March 8, 2017

Zelda: Breath of the Wild serious design flaws

Overall, if not paying attention to how disappointed I am with technical details (another post), I've been enjoying the new Zelda *a lot*. It is a very well designed game, indeed. Except for one thing that drives me utterly mad. So, Link goes into the shooting stance by *holding* the right trigger (ZR) - this allows to put an arrow in a bow and aim. The focusing on target is enabled by *holding* the left trigger (ZL). Now, holding both triggers doesn't do any third thing. So, the problem I am *constantly* having is that after shooting a bow and then going into targeting mode (first ZR, then release ZR, then hold ZL), Link doesn't get into the targeting mode (which means no shield and even no dodging) automatically. This does not make any sense. This looks like a bad design. This makes me avoid using the bow in the middle of a long and tough fight (like Lynel without having any decent gear) as after using the bow I have to remember (and be fast enough) to the first push the melee strike button, only then the shield is out and/or the dodging is possible. I've died so many times because dodge didn't work after having the bow out.

April 18, 2016

Ridiculous! iPhone 6s Plus batter dead at 25%!

Yes, died again. I was holding it in my hands and using it in all sorts of ways (audiobook, photography, messenger) but it's 4 degrees Celsius outside. Died at 25% and refused to turn back on until I plugged it. As soon as I plugged it in, it turned on and showed a healthy 26% of battery charge.

April 13, 2016

iPhone 6s Plus' battery dead again, less excuse this time around

This is getting overly annoying. Now the iPhone died at 15% with "power saving" mode enabled. This time it's even less excuse as it's spring outside. Estonian spring is not overly warm, but it was certainly above zero Celsius outside.

What is funny though, I was doing a Swarm check-in seconds before and Swarm actually gave me a badge for checking with low battery charger. It's very cool that they actually implemented such a thing as checking the battery. Kudos to Foursquare but rays of anger to Apple.

March 22, 2016

iPhone 6s Plus' battery dying at over 50% of charge... in cold Estonian March

So, it's the second morning in a row today that my iPhone turned itself off in my hands. The battery was at 54% percent of charge. My assumption is it happened because of the cold, but it was only -3 degrees Celsius outside and the phone has been out of my pocket for about 10 minutes only.

I remember how happy I was that my previous phone, that was iPhone 6, turned itself off when I left it lying on a leather chair under the direct summer sunlight. It gave a nice little warning about overheating and turned itself off. That time the temperature was really, really high and it was for the best. But -3 degrees Celsius? Ridiculous!

iPhone 6 before turning itself off when overheating

September 15, 2013

Deadpool . The Coolest Comic Hero of All

I've purchased Deadpool game at last. I've long waited for it to be discounted at Steam and the moment has come. During this week's Activision sale, on 15th of September, 2013, the game was discounted 50% and I snatched it right away.

I wanted this game badly for a very long time. Sadly, it was and still remains incredibly expansive on Xbox 360 and I never seen it discounted on Steam before now as well. Originally, after looking though the trailers, I thought about paying the full price of the PC version of the game. But then I saw some mixed reviews and decided to hold my horses. Now I know I was wrong to do so.

After playing the game halfway through, I must say that it's not only the funniest games I played in a really long time, it also boast an incredible simple but addictive gameplay and offers a welcome (although not that serious) challenge on maximum level of difficulty. Not only that, Deadpool has become my favorite comic book character. Yes, overshadowing even Batman.

I'm not a comic book reader and I've stumbled upon Deadpool in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Needless to say, I didn't pay much attention to the character there. The movie hardly makes him interesting at all. Now I know that Deadpool is incredibly cool and even thinking of buying some of his comic books of comiXology.

Special attention deserves the voice acting. It's superb. Deadpool is voiced by Nolan North whom I mentioned in a recent post. It's the guy most famous for his voice of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. Nolan appears in a lot of other video games too, Assassin's Creed being the most notable, probably. I also felt that, even though great as adventurous Drake, this voice actor wasn't anything special in any other games I've heard him in. Actually, he sounds just about the same everywhere. Not Deadpool though. Mr. North gives a stellar performance as Deadpool. I'll have to say this is his best performance this far. Hats off.

Some not so good thing about this game. There are loads of pre-rendered movies of low quality. Once again, I don't understand why they are present at all. All of them are made using the game engine and none of them feature any spectacular effects that couldn't have been rendered in real-time. Actually, there are a few real-time-rendered sequences that boast plenty of effects not seen in the pre-rendered movies. Considering the game runs on Unreal Engine 3, I don't understand why the High Moon just couldn't make everything be rendered before our eyes. A real shame.

Also, it's not the most impressive Unreal Engine 3 game out there. It's not very well detailed, to put it mildly. But the levels are pretty big. I've also experienced one technical problem so far. There are those red glowing chest during the one of the later levels. Opening them will grant your character DP used to purchase new skills. Sometimes (quite often) Deadpool will just refuse to open such a chest. It wouldn't have been that bad, really, as the chest don't grant that big of a bonus, but during the same level, while on one of the trials lead by Death, there's a possibility to get an achievement called "Diggin' in the crates" which requires Deadpool to open eleven treasure chests in the the Tombs. The trick is, while crossing the Tombs Deadpool is safe only while in the light shed by Death. Sadly, she is constantly on the move. Deadpool has to be really fast to open all the chest, otherwise he'll be left behind and die in the darkness. This achievement would have been a breeze if not for frustration caused by the bug preventing the opening of any of those chests. I couldn't really spot why this is happening. One time you can open some chest easily the other you can't open the same chest at all. I did get the achievement in the end but the bug left an unpleasant feeling anyway.

Despite the mentioned drawbacks, the game is incredible. I highly recommend it. It's worth even its full price.

As for comparison between the PC and the console versions, I can't say anything at the moment. As mentioned above, the X360 version is still damn expensive (costs £32.99 at I would have paid that for the game that cool but only if I didn't have it already on PC. Even without live comparison, I can be pretty damn sure PC version is miles better than its console counterpart. The game features non-stop rollercoaster of combo chaining and jumping around. Best served at 60 FPS. I highly doubt the console version runs at that.

September 14, 2013

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. Thoughts upon completion

I've just finished PoP: The Forgotten Sands on PC. I've originally purchased the Xbox 360 version several years ago but never got to play it. The PC version was bought during one of the amazing Steam sales but managed to say off my hard drive for quite some time. Only now, three years after the release, I managed not only to play but also complete the game.

It's worth mentioning that completing the game wasn't much of a feat. On "normal" difficulty (maximum available on first playthrough) it took me 5 hours and 40 minutes to reach the end credits. This has to be one of the shortest games I've played recently. There are arcade games and games on mobile platform boasting better length. Nonetheless, I managed to get bored of at least some of the aspects of the game. Namely, combat.

The combat in The Forgotten Sands is ridiculously dull and repetitive. This is the first and only PoP game that has a skill development tree. Thanks to that tree, the Prince can improve existing or receive new combat skills. Even that considered, the combat comes down to just mashing one or two buttons. There are numerous opponents to be killed and none of those require any special tactics. Rolling around and or jumping and waving the sword is more than enough. Throwing in one of the abilities acquired though the skill tree will make it even easier but not especially fun. Despite a pretty spectacular sequence preceding the final boss battle, the battle itself doesn't involve anything other than what the Prince was doing before to cut through any other enemies. It's all in the slashing. Maybe because of that, despite of the cool scenery, it doesn't feel epic. And the ending doesn't feel that much rewarding.

Overall, the game tried hard to get back to the (original reboot) roots, to what the PoP was during the Sands of Time. Needless to say, it falls short in almost every aspect. On one hand, we have your usual Middle Eastern themed story with an older brother, an evil Djinn, a hot magical girl to advise the Prince along his road and a huge castle to explore from dungeons to the highest towers. On the other hand, the combat is much less fun and even not as visually impressive as any of the previous PoP games. Yes, including the original trilogy. The story resembles the one in The Sands of Time a lot but lacks the romantic touch. As I already said, there's a hot girl included, but it's a 1000 year old magical entity so there isn't any romance involved whatsoever. The environment puzzles are sometimes mesmerizing thanks to some of the newly acquired powers, like an ability to freeze water. On the other hand, the ability to leap great distance through the air to reach an enemy, even though looking cool, feels overly ridiculous. I mean, there are birds all over just pinned to some places in the air, waiting to get jumped by Prince in order to reach higher ground. Doing absolutely nothing. Or a single sand warrior waiting on some platform. If the Prince gets to such platform by means of jumping the enemy but then decides to track back, the same single enemy will respawn and  get into the position to get jumped again. Total garbage.

There are also a few things that make us think Ubisoft was eager to recreate the success of the rebooted trilogy after Prince of Persia (2008) didn't manage to create much hype. Like, this Prince is actually the same person as the one in the Ubisoft's reboot. He mentions some of the events of the previous game. Also, the events occurring in this game supposedly happen between the events of The Forgotten Sands and The Warrior Within, according to the developers.The voice actor is also the same, Yuri Lowenthal, who is the perfect fit for the Prince, unlike Nolan North, the voice of Prince in Prince of Persia (2008). Although Nolan is incredible as Nathan Drake from Uncharted, I really dislike him everywhere else, including Assassin's Creed. Interestingly enough, Yuri gave his voice for the Prince in the Sands of Time and The Two Thrones but no The Warrior Within.

In the end, the game is pretty smooth and I did feel an urge to continue playing it till the end. Although, I was quite disappointed by the story after just finishing the Prince of Persia (2008) which has the deepest story of all the PoP games. The ending in The Forgotten Sands was way too obvious.

Technically the game is a marvel. You get to see the loading screen only once and everything else will get loaded dynamically as you move around the enormous rooms of the palace. Also, all the movies except the intro and the outro are rendered in real time, which means you never loose immersion due the low quality of the recorded movies as it happens in oh so many other pretty big titles. Batman games and Deus Ex, just to name a few.

As for platform difference, the X360 version is not overly annoying, but playing at 1080p and 60 frames per second on PC makes a world of difference in a such fast-paced game as this. I would say that PC version of The Forgotten Sands is a bit better than the Xbox version of Prince of Persia (2008) which was making me dizzy almost all the time. The PC version has no drawbacks at all, except one - for some reason the volume in the game is really low. I had to crank up the volume to extremely high levels. All the other games I played recently are at least five times louder at the same volume settings. Annoying but hardly a deal-breaker.

June 11, 2012

Escape Plan. Now Laid out for You

Just as I completed (as in 100% trophies gained) Escape Plan on my lovely PS Vita, a patch making the already easy trophy even easier has been released. If before to get most of the stars on each level you had not only to think and act fast, but also to do it in limited amount of gestures, now you are only bound by time.

I am extremely disappointed and totally outraged. Originally, I came up with an extremely simple trick to save on gestures - to not let go off of the screen. This way it was possible to have multiple gestures count as one. Easy as that. Probably everyone who gave this game serious time found out about this neat little trick. But no, the developers decided there is a whole bunch of mindless blobs out there who couldn't get their trophy fast enough. Just think about it - the adjustment made is only simplifying the trophy work. It doesn't affect the gameplay overall. I say, next patch should allow to trigger all the achievements on game start up...

April 14, 2012

Assassin's Creed: So Far and What's Next

Yesterday, got to playing Assassin's Creed Revelations on PC at last. Not only I had this game day one from Steam release, I already manged to buy a second copy and gift it to a friend of mine without even checking it out for myself first.

First of all, PC version of AC never felt better. Ubisoft continued the trend (started only in Brotherhood) to include graphical setting that will push the game much further from the looks of the console versions. Not only PC owners get to enjoy higher resolutions, it's possible to have nice looking shadows and a highly detailed crowd, among other nice details both, X360 and PS3 can't even dream of. Revelations runs very smoothly at 30-60 FPS (averaged at 45) at 1920x1080, all settings on maximum, on my severely outdated E8500 with 3GB RAM and GTX 295. Yeah, I'm getting a hell of a ride for what I've spent on my hardware 3-4 years ago.

AC: Revelations doesn't stand out from the other games in the series. The setting is different but it's still same Ezio you get to play, and I can't think of a reason to stick with this character for so long when it was obvious, right when he first came on stage, that he is not as cool and interesting a protagonist as Altair was. Nonetheless, Revelations is not as boring as AC II was and is completely on par with Brotherhood.

The original still remains the best game in the series. Not only Altair is the character I'll always associate with Assassin's Creed first and foremost, the story and gameplay of the first chapter in the AC saga were the most interesting of all the games in the series released up to date. Starting AC II, the game was stripped of major unique gameplay and storytelling elements, the atmosphere was never the same.

And now there's (at least one) ACIII out there for everyone to see. Upon watching the trailer, I got very excited about the new era and finally getting a new character. I was also hugely disappointed. The new AC trailer is not only the worst trailer of the series, it's one of the dullest and forgettable trailers overall. Every AC entry had an incredibly memorable trailer or even set of trailers and ACIII started with something extremely dull and original. I really hope the game will be unlike the trailer. Although, to think of it, the best AC trailer was actually for the best game in the series... The game that started it all.

Difficulty Curve

After finally acquiring all of the God of War games currently available for PS3, I decided to start my adventure with God of War Collection: Volume II. This disc contains two of the Kratos adventures, Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, both previously PSP-exclusives, now rendered at high resolution with AA and 60 FPS. Despite being located on disc labeled Volume II, Chains of Olympus is the very start of Kratos epoch.

I started the game on the maximum available game difficulty, Spartan Mode (one more difficulty level is unlocked upon game completion), and was having a blast of a time throughout the whole game. I haven't felt like the game is offering any serious challenge at any point of Kratos' short but brutal undertaking to save the world from the wrath of Titan Atlas.

I felt like game is cutting some serious slack up to the very end, the final battle, the dance to the death with Persephone, queen of the underworld. After dying for at least ten times in a row and abandoning the game in a frustration, I now feel as this female boss is one of the most challenging encounters I have seen in any game lately. The most disappointing thing about the whole situation is how unbalanced Chains of Olympus appears. Compared to Persephone fight, everything else in the game is a  breeze. I remember dying about two times during my adventure alongside Kratos and now I'm completely stuck.

I haven't given Persephone a second chance. After having a row of most disappointing goes at her the first time, I feel discouraged to return back for another try. No matter if I finally have my victory over the goddess or not, I will definitely continue playing all the other God of War games. I could only hope that the remaining chapters have a better balance and have their difficulty gradually increased, instead of just throwing the player to hell at one point.

February 6, 2012

Red Dead Redemption - How Does It Hook Anyone Up?

The first time I heard about Red Dead Redemption, I got overly excited. I was excited for such a long time, too. I remember the game was already out, and I was visiting London and there were these huge RDD posters plastered all over the Tube. I was still dreaming about playing the game months after its release. I couldn't really afford the game, not for full retail price anyway. Sadly, the game was so damn popular, the price refused to go down.

Finally, after already all the DLC for Red Dead was released, I got the game. I couldn't have been more thrilled. I've put the game disc in, launched the game, preparing to dive head first into the adventurous world of wild west.

After as short intro, the game greets you with a tutorial of sorts. It can't be skipped. Basically, you are forced to do a whole bunch of really-really mundane stuff. Most of it concerns animals. You do some horse racing, you get about 30 minutes of horse back breaking, then herd cattle (several times). I'm not kidding when I say that I couldn't play Red Dead for more than 20-30 minutes every time I started it. It was so awfully boring. Every time I started it, it would throw more boring choirs at me. At one point, I got sick of all that animal care and though I could have some fun playing a mini-game of horseshoe throwing. Man, was I wrong to even start it. Basically, it's 11 rounds of swinging your analog stick back and forth. The game also takes a few seconds to load between your turn and your opponent's turn, turning the whole thing into a horrible drag.

I'm still at the point in the game where nothing is happening. Each time I go to get a story related mission I hope that the adventure will begin. Each time I'm forced to do something really tedious. I honestly don't see how people get hooked up on Red Dead Redemption. I know the game gets adventurous at some point, I mean, I've seen a lot of trailers - none of them showed any of the boring tasks I had to suffer through. But it's been over a month since I first launched the game, playing it only for a short while every time I launched it, not able to have a decent session just because of how boring the game was.

I recently played GUN. Another wild west free-roaming adventure. It certainly doesn't look as good as Red Dead Redemption, maybe even worse than Red Dead Revolver, but it features a heck of a gameplay. There are about two different tutorial section in the game, as far as I recall, both integrated into the story (just like RDD), but they are very short and to the point. They are also fun to do. I've played the game twice and never was bored by the tutorial bits. Ten minutes into GUN you are thrown into a roller coaster of an adventure. The thrill stops when the end credits start rolling. Judging by the experience I had so far with Red Dead Redemption, I would say the game has nothing on GUN, except some fancy graphics. Seriously though, taking care for animals for about two hours isn't fun no matter how good the graphics are.

December 18, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Pacifism Denied

I've just finished Deus Ex: HR on PC. According to Steam statistics, I've played the game for over 60 hours. Even though I did take my sweet time exploring every nook and corner, and hacking everything to be hacked, Steam data is surely wildly inaccurate, as usual. Sadly, Steam client doesn't make any distinction between you actually playing the game and going away from PC for an hour or two (or even a night).

There are two infamous achievements to be gained in HR, Pacifist and The Foxiest of Hounds. An enormous amount of people seem to misinterpret the description the game provides for the latter. It clearly states that you have to avoid setting alarms on your playthrough. It couldn't be any more clear than that. Still, a lot of people aiming for the achievement make a great effort to go though all the levels without being noticed or heard at all. Probably developers could be blamed for that, if only a bit. Every enemy can have a state called "alarmed". It's a perfect word to describe the condition when an enemy thought he saw or heard something. It doesn't mean that you've been spotted - even Ghost XP award can be gained if you had a bunch of "alarmed" conditions triggered. There's a world of difference between alarming an enemy by any way possible and setting an alarm. They do mean alarm systems, not a condition.

Anyhow, I don't care for achievements as I used to, so I just played the game as I liked. Still, my playstyle went hand-in-hand with the requirements for the two aforementioned achievements.

to be continued...

September 23, 2011

Uncharted 2. Is It Really That Grand?

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - what a treat of a game, what a grand adventure! It's packed with explosive Hollywood action and visuals that never stop to amaze. At the moment, I find it hard to think of another game that looks as gorgeous.

It's not all action and glitter though, Uncharted 2 features a captivating story and, probably, the most interesting female character in the history of gaming. Nah, I'm not talking of Elena, the main character's unfortunate choice for a love object (the second time around). She looks and sounds very generic and is so dull, I would rather not see her included in Drake's story at all. I was referring to Chloe. Not only this girl has very distinctive looks, she also has the sexiest and most memorable voice I've heard in a while. Not only that, her character is the most realistic of the lead trio. She is neither too good or evil, she is very practical when appraising a situation, unlike Drake and Elena who, way too often, appear as if characters from a fairy tale - brave to a point when it looks plain dumb.

Even a highly captivating adventure, Among Thieves has way too many flaws to be perfect. I'll mention a few of them.

The greatest downside of the whole Uncharted series might be its unoriginality. I can't think of a single thing found in the game that I haven't already seen some place before. The game consists of two parts - performing an array of acrobatic moves in order to travel from point A to point B and shooting your enemies. The acrobatics bit is clearly inspired by Lara Croft's adventures. Drake imitates almost every move Lara has ever done. Sadly, he is not that good at his imitations. When I look at Drake making one jump after another, I don't see the same fluidity that Lara can boast. He looks rather clumsy in comparison. I'll talk more on that subject. There are several video interviews included with the original Uncharted. On one of them, some person from the development team speaks in great length about how they wanted to make the main character appear as a regular guy, not a Rambo-type fella who does everything perfectly. To show that Drake is not your typical action hero, he is animated in such a way that not all of his moves are executed to the A. For instance, sometimes he can have a rough landing after a long jump. That sort of thing. The matter of fact is, no one in their right mind would mistake Drake for your every day sort of guy. Even though we constantly see him screw up a bit, in the end he makes every jump and catches every ledge. He also single-handedly kill, what, several hundred heavily armed professionals. In the end, he comes off as bad-ass as Commando. If not even more unbelievable. Oh yeah, and the way Uncharted's protagonist looks every time he goes for another leap, he should have fallen to the death most of the time. I prefer Lara Croft approach more - she doesn't pretend to be a typical girl and she looks incredible while doing her acrobatics. Looking her mount a a cliff is a big part of the game experience.

Also, to make things casual, the developers decided to minimize the possibility of their hero to screw up - it's impossible to make a wrong jump. If Drake can't leap in the direction you are pointing him at without grabbing an edge or landing safely, he'll simply refuse to move.

to be continued

September 19, 2011

The Next BIG Thing. A 2D Adventure That Falls Flat.

The Next BIG Thing stands out among other few point-and-click adventure games that are still being made by being absolutely gorgeous! Namely, this game features full high def 2D art of amazing quality. I've never seen an adventure featuring that amount of detail and crispness in it's art. Oh, and by adventure I don't mean those mindless action games which are labeled "adventure" nowadays, I'm referring to the point-and-click ones, obviously.

I couldn't be more excited when I first launched the game and saw all its beauty before my eyes. That excitement couldn't have survived for long though. Despite being a total eye-candy, this sequel to the Hollywood Monsters fails to offer anything else of value. The game starts rather tediously and, to my biggest surprise and disappointment, fails to become even remotely captivating. The story is told unevenly with characters just jumping between the six chapters. There's no fluid connection between those chapters and most of the time it feels like you are transported to a totally different story every time you reach the new chapter. The whole plot is so plain unoriginal, it just hurts to see it "unfolding". In and out, there's not a hint of excitement in the adventure Pendulo Studios conjured.

There isn't any satisfaction coming from the puzzles either. Most of the puzzles consist of finding an object or two and, well, using them. Seeing that every new chapter takes you to a totally new location, the amount of explorable screens is always kept to a minimum. Finding anything is a matter of a few minutes. Realizing what to use the newly found objects on is even easier - there aren't really that much hot spots available either, most of the them are story related. There are a few dialogue puzzles which require you to use one of the dialogue options in order to move on. Hardly even a puzzle as you don't have to go through a branched dialogue tree in order to find the right thing to say, usually the important line is available from the start of the dialogue. Way too simple.

I wouldn't lie saying the game didn't provide me with a (very) few laughs. I did find myself giggling from time to time. Still, most of the dialogues are plain weird, not in a good way either. I had a constant feeling that the game lost a lot of sense in translation. On one hand, the sentences are constructed correctly, on the other - it feels like they just don't sound right.

Overall, the whole game felt like a drag. It wasn't that long of a drag though. The Next BIG Thing is ridiculously short and easy. I've played on "high" difficulty level (this one doesn't have hotspots and help available) and never got stuck. Considering the amount of activity each chapter has to offer, I don't see how anyone can have any problems with the game. All the objects which are not in your face can be easily found with a couple of mouse swipes. Sadly, I can't tell how much time exactly I spent on the whole affair (I could have finished it in one sitting but was getting bored with it fast) as my Steam counter got screwed when the game failed to quit properly, continuing to run almost the whole day and night in the background. The timer kept on ticking. Now Steam is sure I've played the game for 30 hours. Ridiculous.

I feel like I wasted my time and money on the game. The art alone doesn't do much for this game as it has absolutely no substance. I had much more fun reading the game reviews - they are overall positive. Quite a few reviewers mention that the game offers a good story. Common, really? In comparison to a shallow plot of Gears of War it might appear somewhat interesting. Otherwise, the story in The Next BIG Thing is the most unoriginal stories I've heard in a very long time. It could have been written in an evening, too. There isn't even much happening there. Even more surprising is that a decent amount of reviewers agreed that the game is a good challenge. It appears the console generation is brain-dead beyond any hope for recovery. I would really like to stand behind a person who finds this game challenging and see him play the game, find out what exactly is he doing and how. I really would love to do that.

September 16, 2011

Alan Wake. Running with a Flashlight for Hours and Hours.

Finally, I got around to playing the game that about every Xbox 360 owner has played a long time ago - Alan Wake.

In all honesty, I don't get what the fuzz is about. I was very excited during my first two-three hours of the game. After that, it just got pretty boring gameplay-wise. For the whole duration of the game you do pretty much the same over and over... and over again. And what you do is run ahead following the always-present objective marker, meet a bunch of bad guys to either soften them up with a flashlight and shoot them dead or to just run past them to the next Safe Heaven (that's how a well-lit spot is called, usually from a street lamp). Sometimes you have to find a key or to start a generator, which hardly adds any freshness to the whole experience. In a short while your amusement with the light and shadows interplay, no matter how well executed, will grow  thin. After that there's almost nothing left to enjoy. Well, except maybe the story.
The objective marker. It's an always-present part of the game that points you towards the next objective. If you have to find some key in order to open a door and proceed, it means that you just have to run from where you are to where the marker is pointing you. It's impossible to get stuck or to get lost. Just think about it, what is the scariest thing about darkness? It's that you don't know what it may conceal, it's that you don't see anything... it's that you don't know where to go and you get lost. Getting lost is always scary. Remedy decided to castrate the darkness. It's almost always dark in Bright Falls, but you don't even have to use a flashlight to find your way. The biggest disappointment is that the developers had an urge to add such an aid as the objective marker to the game that is already extremely straight-forward.

The darkness and all the fights get boring really-really fast. The darkness is boring as it is not scary in any fashion - even if enemies come out of it, they always announce themselves - it's either a sound or a slow-mo cinematic moment showing where exactly they are appearing from. It's close to impossible to get scared. At the very start the combat experience does come at you as a slightly original experience - every fight consists of a two-step mechanic. First you cleanse the protective shield of darkness from the taken with a flashlight, only then you can finish them off with an array of bullets. The problem is, that's all you will ever have to do to your enemies (aside from just legging it and leaving them behind). The variety of enemies is present but is hardly noticeable at all - as already said, everything the darkness throws at you can be taken care of in one and the same manner. The fighting affair becomes boring fast.
While on the matter of the forces that ate thrown against you. There's really no feeling that some major force is trying to stop you.

Collectibles. There's a lot of different collectibles in the game. They make the Alan Wake experience even more tedious. At first, I was trying to find at least those collectibles which were expanding the story (the manuscript pages, TV shows, radio shows) but after a while it became extremely boring. I mean, the game is repeatable enough without you trying to look inside/around every shack and rock.
The story was the only thing that I found interesting up to the very end. It's the only thing that kept me going through the second half of the game, where I just stopped looking for any collectibles and got so bored of fighting, I was just doing exactly what the object marker was telling me to do.

The technology. I wouldn't say that the technology behind Alan Wake is overall impressive. The lights-and-shadows stuff is, indeed, very cool, but... sub-HD resolution does make the game look really bad (for instance, I played Uncharted 2 right after Alan Wake and the former looked so crisp in comparison). My biggest beef is not with the game running on lower resolution though, it's the facial detail and animation. It's probably the biggest experience-breaker I've seen in a past few years. A lot of cutscenes feature characters' close-ups, only the animation looks unbelievably ridiculous. Alan Wake, for instance, no matter what emotion he is going for, looks like a wooden puppet moving his mouth up and down. No kidding, that's about the only thing he does throughout the whole game. I just don't understand Remedy... All the movies are pre-rendered, which means it was possible to give any amount of detail to the virtual actors. Damn, some other games released around the same time manage to have 10 times more believable emotions using the game engine.

I was quite relieved to finally finish the game and see the conclusion to the captivating story. Naturally, I decided to check the DLC, hoping the developers coughed up something new and original (like Crystal Dynamics did for the Tomb Raider: Underworld). The Signals is basically the same stuff all over again. This time though, the story completely failed to capture my attention. After about 30 minutes of playing the DLC, there was nothing to keep me going. I started playing Uncharted 2 instead. That game, even though a mindless action, manages to keep things fresh all the time.

As a matter of fact, theses two games, Uncharted and Alan Wake, are a perfect illustration of the difference between the exclusive content on the rival platforms. PS3 might be getting the worse end of the multi-platform games, but it surely receives better exclusives. Uncharted series is just one example, there are also inFamous, God of War, Little Big Planet, Killzone, Resistance, Heavy Rain against Gears of War, Halo and Fable. I know, both lists are much more extensive but I tried to mention the biggest and most popular titles. Little Big Planet and Heavy Rain deserve the special attention as there's nothing like those games on the Microsoft's console.

September 13, 2011

Tomb Raider Trilogy. Comparison: PC vs Xbox 360 vs PS3

The Tomb Raider trilogy I'm going to talk about includes the following games (released in exactly the order I have them listed):

Tomb Raider: Legend
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Tomb Raider: Underworld

There are a few things that appear to be worth mentioning.

First, even though all the games in the trilogy were built on the same game engine, namely Crystal Dynamics engine, they use the different versions of that software. It looks like the versions of the engine are not actually mentioned to the public and a whole bunch of games use the same engine title. Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the 2012 Tomb Raider game both are powered by the same tech. Nonetheless, Legend and Anniversary appear to be sharing the same version of the Crystal engine (even if the engine was updated for Anniversary, the changes were minor). Underworld, on the other hand, is a whole new breed of beast. The visuals and, most importantly, performance are completely different from what is seen in the prior two games.

to be continued...

September 12, 2011

Red Faction: Armageddon. PC vs Consoles.

I've been hearing about the Red Faction series for a very long time already. The series has been around since 2001 and became famous for the level of wreckage a player can cause, with practically every structure found in the game universe susceptible to destruction. It's pretty surprising that I haven't played any of the four games in the series up until now, on the other hand, I haven't played a myriad of other games I always wanted to play. A lot of random things are to blame for that. Anyway, it's never too late to start anything and I did start with the very last (and final) entry in the series - Red Faction: Armageddon.

It's a beauty on PC, even with crappy hardware!

I did come to a tremendously stupid purchase decision with Red Faction: Armageddon and ordered both, the PC and Xbox 360, versions of the game simultaneously. I'm not made of money and neither am I particularly stupid. It's just that the price for both was utterly ridiculous, considering the game was only two months fresh out of the development oven (released in June). There was no way to fight the temptation.

There's a through PC/X360/PS3 comparison article at the Digital Foundry which crowns the PC version as the better of all three. Being aware of that fact, I still wasn't all that sure that my outdated hardware wouldn't choke on the game with all the bells and whistles. In the end, I went for X360 version for an immediate enjoyment and thought the PC release would be fitting for the future use (on a side note: one of the selling points for me was the ability to activate the retail game on Steam - I love both, having a case on a shelf and being to access the content digitally).

Even though both versions were a part of one order, both available for immediate shipping, the PC box arrived first. If it would have been the other way around, I wouldn't have probably got to see the PC version before a major hardware upgrade (and with me throwing all the money on the games lately, who knows when will the day come). In the end, I was lucky the things happened the way they did.

No matter how old my hardware is, when I start a new game, I always crank all the possible video options up to the highest possible values and use 1080p resolution. With everything topped up, the game showed a horrible performance right from the first screen. As expected.

A huge surprise followed when I changed resolution to 720p: the game started to work smoothly. Yeah, smooth as a butter, no less. It also looked marvelous! I don't remember the last time I could run a game so beautiful with AA set to x8 and AF set to x16. Moments ago I completed the game, my PC was able to maintain a FPS between 30 and 60 throughout. By my personal observation, average being about 45 FPS. I experienced a stagger only once in the whole game. Here is the important bit: my PC is Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16Ghz, 2GB RAM, GeForce 8800GTX. Everything is so very old and cheap.

The Xbox 360 version of the Red Faction: Armageddon came a few days later. Obviously, I had to see, how different that version was from the one on PC. The contrast was tremendous! The console version of Armageddon resembles the PC version... as if seen through the eyes of a totally wasted person. No exaggeration whatsoever. Not only the console has a severe case of sub-HD (960x540 - ridiculous, I know), it also shows quite a few frame rate drops in the more dynamic scenes. Just FYI, there are shit loads of dynamic scenes in this game. To make things much-much worse, the controls of the PC version are indisputably better. I prefer my Xbox 360 controller to Keyboard + Mouse with most of the third-person perspective action games, but not in this case. PC controls in RFA offer an altogether better experience. I would have never had the same amount of fun with the Magnet Gun if I had to play the game using a controller.

As for the game itself, it's awesome. I think everyone capable of enjoying a game in the genre would have a great time with Armageddon. It features a very simple and forgettable plot but a truly memorable and original gameplay. The whole experience is on par with Gears of War (I use this game as an example of a product which is completely action-driven). Somehow, I got tired of monotonous action of Gears in about two hours, but I did thirst for more of Red Faction's beautiful havoc even after completion (the game is not too long though). I will certainly enjoy playing it again.

The thing about this game is it offers you so many ways of destruction. There are loads of guns, every one with its own fun destructive function. The king of guns being the Magnet Gun, of course. I spent the majority of the game using that weapon and didn't get tired of it.

I already mentioned how ridiculous the price was for all versions of the game. There's a good explanation behind it - the game was a failure. Due to poor sales, not only the price manged to drop, it was also publicly announced that there will be no more Red Faction games to follow. I was depressed to hear that.

I just don't understand the consumer. Look, everyone and their mother probably already pre-ordered Gears of War 3. There's Dead Space 3 under development, and a lot of people are going to buy it day one. It's clear as day Gears of War 1 & 2 put together cannot offer the same level of SP excitement that Armageddon has to offer. OK, Gears at least have their MP craziness (I'm just not a fan of anything MP). What about Dead Space then? That game does have a gripping atmosphere, but that's about it. I mean, they do try to unload a fun weapons mechanic on you, but do they succeed? I tried every single gun in Dead Space 1 & 2 to return to my trustworthy Plasma Cutter. Not only those other guns are no fun at all, they are also (for the most part) impractical. I mean, you can resort to them on lower difficulty levels, probably. But easier difficulties are just not fun in Dead Space. On higher difficulty levels there is no way you'll be able to survive using a variety of weapons. You actually have to stick to a couple of guns and pray you'll have enough ammunition to keep them running (one of those should most definitely be the Plasma Cutter). In Red Faction: Armageddon 90% of the available arsenal is butt load of pure uncut fun. Almost every addition has a lot of punch in it and is, in fact, very deadly. Add completely destructible/rebuildable environment to that and you have a blast of an action game on your hands. You can grab the Magnet Gun and just deconstruct a whole building on someone creature's ugly head. That looks and plays amazing. You also get to drive and fly. Who doesn't buy this game but would part with 50 bucks for Gears 3 without any hesitation? First, the consumer killed point-and-click adventures, now this.

July 21, 2011

PopCap Caved In

Yeah, it's all over the Net - Electronic Arts acquired PopCap games. I see a lot of negative comments on the topic. A lot of people hate EA for all the wrong reasons (in my opinion).

From what I personally encountered, the most common reason for public hatred towards the video game colossus is its habit of shutting down the servers. Especially unhappy with it is the console crowd. Achievement lovers to be specific. I've never heard anyone saying "damn, the servers are off for good, now I can't play my favorite game online", it's usually something like "geez, now I have shitloads of unobtainable achievements, thanks EA".

I'm an avid achievement hunter myself, but I don't think EA should be blamed for shutting down their servers. They do have good reasons to do so - license expiration. I don't see why they should extend their license and keep some old sports game alive online just so some achievement fanatics could get 100G. I mean, there's always more than enough time to get all the online achievements anyway. It's not like they shut down the servers for any fresh new games, it's always something old. Also, there is always a warning long in advance, providing enough time to get all the achievements if needed be.

Still, I'm not too happy to hear about the acquisition as I have my own big reason to dislike EA. It's Origin, Electronic Arts' personal digital distribution platform. If some company decides to start a digital distribution when there's so many options are already on the table (Steam being the most noticeable), it better think of something to stand out. EA Origin did stand out... not in a positive way though.

I tried Origin for about a minute to find out that you can't even select your preferred language and it's selected according to your region. For instance, I live in Finland at the moment (just a temporary thing) and my only option was to use the store in Finnish. That alone was enough to turn me away. Another thing that jumped right at me was prices. They were beyond any reason.

But there's more. I found out that Origin can only guarantee a download availability for at least one year after purchase (just for comparison sake - a game purchased on Steam will always be available for download, even if it was removed from the catalog for one reason or another). Also, it looks like you can lose your account if you remain inactive for an extended period of time. With such attitude I don't see how EA is going to match its leading competitor (Steam) by the end of March 2012 (that's what they promise anyway).

It wouldn't have mattered really if we had a choice. I mean, if I don't want to use Origin, nothing is stopping me from using Steam, for instance, right? Wrong! EA already pulled out at least one (very good) game from Steam, Crysis 2. Obviously, EA made up some weird reasons for going with that. There's more to come. EA already announced that Stars Wars: The Old Republic will be exclusive to Origin (thank God there's still a retail option on the table, otherwise I would have seriously considered on passing on this game).

Electronic Arts could have really made something decent with Origin. The company has a lot of resources to make the service unique and attractive. They also could offer competitive prices seeing as how they sell only their own games. This seems logical, doesn't it? I already actively use Steam, GamersGate and GOG and would be all over the new service if it was any good. Unfortunately, Origin has nothing good to offer. Absolute zero. There's still an issue of DRM, the store has a horrible interface and no customization (I'm talking about the lack of language selection) and the prices are simply ridiculous.

Getting back to PopCap. As far as I know, most of company's games are sold digitally. EA acquisition will probably mean that the new games from PopCap are going to be sold over Origin exclusively. In my case it will also mean I'm not going to buy any of them, no matter how good they are. Well, there's always Xbox Live Marketplace.

June 30, 2011

Beautiful Lie

I've been waiting a long time for a good price on Heavy Rain. I'm not in the habit of buying games for the full price no matter how much I want them. I just don't see the point, as I already have a vast collection of excellent video games for all the possible platforms, most of them still waiting to be played. Heavy Rain is certainly a title that you wanna play right here right now. It's also one of those games that makes me proud to be a PlayStation 3 owner (my main gaming platform is Xbox 360 as Sony made some horrible design choices for their system and does nothing to improve the situation). My wait for the right price was a painful one. Finally, I got the game.

Not only was I able to spot a satisfying price for this gem of a game, I was excited to find out that the version of the game I was ordering, the Platinum Edition, was a re-release of the Move Edition of the game. Sadly, I don't own the Move controller, but Move Edition is not only offering an ability to play using PlayStation's motion controller (the patch is available online for free anyway) but also contains some additional contents - one DLC, three few XMB themes, the OST and some videos (DLC and XMB themes are available from PSN but at additional cost). Great value, hands down.

How disappointed I was to find out that Sony deceived me. It was really unexpected and unpleasant. Apparently, even though Platinum Edition is advertised as a re-release of the Heavy Rain: Move Edition (the cover contains exactly the same information), it's only the original version of the game. I had my first surprise when the game started downloading a huge (over 1 gigabyte) update from PSN to add the Move compatibility. Obviously, this update is included in the Move Edition of the game. Next, I couldn't find any traces of the promised bonus contest.

I still would have bought the game for the price I paid even knowing it was the original version, that's a fact. Nonetheless, I feel so damn cheated by Sony. Why would you advertise one version of the game and then release a totally different one? I feel like I need a compensation for the moral damage. It surely has been done.

May 18, 2011

Enchanted Arms

I got Enchanted Arms for Xbox 360 a long time ago, in 2006. Along with most of my other purchases for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, this one was confined to a shelf life for many years, as my sole attention was devoted to World of Warcraft.

I've just got to complete the game, it took me less than a week to do so. All the major characters are fantastic, dialogues are brilliant and the story - a pleasure to follow and see unfold. Also, the most of the music is grand and most of the scenery is spectacular. Unfortunately, the gameplay casts a huge shadow over all the game's advantages.

I didn't like the whole battle process for many reasons. For instance, the battlefield has a horrible design. You have to switch camera angles just to be able to spot some of the enemies on the field. Sometimes (namely, last, the most important and lengthy fight) it's just impossible to see what exactly you are targeting, as the colors of the battlefield don't allow you to see not only the enemies but also your cursor.

Thanks to the countless random encounters (usual to most JRPGs), I even started to hate the combat part of the game. All the fights, except some of the major boss ones, were pretty generic and boring. Up until the very last boss there was no need to apply any complicated tactics. Closer to the very end of the game, your characters are able to learn a support ability which allows to avoid all the random encounters altogether. Needless to say, that's when I started to enjoy the game in full. Oh how I wish that magical ability would have been available at the start of the game.

I was literally raging by the time I got to Kyoto city. At this point you have to run between the Kyoto city and the nearby village quite a few time to progress the story. The story captivates you, and you wish you could see the rest of it unfold as soon as possible, but there are hordes and hordes of enemies randomly popping on your path. Yeah, most of the game you actually spend fighting golems. They do look different from each other and use their own specific abilities, but you probably won't even notice it, as all the battles go exactly the same and end in a turn or two. As you don't have to think about the tactics even while fighting some of the bosses, the whole fighting ordeal turns into a boring time-stretcher.

My other big complaint is about achievements. For some weird reason, all the achievements in Enchanted Arms are story-related and are all, except only one, unmissable. This is most disappointing considering the fact that the game has a lot of tracked data. For instance, the game tracks the world map coverage - to complete the story you don't have to visit all the places available. Also, there are several collectibles - more than a hundred golems and a huge set of skills. If you just aim to complete the game, you'd probably miss more than a half of those. Lastly, there are mini-games - casino machines and golem battles (this one has numerous stages, later ones are extremely hard). All that material is screaming for dedicated achievements.

In the end, I wish the game had a different combat system or much less enemies to fight, I would be completely in love with it. Still, I have no regrets about buying or playing Enchanted Arms, apart from combat, I loved everything to bits.

Oh, and there is a cool option to enable Japanese voices, they are much better than the English ones.

January 7, 2011

Ben Affleck Is Finally Watchable

I've been hating Ben Affleck for a very long time.

Since Matt Damon and Ben Affleck made a loud breakthrough with Good Will Hunting, I started following both their careers with great interest. Matt soon became one of my favorite actors in Hollywood, I love most of his work (his Tom Ripley is one of the best acting performances I've ever seen) and always glad to see his movies.

Ben was a different matter. I wanted to like him but couldn't. I've seen about twenty of his movies, no less. He just walked through them with almost the same performance. It didn't really matter what movie genre it was or what his character was supposed to be, he couldn't property act out anything at all. To me he appeared a robot incapable of displaying any complex emotions.

I kid you not when I say that for a very long time already, while watching another movie with Mr. Affleck and realizing he is not doing anything new, I was trying to find something else to look at when camera was focused on him. My eyes could easily spot something more interesting to look at than his lifeless face.

The Town changed it all. I knew that movie is good before actually seeing it, but I was afraid that Ben Affleck is going to ruin it for me again, seeing as he was the lead actor. To my biggest surprise, Affleck actually acts in this movie. This is the first time I enjoyed his performance in about fourteen years, and I enjoyed it to great extent. It's really cool to start a new year with such a pleasant surprise. As a director though he is not very special (The Town was directed by Ben Affleck). The movie is filled with very tight close-ups, I was a bit annoyed with everyone having the top of the head almost always cut off.

I'll be sure to check Ben in the nearest future, hoping he will not return to his robot ways.