Review: 007: Quantum of Solace – Treyarch Invention, LLC – Xbox 360

My wife picked this up for me out of the bargain bin at an opening of a new branch of a well-known Australian Hi-Fi, music, games, computers, etc chain. What I knew about it was that it was built on the COD4 engine, but wasn’t nearly as good.

But hey, it was cheap.

James Bond has never been in a mediocre game, after all... right?

Awhile back on a different website for a different review, someone asked me why I play trashy games instead of the good stuff, and while what I said then was valid, he did have a valid point. After all, I’ve got a pile of games I know are better than QoS sitting unplayed. I guess it’s in part because I’m “saving” the good/best ones, while the less good ones can be played and disposed of without caring if I really savour them properly. So anyway, I threw this on today since I’ve been in a bit of a Bond mood recently, and, yeah, a short, disposable game was what I felt like playing, since I can probably/hopefully finish it over the weekend, inbetween a couple of DVDs and World of Warcraft-dailies.

I played it on the 360, but I really can’t see there being much of a difference between 360 and PS3. Or the PC version, for that matter…

So anyway. Based on the plots of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. CoD4 engine. Treyarch. Slightly-crappy Gears-wannabe cover-shooter mechanic bolted on. Bond plays through a series of vaguely-based on the films scenarios, mostly using a series of various high-powered weapons just like he didn’t use in the films in the odd sequence that may be vaguely related or not to the actual plots of the two films. I guess many of the weapons did cameo in the films while other people were using them. And James has the famous cover shot with the HK UMP-9.

The most surprising thing I found about the game was that it was actually decently enjoyable. The graphics and sound, while not amazing, do their job well enough. Treyarch may not be the world’s most renowned dev, and especially at the point where they churned this game out, well before Black Ops, but it’s certainly solid enough in terms of gameplay, graphics and sound. Using the CoD4 engine and being from a CoD developer should do that, after all.

At one point I paused to reflect on the game after having acquired an M60, and shot up a building with it, while slowly fighting forward while taking cover against waves of heavily-armed goons armed with AKs. You might remember this scene from Casino Royale as the parkour chase from the beginning of the film. Which oddly was also 1/3 of the way through the game. Some of it is told in nonsensical flashback though, so the continuity is a right mess.

Remember this bit from the films? Me neither.

After another hour of play, I had experienced the exciting rooftop helicopter battle and exploding elevator shaft sequence that you may not recall from Casino Royale since they never happened in the film, I do have to reiterate it’s definately not a bad game. I enjoyed myself well enough, with of course the bargain-bin price caveat. The cover mechanics aren’t bad either, they just don’t really add anything to the FPS formula or this FPS title. At least they did make an effort to replicate the final section of the parkour chase, and while it wasn’t awesome, it was playable. It also features one stage where you get to play as drugged-cardiac-arrest-Bond from CR, which is almost as little fun as the Nightmare stages in Max Payne. At least it’s faster and you can see.

There are cell phones scattered about, which fill in little bits of intel. They’re vaguely interesting, but nothing to worry about if you miss any.

Anyway. Is it fun? It’s alright, actually. It’s nothing like the films, of course. But it’s an alright shooter. I’m not even going to bother considering  the multiplayer for the recommendation, since it’s an older game at this point, and let’s face it, every FPS/3PS of the last decade has a half-assed MP shooter aspect tacked onto it, but most people just play one of the better/more popular ones, and anything shy of that tend to be a ghost town. That’s what this one is. There’s nobody playing it.

So, yeah. As I said, CoD4 engine. Treyarch. Slightly-crappy cover system. Still a decent enough game. Not an awesome one to pick up at full price, but perfectly okay as a weekend rental, or something to fish out of the bargain bin and then either inflate your games collection or pass onto a friend.  I had fun enough with the game, though I found the wild deviations from the film(s) to be annoying.  Overall though, it’s still an ok game. Better as a rental rather than a bargain bin buy, since there’s not much to do with it once you finish it in 10 or so hours, unless you want to play through all the difficulty levels or achievement whore, since the MP is a ghost town.

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Verdict: Rent it. Or buy it cheap. Or don’t. It’s all good.

Review: F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate – TimeGate Studios – PC

F.E.A.R. : Perseus Mandate adds proper widescreen support back into the game. The original F.E.A.R had it, and then Extraction Point inexplicably lacked it, so it was a relief to get it back and be able to see things in their proper perspective again.

Back again-again.

It opens with a “proper” intro, explaining how the first two teams are down and you’re going in and yadda yadda. As the game takes place parallel to the final events of FEAR and alongside Extraction Point, the Clone army is inactive for part of the game until they get reactivated with the resurrection of Fettel. So this time you’re fighting against mercenaries initially. After about 5-10 minutes of the game being slightly fresher, we’re back to the same old series of rooms with the same old art assets and the same old blood spatter on the walls. Your character has the same “bullet-time” ability of the guy you played in FEAR/Extraction Point, which is never really explained.

On one hand, it is the next bit of FEAR, on the other hand, by this stage I’d really appreciate some effort to mix it up just a bit, because it’s getting fucking tedious. Your two squaddies are also fucking stupid, but at least you know you’ll be rid of them quickly enough, either from some kind of contrived “we’re separated” plot point or gory death. Or, most likely, a combination of the two. This happens a couple of times through the campaign. Much of the game consists of running down endless corridors and through office buildings once again. Many of these offices naturally contain ammunition, grenades, first aid kits or body armour. Just like real offices do.

The gameplay is pretty much the same as the two previous instalments – A firefight with 2-6 enemy followed by 2-6 minutes of running through empty offices, rooms and hallways, occasionally punctuated by a telephone message or some other bit of exposition. An odd thing about Perseus is that at quite a few points it really does feel like they tried to do something a bit different with the FEAR formula. There are a couple of interesting locales, and there are also some interesting architectural points within the inevitable endless research facility. The main problem with it all is still essentially the gameplay issue presented above.

The lightning gun in action, which is the best part of the Expack.

You could, in theory stop and look at the scenery, but at a certain point a medical centre with blood-spattered walls and a couple of dessicated corpses just ceases to be creepy and becomes as samey as any other bit of random wallpaper. Unfortunately, you pass that point way back in FEAR 1, so both expacks just end up retreading the same ground ad nauseum. There’s a new Lightning Gun that’s pretty cool but you never get enough ammo for it ever to become any kind of primary weapon – another archaic design choice – “let’s make a really cool, fun weapon, then make sure the player barely gets to use it! Yeah!” I mean, the SP campaign doesn’t need to be balanced for multiplayer, after all.

There’s not much else to really say about it. I ran through it as quickly as possible. It’s better than Extraction Point, but ultimately it’s just more of the same. A solid shooter by the standards of half a decade ago with the visuals to match. Unless you love both of the previous ones, or you’re jonesing to play F2 and maybe F3 and really want to get the whole story before doing so, I wouldn’t bother with this. Especially since the story is still paper-thin, and both EP and PM are non-canon to the FEAR franchise these days anyway…

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Verdict: Skip it.

Review: F.E.A.R. Extraction Point – TimeGate Studios – PC

Well, following on immediately from the original FEAR, this will be a bit more of the same. An add-on to the original review, if you weeel… makes sense in that one of the main ways to get hold of the original game these days is with the two expacks bolted on via Steam, and it’ll no doubt be a freebie attached to pre-orders of FEAR 3.. sorry, F3AR (See what they did there?).

So for starters, the plot involves a helicopter crash after the end of the original game, the resurrection of the main bad guy, even he says “I know it doesn’t make sense”, and a fighting flight to safety, which is an Extraction Point (see what they did there?) in a hospital, which will unsurprisingly gives us some creepy hospital halls and rooms to fight through, decorated with bloody instrumentation. Right after we’ve first fought through a church, some streets, warehouses, sewers and a subway. All creepily lit and decorated with bloody messes on the walls and so forth.

Due to various reasons, the two expansions to the original F.E.A.R. (Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate were rendered non-canonical by Monolith after they got the rights back to their storyline and characters, and then later the name F.E.A.R.

Differences from the initial game.. well, it doesn’t support Widescreen resolutions properly, so I’m playing in a distorted 1600×1200 instead of the 1920 x 1080 of the original. Seems a bit odd to go backwards like that, but there you go..

Gameplay is pretty much the same. Running through an endless series of corridors, warehouses, back-alleys and such, all fenced off by blocked doors and all with graphics-that-would-have-stood-out-nicely-in-06.It also features that awesome bit of game design: doors that are blocked until an NPC comes up to open them for you. This doesn’t get tedious at all. When it comes to chain-link fences that I could easily vault over, you’re the kind of spec-ops elite that just doesn’t even try, and instead walks down the game-corridor that’s provided.

There’s also more than its fair share of crawling around ventilation ducts. I seriously question which game dev actually finds that kind of shit to be fun? Remember that awesome time you had in Half Life 2/DOOM/Quake/Call of Duty where you crawled around in a ventilation duct for 5 minutes? No? There’s my point. It’s just weak padding.

Oh, as another bonus, the game features smashable crates with goodies inside. Though not all crates are smashable. Just some. So, you know, keep your eyes out. We’re talking real FPS innovation here. Stuff that needed to be in the game. Because of this, getting upgrades is much slower than in the original game, as 99% of the boxes here are just scenery, so you naturally end up ignoring most of them. It would have been nice (and made sense) if the expack looked for a saved game from the original game and let you continue with your bullet time and health upgrades.

You can also melee doors open instead of just hitting he use key. And doors near an explosion will also be opened up by that same explosion. Yeah. I guess this is because doors will automagically close by themselves. Just like doors in real life do.

Oh, it turns out that I must have played the original in Normal, since I couldn’t remember, I picked “Easy” for this one, and there are health pickups literally every 6 feet, and I’m blasting through the mobs like Rambo on amphetamines, and barely touching the “bullet-time”. It’s not actually as fun as it sounds, but then again I’m not going to start again, and I’m really playing it more to finish it and to have played through it at this stage, so I won’t hold the lack of challenge against it, but whatever. I’m actually playing the game and writing this to keep me half-interested while trying to churn out an essay for my course. Funnily enough, bitching about games is more interesting.

Look! More of the same!

Because Extraction Point is an old-school expansion pack (remember those?) it has a list of things it needs to do in an adventure about half the length of the original. One of those things is to give you new weapons. As in the original FEAR, you can still only carry three, and so what you end up with here is being given many of the original weapons within a few minutes of each in some cases, along with one of the new ones. The first new weapon you’re given, or half a new weapon, I guess, is dual pistols, to be wielded akimbo. Like Max Payne. Kinda. There’s also a “grenade class” deployable turret that you get pretty early on. Later on, you get a Laser Gun and a Minigun. That’s pretty much it. There are also 2 new enemy types. Even bigger bad guys than the usual big ones, armed with miniguns and shields, and some walking mecha, bigger than the ones we saw in the base game.

When I checked out the game on Wikipedia before starting it – mostly to see which one of the two expacks is the first one, I noted that a criticism of Extraction Point was that there are more of Alma’s “creepy moments” in the game. Despite my misgivings of how they’re actually implemented in the main game, this is actually a positive point for me. Some still manage to be slightly creepy, despite how jaded I now am to the whole thing, and it’s also kind of half of the point of the game. I mean, points of differentiation. Nice graphics (for the time), bullet-time and creepy horror. If your horror game barely has any horror in it, then you’re doing it wrong, so as frequent as they come in this pack, it’s understandable and they’re actually more effective in my opinion than the ones in the original FEAR

In the end, Extraction Point clocked in at about 6 hours according to Steam, which includes time paused and alt-tabbed, though on Easy mode, so the time seems about right. Should you get it? Well, it’s more of the same. A workmanlike older shooter with some decently done horror-y bits and decent atmosphere with a nonsensical plot and sub-par widescreen support. Really though, it doesn’t add much if you’ve already played the original.

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Verdict: Skip it.

Coming up next: F.E.A.R. – Perseus Mandate. Probably.

Review: F.E.A.R. – Monolith Productions – PC

This is a game I originally got years ago (with it’s two expansions) at some EB Games sale, and then found that it barely ran on my PC at the time. Over the years it just sat in the shelf, as most of my PC-gaming time was eaten up by either Battlefield-series games or World of Warcraft or other shooters or… well, you get the idea.

About a year ago, I picked it up (again, with both expansions) via Steam Sale, since I would sometimes do that to divest myself of needing to find CDs and possibly hacked no-CD exes for games I’d bought and not want to muck about with discs.

So recently, I actually started playing it.

Prepare to be scared. Maybe.

Back in the day, FEAR had a bit of a rep as a damned scary and graphically intense game. Since I played it in 2011, I’m looking at it through modern eyes.

Graphically, it obviously doesn’t stand up to more modern fare. The details are still good, but the environments in the levels all have a bit of an overly-squared and clinical look to them. The enemy models are still quite decent, as are the flying robots and the couple of supernatural foes you encounter. It does support widescreen and modern resolutions, which is a plus.

The environments are a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are tons of offices, a tenement, some warehouses and an underground super-facility, each level set in one of it’s own type feels very samey – and the overall effect is of hours of walking through incredibly-similar environments with little variation or interesting variations. The levels are all pretty much standard-shooter fare, right down to red and yellow exploding barrels set at (in)convenient, (un)realistic spaces inside research facilities and everywhere else.

The levels also feel padded out when there are large expanses without any enemies, which just leaves you with running through office spaces for 3-5 minutes at a time on occasion to get to the next bit of shooting game. Steam says I played for 16 hours. While I played on either Easy or Normal (I don’t recall), it definitely felt padded. While I’m not exactly a fan of the way that shooters and games are moving towards 5-hour campaigns, I’d rather play a lovingly-constructed 8-hour campaign than a padded and tedious 16-hour campaign.

The game isn’t all tedium of course. The generic-shooter aspect is broken up occasionally by bits of “atmospheric creepiness”, which can be good, but can also just be okay. The issue is that with the long playing time, what is initially creepy and atmospheric (light and shadow, effective sound design, pop-up creepiness) eventually just becomes “stuff” that you need to get through before you kill some more clones who swear a lot. This is pretty much another example of how a shorter more focussed campaign would have resulted in a better game. The “horror” aspect of it also feels detached from the shooter experience, making the overall game feel a little disjointed as you go into another “horror” sequence where you know you pretty much just have to wait 3 minutes with little control, or move slowly through the blurry screen and simply avoid standing in fire before getting back to the actual game.

The Howwor, the Howwor!

The story (such as it is) is alright, but very simple. The game over-uses the meme of “audio logs” by leaving phones all over the place with answering machine messages, which range from the banal to the stupidly unrealistic, where the evil criminal masterminds leave in-depth messages to one another on answering machines in unattended offices.

There are a few different weapons, though you can only carry 3 at a time, so you’ll have to make a selection of your favourites. The selection is the usual fare – pistol, pump-shotgun, assault rifle (with no scope), scoped rifle (with 3-round bursts), rocket launcher. There’s also a kind of scoped electric railgun and an autocannon thing. All are fictitious weapons, so for those of you who appreciate using real-world weapons, no luck here, I’m afraid. The weapon models look a little weedy when carried, and lack a real punch when you fire them, but they do their job. More annoying is that while right-clicking is the “aim” toggle, it just zooms you in slightly – no aiming down the (iron) sights.

As an older shooter, it features mechanics from the older age of PC-shooters. While you do get a separate button for throwing grenades, you have a limited health bar, and also an armour bar. You can carry up to 10 health packs, which you chug down with the press of a button. Since the game uses this older mechanic (as opposed to the current trend of regenerating health) I found myself doing what I always used to do, which is backtracking constantly to pick up health kits I left behind earlier.

The game’s point of definition from other games is that the protagonist, aka “Pointman” can enter “bullet-time” (or “reflex time” as FEAR calls it) with the click of your middle mouse button. This slows down time so you can get the drop on the bad guys, etc. It’s pretty similar to what we had in Max Payne and every other “bullet-time” game out there, and as in the other games, it can be a bit of decent fun. Pickups scattered around the levels can increase the size of your health bar and also the amount of “bullet-time” you get to use before needing to step around the corner afk for a minute to recharge. You also have a flashlight that can only be on for about 90 seconds at a time, then takes 10 seconds to recharge. Exactly like a real flashlight, then.

Bulle-.. I mean Reflex Time!

In the end though, despite the horror trappings, FEAR is a shooter. Playing it on the PC, there are no major issues mechanically, but it’s pretty unremarkable, aside from “bullet-time”. FEAR is one of those games that I think was great for it’s time, but it’s time has now passed, and it’s just not anything special anymore. Having played this now, the main feeling I have is that I wish I played it 4 years or so ago, when I may have first gotten a PC that could run it properly.

If it were about 8 hours shorter and more focused, I’d advise it as Steam sale fodder. Ultimately, unless you’re a big fan of FEAR 2 (or eventually, 3) and want to see where the franchise started, I can’t really recommend it.

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Verdict: Skip it.

All Hail King Leonard!

OK, 2 years on, I guess it’s time to put some cat photos up. This is the internet after all. For the moment, I’ll only put photos of our new Kitten/Cat, Leonard up, since our previous cat passed away over Christmas after 18 1/2 years, and so it’s a bit hard to deal with still. So yes, Leonard is a rebound cat, but he’s a lovely little thing, when he’s not being terribly naughty and climbing things that he shouldn’t. He’s only getting on 5 months old, I guess.

Early Days

Psycho Kitty!

This was actually a yawn that I happened to get lucky enough to take a pic of, since I was trying to take a photo anyway. He’s not really that much of a psycho. Sometimes.

He likes Halo: Reach. Not that good at Deathmatch though. Yet.

Contortionist Cat. This had been my salad bowl.

OK. You just relax anywhere you like...

Review: Saints Row 2 – Volition – 360/PS3

With the recent announcement of Saints Row: The Third in all good gaming media sites, I thought It might be time to pull out my old review of SR2, put together for another site awhile back, give it a bit of a simple once-over with sandpaper, and throw it up here. I’ll get some more images of figures and such up soon as well, so I’m not going to entirely neglect the modelling world for videogames…

Continue reading

(RE)formatting

I’ve found that the page displays images somewhat differently on different browsers. While everything looked fine to me when I’ve put pages together in the past, trying it while using different browsers shows a bunch of my pictures squashed out of proportion. So I’m editing the images. Sadly, it makes them smaller. Bah.

Maybe at some stage later on I’ll go back and make the reduced images into links to full-sized ones.