The East India Companies were perhaps the closest thing to Eve Online but-on-earth that history has to show for. They were vast nefarious organizations exploiting and backstabbing each other and whole native populations while cutting a profit. These things destroyed nations. They shaped whole continents in ways still felt today. So why on earth is East India Company so damned boring? I think the simple fact is, Nitro has managed to capture the basic mechanics of early-modern capitalism without embracing its soul. (more…)
Archive for July, 2009
Lex the worm is one of the best characters PopCap have created, clearly better than Crazy Dave and most certainly superior to any of the characters in Peggle. It is only fair that he has been given another outing in the great Bookworm Adventures series with the fittingly entitled, Bookworm Adventures 2. After a host of stories escape from Lex’s library you are thrown into the fray with an Adventure mode comprising three separate books containing ten chapters and bosses providing you with loads of enemies to do battle with.
When you start battle you will find that it is eerily similar to the family destroying board game Boggle, but this time the words you chose deal damage to your enemies, there is no angry slinging of letter tiles in this game! Longer words using more exotic letters like ‘X’ and ‘Y’ deal more damage and if you use a gem tile more damage is done. Different gem tiles will grant you different bonuses, they can heal Lex or even poison the baddies as the worm would say.
Tiles aren’t just there to help you, they will often hinder you. The creatures you fight against all have different abilities and you will regularly find tiles being locked from use or losing any ability to damage your opponent for a set number of turns. The system works well, the game would be entirely too easy if their only offensive moves let them hurt Lex or steal his potions. Potions are objects which you use to heal Lex, increase his strength and remove all negative effects from the board. It becomes a bit of a challenge to find strong words when you find yourself limited to a small number of tiles. I often found myself using random combinations of letters to form words like hum just so I could inflict some damage. However, if you do find yourself struggling and you have the right potion you can tidy up the board to make things a bit easier.
You will, at times, feel the game is unfair, especially when you are stuck with a large number of Z’s and Qu’s. This is the one major complaint I have with the game as I found that even though I could scramble the letters, the turn I would miss to do this would lead to my death. As such I generally left scramble alone and relied on my potions to clear the board of weak and locked letters.
You will generally be able to overcome most of the obstacles though with the help of the friendly characters Lex picks up along the way and the treasures you find after defeating a boss at the end of each chapter. Personally I have found the combination of Mother Goose who provides you with a healing potion every four turns, the Bovine Boosters which deal an extra quarter of damage and Mac’s Almanac which increases the power of any adjective you type. These are just a couple of the options available, there are loads of different treasures which fill defensive and offensive duties. Being the reckless fool that I am I would charge into a new chapter with my standard array of help without paying attention to the message which tells you what kind of attacks you can expect in the chapter.
It is a sad fact that Lex will die at various parts of the game, I found myself stuck against the Queen of Hearts at the end of the first book for ages. Luckily Moxie returns to handle your mini-games which you can use to stock up on potions before you head back into the fray. The old classics are still there sitting along side three new mini-games which means you have plenty to sink your teeth into between chapters and after you have completed adventure mode.
It is the small things that make any PopCap game that extra bit special, things like the loading bar making puns about the cake in Portal and trying to divide by zero to Santa not being a word mean there are plenty of smalls things to be amused by. The comments from Lex if you leave the game for a few minutes without doing anything a great, he will pipe up with things like ‘wake up sleepy head’ in his cute little voice. If you don’t like his comments you can just make him sneeze, though I won’t tell you how to do that, it is just one of several secrets in the game.
Bookworm Adventures 2 is another example of the classy casual games PopCap are producing now, it is a really well refined game full of character and fun. This latest entry in the Bookworm Adventures takes what made the first games so good and expands on it. A great game.
Bionic Commando has fooled me into loving it.
It’s the confusing girl at school. She’s not particularly attractive, and has strange food for lunch. But she’s got an infectious personality, and she’s just /fun/ to be around. She makes you laugh and shake your head, and you keep coming back to her even though she smells of cabbages, and that slight quirk in her smile unsettles you. Now imagine that girl is a psychotic bloke with a grappling hook for an arm, and an army of terrorists to kill.
Yeah, I know.
It starts with a basic premise; war hero turned war criminal, put in prison because the public was afraid of his super human abilities, then pulled away from death row because terrorists have blown up a city, and they need someone with super human abilities to stop the terrorists. It’s a fair weather country. And no one knows why the terrorists blew up the city, apart from the fact they’re terrorists, and that’s what terrorists like to do, obviously.
So you’re dropped in, given the ability to latch onto anything living, dead or non-organic, and told to get on with the mission. But you don’t get on with the mission. You spend the first 20 minutes just swinging from billboards, because it’s hilarious fun. The sense of motion, speed and gravity in the game is something I’ve not had any experience of since Spiderman 2, the first Spiderman game to actually make your web stick to stuff. Except where, in Spiderman 2, the joys of swinging where only really hinted at, here they’re realised to the full potential.
Nathan Spencer (voiced by the ever versatile Mike Patton), is the eponymous Bionic Commando, and he only extrapolates the fun with his psychotic interruptions, whether sadistic chuckling when he snipes a soldier, or howling like a monkey as he drops hundreds of feet down a fissure in the earth, only to fire out his arm at the last minutes and swing to safety. His attitude is infectious, and when you hear him gloat ‘Nailed ya!’ at the latest hapless foe, you begin to have an inkling at how little this game takes itself seriously.
It’s in the details, like Spencer’s iron boots, which somehow make him impervious to fall damage. It’s the hilariously over the top German villain, resplendent with manic laughter and corrupted morals. It’s the obvious twist, seen coming from miles and miles and miles away. It’s the utterly bonkers story, the big, unended plot strands, and the righteous vengeance of the protagonist. Bionic Commando is about as gamey as a game can get.
That’s not to ignore the huge, glaring flaws in the game. There is no manual saving and dozens of badly placed checkpoints; enough, at least to stop me playing for that particular moment out of frustration. Biomechs, the game’s minibosses, have the utterly uninspired weak spot on their back, and while it seems to be a bit of an inside joke in the game, that doesn’t make it anything less than arduous to kill them. Having Xbox controller buttons on screen at all times, even when no Xbox controller is connected to the computer, is unforgivable. Intermittent crashes hardly help, either, and the graphics options are a joke, with the joke being there are none.
From what I’ve seen, either no one is playing multiplayer, or the lobby system doesn’t work. From what I’ve read, even when a game does get going, it’s likely to get dropped hastily by dodgy netcode. You could say the single player was a little on the short side, but it’s certainly doesn’t feel /too/ short, not too long. Taken individually, some of these things may seem to be deal breakers, and together they’re little short of damning, but just because that girl smelt of cabbage, that didn’t stop you from wanting to be around her.
These flaws are as nothing, really, when you actually get to play the game. There are a few ways to incapacitate (read: kill) your foes, from flinging them hilariously into one another, flinging them off into the distance, hearing their cartoonish cries dwindle and diminish, throwing cars, rocks and dead robots at them, or just shooting them. A favourite tactic of mine became flinging a man into the air, then quickly retracting my arm to hoof kick the guy in the chest, sending him flying from elevation. Then again, you can always just drop on them from a great height.
The fights are only there to break up the swinging, of which there is a good deal, with lampposts and the aforementioned billboards making up the bulk of that which you swing from, but nearly anything that isn’t irradiated (the games not-so-clever way of keeping the levels contained) can be attached too, so you can abseil and catapult yourself from almost anything. It’s joyous, pure and feels so entirely natural that when going back to any other game, the urge to swing from anything you see makes you do some truly stupid things.
I can’t remember the last time I replayed a game directly after I completed it. I may have begun the second playthrough, but I’ve rarely followed it through, instead fizzled out naturally when I found my appetite for the game’s core mechanics dwindling. With Bionic Commando, however, the sheer Newtonian appreciation of gravity has kept me returning again and again, to the extend where I’m playing the single player section through a third time. It’s something of an oddity in my gaming habits, albeit a welcome one.
What all this is trying to say is that my love of Bionic Commando could well be a freak occurrence. There’s plenty you can get upset about, from the shoddiness of the port, to the various misses in enemy design and missing plot elements. On the other side, there’s not a huge amount to cling on to when looking for positives, beyond the joyously brilliant swinging, the lushness of the environments, and the utterly charming, psychotic personality of the game.
To recommend Bionic Commando is to recommend a somewhat divisive band that doesn’t really have many redeeming qualities, but for some reason you can’t stop listening. Something about it grabs you, and you’re not sure what, so to explain it to friends seems pointless. Bionic Commando is the game that I shouldn’t like, but I really, really do. As usual, it’s an experience that’s entirely, completely subjective.
City building games have a long history on the PC, and I personally have a long history of playing them, I remember fondly games such as Caesar III, Zeus and Tropico. I played these games during a time before I became enamoured with the first-person shooter, city building games were for a long time the bedrock of my gaming experience. Once I discovered more action orientated games I left behind the world of city building, I would occasionally pay a casual glance at games like Imperium Romanum, but it was no more than a fleeting glimpse of what once was.
It wasn’t until I found Anno 1404, Dawn of Discovery to you in the Americas, that I rediscovered the joys of creating my own living breathing city. Well, I may be able to create a city, but I certainly can’t create an attractive one. As ever with games like this I end up creating an absolute mish-mash of a settlement with all kinds of buildings thrown together.
This edition of Anno features a story driven campaign mode unlike its predecessor 1701 which left it out altogether relying on its expansion to fill in with a story. As such you know going in to 1404 that you will be able to follow the relatively short campaign if you so wish, or just go ahead and start one of six pre-designed scenarios or create your own continuous game.
The campaign is enjoyable enough, your mentor Lord Northburgh guides you through the early levels and is at hand to help you along when needed; he is even present in the scenarios as a constant ally. I do have a few annoyances with the campaign, namely that when you progress from mission to mission, on the same island, you buildings all get reset to an AI pattern. Useful if you created a mess of things in the first place, but it does take away from the sense that this is really your city.
As you would expect there are a few different difficulty levels in the campaign, with each level your levels of starting goods and gold differ and you will find yourself posed with more goals to complete on the higher levels. You are also able to get more goals to complete by exploring the world you inhabit in each level, if you explore the map and find more AI characters you will often find that you can take missions from them. At the end of each campaign level you receive a score based on the number of objectives completed.
This all ties in with the ‘Gateway to the World’ side of the game, this lets you create an online profile through which you can share your screenshots, stats and various achievements and medals that you accrue through the various game modes. There are quite a number, 206 achievements and 20 medals, not to mention the 53 items of bonus content you can unlock.
If you avoid conflict in the game then your main goal will be to create a massive population spread across the variety of islands you will come across. Different islands have different fertilities, so if your citizens want to drink beer you may have to find an island that will let you grow wheat which is required to start the process of making beer. In this way you will find that you create a vast trading network with boats carrying goods from your production islands to the island which holds the majority of your population.
Trading extends beyond transferring goods between your separate islands; you can trade with the other characters such as Northburgh and characters from the Orient who occupy islands in the south of any map. If you want your citizens to advance to their top levels you will have to build on these Oriental islands which are primarily desert bound, but which have vastly different fertilities to your home lands. You will only learn how to build Oriental structures after becoming friends with the Grand Vizier.
Once you have unlocked all the buildings in the game across islands in the Occident and Orient you will find yourself positively drowning in things to build. This is where an eye for town planning comes in, as you can see from my screen shots most of my settlements are a mess, though I have seen numerous players build some lovely settlements.
At its heart Anno 1404 is a lovely game, I do have some niggles with it, when you plant farms you often have to press another button to get the fields to plant. There were some other things, but they weren’t big enough to mention. The game looks very nice and has a very deep layer of resource management and town planning, there is a lot to do if you want to complete it all, you’ll have to play for at least 500 hours if you want to get all of the medals.
This is a headshot, but with a provisio, if you don’t normally play city building games then check out the demo first. If you do like them, then buy this game, it really is a bit of gem.
It took me 30 minutes solid driving at 120mph to get from Fuel’s first camp to the second. There’s 19 such camps. Oh my.
I died. I had just reached the shingle on Omaha beach when a bullet from an MG42 took away the last 4 bits of health I had. I was devastated, after clawing my way through the sea, past the obstacles and up the beach I saw safety, just to have it taken away at the last moment. What was even more galling was the fact that I had completed my objective of getting to the shingle, though it wasn’t enough to save me.
I tried again, this time I made it to the shingle and met up with the Captain, I was not impressed with what he had to say. He was sending me back down to beach to grab some explosives to be used to blow a path through the shingle. I glanced at my health, I was down to 4, again. I knew that it was suicide to try and get the Bangalore’s in my current state; I crawled further along the shingle to find a medic, my saviour. I was patched up to 54 little points of health and felt ready to run madly down the beach to get those much needed explosives.
Once I had returned safely with the bangers the Captain blew a whole in the shingle, after a mad dash across a mine field covered by two machine gun nests I found myself leaning against the base of the concrete fortifications with just 10 health. The mad Captain ordered me to get across the rest of the mine field in order to reach some trenches. I died, I tried again and I died. I gave up.
This is the Omaha beach level from Medal of Honour: Allied Assault. Perhaps the finest, most realistic gaming moment there is, and certainly the best landing assault level there is, much better than Stalingrad in Call of Duty. This pretty much is the opening of Saving Private Ryan in video game form, which should come as no surprise as the director of that amazing war film, Steven Spielberg was involved in the creation of Allied Assault.
This one level is the defining moment of the whole game, it is telling that you receive an in-game medal just for completing the mission; you don’t have to do any other special tasks, simply just survive what seems to be the unsurvivable.
When I first played Allied Assault I romped my way through the opening two missions of the game, it was only when I got to Omaha that I found my match. It is a totally uncompromising level, that medic I mentioned earlier will only heal you once, there is no respite from the constant noise of artillery shells landing and bullets pining off the obstacle you are hiding behind. It is one of, if not the most intense level of any game. The corresponding console version of the game, Frontline also features a level on Omaha, that was the first version I played and I found it pretty easy. For that simple reason I was shocked by the challenge posted in Allied Assault, I was not ready for the levels of grit and determination needed to complete the opening sequence of the beach landing.
I think it is a shame that when any game features a similar styled beach landing or ground assault that the Stalingrad level from Call of Duty is always the level of comparison. Yes, that is awe inspiring in its own right, but it is no Omaha. The Hell of Omaha.
Ray, Pete, Egon, Ray and Slimer. These five names might provoke one of several different reactions to you, the PC owning reader of The Reticule. Ghostbusters: The Video Game will provoke a very similar set of emotions, closely linked to those same reactions you encountered of the former. Which makes the game rather difficult to praise. On the one hand, if you’re a fan you’ve probably preordered (or like me, got the game on import) anyway. If however you are nonplussed by Ray Parker Jr asking ‘Who you gonna call?’ then it’s quite hard to see you getting a massive amount of enjoyment out of this in the long term.
Ghostbusters – The Video Game is a third person action game that puts you in the shoes of a mute, nameless Rookie hired by the Ghostbusters to join the team just before a well timed event which sees Slimer released from the Ghostbusters HQ and return to his old haunt (pun intended) at the Sedgewick Hotel. Obviously you have to capture him again with the help of your fellow ‘Busters, and this serves as an opening tutorial level introducing you to the proton streams and the Ghost Trap you’ll be using throughout much of the game. To do the business of actually capturing ghosts you’ll have to damage them first before of course, deploying a trap and switching to capture stream to wrangle the pesky poltergeist into the trap. Actually using this equipment for the first time is a joy to any Ghostbusters fan. Terminal Reality have really managed to get the mechanics of using the proton streams right. They cause a suitably high level of chaos to their surroundings – encouraged by a measure of how much cost you are causing the city in repairs – and every level is strewn with plenty of physic-laden objects for you to slam ghosts into. There’s a certain type of glee reserved only for those who wished to walk along the streets of New York City with a Proton Pack on their back which the game captures perfectly.
Of course, for any game based on a film licence – especially one that bridges the gap between mainstream and cult as well as Ghostbusters, the plot and indeed faithfulness to the franchise is very important. The main cast (minus Rick Morains and Sigourney Weaver) are all here giving their likeness and voices to their characters (although it’s interesting to note that although they’ve got Annie Potts voice for spunky receptionist Jeanette, the model they’ve used doesn’t look like how she did in either of the movies). Wisely, the game’s script is also written by creators Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis – making for some very funny and entertaining dialogue throughout. One area where creative licence has been utilized is in your role as Ghostbusters new Prototype Weapons Technician – it’s a perfect excuse for the developers to come up with more weapons that never featured in the movies. It’s a smart if obvious decision, as you can imagine having the same weapon all the way through may get rather tedious, and it’s always fun to cover your buddies in slime.
However, there are some niggling flaws with Ghostbusters – The Game. Despite the attempts to keep the variety high with the new weapons, gameplay can feel very samey after a while. Almost the entire game is heavily focused on capturing ghosts – which is kind of obvious – but when it all ends in exactly the same way it’s a big task to put on the capturing/wrangle mechanic. If you didn’t enjoy capturing a ghost the first time, you sure are not going like the five hundredth time. Enemy variety is lacking as well. Whereas the description and look of most of your enemies is different, quite a lot of the time you’re actually fighting the same ghosts, just skinned to match the theme of the level. The upgrades system is a good idea but I can’t say when I played I noticed a huge difference when upgrading my equipment – some sort of visual feedback would no doubt have been a welcome addition. The game also suffers in it’s difficulty. On the lowest setting, it’s far too easy and you’ll probably complete it in about 6 hours tops, yet with high difficulty levels the AI of your fellow Busters can be stupid on the verge of annoying. There’s hardly anything more infurating than a stupid AI controlled Egon deciding to run right at the legs of a stone giant seconds after you’ve revived him and causing a Game Over because all the enemies concentrating on him are now attacking you. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A PHD, MAN!
This brings us onto the biggest flaw with Ghostbusters – The Video Game: it is a game that is crying out for co-op and multiplayer. And the fact that Threewave, whom did the MP for the console versions, chose not to include it for the PC is absolutely shocking. The Ghostbusters have always been about working as an almost functioning team, and while the AI makes an almost competent job for the most part, the fact that you can’t tangle the Marshmallow Man with four buddies leaves the experience with a gaping hole. Heck, we probably would have settled for even a split screen local option, but the omission is almost unforgivable. It’s even more of a shame when you realise how shallow the game really is to non-fans. Sure, it’s been an ambition of many children of the 80′s to be blowing up the Marshmallow Man with Ecto One’s sirens blazing in the background, or chasing the Gray Lady through the library with a Proton Pack on your back – but if Ghostbusters isn’t your thing you’ll probably find that this game suffers in a very similar way to most movie license games do, with an average game behind the fan service.
Even though it’s far from the best game based on a film license, it’s certainly a solid one. Fans will love all the little touches and nods provided especially for those and it would be very harsh to say it’s a bad game when it definitely isn’t. Overall Ghostbusters is a competent action game, and it’s easy to give them top marks for effort – there’s a lot of love gone into this license – how much you can ignore the niggles will definitely depend on how much of a Ghostbusters fan you are. If you love them then this is just about the perfect Ghostbusters game. I really can’t state enough how the lack of multiplayer on the PC is a real shame though.