Archive for the 'Gaming' Category

Empire: Total War Makes My Head Explode

April 12, 2009

I think I must be starting to lose my gaming touch. After over 20 years of playing games, from the ZX Spectrum to the modern PC – and having a soft spot for strategy games in particular – I’ve finally come across one that makes me throw my hands up and beg for mercy.

And it’s not like I’m a newbie here: I’ve played every title in the Total War series, from Shogun nearly 10 years ago, through Rome and the Medievals, to the most recent in the shape of Empire: Total War. Besides that I’ve been into Civilization from the start, and the offshoots (Colonization), strategy classics like UFO/XCOM, big 4X space strategy epics, like Master of Orion, GalCiv, etc. The list goes on. So I can honestly say that I’m no slouch when it comes to deep, complex thinking games. But Empire has nearly got me beat.

Maybe now that I’ve reached my thirties my brain has started its inexorable decline. Even so, I can’t be the only one who’s thinking there’s a hell of a lot packed into the latest offering from Creative Assembly, can I?

I dabbled a little in the story-driven tutorial, then moved onto the meat and potatoes of every strategy game, the single-player campaign mode. Woah! Talk about attention to detail. I’m playing as Great Britain (natch) and you start the game with your homeland, the British Isles, and a couple of isolated colonies in the Americas. There’s nothing in the Indian subcontinent, but it’s there for the taking. Oh, and the Thirteen Colonies in the not-so-United-States is your Protectorate – not sure about the mechanics of that yet (I know, I know: RTFM!), apart from the fact that they seem to offer you missions every now and then.

What’s so hard about that? Well, for starters the action is spread across three theatres: the Americas, Europe and India. There are also trade theatres which don’t house colonies, but you can interact with them via trade ships. In addition to the main settlement in every region, you’ve now got a number of towns, villages and ports (all of which can be individually cycled through). Each of these might specialise in a particular line of work, depending on its location. For example, you can build sugar or coffee plantations in Jamaica, but you won’t be able to set up a fur-trading outpost unless you’re in North America or Canada. And maybe Europe – I haven’t checked…

Each of your minor settlements can be upgraded through several steps. But it’s not just trade you need to think about. Cambridge houses a School building, which can be upgraded to a College – but only when you’ve researched Empiricism. Yep, you need to dabble in research, too. Actually, “dabble in” is a poor choice of phrase – “become immersed in” would be better. There’s a proper tech tree this time with three branches – military, industrial and philosophical. Gentlemen can help you here. They’re special agents that assist in research, but only when you place them in a research-based building. Oh, and Gentlemen can also duel with other Gentlemen – or Rakes, which are like Spies and Assassins in the previous Total Wars.

I haven’t even touched on the intricacies of trade yet. I keep getting an advisor popping up telling me to keep an eye on what my adversaries are producing in the New World because I need to undercut them on the markets or somesuch. Well, I’m not sure how I’d know that. There are trade routes marked on the map by dotted lines. Some of these routes are yours; some belong to your allies or enemies and many are shared by multiple nations. Apparently you can sit your navy on these and pillage, but I’m guessing that doesn’t make you too popular with the owners of the routes.

There are multiple reasons for dissent in your colonies: religion is a big factor again, as is appetite for revolt, and I suppose the presence of garrison forces has an impact. However, it’s not as straightforward as that because a city has a “lay-garrison” in addition to the units you recruit which can be called upon when attacked. I haven’t fought any land or sea battles in the campaign game yet, though: the strategy portion is giving me enough of a headache!

Don’t get me wrong: I can tell the game is good. It’s just that there’s so much of it! I suppose back in the day I would’ve sunk hours into a game like this until I was familiar with all its intricate details and foibles. Now – well, I’ll persevere because it’s so highly rated on metacritic. It’s got to be worth it, right?


Miracle on the Hudson: The Game

January 31, 2009

Remember the plane that landed in the Hudson river in New York where no one died and the pilot was a hero and everything? Now there’s a game version of that event! Far out!

Miracle on the Hudson: The Game

Not a real game, of course, but a 10 second-left and right arrow key-in browser internet game. Sweet!

I can’t decide whether this is pathetic, a little twisted, or just plain goofy.

Fallout 3 Balance Overhaul

January 4, 2009

I’ve recently been trying out this popular mod for Fallout 3 in an attempt to reinvigorate my experience after over 50 hours with the game. You can read more about the (many) changes it makes here:

Fallout 3 Balance Overhaul, Readme v0.82 beta

It’s all about adding an extra jolt of realism (damage increases) and immersion (energy, hunger, addiction), while at the same time giving you a bunch of new perks and skill effects to play around with.

There are too many changes to list and it will probably take many hours of playtesting to decide whether I like it or not. You can enable or disable any of the many listed mods individually, or just bang ’em all in with what the author calls the “Full Preconfig Standalone Mod”. That’s the one I’ve gone for in the first instance, since I can’t be bothered micromanaging my mods at this stage.

First impressions are that it makes the Fallout 3 world a much more dangerous place! Weapons do far more damage and sneaking is a lot harder. I’ve yet to see how the hunger and thirst mods work, since I haven’t played for long enough. That’s another story: the mod caused a serious crash after about 20 minutes of play which forced me to hard reboot Vista (very unusual in my experience).

Despite the setback, I will persevere.

Fallout 3 Out!

November 2, 2008

Current Metacritic score 94%

So the consensus seems to be it’s awesome, but perhaps not breathtakingly so. Still I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Check out the video below to get a sneak preview of some of the first parts of the game, where you’re a baby and discover the SPECIAL book!

For an apparently balanced take on it, you could watch Gamespot’s video review which is mostly positive but points out the graphical deficiencies in the PS3 version.

Crysis Warhead Features The Same DRM As Spore *groan*

October 5, 2008

Following the outcry and class action lawsuit brought against Electronic Arts in the wake of the Spore release, you’d think someone might think twice about including exactly the same much-derided digital rights management (copy protection) software SecuROM on the Crysis expansion pack, too.

Apparently not, as Crysis Warhead has shown. No surprise then that fans of the original game are at least as outraged as people were about Spore. Check out the Amazon reviews if you want proof. Stats at time of writing: 79 consumer reviews, average rating 2 stars, 60 reviews of 1 star, 13 of 5 stars, the rest occupying the middle ground.

I was about to buy it through Steam, but this has seriously put me off. Quite possibly, it wouldn’t affect me at all, since I’m not a developer and don’t run software that SecuROM considers problematic (like Microsoft’s Process Explorer).

But I really feel that it’s wrong to support the principle of this kind of behaviour. SecuROM is insidious software that installs itself more or less without a user’s knowledge, restricts the number of installs you can make, is difficult to remove, often grants itself access to privileged administrative levels, can cause system instability, and conflicts with other – perfectly legitimate – software.

Maybe the closest I’ll get to seeing the latest Crysis in action is the trailer…

Fallout 3 Gameplay Videos

September 7, 2008

I must’ve been filing my nails or something when this was announced, but in any case, last week Bethesda posted a total of five gameplay videos of the lukewarmly anticipated (in certain quarters) Fallout 3 on Youtube.

I of course am anything but lukewarm about the latest instalment of the post-apocalyptic RPG masterseries. See for yourself.

The latest set of videos confirm that the black humour and gritty atmosphere of Fallouts 1 and 2 are present and correct. The second video in particular (entitled “Megaton” and shown below) contains a surprisingly high naughty word count. I’m also loving the ability to plant live grenades on people when pickpocketing them (see the second video below, entitled “Tenpenny Tower”).

The five videos tell a story of sorts as they show the player taking on and completing a simple quest, which has explosive consequences. It’s nice to see the range of conversation options, and hopefully this will go some way to assuaging the unbelievers. However I suspect that some of the haters have now elevated their dislike for this game to a crusade, unable to view any aspect of the game in a positive light.

For what it’s worth, RockPaperShotgun has given it a tentative thumbs up and they’ve also announced that the EU release date is three days after the US. Damn them! In any case it’s on my Amazon wishlist as of this afternoon.

Two Great Old-School Gaming Offers At Steam

September 6, 2008

This sounds very much like an advert – and I suppose it is in a way – but there are two great offers this weekend on classic PC games from Steam, Valve Software’s distribution network:

X-COM Complete Pack
X-COM Complete Pack


X-COM Complete Pack: This includes X-COM: UFO Defense (aka UFO: Enemy Unknown in the EU), X-COM: Terror From The Deep, Interceptor, Enforcer and Apocalypse. Okay, so the last few were known to be pretty much ho-hum, but UFO Defense is one of the best strategy games of all time. All these titles together offer hours of old-school gaming fun for the paltry sum of $13.49 (or around £7.50).

If you’re wondering whether or not they’ll run on Vista, this forum post will answer your questions.


ID Superpack

ID Superpack

ID Super Pack: This one is incredible value for money. $34.99 (£19.70) buys you over 20 full games and mission packs: from Wolfenstein 3D and Commander Keen, through Quake, Hexen, and Heretic to the classic Doom series. Normally this pack goes for double that price on Steam, but if you pick it up before tomorrow (Sunday 7th September) you can take advantage of the discount.

Audiosurf: Dethron’d

June 29, 2008

No, this isn’t about me stumbling upon an Audiosurf-killer. It’s about the game emailing you whenever someone beats your score! Check this out (via Google Mail):


Now, I don’t know who this Disco8X might be, but he’s going down! No one’s beating my Casual score for “Let Me Drown” by Soundgarden.

*Ten minutes and several attempts later…*

Okay, well it seems Disco8X ain’t no fool. Part of the problem is that it’s going to be difficult – if not impossible – to score any higher than I already have done on my favourite game mode (Mono). Whereas he (or she) has been using the more complicated, but potentially much higher scoring Pointman character.


But still, it’s neat that Audiosurf mails you to let you know when you’ve been beaten and humiliated. At least, I think that’s neat…

Audiosurf: Music + Puzzles = WIN!

June 4, 2008

A couple of nights ago I ventured back to Steam – Valve’s online digital content delivery system – for the first time since I completed Half Life 2: Episode One a year or two ago. At first, I was shocked at the range of titles you can buy – anything from Bioshock to Warhammer 40K; RPGs to insane psychedelic puzzle-action games.

And in that last category I found a gem: Audiosurf.

Audiosurf 1

The idea is simple: hover along a track with three lanes and collect coloured blocks by flying into them. Collect three or more blocks of the same colour and you’ll score points.

Hotter colours (red and yellow) score more than cold colours (blue and purple). And there are powerups scattered along the route which have various helpful effects, from painting all of your accumulated blocks one colour (thus bagging you a larger bonus), to sorting your colours out into neat stacks.

The harder the difficulty setting, the faster blocks fly at you and the trickier it is to make stacks. At some of the harder levels it gets to the point where it’s as much about your reaction speed as planning ahead. But it’s still ludicrously colourful fun.

Audiosurf 2

So where does the “audio” come in?

Audiosurf’s tracks and environment are generated from any digital music file you’ve got on your system. Essentially, it reacts to whatever song you throw at it. The tempo and feel of the song you select determines how the game plays out.

At it’s most basic level, this means a fast, upbeat song will beget a frantic downhill track, with loads of colours and hazards, while a mellow, acoustic number produces a correspondingly chilled uphill track, with fewer blocks.

Of course, there’s a range of characters to choose from, all of which have different abilities. But that – in a nutshell – is what £6.50 ($9.99 + VAT) of your hard-earned crust will buy you: a virtually limitless supply of lo-fi puzzling-action goodness accompanied by great music (assuming you actually like the stuff you’ve got on your hard drive). And it’s maddeningly addictive.

Even better: the latest update incorporates scrobbling of all tracks played, so you can share your music while gaming. Perfect!

There’s a taster below if you’re not sure. Some lunatic attempts a run through of DragonForce: Through the Fire and Flames (remember them?) using the Mono game mode. Rock symbols at the ready: \m/

Far Cry 2 Tech Demo

May 30, 2008

Lots of people have been talking up Far Cry 2, with many previews effectively saying that it defecates over Crysis from a great height. Well, from what I’ve seen so far I’m not so sure if it’s going to be a hands down win, but check out this recently released tech demo…

Wow! Fire propagation looks like heaps of fun, and could potentially be a useful gameplay tactic: don’t want to rush a compound head on? Why not start a fire with your flamethrower and flush ’em out?!