Thursday, April 17, 2014

Team Fortress 2: a great community

I felt like playing an online shooter, but I'm not sure where my copies of various Halos are and I've not bought a Call of Duty game since number 2 (and that was in Portuguese).  I've completed Portal a number of times and have made my way half-way through Half-Life 2 (as described the last time I wrote about it - the last bit I remember was playing with Alyx's dog and then being separated from her by a tunnel collapsing, but that was a good few months ago), but have never played Team Fortress 2.  I decided to change that.

I'm really glad I did.  The game's not particularly friendly to newcomers, with the different classes seeming bewildering, but I decided to just jump in and try to work it out as I went.  Of course, this meant that I died a lot, but that just meant I could experiment more with different playing styles.

I quickly realised that the best class for me was the pyromaniac, which was surprising since in most games I don't like getting up close to enemies.  The pyro has an advantage in that the weapon - a flamethrower - doesn't need to be completely accurate, though it relies on an extended contact with enemies.

I also played a few games with the spy, which was great fun - trying to act like a member of the other team in order to prevent getting discovered, while sneaking in to the base to steal the documents.

The thing I found most difficult was learning the maps.  I only played on two different areas, one with two forts with identical mazes within (on which I played capture the flag), and one where the idea was to make progress through the level.  I was on the losing team on every game but one, and I can't help but feel my participation may not have helped on that.

The thing that struck me most about the game was the community.  Everyone was playing as a team, not boasting about kills, and a couple of people actively helped me - I managed to get the documents back to our base while two others protected me.  I said thanks, they told me I was welcome.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Uncharted: completed!

They did introduce something new - but hardly innovative.  It turns out that the treasure is cursed, and all associated with it turn into the undead.  Yes, it's yet another game where you get to fight zombies.  These aren't the shambling hordes of Resident Evil, these are agile and quick and vicious.  These are just horrible.

While I did find the three-way battles between Drake, the zombies, and the mercenaries pretty clever, the general tone of the game was worsened by their inclusion.  I'm sure that many would argue that they were crucial to the plot - don't take the gold off the island, it'll make the world cursed! - but it could have just been a disease inside the golden statue instead.  Maybe it's just that I don't like things jumping out at me.

So, Drake went into the tombs, found Sir Francis, found the zombies, worked out that the gold was cursed.  There were some clever platforming bits around a 3D maze, where I had to follow signs marked either II, V or VII, which would have been a clever puzzle if it wasn't for the very obvious notes shown at the start of the section.  Unfortunately the platforming bits kept on being broken up by more mercenaries appearing from nowhere.  Also unfortunately, Drake died many times on the platforming bits because the controls are just a bit woolly.

Right at the end, there was a section where Drake had to chase the real enemy, and I kept failing it because unlike the rest of the game, there was a time limit.  I had to run past lots of zombies and mercenaries, shooting without aiming, and then jumping onto the treasure as it was hoisted into the air.  The final level thankfully had no zombies, but lots of sniping, rocket launchers, and an invincible enemy who ran from area to area.  The final battle had me foxed for a while until I realised I had to brute force it, rather than taking cover I just had to make Drake rush the enemy as he reloaded.

So, game finished, and I immediately went back to the first couple of levels to try to understand the plot a bit better, having forgotten about it in the years since I started the game.  I found a few more treasures by exploring, and was struck by how different the first couple of chapters felt, before gun-toting enemies turned up.  If only there was more of that during the game.

Anyway, while I've been a bit down about the game in my write-up, I was keen to continue it, and must admit that it's been well worth playing.  I hope that its sequels have learnt from the progression in game mechanics over time, and I'll move onto Uncharted 2 at some point soon.

Friday, April 11, 2014

WarioWare DIY: leaving it until the last minute

As part of my drive to get the most out of Nintendo WiFi Connection before it gets turned off, I've downloaded all the extra puzzles for the Layton games, loaded up games with online leaderboards such as Geometry Wars Galaxies, and played a last few games of Mario Kart DS and Tetris DS.

Deep in the DS pile was WarioWare DIY, which I'd never even unwrapped.  I've noo idea why, since I loved all previous games in the series, and the idea of programming your own games seems inspired.  So I started it yesterday, playing through Mona's games, going through the initial game building tutorial, and then wondering how I could unlock all the other characters.  I built my own game (Smash TV, so called because in it you must smash a TV), followed the other tutorial, and still nothing.

This morning I found that you have to wait until the next day for the next character to unlock.  Obviously.

This wasn't a huge problem, though, since I went online last night and downloaded loads of extra games.  Some were built by professional games programmers, others came from the "weekly games" which I understand were generated by users.  I had to download one game at a time, which was dull, but it meant that I could then play loads of games last night with varied levels.

None were as good as Smash TV though.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Uncharted: it is just a shooting game

The developers of Uncharted were very clear that they wanted this to be a cover shooter with a bit of platforming thrown in, it seems.  Following the story, Drake has worked out where the treasure is buried, and we've descended down through mausoleums and libraries, using doorways that nobody else has known about.  You'd think this was the perfect opportunity for platform exploration, but no - somehow the enemy have got into these areas as well and continue their work to make Drake die.  It just feels really tenuous.

Something else I notice - when describing this game, I often call the main character "Drake", rather than projecting myself into him.  It's clear that Drake worked out the location of the treasure, since I had no part in it.  Wherever there are puzzles, Drake is the one who finds the correct page in the notebook which give the answer in an obvious way.  When there's a new weapon, Drake is the one who quips about it being a great find.  I'm not - I don't find guns exciting at all.

So when I misjudge a jump, it's Drake who falls to his death, not me.  I feel pretty disconnected, all in all, and as a result I notice inconsistencies in the game world more than I should.  For example, Drake can jump across 30-foot gaps with ease, but struggles to reach ledges a few inches above his head - indeed, he even seems to crouch when he's jumping just so they're out of reach.  When running around the roof of a church, falling off the narrow planks results in instant death, but a similarly large fall elsewhere is fine as long as you hang from the platform.

I'm up to chapter 16 now, of a total of 22.  Given this, I'll push through to the end, but I'm disappointed there's been nothing really new in the last few chapters.  The only difference is with the story and the introduction of two new enemies - a sniper with a laser sight (who drops a pistol, not a sniper rifle), and enemies with bigger machine guns.  I did find a sniper rifle on a crate, but it had only five bullets which makes it massively limited.  The highlight of last night's gaming, in fact, was a chapter where I had to guide a jet-ski upriver, over rapids and avoiding exploding barrels (and, of course, people shooting).

999: completed!

It was the good ending - I had managed to fulfil all the requirements through the story (more by luck than judgement, I fear), so I found out about the experiments of the past, the identity of Zero, the way that bracelets worked, and the truth behind the multiple doors marked with a 9.  If you're going to play this yourself, don't read any further.

Friday, April 04, 2014

999: fourth time through

Each time I've played the game, I've chosen a different route, and have now completed three games in which Junpei was killed.  The first, he was stabbed in the back.  The second, he discovered a note in a safe which meant that he discovered the true identity of Ace, was told that Zero had lost the game, and then was knocked out by a gas grenade - I suspect he was killed after that.  The third, he discovered a submarine, then found everyone else dead before being killed himself.  Each time I've learnt more about my compatriots, the the extent that now, on my fourth playthrough, where I seem to have chosen some good doors to go through, I can piece together exactly what happened nine years ago and who everyone is.  I think I'm close to the end of the game, and the amount of extra material I've had to go through on this playthrough indicates this might be the good ending.  I hope so - I'm not sure I can face another playthrough.

Uncharted: constant shooting

Many people have complained that the recent Tomb Raider game is too combat-oriented, which is very true when you compare it to the older games in the series.  But if you compare it to Uncharted, Lara is a veritable peace-loving hippy.  Exploration seems to take second fiddle to hiding in cover and shooting enemies, then picking up their ammunition before going through the next door and taking cover again.  There have been a few puzzles, but nothing more complex than finding a key to open a door or pulling a couple of levels to flood a room.  The platforming is probably the best part of the game, having to work out how to get to high-up ledges, and it's a shame there's not more of it - and it's annoying the controls are quite so imprecise.  A lack of lock-on to enemies from cover doesn't help.

Still, it's a fun game with some spectacular setpieces, even if the best parts of these are generally non-interactive.  I've just finished a section where I was speeding through canals on a jetski - well, I say speeding, but it was easier and more efficient to inch forwards, stopping every few seconds to shoot the explosive barrels and enemies in my path.

Oh dear, it doesn't sound like I'm having much fun, does it?  Oddly, I'm looking forward to continuing - as long as this doesn't outstay its welcome.  I think the problem this game has is that Tomb Raider has since done it so much better, and this suffers from being played second.

Er, of course I did play this before Tomb Raider - I got my first two trophies on 15 April 2011 - but I was expecting a purely platforming exploration game and the constant gunfights put me off.  I cleared the first three chapters, I think - up until the submarine in the jungle.  I continued from there, which meant a good few minutes of trying to work out which button did what, causing at least one hilarious death where I threw a grenade at my own feet.  Let's not mention that.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spacechem: my brain is getting too old

It started off so well.  I followed the tutorial easily, seeing how the reactors were built, how to drop and pick up atoms and molecules.  And then there's a spike in difficulty, where you have to drop off two atoms from the same origin point and bond them.  My solution wasn't entirely elegant.

Reflecting on it later, you could have had the blue doobrie following the red a few spaces behind, moving the atom one more space along, then the red would drop another on the original drop point, move over the first atom and bond, then carry them away before the blue tried to pick up the second.  I know that doesn't make much sense but I may try it.

Anyway, it got even more complicated than that.  Pipelines delivered atoms at different times, multiple reactors were needed, and I kept on getting the C=O molecule the wrong way around, trying to bond the Hs to the O.

Even when I did get it the right way around, I kept colliding molecules inside the reactor.  It took ages for me to work out how to manipulate the molecules correctly.  I'm sure there's a lot of slack time here, but it worked.

My brain hurts just looking at that.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aladdin: still amazing

I've been fiddling with the emulators on the Wii recently and have finally managed to get them in a state where they're easy enough to use.  I've also been experimenting with ROMs I've picked up.

The joys of being an adult and being interested in retro games is that many of the cartridges you long after when you're young can be had for a pittance when you're older - and you have the money to spend on them as well.  The disadvantage is having space to store them and the machines.  I've been buying various cart games off eBay for years, but often these have sat unplayed because my Mega Drive, Master System Converter, Game Gear, and so on, are all in the loft.  This emulation gives me a handy way of playing the games - and, of course, adding features such as save states and allowing me to run it through my video capture box.  It's not as good as using original hardware, due to the controllers, the lack of a clunk as the cartridge engages, and some emulation oddities, but it'll do.

The other benefit is that I get to try out some of the games I never played when I was young.  I've never owned a SNES, though have played many of the games through Virtual Console or other rereleases.  One day I will get a second-hand console, but until then this is ideal.

Anyway.  When setting the emulators up, the first game I wanted to try was the Mega Drive version of Aladdin.  This was always one of my favourite games when I was young, and I was great at it - making it all the way through without losing a life or even throwing any apples.  I thought that at the same time, I should try the SNES game, which was made by a completely different company, and also try the Master System and Game Gear games, which I own on cartridge but have never played.

Mega Drive

I immediately noticed that the game felt faster, which probably means that the 50Hz conversion wasn't entirely optimised.  Having said that, the difference felt marginal, and if anything controls felt a little less defined than I remember.  I last played the game on the Mega Drive about four years ago, so it may be a memory trick.

I ran through the first level with ease; I can remember ever jump, every enemy, every secret.  I lost a life on purpose just before the end of the level since I couldn't remember what happened - the genie int eh boxing ring.  I picked up the golden Abu and completed the bonus stage.

I played halfway through the desert before deciding that I ought to get on with one of the other versions, rather than spend the entire day playing this again.  It's still an amazing game, one of my favourites of all time, and I will play it again soon even if only to get to the rug ride stage.


It certainly looks nice, though the animation on Aladdin feels a bit off - his running animation isn't quite at the same speed as he moves.  And the controls feel a bit off as well, though this may be due to the emulation.  I went in expecting a bit of a rubbish game, because I've always been told it's not as good as the Mega Drive game ... and while it's definitely inferior, it's actually pretty good anyway.  You don't feel as free and athletic running through the streets, there isn't the same sense of scale and exploration, and it's doesn't make you smile as much when dispatching enemies.  It's still fun.

Master System

I wasn't sure what to expect from this.  I've never heard much about it at all, other than how great it looks.  And you know, it does look pretty amazing.  Obviously it suffers from direct comparisons to the Mega Drive game, but the animation is still top-notch, and it's vibrant and colourful.

What really surprised me was the complete difference in game style.  This is more like the endless runners that are now popular on the App Store, except with an end point.  The screen constantly scrolls, and you have to jump obstacles and avoid enemies in order to not get caught behind.  At first it's quite tricky, but you soon learn the level and can breeze through it.

The backgrounds are impressively drawn and the game moves at a fair pace.  I only completed the first two levels, but I will be back for the rest at some point - I do own the cartridge, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays on original hardware.

Game Gear

As with most games of the time, the Game Gear version is just a port of the Master System game, with a reduced window and slightly brighter graphics.  This makes the game a lot harder, as obstacles appear in front of Aladdin with much less notice.  It was no doubt great for anyone without other versions to compare it to, but against the Master System game it just seems unfair.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brothers - a Tale of Two Sons: completed!

I've played through this over the last couple of evenings, and have loved it.  It's easy to think of the game as a gimmick, with the idea of controlling two characters at once, but once you get used to this (which takes a while!) the game reveals itself as a clever puzzle platformer with moving story.

The puzzles throughout the game are varied enough to not outstay their welcome, without the need for any sort of power-up mechanic. Some of the highlights were manoeuvring a long metal pole through  a maze with limited turning points, and a long section where one brother hung from a conveyor belt while the other opened gates.  These were by no means the only clever puzzles, and even those which are pretty standard parts of videogames were freshened by the control scheme.

The story was equally innovative, in that it explored the themes of sickness and death more intimately than most other games. The game starts with the background story of the little brother witnessing (and finding himself responsible for) his mother's death, followed by the main story of his father's sickness.  The two brothers journeyed to get medicine to cure their father, emphasising the importance of the family.  The strong bonds that the story imposes are all the more effective when ... things happen ... at the end of the game.  I've rarely felt such a sense of shock and horror.

Well worth playing through, though don't expect happiness and fun all the way through.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sega Ages Outrun: absurdly difficult

With the news that a 3D version of Outrun is on the way to the 3DS, I remembered that I bought a PS2 disc a while ago which has the Sega Ages versions of a few games, including Outrun, on it.  I decided to give it a go on the PS3.

It's still great fun, but it seems really hard compared to any version of Outrun I've played before.  I only managed to get to the end of the third stage, even after increasing the time limits available.  I wasn't even crashing or spinning out more than once before running out of time.

I can't think which other versions of Outrun I have. maybe I'll have to find an arcade in Shenmue II.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Super Mario Bros U: completed!

I left this alone for a long time - I'm not sure why, it may have been because some of the levels were a little too frustrating.  Indeed, after I went back to it a week ago, there have been a few instances where after completing a level I've had to put the controller down and walk away.  Alternatively, I've had to go back to an early stage in order to get a few more lives ...

Anyway, on returning it appeared that there were relatively few stages to complete until I reached the castle, which was hidden in a cloud of smog.  Or maybe magic smoke.

Some of the levels in the castle were really difficult.  I think the hardest was a level where you stood on a tilting platform, which you steered by tilting the gamepad.  At the same time, you had to control Mario jumping on switch blocks, throwing bombs off the platform, and avoiding getting stuck (so that the rising lava didn't catch up).

Eventually, I got to the final door ...

... and the final boss fight harked back to the original Super Mario Bros, where jumping past Bowser and hitting the button caused him to fall down and die.  Most amusing.

Of course, that wasn't the end, and Bowser came back four times the size and meaner than ever.  Luckily, Bowser Jr was there to lend me his little hovering thing, so I could get high enough to jump on Bowser's head.  It took me a couple of attempts, but he soon departed.

That's one strong hovercraft.

Of course, although I've marked this completed (I've seen the end credits after all), there's a lot of the game remaining.  I've not collected all the large coins on each stage - I went back after seeing the credits and collected the coins on Acorn Plains, just so I could play one level on Star Road.  There was one coin that eluded me for ages, and it turns out it was on a hidden route off another hidden route.

I'll go back to this one day soon, but for now I've still got NSMBW to complete ...