Friday, January 31, 2014

Gauntlet: generally boring

Some games don't age well, unfortunately. Moreover, some games just don't suit certain settings in the first place, and age makes it ever more evident.  Playing Gauntlet last night, I felt that it should have stayed in the arcade, as the constant draining of health and difficulty in dispatching enemies feels odd when there's nobody waiting to have the next go on the machine.

In the end I just decided to clear an achievement for getting the highest score on the leaderboard.  This meant getting above 8000 on a single life.  By warping to level four, I found I could stand in a corridor and kill all the enemies spawning around a corner; after a while the walls changed to exits and I could kill even more in the level.  Not the most fun thing ever, though.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Typing of the Dead Overkill: trying to touch type

I played the original Tying of the Dead quite a lot, both on the Dreamcast and the PC.  The Dreamcast version was a bit of a faff, since it was a US import which therefore required a boot disc and crossed fingers, and you could never be sure it wasn't going to corrupt your VMU.  The PC game was more accessible, except I never really had a gaming PC that could do it justice.  I still have the disc, somewhere.

When I heard that The House of the Dead Overkill was to get the same treatment, I was a little excited.  When I learnt that it had just been released on Steam around five minutes later, I was more excited and went to download it.  It's not like me to buy something without seeing any reviews or impressions from trusted sources, but, well, it's The Typing of the Dead.  I was glad that I bought it even before I started to play, after I learnt of the game's troubled development and eventual rescue.

Firstly, the bad news.  Unlike the first TotD game, which was based on The House of the Dead 2, the characters aren't wearing Dreamcasts on their backs with a bizarre keyboard lap tray.  Instead, the graphics are completely unchanged, which means that they must be using incredibly bizarre guns.

The core gameplay remains the same, though.  Zombies appear and shamble towards you; you must type the word that appears next to them.  As soon as you do so, they are killed.  Kill them before they kill you, and all is rosy.

This would all be fine if I was a decent touch typist.  I'm not - despite me being able to type entire sentences of reports without looking at the keyboard, it appears that as soon as it's no longer about economics, I need to see which letters I'm hitting.  And this then causes issues, because I can't see when new zombies appear, I can't see which ones are running towards me rather than ambling, I can't see when something is thrown and I need to press a single key quickly.

There is a mechanic in the game where if an enemy starts to approach you faster, you can cancel your current word by pressing backspace, and start the new word.  Guess what I need to do in order to hit backspace?  Look at the keyboard.

I made a conscious effort to look at the screen.  My accuracy dropped right down, but all the time I was typing normal words my keyboard mashing was working OK.  But then this happened:

And it wasn't just phalanges.  As soon as I was having to type single letters in order to spell the word, my typing rhythm disappeared and I started to panic.

Having said that, I got through the first chapter fine, before leaving it for now.  I will be back, though - just maybe after getting a better keyboard.  Or a Mac version.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tomb Raider: completed!

I cleared the last enemies from outside the temple on my first attempt, although it was a pretty close thing, relying on me running away and picking them off one by one.  I approached the bridge, and was confronted by a huge monster.  I readied myself for battle ... and then he was blown off the bridge.  Genuinely funny.

Climbing around the temple was quite stunning, with a real solid feeling of ruin and adversity.  Climbing the cliffside as the building falls was really exhilarating, even if it's a false excitement since none of the debris would ever actually hit Lara.

It's a good job that it takes a long time to transfer a Sun Queen spirit from one body to another, because Lara took quite a while to work around the outside of the temple, killing soldiers and guardsmen alike.  Lots of killing.  There was then a boss fight, facing the large monster from the bridge, which was a classic videogame encounter: wait for him to attack, dodge around the back, shoot lots; wait until weakspot is exposed (the head) and attack; repeat two more times with additional enemies appearing throughout.

  More cutscenes, followed by an anti-climatic quick-time event sequence to kill the final enemy.  At the time, this felt like a suitable exciting and clever ending to the game, with Lara finally getting her hands on her signature twin pistols and using them to finish the enemy off.  Looking back, however, it's a shame that it wasn't more of a fight, since simply aiming and hammering the trigger buttons in turn meant that it was over all too quickly.

And killing him meant everything was OK again - so why didn't Lara do it before, at any of the many times she was hiding and he walked past?  Why wait until Sam was actually undergoing soul transplant surgery?

Anyway, the final cutscene finishes with Lara saying that she's not going home, in an obvious way of allowing the player to run around the island collecting all the bits they may have missed.  How, exactly, she plans to not go home given she's on a boat sailing to England isn't clear.  I'm guessing she got to a port and went straight to an airport to get back on the island, given that she's not showered or changed clothes when restarting.  The other odd thing is that in some areas there are still soldiers running around trying to kill Lara and talking about Mathius as if he's still alive.  News travels slowly.

There were relatively few things I'd missed on my playthrough - one additional tomb (no idea how I missed it), a few relics and documents which were now on the treasure maps, and a few challenges.  For the last of these I must admit I looked at a guide on the Internet when I couldn't find things immediately.  One of the old flags, for example, was up near the top of a radio tower which you couldn't climb.  One of the GPS beacons was on a platform which I had to line up two bouys to get to.

So, not just complete but all areas are 100% complete, Lara's at the maximum skill level and all weapons are fully upgraded.  Looking at the achievement list, the only things I'm missing are to do with multiplayer or killing soldiers in a certain way, which I can't be bothered with.  In order to get enough salvage to fully upgrade my weapons I killed quite a few deer in the first level - doing the same but with people who fire back doesn't sound appealing.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sonic the Hedgehog: collecting emeralds

The original Mega Drive game was available on the PS3 for around a pound, so I bought it.  Of course.  I now own that game on the Mega Drive, Saturn (in Sonic Jam), Gamecube and Xbox (in Sonic Mega Collection), DS (in Sonic Classic Collection), Xbox 360 and PS3.  And I've completed it on every platform other than the PS3.

This pales into insignificance when you compare it to Andy's collection, but I've no doubt I'll buy the 3DS version at some point ...

After getting annoyed with the battle in Tomb Raider, I decided to play through this.  Rather than a straight run-through, I decided to try to get as many trophies as possible.  This means not dying, completing the first act of Green Hill and Marble in relatively quick times, collecting all the chaos emeralds, and completing the game in less than 40 minutes.  I was saving after every stage and had to restart the special stages a couple of times, but I've now got a save game with five chaos emeralds, at the start of Spring Yard 3.  I think that the overall time might be more than 40 minutes by the time I get to the end though, so I might need to play through another time without trying for the special stages.

Tomb Raider: fights

I must be getting to the end now, since the enemies I face are no longer normal soldiers, but undead Japanese soldiers with lots of armour on.  Blasting them with a fully-upgraded shotgun from close range doesn't kill them.

I entered the monastery being very careful not to make a scene.  I crept past two guards and through a huge hall of soldiers.  Then as I climbed out the window, I was spotted, and had to run away from an inferno.  Since then I've been making my way through a pretty linear level with hundreds of enemies, who keep killing me.  I've gone past five checkpoints so far, but last night I got stuck just outside the main temple and turned the console off.  I really hope those checkpoints saved.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Edge: clunky rolling

Edge is a game that really benefits from physical controls.  I tried it on a friend's iPhone and found that it was tricky to control, and I felt I was always fighting against the game to get the block where I wanted it to go.  On top of the control issues, it felt clunky and unresponsive.  It wasn't fun.

With a proper control stick, though, it's a joy.  It still feels clunky, but with the veil of control issues stripped away it's clear that this is a design decision, with the cube having its own momentum issues as it rolls from one side to another.  It takes time to move the cube, and you have to consider this when playing.

I bought this initially for the Wii U, but because it was cheap at the time I have bought it again for the 3DS, since it's not the most taxing of games (although I have noticed a few framerate problems on the handheld).  I'm far more likely to make progress on the 3DS; each of the levels may only take a few minutes to complete, but it looks as if there are over a hundred of them, and I think later levels may get much larger.

The game relies more on spatial puzzle solving than reflexes and speed, which suits me well.  However, there are occasions where you need to be quick and accurate - one section in particular in an early level sees you traversing a section full of collapsing tiles, and you need to follow the exact path in order to not paint yourself into a corner.  That relies on precise movements and timing - and took me several attempts even using proper controls.  The below level had a conveyor belt section in it, with tiles disappearing from the back and moving to the front - again requiring precision.

I suspect some of the later levels might get tricky - some of the last levels I played (around level 25) were getting difficult, with a need to balance the cube on the edge of a moving block - but it's a solid game which was a bargain at under £2 for each format.

If the game had been £5 for both in the first place, I'd have paid that immediately.  It makes no sense to have to buy things twice, once on the Wii U and once on the 3DS.  A conversion fee, maybe - charge an extra £1 to have it on one format if you have it on the other.  It's one of my main complaints about the Virtual Console service; I'd have spent a huge amount in there if I could have the games both on the Wii U and the 3DS.

Wipeout 2048: hitting the sides

This is a stunning game, with possibly too much going on at a time for me to cope with.  I've only completed a few events so far, with slow ships and easy opponents, but I'm finding it tricky to keep on the track without hitting the sides.  It doesn't help that I can't remember which button the airbrake is on; I keep expecting there to be two different triggers, and then my finger waves in mid-air while my ship hits the wall.

I still feel that it's not as good as Wipeout 3 Special Edition, but that's likely nostalgia talking.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saints Row the Third: losing Matt

Last night I arranged to meet Matt on PSN, a meeting that was interrupted by Nicholas being restless, Justine needing chocolate deliveries, and Gaby returning home.  But eventually we were able to get the same game running, following interminable updates, and that game was Saints Row the Third.  Having never played the previous games in the series, Matt filled me in on the detail a bit as we drove around town creating havoc.

It's not a bad game, by any stretch.  It's massively over-the-top, with items such as a car with a people cannon attached, and missions involving flying a helicopter through the streets, exploding cars with rockets, and skydiving through a debris field.  In some missions you're effectively alone, and the cutscenes always show your character, which was confusing at first; especially once I'd changed my character's costume to be just a pair of pants and Matt couldn't tell what I was laughing about.

Talking of being alone, Kieron may have some competition in the 'wandering off' competition.  Frequently I had to stop whatever I was doing in order to find Matt and either get him out of a fight or guide him to the next objective.  Still, he was having fun.

Friday, January 17, 2014

FIFA 13: loss after loss

I'm rubbish at this.  I'm rubbish at most football games (with the possible exception of International Sensible Soccer on the Mega Drive), but this is harder than most.  As well as the standard controls to battle with - in particular, I can never remember which is shoot and which is a high pass - EA have included a number of touch-screen controls on this.  You can tap a player to pass to him, except by the time you've tapped there he's probably moved and you'd be better off passing with the B button.  You can tap on an area of the screen to shoot in the goal (tap top-left to shoot top-left), but by the time you've looked down at the pad to accurately aim, you've missed your chance.

I do like playing football games, but that enjoyment mostly comes in the five seconds of the match when I manage to score a goal.  That happened only once.

The thing is, as hopeless as I am at this, and as much as I find real-life football boring, there's an attraction about videogame football that I can't ignore.  This is one of the better versions I've played, and I'm sure I'll get used to the touch controls at some point.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tearaway: lots of bugs

On the way home last night, the majority of people got off the train two stops before me.  I saw my chance to progress in Tearaway, so got the Vita out and turned it on; it's great that I can be back in the game within a couple of seconds, something we've taken for granted since the DS and PSP.

I pressed Y to record a sound, called "hello" into the microphone, and nothing happened.  Surely it can't actually recognise a roar?  I pressed Y again and growled into the mic.  Again, nothing.  No matter what i did, the game didn't recognise that I'd made a sound.

I wondered if there was too much background noise.  I waited until I got into the car, and tried again.  No luck.  Nothing I did let me either cancel the request for a sound or record anything.  Searching the Internet today, it seems that there's a bug in the game, which should theoretically be solved by completely turning off the system and then restarting.  I'll try that tonight.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tomb Raider: sighteeing

I've been through quite a few spectacular sections in this now - running through burning buildings with things collapsing as I go, jumping across a bridge as it was being demolished, ziplining from the top of a mountain down to the beach.

In some ways it's similar to a Metroid structure of game, where as you progress you're given new upgrades which allow you to access parts of the world which were previously hidden away.  The main difference here is that there is very little back-tracking, and I can only think of a couple of places where I went past a room or entrance without getting the ability to enter it very soon afterwards.

Having said that, there may well have been a number of hidden areas that I didn't notice.  A few hours into the game you're given the ability to upgrade your pick, which allows you to climb walls like the above.  The indicators of where you can use upgrades are generally well hidden until you know what to look for - bundles of white cloth, ropes wound around timbers, chalky walls.

 After escaping the burning monastery, Lara has to avoid several machine gun emplacements and make her way down the mountain.  After the first descent, you find a stunning area with a ship suspended by ropes.  This ship is huge - and you have to zipline down onto its surface.  By the end of the sequence, the ship's hanging by a single rope and Lara's no longer on board ...

Then down to the sea, and meeting up with the survivors.  They want to repair a boat to escape the island, but we know that's not going to happen - Lara wants to take the boat inland.  Before that can happen, Lara's off to explore shipwrecks to pick up a pulley system and play around on the masts.

Stunning game, and fun with it.  I hope it throws in some new ideas soon, though, or even finishes - it's starting to get a little samey in terms of gameplay, even if the location changes.

Tearaway: lots of idiocy

The PS Vita is a portable system - just about, admittedly, since it's bigger than a PSP and won't fit into a normal pocket.  Still, it's got an integrated screen and headphone socket, so it's ideal to play on the train during my commute.  With Tearaway you do look a bit daft from time to time when you start to prod the back of the console and use the touchscreen, but nobody looks at you on the train so that's fine.

People can, however, hear you.  I'm sure I'm not the only person to play Tearaway on the train - in fact, I'm sure some of the developers of the game must get a train from time to time and play their 3DS or Vita on board.  Did nobody at any point in the development process think that it might not be such a great idea to include a bit in the game where you have to shout into your console?

There's no way to skip this and use a default noise, you have to record yourself (and it won't accept just background noise, either).  Needless to say, I'm not going to do that on the train, and as I can hardly do it in the office either I'm not going to be able to play the game on my way home either.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies: Turnabout Reclaimed: completed!

Let's just deconstruct that headline.  I've completed the game!  The game in question is the additional case for the 3DS Phoenix Wright game; this additional downloadable case was called 'Turnabout Reclaimed'.  It involved two court cases, in fact, first defending an orca from a murder charge, and then defending her trainer.  In that second court case, I called the orca as a witness.

Yes, an orca.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tomb Raider: massacres

This is the 2013 game called Tomb Raider, as opposed to the 1996 game called Tomb Raider.  I completed the 1996 game called Tomb Raider back in 1998, after I completed the 1997 game called Tomb Raider II.  I also played a significant amount of the 2007 game called Tomb Raider Anniversary (on the PS2) which was a remake of the 1996 game called Tomb Raider but not the 2013 game called Tomb Raider.  I'm not sure if I completed that.

I hate it when games have the same name.

Anyway, the 2013 game called Tomb Raider is actually really good.  It's easily recognisable as a game in the Tomb Raider series, not only because of the name - there's a lot of exploration, working out how to get to different places, and an athletic female hero.  However, there are also a lot of deaths, which goes against some of the plot of the original games.  In the first Tomb Raider, the bloke who employs Lara and then subsequently double crosses her is meant to be the first human she ever kills.  In this game, which I think is set before that first game, she's gunning down hundreds.

I don't remember a Tomb Raider which is quite so bloodthirsty, in fact.  There's a flimsy story excuse as to why Lara is happy to shoot men, along the lines of them being brainwashed and it being a kill-or-be-killed situation, but when Tomb Raider II came out one of the chief complaints was that Lara was too gun-happy and this is magnitudes worse.  At times it's less of an exploration game and more of a strategic cover shooter.  Hiding behind crates and popping out to kill enemies is eerily reminiscent of Read Dead Redemption and LA Noire.

Despite this (and the heterogeneity of modern game design), I'm enjoying the game.  There's no global travels for Lara here, no separation of the game into areas and levels - instead, as I explore the island more I'm appreciating the value in getting to know one area so well.  It helps, of course, that this one island seems to include tropical beaches and snow-capped mountains.  There's a good sense of geography in the game, though, and some of the scenery is spectacular.

I'll continue to play this, no doubt, although I am starting to tire of the excessive grittiness and attempts to shock.  I've lost count of the number of cutscenes with Lara covered in blood.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Little Deviants: dull

Gosh, it looks zany exciting fun, doesn't it?  The main character's goofy face just screams originality, and the over-complicated colours and textures just go to reinforce this as a game full of vibrancy and enjoyment.  You get to roll your little ball around the courses, avoiding the robots and darting between posts when the electricity stops.  But, in case that doesn't sound amazing enough, you have to do it by manipulating the ground around the ball, pushing it up using the touch panel.  Don't use any method of control which actually puts you in control, instead let's make sure the game is as frustrating to play as possible.

I understand that the "new game" I unlocked is actually something completely different to play, and this is in fact a collection of minigames to show off the capabilities of the Vita.  All it's done is convince me that the back trackpad doesn't work as a control method, and also that I don't really want to play Little Deviants any more.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Tearaway: lots of style

Tearaway is the game that most made me want a PS Vita, and it's not disappointed.  I loved the idea of LittleBigPlanet but found the execution a bit iffy - and the controls were awfully floaty. I was never going to get into level designing or clever mechanics, either, due to a lack of time.

Tearaway is from the people who made LBP but without the faff, an added dimension, and an even more stylish identity.  Everything's made out of paper - indeed, you can download papercraft templates to make everything in real life - and the many odd control methods on the Vita are used in an intelligent way, only occasionally feeling like they're stuck in for effect.  Poking the back panel pushes up diaphragms or even allows your finger to poke into the world.  The front camera projects your face onto the sun.  The touch screen allows you to directly manipulate parts of the world.  I'm just waiting for the game to require me to shout something.

It's a but of a collectathon in the bad tradition of Rare games, but as soon as you decide that you're not required to find all the presents and photo opportunities and confetti, the journey through the levels is much more fun.  Depending on the length of the game, I may even be back to find more bits.

The levels are nicely varied and there are some clever bits of platforming required.  I've now regained the powers to jump and roll into a ball, and the way in which the levels were constructed before these powers were available was ingenious at times.

I am the "you", and my ugly mug shines down upon the people. Guilt of that alone means I want to carry on and complete this as soon as possible!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Hungry Giraffe: ouch, my head

A fun little diversion, definitely, but maybe not worth being billed as a full 'game' in the PS Vita 10-game package.  Well worth £2.50 though.

Hungry Giraffe is a tilt-controlled steering game.  You have to get the giraffe to eat food that's hovering in the air, which will then give him energy to reach higher.  If you don't eat enough food, the giraffe's neck will wilt and it's game over.  If you hit the giraffe's head on an anvil, you have to act quickly to recover from a death spiral.

I'm a little sceptical that the difficulty's been fiddled with to encourage further spending.  There are some golden feathers that allow you to rescue a wilting giraffe, but I used all these in my first game expecting them to be replenished in the second game.  They weren't.  I've not investigated to see if you can buy these for real money, but if you can then I suspect this'll be deleted off my memory card to free up space for something else.