are air born that you tap the screen to trigger. There are a variety of structure housing/protecting the pigs and you have to figure out the best way to burst through them to destroy your targets.

Angry Birds Boxshot

Graphics - 8:

Cute stuff. I mean, these characters got turned into stuffed animals and they are pretty adorable. The various moving parts all look good as platforms crumble and piggies break. Everything is crisp and easy to make out. There could be some extra stuff going on in the backgrounds from time to time, but overall it looks good.

Sound & Music - 7:

The sound effects do a decent job of illustrating the collisions that take place, but there's really not much that I found particularly memorable either. In fact, as I sit here, I can't recall any music, though I'm sure there was some.

Gameplay - 9:

The mechanics of drawing the sling back and shooting are simple, but perfect for this game and really for the iPad device. Now, there were times I would occasionally misfire if my finger 'stuttered' across the screen and prematurely let up, but it did not happen and each level only takes a couple of minutes to play through (at most) - so experimentation is key and you will trial and frequently error on your way to completion.

Intangibles - 8:

There's a lot of levels. There's quite a bit of challenge to be had here. And you can use different tactics to beat most levels, though some work better than others. My wife seemed to enjoy the game more than I did, but I still got quite a bit of play out of it.

Overall - 8:

It's the perfect type of game for the iPad, and at the time we got it, Angry Birds was like 99 cents. Considering the hours of play both my wife and I got out of it, I would say it was a worthwhile investment. It has a very broad appeal too. All of my kids have played it to some extent, with my youngest in particular being taken with it. There are a lot of other games out there now that have mimicked this basic formula, but there's a certain charm to the Angry Birds that still helps it to stand out from the crowd.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 - PS3 Review

Man, that's one long title. I had the original Duels of the Planeswalkers game for the PC years ago. It was a very different animal than the Xbox/PSN version that released a few years ago. I've also been a long-time fan of the collectible card game. I've won, bought, sold and lost (yup, I played back when ante was common) more cool cards than most players I would guess. That said, I was a bit disappointed with the last version of this game, so I had mixed feelings about the 2012 one that came out a few months ago.

The premise to the game itself is this:

You have cards in your deck that require mana to cast. Mana is generated by land cards you have in place. There are creatures, spells and more at your disposal. Your objective is to deplete your opponent's life before they do the same to you.

There is a ton more to the game than that, as the cards have a huge assortment of effects, but you get the general idea. So, what did I think of this latest iteration to the venerable collectible card game?



Graphics - 7:

The card artwork is amazing as always. There really is not much animation going on, which is fine. Truth be told, I would probably turn most of it off after awhile anyway to speed up the matches, but some additional effects or mabye even combat animations might be nice all the same. The menus and boards all look better than the last time around.



Sound & Music - 7:

The sound effects are simple enough, but mercifully they do not occur so frequently as to get annoying. The music is actually quite good, though another couple of tracks for the sake of variety would have been nice.



Gameplay - 8:

The cards and menu navigation are all improved from last time. There are quite a few options you can tweak to change how targeting and such are handled. I found the new archenemy mode somewhat frustrating at times - just a bit cheap. The idea is a three-on-one and that one has a huge life total and gets multiple draws per turn including from a deck of cards hugely overpowered - like the ability to wipe out all permanents on another player.



Intangibles - 9:

Oh, if only they had REAL deck editing. But it's closer than last time. In the last game you earned extra cards for your victory and you could shuffle them in and out of your deck - and only them. Now you can shuffle in or out any of the cards in your deck (except land). Maybe next time you can actually pull cards from other decks in, but it's a step in the right direction.

A lengthy campaign mode, a new archenemy mode, online play for both of these modes - there is a lot to do and a good number of cards to do it with. For those who like trophies, these ones aren't too hard to acquire as I have all but one - I haven't won that fifth online match yet (only have 4 wins - I don't play online too often though).



Overall 7.75:

If you like collectible card games, and Magic: The Gathering in particular, there is a lot to like here. It's far from perfect - my favorite part of CCG's is the deck-building, but you have more control over the deck than in the last version and there is a good number of cards to experience. The additional modes add value to the package as well. This is slow, thought-provoking strategy. People looking for an action game of any type need not apply.