All entries for January 2005

January 24, 2005

Unreal Tournament 2004 – Review

Unreal Tournament 2004 – the latest in Epic Game’s Unreal series of first person shooters – blazes onto your screen in a riot of vibrant colours, frantic energy, shock combos and flying flak. In it you take the part of a tournament contestant, battling your way up through the ranks and rounds, conquering different game modes, until you are crowned the ultimate champion.

After the rather tepid response received by the last title, UT 2003, Epic had to rethink their approach when developing UT 2004. The gameplay, and has thankfully been returned to something much more like to the original UT’s speed, movement and weapon powers, which when combined with awesomely beautiful levels of the type we saw in 2003, makes for a game to be reckoned with.

And it doesn’t stop there. Many of the complaints about last year’s game have been fixed. The sniper rifle has returned, albeit slightly rebalanced to make headshots harder. The Assault game mode is back, and brings with it a couple of the most enjoyable levels in the game, as well as some of the most frustrating. But the biggest change is with the inclusion of a whole new game mode: Onslaught, in which teams battle for control of a network of power-nodes, in order to gain access to the enemy’s base and destroy their power core. Both Onslaught and Assault modes introduce (suspiciously Halo-esque) vehicles for the first time in UT, bringing with them extra challenges and rewards.

The Tournament itself – the single player campaign – has also seen improvements this year, with prize money and team wages bringing a new dimension to the game, however shallow it might seem. As well as the standard tournament ladder matches you can now also fight Head to Head and Bloodrites matches, the first to win double the money you staked on the game in a one-on-one fight, and the second to take a member of an opponent’s team away from them. As well as all this, there are enough maps, game modes and mutators to provide hours of fun and replay value, even if your computer has never seen a modem in its life…

Which brings me to the multiplayer side of the game. Once again UT’s clear and easy lobby and server browser provides the benchmark for usability, and even has a quick play function where you can choose what level of opponents you want to play against, assuming that everyone else choosing this option is being honest about their ability. Lag, while always an issue doesn’t seem to occur too often when using a half decent connection, and the game claims to support speeds as low as 33.6 Kbps. On both counts UT has delivered successfully, where its competitors have recently failed to live up to expectations – particularly Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow. There is even the chance to speak to the players on the server with the touch of one button – and a microphone of course – although this does have the downside of occasional big-headed Americans getting access to your speakers.

By returning to many of the original values of Unreal Tournament, while keeping the gorgeous environments of 2003, Epic has firmly put the Unreal back into Unreal Tournament. Its few problems are too superficial to be mentioned, and will probably be fixed by the patch we are assured is on its way. Buy it…just remember to eat and sleep occasionally.


Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow – Review

Sam Fisher, the NSA’s greatest secret agent in the war against terrorism, is back. Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow carries on shortly after Splinter Cell, this time fighting against an Indonesian guerrilla, threatening to release smallpox across the USA.

The development of Pandora Tomorrow has followed the simple principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which sadly seems to be so lacking in the thinking of many recent game sequels. This is probably due to the short period of time between the release of Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow, meaning that the developers haven’t had to improve the audiovisual experience, which so often seems to result in neglect of the actual playability. Basically, Pandora Tomorrow looks, sounds and plays the same as the original Splinter Cell, which is most definitely a good thing.

Moreover, a number of refinements have been made. The first and most important is the ironing out of the seemingly never-ending string of General Protection Faults which plagued the PC version of Splinter Cell, causing endless frustration. In-game changes include night vision blinding (when you look at a bright light while using night vision the entire screen whites-out for a few seconds), a few extra special moves, and a laser sight for your pistol. Sam Fisher’s dry sense of humour is also back, again voiced by the excellent Michael Ironside, and the trend of snappy, amusing conversational which has become a major feature of Ubisoft’s recent games is here in force.

However this game is still slightly disappointing. For a start there isn’t enough of the ledge-hanging, girder-swinging, pipe-climbing monkey action that made Splinter Cell so enjoyable. Also the AI hasn’t been improved, and as recent games (including Far Cry, also by Ubisoft) are creating unscripted AI, the very obvious scripting in Pandora Tomorrow is rather disappointing. Just to site one example – the guards going from not being able to see you at all as you hide in the shadows, to pinpointing your exact position the moment you shoot at something. Finally, most of the levels aren’t as memorable as before, and the whole game is just too short, and leaves you wanting more (although this is obviously not a bad thing as far as Ubisoft are concerned). In fact, playing Pandora Tomorrow makes you want to go back and play Splinter Cell, rather than the other way round.

Pandora Tomorrow also comes with multiplayer capability, bringing a totally new style of game to the online community. Three different game modes – Neutralization, Extraction, and Sabotage, are played on servers with a capacity of just 4 players, 2 spies and 2 mercenaries. The spies are like Sam Fisher in the single player mode, albeit with a few less moves, and the mercenaries play like a first person shooter, but with vision modes of their own; motion sensor and electromagnetic.

The problem with Pandora Tomorrow online is that the learning curve is too steep, making it very frustrating when starting out, as the new player will invariably take heavy defeats all the time. Also the controls are configured separately from the single player mode, which is a strange and unnecessary annoyance. Finally, the entire multiplayer mode is rather buggy, for example lag created just by switching on your torch as a mercenary, and gun laser targeting which appears to snap to an unseen grid. This, combined with the need for a broadband connection to play it at all, means that a lot of patching is still required before the multiplayer mode is a viable and fun option for everyone.


Game Reviews – Deus Ex Invisible War

Writing about web page

So our of the sheer need for an ego boost, I'm going to put all my Boar game reviews up here, in the hope that they might get more attention...

For all you sorry people who missed out on the original Deus Ex, here is your chance to play something which, frankly, isn’t quite as good. Deus Ex: Invisible War is soon arriving in the UK, three months after the US release.
Invisible War takes place 20 years after the events of the first game, and once again plunges you into a world of nanotechnology, bio-modifications and intrigue.
And this time the world is beautiful – the textures and sounds are amazingly well designed, and the physics engine allows realistic interactions with almost any object in the game.

But a game isn’t just about looks and sound, and DE:IW doesn’t quite have the soul of its older brother. For a start, the story isn’t as good. Characters from the original are back, but if you played it the plot of IW will be a bit transparent. People who missed out on DE however will not have the same insight, and can enjoy a similar experience to that delivered by the first game, provided of course; you have the latest patch (1.1) installed.

In addition, as IW has been designed for PC and Xbox with no major content difference, PC players will notice certain “consolifications” have taken place. The most obvious of these is size. Levels in DE were huge, but similarly sized areas in IW will frequently be interrupted by load screens. Also the skills system has been removed, and the number of biomods decreased. This has sadly reduced some of the role-playing aspect.

Ironically, choice is where IW excels. You get to choose your style of play – from sneaking in the shadows to blasting everything you meet. Restricted storage space and limited capacity for a universal ammo type also force careful decisions about what equipment to carry. But the greatest choices come in the main quest, where you can decide which faction to work for at any stage, depending on your moral standpoint or where the greatest rewards lie.

Congratulations should go out to Ion Storm for breaking new ground with another great game, it’s just a pity that Invisible War doesn’t quite manage to live up to the incredibly high standards set by the original.


Simon vs Hume

Me: I just punched you in the face. Did it hurt?
Hume: Yes
Me: Well does that mean that it will hurt next time?
Hume: You cannot make that conclusion
Me: Ok, lets experiment then

Aaaaaaaaaah, if only.

January 20, 2005

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Review

Some games transcend genres. Deus Ex, Warcraft 3 and Metroid Prime are three names that spring instantly to mind. And it is in this heady company that Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines almost finds itself.

Yes, you read the title correctly. A complex title (well, at least in terms of length and punctuation) for a complex game. To start at the beginning: you are a new vampire whose sire has been put to death for creating you without permission from the vampire elders. Cast afloat in your new life with no guide, you must discover for yourself the murky world of vampire politics, and the disturbing rumblings of the coming of Gehenna – the apocalypse.

In many ways, Vampire is similar to Deus Ex. From a starting point of ignorance, the storyline unfolds around you, engulfing you. Conversations cover subjects as diverse as politics, mythology, schizophrenia and lap dancing, without causing a distraction. In fact I’ve never played a game which tackles adult subjects with such ease and wit, nor gets away with this amount of swearing, simply because none of it is out of place. This immersion, just like with Deus Ex, makes Vampire a very difficult game to put down. The RPG style stats system is also similar. Completing quests provides you with experience points, which can then be spent to improve fighting abilities, character attributes, and vampire powers. But comparing any game to Deus Ex is incredibly dangerous and can only lead to disappointment, and sadly, this is the case here too.

Vampire is current the only game other than Half Life 2 to be using the Source engine. Unfortunately, while Half Life 2 is optimised to within an inch of its life (hell, it even runs acceptably on my low/mid range spec), Vampire is not. It has sound jitters, jerkiness, and some of the worst graphical glitches I’ve ever seen. Of course, as this is the Source engine, the graphics are otherwise beautiful. In fact, the game gives the engine a more intensive workout than Half Life 2, with close-ups of faces during conversation really showing off the range of expressions available.

Vampire is also the most memory whoring game ever, requiring a 1400MB swap file and not even running smoothly on a system with 1 gig of RAM. In essence, it’s not finished, and the recently released patch does almost nothing to fix these problems, providing the disclaimer “Your computer sucks, get a new one.” Or words to that effect.

There is one more problem – combat. To start with it is particularly weak, following a simple ‘you hit them, they hit you, repeat until someone is dead’ model. With stat increases things start to get a little better however, and throwing powers into the mix adds some spice to the more important battles. However the reason I claim that Vampire doesn’t manage to transcend genres is that it doesn’t quite work as a shooter. Gun wielding is a little clunky, fairly ineffective unless your stats are good, and just a lot less fun than using melee weapons, or just sucking the life out of your opponents.

The ideas behind Vampire are excellent, and the potential is there for this to be a truly great game. As it stands, this is an original and thoughtful game, providing that “just one more sub-quest” feeling that characterised all great RPGs. It’s just a pity it isn’t properly finished.


January 17, 2005

The Understanding Threshold

So it struck again. Lecture 5 rolls around and suddenly us poor physics students have NO idea what is going on. To help you understand I've drawn an Andy style graph, but its obviously not as awesome.

January 16, 2005

I like words

If con is the opposite of pro, doesn't that make Congress the opposite of progress?

January 14, 2005

Uncalled for

Alan: I'm in my fucking boxers ffs
Alan: wrong window
Me: lol thanks SO much for sharing
Alan: most comical miss tell goes to… ALAN!
Alan: I was bitching about how fucking hot it is in my house
Me: You just won a place on my blog :-P

January 13, 2005

New Levels of Awesome

Writing about web page

Just (re)discovered this guy. A friend of mine gave me a couple of his videos a couple of years back, and I just got round to checking some more of his stuff out.

I particularly direct your attention to the Videos section. If you appreciate acoustic guitar music, this is REALLY for you.
In fact, I have just bought his solo album, at the princely sum of $17 (about £9.50) including postage from the USA.

January 12, 2005

The Joy of Shopping

Today's 3 hour outing in central Coventry has brought on a number of realisations.

  • Coventry is populated almost entirely by chavs and old ladies, and both of these groups hate bus drivers. Not that bus driver hating is something exclusive to these types of people, but what the hell…
  • Tie Rack is incorrectly named. It should actually be Multicoloured Headscarf Rack. Admittedly it's not as catchy, but certainly more accurate.
  • There is still no where in England where I can buy trousers that fit. According to the clothing industry, men with 30 inch waste and 33 inch legs do not exist. As I am not a fan of belts or wearing chavvy tracksuit bottoms, as well as being incredibly fussy about, well, everything, this poses me a rather large problem.
  • Pritt-stick has undergone personification, and now refers to itself in the first person. This is terrifying.
  • It is impossible to get more than half the items you want on any single shopping trip.

And finally something (possibly) more interesting. The music that is played in many clothing shops seems in some way to match the clientele of the shop. For example, a shop playing loud hip-hop is much more likely to be visited by chavs than one playing indie, even though the ranges of clothing available in both shops are almost identical. It made me wonder which came first, the customers or the music. Did some clever store manager realise one day that his shop was populated with Kappa-trouser-wearing townies with menacing frowns, and put on some bad music to make it less likely that they would knife him, or did said townies just get drawn to the shop because of the music, like particularly brain-dead moths to a light-bulb. Hmm. I can’t quite decide if that sentence requires a question mark or not, so I’ll put one here just to be on the safe side?

I’m not entirely sure of the clarity with which I have transmitted that thought, but, as was hinted at above, I have just spent 3 hours being totally unable to accomplish the simple task of buying some trousers. Hopefully a trip to Leamington (in the distant future, once I have recovered from today’s expedition) will prove more fruitful, but I’m not willing to bet on it.

January 2005

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