Saturday, December 03, 2011

Train2Game - A new era....

So, its been ages since I posted anything, i'm going to blame a heavy gaming schedule on that, its been a right ol' year for AAA titles and its my duty to get stuck into the lot of them. If I find time I will attempt to review some of this years epic titles.

Anyhoo, the reason for this post is that today I got accepted onto, and started a Game Designers course with Train2game. Having researched them heavily online and perused forum after forum, i'm going for it. Having met with a lovely rep Sandra, at my house, I'm thoroughly convinced this is a great chance for me to get the skills necessary. Its not cheap, but they have that covered with interest free loans (same as student loans really). So the course is payable monthly (or in a lump if you're that way financially inclined).

I have my first module in front of me, raring to go. I'll keep you updated!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Review: Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Boom, rat-tat, boom, “ooh where’s me leg gone.” Yawn. We’ve done it in space, we’ve done it in cities, villages and jungles. LT aim down site, RT fire, miss, die. I might just suck at FPS compared to all these mutant teenagers we’ve been breeding who’ve developed cyborg-like reaction speeds and potty mouths that would make a tourettes addled drunk blush, but that isn’t the only reason the fun has been sucked out of these games for me over the years. I’m bored. Oh, I know you don’t care what I think personally, but is this not a general feeling now, are we at that point yet?

Modern Warfare did great things for the genre, injected something different into the single player, invented some interesting takes on the “point and shoot, no no, shoot faster, point better” mechanics, but once that was over, the multiplayer got old, pretty fast. Levelling mechanics, ah yes, everyone needs one of those these days. I don’t doubt that if someone re-made Pac-Man there would be levels and unlocks. Different colour faces or teeth perhaps, the ability to call in air strikes (actually, that I’d play). With first-person multiplayer however it is just a way of rationing the fun so you’ll play longer.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does all of this too. So here’s the review of the single player. Characters mildly interesting, story disjointed, probably not as good as Modern Warfare 1 or 2. Oh you can break down scenery, but to be honest its cosmetic and doesn’t really affect anything important. 7/10 - buy it if you want, I don’t care, I’m playing Pac-Man 2: Blitzkrieg.

However, and it’s a massive one (probably deserving of a bolder type, but I cant afford it) then there is the multiplayer. This is why I’m still playing this game months after release. Games are divided mainly into two kinds, Rush and Conquest. Conquest is your typical area domination game, squads move into a space and try to defend it as long as possible. I’ll talk more about squads in a moment. Rush has one side attacking a pair of stations with the goal of arming charges on them and blowing them up, whilst the other side surprisingly tries to stop this happening. The attacking side has limited respawns, and only gets refreshed once both stations are destroyed, which in turn opens up the map to another area with two new stations. This happens 3-4 times on each map and if the attackers destroy the lot, they win, else the defenders hold their positions and win by taking all of the attackers lives. Take a breath.

Teams are divided into squads of up to 4 players who can use each other as respawn points when they die. As with any levelling mechanic various actions score experience points which go towards new unlocks for that class as well as an overall level. Multiple actions or streaks unlock award pins and insignias which are worth more points.

Sounds alright, but why is this so good? Well, along side all this, BF:BC2 employs a class system. Your class dictates what weapon load outs and abilities you have. We can be recon, engineer, assault or medic, basically translating as sniper, rockets, grunt or, err… medic. “Heard it” is the cry from the sceptics out there. Yes, I know, me too… but, BF:BC2 makes it work. I’ll give you an example;

 I was playing as a defender on a map known as Port Valdez, a well presented winter map with a number of vehicles and buildings to explode. We were having a hard time of it defending a building which contained our last remaining station, taking fire from all sides with walls crumbling around us. I was not doing so well on the kills front and constant reviews of the scoreboard had me dead last. So in my frustration I went for the medic class. Medics come equipped with defibrillators and health packs, as well as Light Machine guns and the usual sidearms. This is where I found love for the game. I didn’t make another kill for the rest of the game, instead I scored hundreds of points reviving dead squad mates and healing the wounded. The fact that our force inside the building was relentless and I was managing to stay alive and heal people, meant we could push the attackers back and eventually win the game. A final look at the scoreboard had be third overall for points scored. The feeling of making a real contribution to a win, without necessarily being the fastest and most accurate shooter was something no other FPS has managed to give me.

A new way to play FPS, its what I’ve been looking for. Loads of FPS games give us new weapons, maps and premises, but rarely an opportunity to think so much about how you would like to approach a game, or react to a situation that has developed inside a game. Tanks are breaking down your front line, well you’re screwed without an engineer or recon player who has the explosives to stop it. Found a great sniper nest but run out of ammo, shout your assault pals over to drop off an ammo pack. The 4 simple classes work wonders when employed in this way. Add to this the destructible scenery. In multiplayer is makes a huge difference. Cant get that sniper hiding behind that wall? Shucks… blow the damn wall up, better yet, collapse the building around him.

So many games tack on multiplayer as an afterthought of a good single player, no genre more guilty of that than FPS. If anything, DICE and EA have done it the opposite way around, which leaves me yearning for someone to do both one day. While we wait, there is a lot of fun to be had here and its not going to require any biotic implants.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: Mass Effect 2

It is difficult as a reviewer to be objective about some games when you are a bit of a fan boy. I was one of those who forgave Mass Effect 1 it’s shortcomings and chose to love the world (or worlds) and characters laid out for us. Problems nonetheless were present, and well documented gripes with the side missions and irritating codex collection tasks. Can Bioware fix these whilst still maintaining an engaging ride through occupied space?

Shepard is back on board the Normandy, our home away from home for the first game, when a mystery alien ship tears the ship apart in unceremonious fashion. We are thrown straight into the deep end and must first escape the doomed ship, making sure to stop off along the way and save some lives (we wouldn’t be much of a heroic space captain if we didn’t now would we). The result of which is an untimely death for our protagonist who is left floating lifeless in space amongst debris from the shattered Normandy. It is our ‘re-animation’ by the questionably motivated Cerberus corporation which gives us a grounding for Mass Effect 2’s story. Shepard is give the Robocop-treatment and furnished with a new ship and crew, including a genetically modified space vixen and tough talking Lieutenant with a history. Our goal - to save the galaxy from these alien rotters, who apart from kicking the crap out of our ship have been liberally helping themselves to colonies full of settlers for an unknown, but probably despicable, purpose.

Its clear just from this high octane opening that Bioware have a strong story here. Fans of the first game will feel a sense of loss over the Normandy, cleverly highlighted by the ships pilot Joker who would rather go down with the ship than get in the escape pod, that is until we shout at him a bit. The introduction of the new characters implies a sense that we have work to do to gain their trust and instantly we question Cerberus and the reasons it is giving us so much free stuff (like a mobile provider who move mountains to get you in with them, before subjecting you to years of poor reception and horrific customer service).

The graphics are great, you will be forgiven for wandering the new Normandy looking in every cubbyhole and out of every window. It is a gorgeous place to spend time, and mention must go to the ambience of the music especially in the less action packed areas. Aboard the Normandy there is a sense of relaxation, as if you know that your destination is a week away and there is no rush. This is something rarely achieved in rpgs. Mostly we are looking directly for the next weapon upgrade or injection of xp. Bioware want you to experience Mass Effect 2, to feel comfortable here and to want to stay for a while.

That’s all well and good I hear you say, but what about our ship, we want vengeance! Yes, yes we do and Bioware have conveniently improved the combat system to help you dole out some bloody revenge as you see fit. The weapon and power wheels are still there, and as with the first game, you can pause combat at any time to calmly instruct your landing party of 3 what to do next. It is done with more fluidity than before, it is now possible to attached some of Shep’s powers to shortcuts on the pad meaning if any alien body snatchers get “up in yo grill” its easy to send them spinning towards an exploding crate without a moments hesitation. The same combinations of Biotic, Tech and Weapon classes exist as with their strengths and limitations, and as mentioned, landing parties are again in threes and you’d be wise to take a mixture of classes with you for any eventuality. As with ME1 when our characters level up we gain points to spend in their chosen fields to upgrade powers.

Gone is the upgrade system from ME1. Hooray I hear none of you shout. Was this an issue? Well as it turns out, yes it was. I don’t recall complaining too much about the thousands of items I acquired during Shepards first outing, but when I think back, it was pointless. There was no direction with the items other than the fact that each had a roman numeral after it, and as long as you knew your Xs from your Vs it was obvious what to wear, but mostly you would sell 99.3% of what you picked up. None of that now, now we unlock weapons with schematics found on our travels and upgrade them with research we are given or buy from vendors. This is better. ME isn’t that kind of RPG, we all love getting squeezing that extra +1 Constitution onto our codpieces but here it isn’t necessary.

So, we like the story, we like the combat, we like the upgrading system (this is the royal we by the way)… did they fix that stuff we talked about in the first paragraph? Erm… not really is our sadly factual answer. ME1’s problem was that you would have to search countless moons and planets to find any side missions or silly collectables and with it use the god-awful six wheeled go-kart of death to do so. This is gone… yay! Not yay… this is gone, but in its place is ‘mining.’ Essentially a mini game in which we send probes onto a planet to look for minerals used in creating the upgrades we desire. Yep, its fruits are used in upgrading our weapons and armour folks, that means we have to do it… a lot. Occasionally we’ll stumble across some form of beacon whilst probing and be whisked down to a side mission, but mostly this is again arduous time spent trawling hundreds of planets trying to find one that has an ounce of the hard to find mineral on it instead of the tons of common rubbish. Its another effort to flesh out the game which without all these trimmings might start to feel linear. I see the point Bioware, but it’s a swing and a miss I’m afraid.

This brings me to my difficult summary. Mass Effect 1 was brilliant, but flawed. Mass Effect 2 is its older, wiser, better looking, more exciting but equally flawed brother. Does it deserve more praise than the first for this. Technology demands the graphics be better, we demand a good story if the rpg elements are going to be minimal. Its almost a hollow victory for Bioware, because I will play and most likely love this game, it gives me warm fuzzy feelings, but when my cynical mate Steve down the pub whinges about the “stooped mining crap,” I’ll have to agree with him.

Pictures sourced from Bioware