All entries for Monday 01 December 2008

December 01, 2008

Fallout 3: Apocalyptic

Game front cover
Title:
Fallout 3 (PC)
Publisher:
Bethesda
ASIN:
B0017Y38H0
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The setting: a post-apocalyptic version of the US that got stuck in the 50s culturally, but advanced massively in technology - I haven't played the first two, but I just love that off-kilter setting. The SPECIAL system that defines your underlying stats (Strength etc) is familiar territory, while it's slightly more complex than the standard AD&D ability scores, I've seen (for example) the Luck attribute appear in quite a few JRPGs.

Ok, it's mostly Oblivion with guns, but with a few significant differences - the biggest being the VATS combat system. This is an optional mode where you can freeze the action and auto-aim at a specific part of a monster, as many times as your Action Points allow. It goes all slo-mo cinematic and your proximity, line of sight, skills (and Luck) take over, with you hitting like it's a turn-based combat game - then it jumps back to real-time so you can dodge any retaliation while your APs regenerate. Non-VATS is just like a normal FPS, and the main reason the PC release shades the console ones, but it would be perfectly playable using only VATS. Since I didn't play the earlier incarnations, I'm gonna continue comparing it to Oblivion.

Other good changes are fully remappable keys (there's a line at the top of the readme about how to map the mouse, perhaps clumsier than it should be, but it's there), a nice range of toys to shoot at stuff, a much-simplified crafting interface and more variety in costumery.

Bad changes would be that each weapon needs very specific ammo, the weapons break very easily and you need identically-described weapons to repair existing ones, so inventory space gets used up pretty quickly.

Another change is that all skills have to be bought at level-up, so while the enemies get tougher, you should theoretically be getting tougher yourself (rather than only leveling when you improved key class-stats) but you can no longer learn things like stealth simply by creeping around a lot.

What's not changed are instant-travel nodes on the map, the clumsy way the map, inventory and skills are on separate tabs within the same menu and you constantly need to switch between them, the same rather basic compass, characters and monsters seeming to pop out of nowhere and giving you a heart-attack, and the monster NPCs having AI like the red ghost in Pac Man.

Still it's a excellent game, the VATS system never seems to get old as you think it might and the setting is amazing.


Valkyria Chronicles

Game front cover
Title:
Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
Publisher:
Sega
ASIN:
B00197U1G6
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

It seems like forever since I saw the first examples of this game's artwork. It's anime-style, all cell-shaded with a watercolour-on-pencil effect and very fine indeed.  The style extends beyond the comic-book-like panes of the chapter-select menu, the artful stills and animated cut-scenes and into the 3-D part of the game itself.

The actual game between the many cut-scenes is turn-based combat on individual battlefields. You start in map view, and decide which character to move, at which point you gain control of them in 3-D third-person. As you move, your Action Points decrease and any enemies which spot you are free to shoot at you, then you can select aim, target an enemy and fire upon them. It briefly switches to a cinematic attack view as you fire, the enemy gets to retaliate, and then you end your turn. Oddly you have to do alll this quite quickly as you can continue to take damage if you just stand there. Then you can choose another (or the same) character and repeat until you run out of Command Points and it's the enemies turn to do effectively the same thing - but of course without the dangerous moments of indecision you
face as a human player.

That's pretty much it, it's pure strategy with no exploration in-between, but you do get a big number of characters to choose from later on. It's like any of the [JRPG-series-name] Tactics version with the third-person live-action-move mode added on, so if you're looking for an update to those games, with some wonderful stylised graphics, your search is over.


Dead Space: Last Place

Game front cover
Title:
Dead Space (PC)
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
ASIN:
B0019840GW
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

Can’t remap the controls to my preference. This wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but I find it annoying and unnecessary for a PC game to dictate to you what the mouse buttons must do. No amount of remapping would improve the unresponsiveness of the controls, though.

The view is a rather nasty drunken-over-the-shoulder one and your character is drawn so large it’s really hard to look around. Being honest, I didn’t actually play long enough to judge how scary the monsters and stuff are, because if I struggle to follow some people down a corridor and open a door, I don’t need stuff jumping out on me.

Graphically it looks quite nice, but they ruined it with sluggish controls and your stupid big immersion-breaking head covering up where you want to look.


Far Cry 2: A sequel in name

Game front cover
Title:
Far Cry 2 (PC)
Publisher:
Ubisoft
ASIN:
B0010DX5L2
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Nice-looking but not quite as jaw-dropping as the footage that’s been around for a while promised. Playing it, it’s a bit lonely – it is basically sporadic outposts of people with nothing in-between – I was hoping to be like Bear Grylls and kill some wild animals for no reason.

The fire effects are pretty, but makes the game crash if I get too carried away. The map/monocular thing is a bit clumsy, but the driving is way better than the first game (so a million times better than Crysis) but the view is a bit restricted in the jeeps.

While there are interesting advances, it doesn’t really feel like a sequel to the original Far Cry – that dubious accolade probably goes to Crysis. While all three games are pretty much tech demos with a game built around them, it’s Crysis that shares the ludicrous plot diversions which define the first Far Cry.

But Far Cry 2 is certainly the better game, everything in the other two felt rather a slog. It works pretty well most of the time, although you sometimes get murdered through a wall, if it’s flawed it’s that the missions are all pretty similar and you really have to get creative yourself if you want to keep your interest going.


Maddening

Game front cover
Title:
Madden NFL 07 (Wii)
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
ASIN:
B000IMBUL8
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

As wonderfully incomprehensible to non-fans as the actual sport. Woefully inadequate tutorial for the neophyte. Disappointing amount of Wii-interaction, involving a little flick at the right time, rather than a throw. Played for a full twenty minutes before discovering I was actually “controlling” the other team to the one I thought I was, though my performance actually dropped after realising this.


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