Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Assassin's Creed Revelations: a change of scenery

I've not played much of this recently, since gaming time has been limited and the PS4 controller is always there screaming "Rocket League!".  However, I did manage to progress with the story, largely because I last left the game on a boat to Cappadocia - a town built inside a cave.  There wasn't much to distract me there, with a few data fragments spread around and little else.  The missions were generally easy, with the difficulty coming not from the missions but from the soldiers on rooftops, which were the most effective way of getting around.  I rescued the spy, caused explosions, and killed the big fat man.  Back to Constantinople!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Psycho Fox: completed!

I've heard many great things about Psycho Fox, and I'm sure that I've played it before, possibly at William Davis's house when we visited him after returning from Kenya, back in 1990.  I didn't remember much of it, though.

A predecessor to Decap Attack and Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure, Psycho Fox is known as one of the better Master System games.   It's easy to see why.  When you compare it to other games at the time, there's a great sense of momentum to the character, and the controls are perfect, so you feel that every death is your own fault.

It took me a couple of lives to get in my stride and work out what was happening.  Initially you have a single hit before you die, and you have to be pretty cautious when progressing through the levels.  However, by hitting the eggs (using a comic extending arm animation) you can sometimes find a black bird companion who not only gives you a projective weapon, but also acts as a second hit point.

So far, so Mario.  The two main differences are that first, when you throw your companion he lands on the floor and then returns to you, and second, all the time you're not holding on to the bird you are reduced to a single hit again.  So you have to be quite careful when you throw him.

As the bird returns to you, he continues to kill any enemies.  There are some parts of the game where this is used to good effect, where a row of enemies can be killed as long as you are standing on the same level as them.  Getting onto that level can be the hard bit.

Having mastered the basic mechanics, and without the need to play the whole game in one sitting (due to the wonders of emulation), I had little trouble with it.  Yes, I lost the occasional life, but by playing through relatively slowly and taking the top route where possible I was able to find treasure which allowed me to play the bonus game between levels, which often gave me extra lives.

In fact, by the end of the game I had 20 lives remaining, partially due to getting 5 bonus lives a couple of times, and partially due to finding eggs with lives inside.  The first time I found such an egg I ran away from the life - it appears as a flickering version of yourself, and you ave to catch it, but I didn't realise this until one ran into me.

The levels were slightly varied, between blue and black backgrounds and the floor sprites.  Some levels outside were set more in the sky, with clouds to jump on; others relied on collapsing platforms and ice floors (which caused their own problems with the momentum).

As well as collecting lives in the bonus game and in eggs, there were other items that could be collected - some sort of star, a stone staircase thing, and a green bottle marked 'S'.  Experimentation during the last set of levels showed that using the staircase thing enabled me to change character, to a hippo, monkey or tiger.  The monkey had a higher jump, the hippo a lower, and the tiger the same as the fox.  I saw no other difference between the characters, but recognise that the monkey may have been useful during some of the earlier stages where high jumps were required.  There were some areas blocked off by boulders, and I wonder if the hippo could have broken through them.

The star seemed to be some sort of smart bomb, and the potion might have been invincibility but I never quite worked it out.  The only time I tried it, the game corrupted itself into a glitchy wall (which I eventually jumped through to continue the level) so I never tried it again.

So, after a few sessions (with save states made between them) I completed the game, only learning half its secrets in round 7-2.  Maybe I'll go back to it one day to take a different route through some of the levels - especially in the later levels, there are many different routes to go and I suspect quite a few secret areas to find - but for now I'm happy to finally understand why this is considered to be such a good game.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Assassin's Creed Revelations: a very long game

My main complaint about Brotherhood was that there was too much to do.  Revelations gives you even more, and also takes the stuff you did in Brotherhood and complicates it.

This map only shows some of the stuff you get to distract you; shortly after this I bought a map showing the location of memoirs, and I've also now unlocked locations for data fragments which are strewn across the city.  There has been so much stuff to do it's a wonder I've made any progress with the story.

Complication: dens
In Brotherhood, you had to defeat Borgia towers before buying the shops in the area.  In Revelations, it's the same except with Templar dens.  And when you capture a den, you have to install one of your assassins as a den leader, and if you get too well known the templars may attack your den and you have to go back to it and play a tower defense type game to stop them retaking it.

Complication: international relations
In Brotherhood, you had to send some of your recruits off to far-off lands to partake in a finite number of missions which would reward you with money and materials.  You could recruit ten assassins, and allocate them effectively to make sure that success was guaranteed.  However, each mission took a certain amount of time, so it wasn't a quick win.  All of this exists in Revelations, except the templars try to take back the cities you have power in, and your influence is constantly decreasing, so you have to constantly carry out new missions.  You can also post your recruits to these cities permanently, which means that it's a little easier to make sure you have resources to defend the cities but it's a big pain to swap between local and overseas assassins when assigning tasks.

Complication: chests
There are now two types of chest: those which are not refilled, which contain money and ingredients, and those which are refilled, which contain ingredients.  Since I'm not using many bombs, my ingredients are almost permanently full, making the second type pretty useless.  It's not easy to tell from a distance which type of chest you're approaching, though.

Complication: recruitment
Due to the fact that you have dens to protect by appointing a den leader, and you can post assassins overseas, you can continue to recruit new assassins and then train them up. This turns into a balancing act - who do you send away, at what level, and who do you retain?  The first few recruitments were all quite interesting, but now it's just a case of stopping the soldiers beating up a citizen each time.

Addition: first-person Desmond
The modern-day story is odd; Desmond is stuck on an island in his head with the bloke who was leaving all the messages in the last game.  As well as entering the past, there are some other doors which are slowly being unlocked (I would guess by collecting data fragments).  Going into these starts segments where Desmond talks about his past and you solve puzzles in first-person by placing blocks in the air.  It's all a bit odd, and the general dark nature of the game makes it more difficult than it should be.

Oh, yes, the game is very dark and that's a huge pain if you play it during the day or in the evening with a light on behind you.  I've had to turn the brightness up on my TV to be able to see properly.

Addition: collecting books
There seems to be a whole other plotline going on, with a different icon on the map.  I'm not sure why this is or whether it's important (but I'm tending to do those missions before the main ones anyway).  The general format is that Sofia asks you to do something for her, you do, she tells you where a book is hidden, you go and get the book and find the location of a hidden location; going to that place lets you find a key for a memory.

The missions you do for Sofia are, at times, quite daft.

Addition: becoming Altaïr
When Ezio finds a memory, it's back into the past further.  This is one story I have been able to keep up with - it concerns Altaïr's exile from Masyuf after the first game, and in each (short) sequence you play as Altaïr as an increasingly old man.

It's fortunate that despite this abundance of distraction, the core gameplay is still great fun.  I have made a little progress with the story - up to the end of sequence six, in fact, which sees me (temporarily, I hope, given that there are still data fragments to collect) off to Cappadocia on a boat, sailing through flaming wreckage and debris caused by the templars' attempts to stop me leaving.  The action sequences, while a little on rails, are good at getting the blood flowing, although it can be a little disappointing and immersion breaking when you fail for no real reason.

The story has been complicated.  Ezio is trying to find out about his past and where the Apple of Eden has come from; he finds books buried all around the city although these are a side mission and not crucial to the story.  There's a Turk assassin who is setting up the order in Constantinople.  Other stuff is happening.  To be honest, because of the big gaps in my partaking of the story line, I've got a bit lost.  I might need to read the Wikipedia plot summary when I finish the game.

The story certainly isn't leaving me hanging there, anyway.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rocket League: not good for the heart

I have tried to play a number of PS4 games, but I find it difficult since as soon as I turn on my PS4 the Rocket League icon is sitting there.  To play anything else, I have to scroll past it.  I frequently don't.

It's a tense, exciting, thrilling game, played in short ten-minute installments, and I think I'm getting better at it, albeit slowly.  Last night there were a couple of games which I was particularly pleased with - including this one.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Pokémon Picross: you are not allowed to have too much fun

I am nearly done with Picross e3, which will mean a purchase of Picross e4 in the near future.  In the meantime, though, I was pointed the way of Pokémon Picross, a free-to-play 3DS game which uses the same mechanics as the e* games but with puzzle solutions based around Pokémon.  Obviously.

It's not quite the same.  The backend is the most different - rather than just selecting from a menu, there's a sort of story attached, where you have to travel from area to area, solving the puzzles and collecting picrites.  You get a certain number of picrites for solving puzzles, but also for meeting various conditions - enabling certain powerups, meeting the time limit, and so on.

Powerups are another difference.  You can equip a certain number of pokémon, who will then give you things like a random row reveal, freezing time, or showing you where moves exist - like in the e* games, with blue colours.  To be honest, I don't really use these - except you are forced to do so in order to get the maximum number of picrites.  It would make more sense if you got more for not using powerups ...

But maybe not from a financial point of view.  Your powerups can only be used a certain number of times before needing to be recharged - basically, they're out of action for an hour or so.  You can always pay picrites to recharge them quicker.  You have to pay a certain number of picrites to access the next area, but there aren't enough in the puzzles themselves so you have to do the daily challenges - earning a few each day.  Or you can just buy picrites for real money,

So everything seems to be geared up to get you to spend picrites.  It feels like you're constantly being badgered to give the game more money, or wait for another day or another week before you're allowed to have any more fun.  Have lots of fun!  But only a certain amount each day!

The odd thing is that there's an option to buy a bundle of picrites which are unlimited, which would effectively make the game a standard pay-for title.  But I resent paying for that, and instead am chipping away at the daily challenges in order to open Area 4.  I think it may be because even when using a virtual currency, buying things in-game always stresses me, so I don't like the backend structure of a game that's based around that.

Finally, an exercise for the reader.  I had trouble with this - where is the valid move?  It took me 20 minutes to find it, but there is indeed a definite place to go.

Assassin's Creed Revelations: a long tutorial

It doesn't seem like a year since I played through Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, but it is and so it's high time I continue the series - in an attempt to make sure that I'm only four years behind the curve and no more.  I mean, when I finish Revelations I'll only have III, III Liberation, IV, Rogue, Unity, Chronicles and Syndicate to go.


So, Revelations.  I know that I will get to play as both Ezio and Altäir, since they are both on the cover.  I know that I will struggle to adapt to a slightly changed control scheme, since they've moved the ranged weapons button.

I know that I will get completely lost in a new city for ages, and will take some time to work out the best way to run away from the guards.  I know that I'll quickly get distracted by opening shops and chasing down thieves and looting the bodies of dead soldiers.

I know all this will happen.  Why in the future?  Because as of now, a few hours into the game, I'm still playing through the tutorial.  It goes on forever.  I have had to complete some basic missions to learn about the new eagle sense, to learn about the ranged weapons options, to learn about bombs.  I finally have a bit of freedom now, but it's taken so long.  I mean, it took over half an hour to get to the title screen!

It feels like a refined version of Brotherhood so far.  I appreciate the better control over throwing knives, I find the reformed eagle sense a bit annoying, and I find the odd Animus Island a bit odd.  It's almost as if they're running out of ideas for the modern-world story.

I'll report more soon.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Sonic Generations: completed!

The additional challenges were pretty easy, once I chose the right ones, and so Shadow the Hedgehog appeared to me.  Having never played Sonic 2006, this is the first time I've been exposed to his lack of character.  Luckily I quickly defeated him - it would have been nice to understand why I had to, admittedly - and I had my final chaos emerald.

To the final boss, then, or rather the construction yard surrounding it.  I had to jump onto broken platforms and slot in chaos emeralds to fix the gears and start the gate up again.  I was rather worried by this, since holding on to the chaos emeralds is generally a good thing,

I needn't have worried.  Somehow, although the emeralds are clearly visible embedded in the cogs, Sonic(s) still had them when facing down the final boss.  And what an awful final boss it was.  As Super Sonic, you have to boost forwards towards the big Time Eater enemy, and lock on to his core.  But quickly, since your rings supply is constantly counting down and trying to get hold of more rings is pretty difficult.  It's easiest to switch to a 2D display until you get close to the boss, then switch to 3D and boost into the core.  But it's not easy at all, and took me multiple attempts.

But finish it I did, completing the game.

There's a lot left to do - many challenges in terms of time attacks, races, ring collections and similar.  I have about 50% of the red star rings.  But I'm not sure I will play much more for now - I'd prefer to play Sonic Colours or a completely different game rather than going over the same stages again.  Maybe in the future.

In any case, this is the best Sonic game for a long time, even if the last boss is pretty rubbish.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Velocity 2X: overcomplicated

I ended up playing this by accident. I had a notification on my PS4 that the game had been updated, and when trying to work out how to get rid of the notification I mistakenly launched the game.  Still, it's widely held as worth playing, so I might as well try it out.

As with all digital titles, my first stop was the instructions screen. Here I was presented with a long list of buttons against a diagram of a controller. Half of them were labelled with words that made little sense. I decided to just pick it up while playing.

I'd advise others to do the same. The first few levels introduce you to controls one by one, to the extent that when I finished playing, having beaten level 12, there's a lot on the controls lost that I've not used yet. And that's the problem - this just feels too complicated.

You have a fire button. You have a boost button. As well as boosting, you can (and have to) teleport using a different button. Controls are different - similar, but different - depending on whether you're inside or outside your ship. You switch between the two modes within levels. On top of that there are bombs and targets and other stuff I've not yet played with.

The main problem with Velocity 2X, though, is that to get to its icon on the PS4 menu I have to scroll past Rocket League.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sonic Generations: hitting walls

Oddly enough, although I wrote at length about my experiences with the 3DS game, I don't appear to have written about the Xbox 360 version which I played at pretty much the same time.  I didn't complete it though; of the nine main stages of the game I had completed both acts of six and played through the 2D parts of the remaining three.  I've no idea why I stopped.

With the launch of TrueSteamAchievements, I was able to register and see which games I own but have hardly played on Steam. Most of them, it turns out. One of the more interesting pages is 'My Easy Achievements' which lists those achievements I've not yet won which most people who own the games in question have. This list was topped by the achievement for completing the first Act in Sonic Generations. I have absolutely no idea when I bought the game on Steam, though I won't have paid much for it.

Anyway, suitably shamed, I loaded the game on my work PC - no Mac version, it seems - and played through both Acts of the Green Hill Zone. That took some effort; the game juddered and slowed in the resolution it recommended, and then looked ugly and in the wrong aspect ratio when I tried to change that. Why was I struggling through it when I had a perfectly accessible console version?

No, I didn't know either. And that, in a roundabout way, is why I loaded up Sonic Generations on my Xbox 360.

I'm glad I did. This is a good Sonic game - particularly the 2D sections, although most of the 3D Acts are fun as well. The only real problem is that the controls feel a little imprecise at times, which I think is down to using the analogue stick (with its length of travel) over digital pads. Turning in the air to avoid spikes can take a fraction of a second too long, and occasionally I can't steer Sonic away from the walls that jut out into the 3D levels.

I played through the second Acts of Crisis City, Rooftop Run, and Planet Wisp, with a number of lives lost due to me trying to hurry through the levels. It's easy to forget that even in the original Mega Drive games you had to take the later stages somewhat slower. There's a boss battle next, but first I've got to unlock it by completing three challenges - special requirements within existing levels. What a faff. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Rocket League: an epic match

Yes, I have a PS4.  I've not played on it too much yet - this three-month-old baby is less accommodating to gaming than the last one - but what I have played has been largely split between FIFA 16 and Rocket League.  The latter is a sort of football game, or maybe more hockey, where you use cars to hit a ball into your opponents' goal.  Your cars can jump, boost, and even fly if you use the booster rockets right.

Last night I had an epic match.  My team quickly fell to 3-0 down, partially due to a player dropping out and being replaced, and partially because we were all over the place.  With two minutes left on the clock, someone scored one back, then I scored a second.  Time ticking down, until I finally equalised with three seconds left on the clock.  Into overtime, and the ball went back and forth on the pitch until finally we scored and won.

The PS4 has a pretty nifty function where you can record your last 15 minutes gaming.  So I can show you the match in full.  Enjoy!

Switchblade: exploring the caves

Switchblade was always touted as one of the great games on the GX4000, using the power of the console over the standard CPC version and benefiting from instant loading.  Given the size of the map, that's not surprising; the disk version certainly seems to chug regularly.  Despite having owned it for many years, I've never given it a proper go beyond making sure that the cartridge worked.  Over the Christmas holidays I had some time to rectify that.

The first thing I was surprised about was the accuracy of controls. When playing many 8-bit games, there's a noticeable lag in inputs, and games are often designed to allow for this.  Some games did this better than others - Titus the Fox, for example, allowed a bit of leeway in jumping.  That's not the case here, but the response to inputs is instant, making you feel much more in control.

The second thing I noticed, after playing for a while, is how complex the game is.  It's packed with puzzles, in terms of finding new rooms, finding ways to attack enemies without taking damage, and exploration.  I originally thought that the fact that enemies can't attack you while you're standing on a crate was a limitation of the game, but in many cases it's the very basis of the puzzle.

That's not to say that the game isn't an action-based title.  I've not completed it yet, because the five lives you start with don't last long when you're being attacked.  I shall try again, though - each time I play I get a bit further.  I may need map paper soon though ...

Meanwhile, I loaded up an emulator to take some screenshots, and took the opportunity to compare the GX4000 game to the CPC version.  As I said above, the disk version seems to chug a bit more, which may be loading, but the main difference is the visuals.  Look at them, it's an astounding change.

(GX4000 is the top, standard CPC is the bottom.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Stanley Parable: completed!

The Stanley Parable is an odd narrative game, where you are effectively given instructions by the narrator.  As an office worker, you suddenly realise that everyone else has disappeared, and it feels that the point of the game is to understand why.  If it were a traditional game, that would be the case.

The game is most fun, or rather funny, when not following instructions.  I didn't know that, of course, and my first play through I did what the narrator told me was going to happen, with one exception - I went down a corridor marked as certain death, and only turned around at the end when I realised they weren't joking.

I found the boss's office, I found the secret passageway, I went through and completed the game.  That wasn't the end, though.

On my second game, I turned left when I was told right, and ended up backstage.  I found myself eventually in some sort of museum with maps of the game and concept sketches.  I tried again and the game was reset by the narrator.  I found an odd subgame where I was pretending to be at home with a mannequin.

I saw a lot of office buildings and the central control room, many times.

I escaped a few times.

I got trapped in a room once, when the narrator decided that he was fed up with my excursions and told me that I had won the game.

I was given a helpful hint on where to go.

And I don't think I've seen it all yet, but it'll have to wait for another day.  I suspect that I shall put this on the TV and show Justine at some point, and maybe she'll want to experiment as well.

I wonder which ending she'll get.