Wednesday 18 June 2008

Watch this space...

It's a cliché, I know, but I'm working on something ambitious for next week.

Friday 13 June 2008

Orcs & Elves

With my plans for world domination foiled once again, I find myself resenting being British due to Uncle Sam (and Harmonix) taking a recent opportunity to thoroughly roger me over the frankly bloody extortionate price for Rock Band. As such, I find myself at a loss as to what this week’s review was going to be; I really think my PS3 deserves attention off something that isn’t Gran Tourismo, but Haze appears to have been about as well received as the American Pie direct-to-DVD sequels, while Nintendo have been embracing the summer by once more choosing to release absolutely nothing interesting for the Wii (with the possible exception of Smash Bros Brawl, but due to the aforementioned rogering, it wont be out here for another fortnight or so).

This of course leaves me with the choice of pulling another fashionably late review (Mass Effect comes to mind) out of my arse, when brother dearest came to my rescue, bubbling with excitement over something for the DS by the name of Orcs & Elves. Having mistaken this for Pixar’s latest attempt at milking the Shrek franchise to a very fine and equally dry powder of it’s former cash cow, I decided I’d rather join Uncle Sam and rummage around with both hands for something to write about this week. Having achieved nothing but a very dodgy walk, I stopped screening my calls and agreed to give Orcs & Elves a try; full well in the knowledge that I’d only ever be a bottle of Tequila away from convincing myself I never laid a finger on the blasted thing. It worked with Kane and Lynch.

Now that I’ve managed to put all that childishness behind me, I can crack on with the actual review, rather than my misadventures of the week. In Orcs & Elves, you play as Elli, the um, Elf, who for some bizarre reason never says a word but gets along just fine thanks to his talking wand; who has a name, but also has a habit of boring me to tears so much that I dare not remember it. The game begins in some generic dungeon with no explanation or even half-arsed attempt at a back story, but everyone keeps talking about some Dwarf king you’re apparently here to talk to about… I don’t know, the legal age one can work for a games developer?

Orcs & Elves looks similar to Doom, which about 15 years ago would make it the dog’s pride (always left) and joy (by default, right). Unfortunately, this isn’t 15 years ago, and so the dog’s bollocks it is not. There’s some reference to the apparently “award winning” Doom RPG being made by the same people, but if I had to guess, I’d say said award was probably “biggest commercial challenge” – I sure as hell haven’t heard of it. Never mind that, though, Orcs & Elves is more than capable of letting itself down. For a start it’s a turn based RPG, that also happens to be first person. In this situation, I usually end up decided that the game may have its good points, but is let down by the ‘press a button and wait a long time for death’ combat (with the exception of Mario RPG on the SNES).

However, my problem with Orcs & Elves isn’t that the combat is turn based, oh no, the combat is generally very quick but can still leave you with enough time to rustle up some wine, and even a good vintage at that, while you plough through potions and spells, decided the fate of your foe while they sit there very politely waiting for death. The absolutely massive, completely unbearable irritation in Orcs & Elves is that the whole mother-fucking thing is turn based. When I rule this world, I’ll see to it that someone embodies the turn based method (of everything), and then are to be thrown out of the highest window of my evil lair then skullfucked when they land for good measure.

If KOTOR 2 and Mass Effect proved anything, it was that – well, that film grain sucks – and that everything’s better without a turn based system. Including darts. This leaves me wondering how the holy shitting hell we’ve made it to 2008 while still carrying the haemorrhoid that is turn based gameplay. All the turn based system in Orcs & Elves achieves is turning a videogame back into a board game, only replacing the undisputable dice mechanic in favour of “randomly” generated chance/turn/bollocks, I don’t care. By turning Orcs & Elves into essentially a board game (with every step counting as a turn), it is completely impossible to ignore the fact that it’s Dungeons & Dragons, only without friends to play with.

Somehow EA managed to take the epitome of social suicide, and then wrap its skull around a very antisocial bollard shaped like an appendix and covered in glue and poison. With the very worst that classical music has to offer playing incredibly loudly to boot. As a human being who doesn’t see the world in tiles and dice rolls, I have vowed to never play Dungeons & Dragons, and only played the rip off because I was mislead. Then again, it was probably my own fault for believing something to be interesting, by taking the word of someone who actually enjoys Myst.

The end result is something that has a vendetta against social life as a concept, looks almost impressively out-dated and still only has about 4 character models, and just as many hours of gameplay. Adding to that, there’s the fact that the final boss battle is about as fair as being sent to Guantanamo Bay, via Alcatraz, for peeing behind a bush in the middle of a the countryside. With that combination, I wish I’d rather sold a kidney or so to pay for Rock Band.
I’m not going to stop kicking the shit out of Orcs & Elves yet though, I’ve got plenty to say about boss battles in general, and Orcs & Elves pretty much volunteers itself as a punching bag for the subject. Off the top of my head, Orcs & Elves is the best at demonstrating how not to do a final boss battle, with Twilight Princess being a shining example on how it should be done.

Rule one: make the final boss someone you’ve spent the biggest portion of the game wanting dead.

This isn’t exactly hard; just introduce the antagonist early on. If said antagonist hasn’t already been portrayed as the bastard to end all bastards, then after an hour, have him punch a puppy in the face or something. For some reason, games of late seem misguided in attempts at plot twists, so I’ll spell it out. It doesn’t mean change the bad guy 10 minutes before the end of the game.

Rule two: make the boss battle epic.

Another trick modern games seem to be missing. In the old days, boss battles were epic by, despite looking shite, being long but by no means artificially lengthened by perpetually respawning peons who you’d have to mow down one by one before continuing the fight. The only time it’s even remotely acceptable to ignore the rest of that is when you introduce some awesome cut scenes or at least utilise the power of modern consoles and make everything look awesome.

Rule three: make the boss feel like you can kill him.

This one could be two separate rules if you just place the stress in different places. First, you should be able to go into a boss battle knowing that it’s possible for the fucker to die. Second, the boss shouldn’t feel like a strong breeze will cause him or her to bite it, otherwise it just raises the question: how could such a wussbag become the bane of everything and anything? Is the world populated entirely by the inbred and retarded?

I seriously doubt that anyone is going to read that, then take it on board and make a game, there’s obviously far too much money to be found ripping off everything else.

Next week I’ll be trying my hand at innovation, so expect pain and suffering. Until then, remember you can still get hold of me at the usual place:
(Just be glad you got any pictures this week, I was seconds away from burning myself a CD with GIMP on it, then eating the blasted thing).

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Never let it be said that I’m a closed-minded and prejudice rookie of the gaming world; for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve been gaming since those Amega glory days when you had a box full of floppy discs and had to swap between about 5 every 20 seconds in order to get anywhere – although I’ll admit I was rather young then, but at least I remember that Cannonfodder/Sensible Soccer crossover and the first F-Zero game (and how frigging awesome they were). Anyway, I hereby shrug off the title of Sonyaphobe for this generation of the format wars by recently financially crippling myself once again for the month by buying myself a PS3. I’ll also admit that as a piece of hardware, it’s very impressive. It’s just a shame there are no games for the poor thing, aside from one or two, and seeing as Motorstorm is basically a racing game with only one track and Resistance: Fall of Man is nothing particularly special, but instead just another twitchy shooter that looks like original Xbox territory next to the likes of Call of Duty 4, the only game currently out I consider worth my attention are Gran Tourismo 5, but then again it’s just the bloody prologue so that’s out.

I guess with all that in mind, the only PS3 game out worth my attention is Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and now we’ve established that I bring you this week’s review of Uncharted. I suppose it’s about time I gave this one a whack, seeing as everyone at work who asks me what games to get when they buy a PS3 gets the answer “Uncharted” without any real thought.

As Indiana Croft – uh – Nathan Drake, sorry, you start out on a boat in the middle of somewhere preparing for an appearance on the BBC’s “Who do you think you are?” by digging up your ancestor’s coffin, then decide to be a right smart arse and find a treasure he spent his entire life looking for and somehow by the end of the game only a day has passed and you’ve done more than found the bloody thing. Unfortunately, along the way you’re attacked by pirates, mercenaries, some mercenary pirates, an upper class British treasure hunter (who isn’t Lara Croft) and his dickhead Spanish lackie/’recruitment operative’.

That all sounds like pretty standard, if not at all original, treasure hunting adventuring goodness, but I do have my own personal bone to pick with it. If you, Nathan Drake, are the only smart arse who knows where your ancestor, Francis Drake, buried all the clues to a secret treasure, and you’re the first one to find said clues, then consequently the first one to get to the location of said secret treasure, then how the bloody hell did all those mercenary pirate fellows not only follow you but beat you to every single secret room/library/gallery/jungle opening when you’re undoubtedly the first person to set foot there in 500 years?

Surely if all these mercenary pirates can stay a few steps ahead of you while in search of some big ass treasure, they should logically show up somewhere, spot you, then instead of insisting on risking everyone’s lives in a very one-sided battle, they should just fuck off, following their gut instinct until you show up again, then repeat. They seem pretty good at it anyway. Aside from the fact that you’re constantly following the mercenary pirates even though you’re the only one who knows where they treasure is, even though it’d make perfect sense for them to follow you, occasionally catching up a trying to beat the shit out of you; there’s also the fact that there an awful lot of the bastards showing up, even though there’s actually only about 4 of them but they all seem to keep springing back to life whenever you find somewhere new.

Right, I think that’s enough of that continuity error before I spend the next three weeks rambling on and on, no doubt repeating myself more times that you dare count.

In all fairness, Uncharted starts on a fairly high note on the basis that it’s a proper “next gen” title, but at least it refuses to conform to the irritating formula that ‘brown + dark = real’, and as such is an incredibly vibrant and colourful world crammed with the same level of plant life that gives Far Cry a run for it’s money. Actually. If we’re using the “next gen” buzzword, I suppose I should say that it gives Crysis a run for it’s money, rather than the relatively old, mouldy toast that was Far Cry and its exact duplicates with slightly different names. Never mind though, my point is, it’s bright and green, and having spent a worrying amount of time living in a city environment, much like the rest of you, no doubt.

The first hour or so of Uncharted was really enjoyable, actually, partly because it left Nathan uncharacteristically quiet, but mostly because it involved little more than climbing around, admiring the scenery, which is what I loved about Assassin’s Creed. That, however, planted a worry in my mind. With Assassin’s Creed, I enjoyed climbing around slitting throats for a few hours, and even the bits between them when I was causing all sorts of reconnaissance-related havoc, right up to the point when I realised I’d been playing it for about 10 hours and hadn’t done anything else at all.

Uncharted, however, decided to stay clear of this, because after the first hour, right up to the end credits, the words “cinematic gaming” kept popping into my head, for a number of reasons. First off is the bonus that it all looks very good, then unfortunately, things start going wrong. Unlike the glory days of Tomb Raider, when you’d spend a lot of time climbing around solving puzzles, occasionally stopping for a very acrobatic fire fight, Uncharted decides to follow the path of frankly every smegging game involving anyone with brown hair (sans moustache), which is to have you shoot your way to the end credits from cover, occasionally stopping to solve a small puzzle, which opens up another duck-and-cover fire fight.

There’s also the fact that Nathan is in my eyes, a very unlikeable character, who by the look of his shirt can’t eat a shepherd’s pie without a bib, and will not shut the fuck up. He’s a cross between Flick from A Bug’s Life, and a jar of blackcurrant jam – which as you surely know is cockiness in a jar (bastard stuff stains like a motherfucker, but it tastes great and it sure as hell knows it). Said cockiness surely isn’t helped by the fact that he single-handedly manages to wipe out an entire regiment or mercenary pirates (or fleet, or whatever the hell you call a group of mercenary pirates). The bit that really made me void the warranty for my lovely TV was the fact he had about 3 one-liners he’d use in each of the many fire fights, and the generic problem is that they’re a) repetitive and b) not even remotely entertaining. There’s also the fact that he did a scoff-worthy impression of Sam Beckett whenever someone dropped a grenade near him – which as it turns out is incredibly frigging often.

Which leads me nicely to something else that annoyed my about Uncharted. During the completely unavoidable fire fights you naturally have to take cover or die, only after about 30 seconds of which, that stone pillar you were soiling yourself behind crumbles is if it was in fact made of Lego, which I assume in practise wouldn’t hold up for more than 30 seconds in a fire fight. Inevitably, that frequently leaves you with the choice of stay in cover and die or die when shooting, or die when trying to run away. And in the final boss battle this is only amplified to the point where I was just glad Sony had decided to sell PS3 pads in twin packs for a similar price to single pads. It was this point when “cinematic gaming” came into my head once more. Only this time it was because the linearity of Uncharted was so evident it felt like I was following a script. Every time I tried deviating from the script I was greeted by the world’s best shotgun in the hands of an award winning marksman.

As such the exploring that I liked so much drained away like a cup of tea that’d been left alone for so long that it’d not only gone cold but the sugar had been reconstituted as a horrible brown goo at the bottom of the cup. Interestingly, that metaphor’s even more suitable than I initially thought.

If you were to look at Uncharted with that in mind, you’d assume it’s not really a good game at all, but at least it all looks very nice and the exploration bits are very good until the times when Nathan is feeling suicidal and decides to occasionally leap blindly to his death if you don’t hold the analogue stick in exactly the right position when the camera angle suddenly changes . But yeah, it’s pretty good, but by following everyone else by introduces a big dollop of action-heavy mayonnaise to the fruit salad that is the rest of the game, it’s once more nothing particularly special.

If, on the other hand, you’re one of those people with a crap goatee, a cheap burette and insists on constantly wearing an open shirt with a t-shirt underneath, who gets a little too excited by the term “cinematic gaming”, then you’ll love the consistent prettiness of Uncharted so much that you’ll overlook the obvious rip off of numerous big blockbusters and Tomb Raider games, and I guess it’s probably just me who hates being condemned to play the game exactly how it wants you to. At least it feels that way judging by how many people I’ve heard complaining that San Andreas was better than GTA IV, despite my objections that pretty much everything that was cut out of San Andreas wasn’t only pointless, but pretty shit in the first place and that… you know what, screw it, I’ve had enough of saying how much better the freedom and realism is in GTA IV.

Drop me some abuse at:

(I'll start putting pictures back up when I get my internet sorted. And a mouse).