Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers (Pc)

The general premise behind trading card games is that you spend a huge amount of money slaving to making a good deck and then using it against your friends or strangers at tournaments and after a few mouths a new edition comes out and half you cards are now illegal and you need to go spend even more on getting new ones, it's the old wash, rinse, repeat gag except you never stop washing your hair. But of course I'm not reviewing the card game itself (because I could just say now that it's seriously lacking in lustre and body) I'm just reviewing the Pc conversion of the game.

Ok I'll start off with one of its good points I do see these games as a gateway for new players, it lets them try out the game and the rules, before they buy a starter deck play one game, get frustrated and give up. So they get points for that, and then they immediately lose them again by selling slim-lined versions of the decks to further tempt people into the fire. I could probably finish off the good points of this game by the end of the paragraph in that it's very graphically pleasing, the art work is stunning to look at while you wait for it to load, and really captures the essence from the card game itself.

Now to the bad points, it's been awhile since I've seen UI's this badly designed, it goes beyond belief that they didn't pick up on such serious problems, you can't drag select certain cards to attack certain opponents, and if you can they don't tell you how. This means if you play a deck that allows you to bring forth token monsters you can quickly be over run with a huge army of cannon fodder you have to individually click to make attack, and it gets even harder when you take into account that tapping a large number of cards makes all the other cards move around, it gets to be like playing musical chairs in space; it's all very novel the first time but quickly gets annoying. Another notable tits up is the two bloody buttons at the bottom of the screen that are extremely important and can be easily overshadowed by the cards that enlarge when your mouse hovers over them, which they will when you're en route to the bloody buttons.

The main selling point to this game is that you can play people over the internet, this is attractive to existing players of the card game as much as it is to new players, and also to highly competitive people like myself. It is a shame, however, that the system they employ for this works much in the same way DOS worked, it's very good at what it does but you can never get it to do what you want.

There are two types of internet matches:
  - Player (Friendly)
  - Ranked (Recorded)

I'll ignore the retarded ranking system for a bit and focus on just hosting and joining games. Above is the options you get when you pick a game type, ignore custom match it's either broken or designed to be useless. Quick match is just join a random game, and Create match is host a game yourself. What you can't do is set up a friends only game, or join a specific game, you can do private slots but that's just a work around, a last minute thing like the batteries in Italian cars. The number of times I've been kicked straight after joining because someone couldn't set up a friends server and were waiting for someone else to join. The only thing I can suggest to fix this is to host a match yourself, then at least you can't get kicked. (Or Stainless Games could just get their act together and copy Valve).
Now for the ranking system, I think it's trying to emulate tournament play where you lose points depending on the rank of the person you lost to, and gain in a similar fashion, so I could lose 1 match and win 2 but still be down points because of it. They don't use this for other ranking games and do you know why (other than it being fucking retarded), because it's not fair to penalise players for losing a match that gave no indication of the rank of the opponent, I'd avoid low ranker matches purely because this game is down to luck much more than skill (the old phrase it's not the cards your dealt but how you play them is bollocks it is the cards your dealt, even a pro couldn't win if they got stuck with 8 lands and no monsters in their hand.)

The next cock up is the frankly misleading fa├žade that you can edit your deck, you can't at all in anyway, and the link to 'Unlock Deck' and 'Premium Deck' are broken they just lead to the steam store front. All you can do is see what card you've left to unlock from wins and move cards around the screen, whatever the fuck good that is, you can't take the card out, you can't even move it in the deck just around the fucking screen. Another point about the decks is that they are very limited, what may have started out to make the game fairer has gone the way of lazy programming, so what they end up with is just bad decks that aren't fair because the elf one is overpowered and everyone uses it.

Over all it was fun to play for awhile and it's gotten me passively interesting in the card game so mission accomplished WoC (you bastards), but on the long run it gets boring fast, the expansions promise to keep the wheels rolling but I doubt I'll bother getting them unless it's free.

2 out of 5 (Fun for a bit, no staying value)

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

CS:S Beta/Upgrade

Yes i was one of the lucky fucks who got into the beta of this. Ok just to oblige for the stupid CS:S stands for Counter Strike: Source, and it's an online FPS currently owned by valve. The basic principle behind the game is that you play as either terrorists or counter-terrorists and are charged with a challenge. You get a fairly impressive and expansive array of weapons to choose from. But none of this has any bearing in this review since it's old news, and has been reviewed to death and beyond. (Oh and if you don't already have a copy of CS:S and would seriously call yourself a gamer, smack yourself very hard across the face and go buy it).

(here's a link for you to do just that Counter-Strike: Source Via Amazon and here it is on steam CS:S)

Ok the new stuff; Valve got together with Hidden Path and went about bringing the old girl up to date, because yer it's only been 6 years. What I think has happened is the guys at Valve noticed that people are still playing it after so long and decided to throw the community a bone or something. What they gave us was 144 achievementssome source engine upgrades, a revenge/domination system (like you needed another reason to hate someone on this game), lifetime stats and finally some dolling up of the in game stuff.

First on the agenda, the achievements and the new stats, these have been a long time coming and the game has desperately needed them. The achievements themselves are pretty well thought out and everything, with each aspect of the game having some achievement involved with it, for example there is a set to do with bombing and a set to do with hostages (for both teams). They also follow the same basic achievement model, there are a few you can get on the get go, and then some that will take time or skill (luck), and then there are lose that take either a lot of time or a lot of skill (luck).

To mark the changes they've also rolled out a new UI for checking your achievements and stats as you can see above. If I say so my self it's all pretty epic, it looks nice, easy to navigate and it tells me just about what I want to know. The achievements section is just as nice, splitting them into categories and whatnot, you can't hide already achieved ones though, but that'll probably be fixed by the end of the beta. All in all this is exceptional work, and I wish other games like TF2 had something like this.

Next up is the in game stuff and Revenge/Dominations, I'll just start off with the one bad point I have with this section, the MVP system. It's just that under this system you need to win and get the most kills in your team to be awarded it. This may seem pretty fair and standard but imagine it's a 5 v 4 match, and you kill 4 out of the 5 and then get shanked by a noob camper (and you were the last guy on your team) that guy would get the MVP no mater how little damage he did or how many kills he got.

In the myriad of pictures above you'll see the basic aesthetic changes that have been made, they all give it a much more modern feel to the game, and thankfully while they were galavanting off bringing 2010 into the game they left the HUD alone, because that was perfect, portal perfect in fact. You may also notice that it uses my steam name now, as opposed to having to get me to type one into the options.
Now the Dominations system; all I'll say is if you liked it in TF2 you'll like it here. If you didn't, then you'll rage slightly more since it's a bit more of a realistic shooter here (you'll die quicker and more often).

Ok the source engine updates, this was the only part I didn't really notice all that much, I'm sure it's there and I'm glad but if you were to ask me to do direct comparisons from memory I'd be pushed to tell you jack. I guess this is just like having ABS in your car, you don't notice it and you not even sure it's there sometimes but you'd be bollocked if you didn't have it when you needed it.

Beta special

This is a review of a beta so I feel honour bound to mention some of the bugs and faults I've noticed, and there are only really two things I've noticed so far:

1. You can't add bots when creating a server, it says you can and will even let you run through the motions of picking the number of bots and setting their difficulty, but when the game starts low and behold they're nowhere to be found. Another thing is the bots options from the create server section is gone too, this may be down to beta, and I hope it is. I will say you can still add bots via the console so don't worry.

2. Graphical instability, I am 100% prepared to blame this on my craptop, but the graphics on all settings seemed jittery and lagged, I did manage to fix this by turning the DX level to 80 though so who knows.
On a side note the bots seemed to be a bit schizophrenic when it came to difficulty. Sometimes they'd stay still and wait for you to shoot first, next they're firing as they turn the corner like expert bots do.

Ok overall there's some great work here and nothing really to spoil it, and if my above comment didn't make you buy it you really should after this update, it's going to be a hell of a game. Valve and Hidden Path have really kept this game to the high standard that it started with 6 years ago, and I'd love to see what else the combination can do.

I'll give it 5 out of 5 (Really superb work here)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Left 4 Dead 2: The passing

I know you don't normally do a review for extra content for a game but shut up your mum doesn't mind when I try something different. For those of you that don't already know (because you've been on the dark side of the moon the last 4 years) Left 4 Dead is the premium "Zombie survival game" made by awesome enthusiasts Valve, you play as one of four survivors who have well... survived a zombie apocalypse (so far), and in the spirit of Top Gear are set some challenges, ok not quite like that but close.

The passing is the latest instalment of Left 4 Dead 2, taking place between Dead Centre and Kiddieland, with it a new map and a few bells and whistles:
The stupidly awesome M-60 (which bends the difficulty over the table and gives it a good going over), a golf club (which is fun but i can't see if it's any better than any other melee weapon) and mutations mode (a new gameplay mode).

Now lets just talk about the Mutations mode for a sec, it's more or less a game mode that takes another game mode and changes (mutates) it in a different way every week, and this is actually a pretty cool idea in theory, but i feel in reality valve are going to have a devils own job in getting it balanced. For example the first week it's versus realism, versus by itself is pretty well balanced, but when you add in the fact the survivors are playing it with realism turned on it becomes very heavily stacked in favour of the infected team, I suspect that the people who will find this fun are those that are either really bad at this game or really good, but hey each mode is only on for a week so who really cares.

Ok time for the meat of this review. The new maps, after playing it a few times I had to ask myself something, did valve really make this campaign or did they just steal a player made one? because it doesn't seem at all like a professionally made one. The layout is confusing and at times feels like an urban maze, at one point there were about 5 different paths i could take 4 of which lead to dead ends and the final one was quite frankly the least obvious of the 5. You may think that it's just because I was playing for the first time and was being retarded, and while the latter is still in question, on my 4th time round I still managed to go round in a circle and start backtracking because I didn't see the stupid small brown plank against the dark brown background, especially considering I saw the big open and inviting doorway first. I think the main problem with it is in all the other campaigns the player was given a vague idea of where they should be aiming for, while in 'The Passing' it just feels like each encounter zone is randomly slotted together like a 5 year old's attempt to make a castle out of lego.
The big selling point (I know this update was free, it's just a phrase) is the fact you have the original survivors in it from the first game, but it just seems to me like it's has too many forced interactions, and it just feels like at some point a fanboy was given a say over the dialogue... well actually not just the dialogue almost everything felt that way, just something to set the original ones up as demigods compared to the new characters.
And the last item of my check list of things wrong with the new maps is the final scavenger map, similar to the one they had in Dead centre only that this one is crap. Like the rest of the map it's confusing to navigate with the petrol can's halos being counter-productive rather than helpful. You do get help from the original survivors which is good for all about nothing considering you spend most of the time outside of their range fetching petrol cans scattered in the most anal places possible. While with the other campaigns you get something to give you a big finish, like a car driving through a wall or a bridge exploding, no such luck in 'The Passing', all you get is the car driving down a straight road.

So over all the new campaign is a disappointment but the new weapons and game mode are quite nice, the M-60 itself being one of the most satisfying guns I've ever had the pleasure of firing in a video game since playing Painkiller, more so when you mix it up with frag or fire bullets which result in nothing short of tank rape.
I can see this being the start of more DLC to come for L4D2, which is good because when they do it right, it's amazing, it's just this time it was only average.

I'll give it a 3 out of 5 (Not as good as i was hoping but the M-60 is awesome)

Thursday, 22 April 2010


Well this is my first blog... post whatever you call this, so I'll start with a game I've played quite a bit in the last few weeks, Torchlight.

Torchlight is a PC exclusive RPG available on steam for a nominal price of about £15, but you'd be a sucker if you bought it for that much, this game, since release, has been on sale more times than would seem fair, as i'd much rather get Modern warfare at 75% off than this. But fascist pricing systems aside lets get back to things. Ok I will say now that to be fair to the game it should be reviewed by someone who likes RPG's, but life's not fair so i'm reviewing it.

Lets start with the big thing with any RPG game, the story, since there is only really a handful of fantasy adventurer story lines to choose from and most of them boil down to you going and beating an evil force of some description, i'll accept that this generalisation will cover a huge amount of games that have a story, but lets just run with it for a sec. In Torchlight you are either a bulky disproportioned melee enthusiast (male), a thin and busty ranged specialist (female) or skinny white magic man (male not that i needed to say this time). Each of the characters has their own reason for being in the mining village of Torchlight (Original naming i know, it says town in the game but there are only like 12 buildings) but they all have something to do with the magical substance called ember, now ember is, i imagine, a writers convenience do all and end all, something like how the force went in the star wars films towards the end, simply put if you have some ember you can do magic. You then get assimilated by an NPC to start the main quest and your adventure through the suspiciously large dungeon of evil things. I won't say much more specific for two reasons, 1 there isn't really much more to say without listing the whole plot, and 2 some of you might want to actually play this game after this. I will just conclude that the story isn't first rate, if it was a movie it's be a B movie.

Ok lets talk graphics, Torchlight owes a lot of it's graphical design to World of Warcraft, hell Torchlight's character creation is just a stripped out copy of WoW's. But you know it won't be the first, last or worst game to copy WoW, so it doesn't lose any points for it.
I have to say that this game seems to be very well optimised as my craptop with it's on-board graphics chip can run this game at full settings, and i can't even do that with audiosurf.
The character design is quite aesthetically pleasing, i wouldn't really say that there's anything very wrong with any of them. The map design, on the other hand, is where it gets tricky, each individual map theme is good by itself, but it's like the map designers couldn't settle on picking a theme and just subtly changing things from then on, so they just made every fantasy theme for the game.
In order you have:
The crystal mine,
Haunted library,
Aztec ruins,
The bat cave,
A goblin larva Fortress,
Generic dwarf castle,
Evil fortress of solitude,
and back to the bat cave for the final boss.
So you can see it's more than just varied, i was surprised that i didn't find myself on the starship enterprise, but hey that's what Mods are for.

Lets move onto some of the annoying things, in the first picture above you can see the inventory screens for yourself and your pet, and that's all the storage you really have while playing the game, there's a stash in the village that acts as a sort of bank but that's only really good for storing things you won't ever need right away, and it's very limited too. You may be thinking that there seems to be more than enough space for the average adventurer, and that would be true if monsters didn't drop equipment constantly, and there are so many of the little buggers, you end up with a rather full inventory rather quickly and your forced to send your dog back to town to sell off what it has got, and this got me wondering how the hell does the dog not only sell the gear but have any monetary concept to know how much the stuff is worth, is this Scooby-doo or something?
As well as the anal storage issues the game also is mouse heavy, to the point where almost all the user interface is through the mouse, which you may think is good, but here's a problem:
The movement system works by clicking the area you want to move to (or by holding down the mouse button to continuously move, although this little bit of information isn't freely available and i had to be told on a loading screen hint about it) and the combat system works by clicking on the monster you want to kill and then clicking again because this game thinks auto attacks are for the feeble, now if lets say this monster is of all things moving around and there are lots of them (and there will be lots of them) you spend all your time running in circles franticly trying to click on the stupid spider that's slowly nibbling away at your giblets. Again there a fix for this but it's luck of the draw if you get the loading screen with the right hint or not.

Torchlight isn't all bad, and it does have it's moments of awesomeness, like the Emperor Palpatine lightning attack, it's just these moments are few and far between and this is because this game wants to be a MMORPG, it wants to be WoW.
For all extents and purposes this game is a single player MMORPG, and to make it a longer and more repetitive one they have a system that allows you to permanently "retire" a character so you can start the whole game over again with a piece of gear that is slightly better and some other stuff too. It's not really all that clear on the matter, all i know is that it's an utterly shameful but effective way to make you play the game several times.

I did say above this game does have player made mods and these, so far, range from interesting to pathetic (not naming and names of course), but none of them really do what i'd expect from a mod, maybe i've been tainted by the high standard array of Half life mods that are out there, and they've ruined me for other games, but i get the distinct impression that what all the mods really do is add paint and ribbons to the outside of the game, with the core staying exactly the same. I can't be the only one that wants a star wars version of this as i run around as Han Solo shooting storm troopers in the face on board the Deathstar, you know something completely different.

I will conclude that Torchlight is an addictive game but it's let down by the shameless grind and gameplay lengthening schemes, it was well worth the few quid i paid for it, but i'd hardly call it a decent game.

I'll give it 2 out of 5 (good effort but I've seen much better).