Archive | December, 2011

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

30 Dec

I’ve got to be up-front and say I’m a huge fan of most of the PS3-exclusive titles. The PS3 is my favourite console and the exclusive titles just serve to make a good thing even better. Uncharted is one of those titles that has enough of a draw to make people buy a console just for the game – a friend recently worked on the Facebook game for Uncharted 3 (Uncharted Experience – give it a go here) and said that he was so excited about the game’s release he was going to go out and buy a PS3 just to see what all the fuss was about.

The first installment of the Uncharted series made use of the six-axis for guiding Drake over those tricky balancing beams. There doesn’t seem to be much of that in the third game – there’s just good, old-fashioned storytelling, cinematic effects, action and a fairly attractive dude (don’t start with me – I’m fairly certain every guy who played Tomb Raider as a teenager wasn’t playing purely for the sheer ‘let’s make her jump off this cliff’ thrill) in the shape of Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake.

Nathan Drake
Plot-wise, Uncharted 3 explores the relationship between Nate and ‘Sully’ (his eternal companion and mentor) as they go on a quest to find Nate’s explorer ancestor’s lost fortune.  This quest takes us to various different locations – huge castles, burning buildings, jungles, underground tunnel systems…all the while, being followed by a rival group of treasure-hunters.

The gameplay is awesome (as you would expect from an Uncharted game) – it’s pretty varied and there are some pretty tricky puzzles to solve (I was especially stumped by the one where you need to place symbols on a grid in a particular location – I spent, what felt like, an eternity on that one).  While the climbing isn’t anything new in these types of games, it serves to mix up the pace a bit and it’s nicely done  – climbing up the side of the tower, using outlying features to stay out of line-of-fire and then shooting over them is quite satisfying.

I didn’t find the plot to be quite as enjoyable as the first game, but then this may have been something to do with my flatmate’s love of the first game (she actually encouraged me to hog the TV and play Uncharted just because she wanted to find out what was going to happen next).  It had some great moments though – some of the scenes are really tense and I did find myself quite gripped.  It’s the first game I’ve played in a while that has me feeling like I really want to complete it to know where the storyline is actually going – I really want to know if Drake finds that lost treasure.

I often find myself in these kinds of situations

The developers (Naughty Dog) have included an online multiplayer aspect of this title.  I can imagine it’s fairly well integrated – there are certainly some chapters in the game which would work incredibly well as multiplayer maps e.g. the castle in Syria or the abandoned shipyard and indeed, the gameplay at those points does have a kind of multiplayer feel to it.  However, given that I’m a) female b) quite rubbish at targeting on anything other than a keyboard and mouse (and even then…), there is no way in hell you are getting a review of that aspect.  Buy the game, go get shouted at by some foul-mouthed 12-year old sexist kids yourself if you like.

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First Impressions – Star Wars: The Old Republic

21 Dec
Taking a taxi

Some places just can't be reached on foot in Coruscant

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

I have an addictive personality. It’s why I don’t drink alone, why I don’t go to local casinos, and why it took me over a year to try out the original EverQuest. It was just a hunch, but I was pretty sure booting up that game would lead me down a dark path of lost evenings and sleep deprivation. Boy, was I ever right.

EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Word of Warcraft. They’ve been the holy trinity of my MMO obsession. All engrossing. All time-consuming.

All fantasy.

I tried other MMO’s to break out of the fantasy rut. The Matrix Online. Champions Online. City of Heroes. Earth and Beyond. Star Trek Online. None of them really grabbed me.

I was giddy when Star Wars Galaxies was announced. Finally, a non-fantasy universe perfectly suited to the Massive Multiplayer Online genre. I tried to like it. I really did. In the end, though, it seemed more a generic MMO covered in a thin Star Wars veneer than an actual Star Wars game. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

So when Bioware announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was a little more skeptical. A little more jaded. I loved the original game – Knights of the Old Republic. It was one of the few RPG’s I’ve ever played through more than once. But as an MMO?

I’d been burned before. Would this be another Galaxies? After years of World of Warcraft, could another MMO even capture my attention?

After a few days of playing, I have to say – so far, so good.

You must unlearn what you have learned…

There are two opposing sides to choose from when creating your character – Sith Empire or Republic. One could assume that breaks down to “good vs. evil”, but as WoW showed us with the Alliance and Horde, that’s not necessarily the case.

As for classes – do you want to run around with a lightsaber? Go right ahead. Rather sneak around or level everything with an autocannon? Those options are available as well. Each side has four character types to choose from, with each type having two “advanced classes” to choose from later on. They generally fall into the tank/damage dealer/healer roles that MMO players will already be familiar with, but with a very Star Wars feel to them.

My character

You find yourself without a ship in the beginning.

Your class storyline starts right from the opening cut scene. For my smuggler, that means landing on the planet Ord Mantell and promptly having his ship stolen, leaving him stranded in the middle of an uprising.

From the get-go, your quests feel different. Most of the NPC’s you fight are humanoids or droids. It feels a little more heroic than smacking 10 wolf pups for their pelts. In fact, most of the quests that require you to kill X amount of Y things are bonus quests you pick up during your travels. They are optional, but completing them will give you bonuses – so most of the time they are worth doing.

And did I mention yet that (almost) every quest is fully voiced? The interactive dialog tree is a Bioware trademark at this point and strongly reminds me of their previous efforts. In a good way. There are some text-only quests you get from consoles around the world, but so far those have been 10% or less of the quests I’ve received.

Choices you make during the dialogs can give you light or dark side points, as well as affect how companions you pick up during the way feel about you. It’s a reputation mechanic in another form – but again, with a nice Star Wars feel to it.

Eventually, it’s time to leave that first planet. For my smuggler, he followed his thief to the Republic capital of Coruscant by way of the republic fleet. You’ll usually hit this point around level 10 (6 hours of play time or so).

Did it go in? Negative, it just impacted on the surface…

There are rough edges to be found here. The game can get laggy when lots of action is going on around you (mostly other players battling npc’s) – and that was before the game was opened to everyone. Some quests are a little buggy, though when I encountered them a reset fixed the problem. And the AH (Galactic Exchange) needs serious work on it’s UI.

So far, though, my biggest gripe has been the insistence of my companion to pull people towards him – even though I turn that ability off. It defaults back on every time we change location. Hopefully, it’s an annoyance that gets fixed soon.

Let’s blow this thing and go home…

That all said, the state of the game is amazingly stable for an MMO that has just launched. Granted, this opinion might change once the masses log in, but so far the launch has been smoother than any of the other games I’ve played.

Most MMO’s I’ve played have thrown token class quests at you, but the stories have never been this involved. Nor have they given the sense of accomplishment I’ve already felt in 17 levels with my Smuggler.

You feel like you’re in the story. I can’t tell you enough how much voiced and interactive dialog quest lines help here. There’s a level of immersion that other MMO’s can’t touch because of this. And (maybe because of that) the stories are compelling. Finally getting my ship after going through the smuggler storyline on Coruscant felt like a victory, rather than just “hit level x, get mount y”.

My starship

Mission accomplished. Now let's get out of here.

May the Force be with you, always…

I can’t say how the rest of the game turns out – I’m only level 17. After playing a couple of space battle missions, I’d say that has a lot of promise (we’ll see). The end game is a mystery to me right now, but I’m in no hurry to get there.

If you’re a fan of MMO’s more than Star Wars and are thinking of making the jump from WoW, you’ll see a lot of familiarities. It’s too early to tell if this game will have enough to make the jump worthwhile, but I’d recommend giving it a try.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars though, looking for a new SW game, run – don’t walk – and pick up a copy.

As for me, I’m anxious to see what the rest of galaxy has to offer. I just hope they don’t announce a prequel expansion a few years from now.

Those movies were enough…

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like… Snowmageddon

15 Dec
Parody poster

This is not the poster for the movie, unfortunately.

It’s easy to run yourself ragged at this time of year braving the bustling crowds, dealing with difficult drivers, or just listening for the echoing sound of an empty bank account. At the end of the day, you just want to sit down, relax, and curl up with an entertaining movie in the spirit of the holiday. With this in mind I plopped down on my couch and watched Snowmageddon on the SyFy Channel. Disappointingly, it wasn’t about an overblown reaction to a couple of snow flurries.

But it was entertaining.

Now, when I say entertaining I need to make something clear. The movies we’ll be reviewing on this site will never be considered high art. If you want a thoughtful dissection of Black Swan, go somewhere else. There’s a different scale when looking at these movies. I personally look for a few different things out of them: Were they entertaining? Were they so bad they ended up being a good time (Megapiranha)? Did they not take themselves seriously (Ice Twisters)?

There are other things I look for, but you get my point. I’m not going to ding these movies for lacking proper structure or lambaste them because they lack some deep meaning. Are they a good time? Ultimately, that’s the key.

For Snowmageddon, the answer is yes — and no.

The movie is set in the town of Normal, Alaska. Note to towns everywhere — if you name yourself Normal, prepare for every weird disaster possible to befall you. Have these movies taught you nothing?

David Cubitt plays John, ostensibly the lead character and patriarch of the single most cloyingly nice family I’ve seen in a disaster flick. Seriously. It starts with them preparing to fly a batch of Christmas presents to neighboring needy families. Now, I’m a proponent of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” formula — which states that movies need the main characters to do something early on (or have something done to them) that makes us want to root for them the rest of the movie. But you can go too far with the concept, and this one came really close. I had to keep fighting the urge to root for Snowmaggedon to win throughout the first act of the film.

The townsfolk are all getting ready for Christmas, including BSG’s Michael Hogan, who’s relationship to toasters has gone from frakking to fixing as the town tinkerer. All townsfolk but one, apparently — a lone pair of boots walks up to our perfect nuclear family’s door and leaves a present.

The family brings it inside and let’s their youngest child open it, because that’s what you do when strange boxes appear at your door. The young have to earn their keep somehow, though I don’t remember one of my childhood chores as being a potential bomb shield.

So what’s in the box? Money? Fruitcake? A severed head?

Nope. It’s a snow globe. Nice. I’d have shaken it immediately to see if Ed Begley Jr. would poke his head out of the tiny hospital inside, but that’s just me.

Of course, as soon as they give it to their young son, the evil inside the snow globe manifests. What happens in the snow globe happens in the town as well.

Evil snowglobe

Gaze into the face of pure, concentrated evil.

Typical disaster-in-a-small-town scenes follow in the second act. Things blow up. People die. Children find ways to put themselves in danger to create more tension. Pretty standard stuff, which drags on a little too long for my liking.

But then a weird thing happens.

To say the third act reminded me of the Lord of the Rings would be an understatement. “The Fellowship of the Snowglobe” might have worked as an alternate title, and as the snowglobe tumbled through the air at the end I kept hissing “my preciousss” over and over. It’s not completely the same, though. At least here they didn’t film several additional and completely unnecessary endings.

All in all, it ended up being not a bad way to wind down after a long day of Christmas shopping. It hit the right notes (or at least closer to the right notes than the guy at Fry’s earlier that day rocking out to Lady Gaga with the Rock Band setup). I liked the casting and, aside from the ever present overemotional teenage daughter bit, the acting. The plot was weird, but aside from never finding out who dropped off the damn package in the first place, it wasn’t so bad — for this type of movie.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work on the script I thought this movie was going to be…

Snowpocalypse: 6 Inches of Destruction

Crocodile 2: Death Swamp

10 Dec
Crocodile 2

Crocodile 2 (according to IMDB it’s got the subtitle ‘Death Swamp’) starts off like any cheesy action movie – so much so that I began to wonder if I’d put in the right disk (I am senile like that). There’s a bank heist, the set-up for an air disaster, and a highly amusing ‘men in dark glasses walking in slow-mo with a guitar riff played over the soundtrack‘ scene and all the usual boring introductions.

The plane plays host to a wide array of stock asshole characters – none of whom anyone in their right mind would want to travel with.  We have the cocky guy who knows too much for his own good, the sleazy businessman, the drug-fueled air hostess, a thug with what can only be described as a ‘perplexing’ accent, a sex-pest and, of course, poor man’s Samuel L. Jackson who doesn’t seem to be able to go 5 mins without saying ‘motherf**ker’ at least 15 times.

Insert nonsense plot device for plane crash in a swamp and enter croc #1 stage left. Amusingly, there are shots filmed from the croc’s perspective (with growling noises and distorted sounds) from through some trees at about er…human eye level.  Croc #1 is no match for aforementioned guys in dark glasses and meets a swift and bullet-riddled end.  This, however, pisses off Mamma Croc no end – as you’d expect – and so begins the ‘terror’.

The crocs are mosly only seen during nighttime sequences for the first part of the film – which is a good choice – but when it is seen in the light it’s surprisingly convincing (for this type of film).  That being said, perhaps my experience of having seen the laughable effects at the end of in Snakes on a Train has rendered me rather easily impressed?

The dialogue is nothing short of colourful (some scenes could probably give Reservoir Dogs a run for its money).  Mind you, I suppose if I were faced with a huge crocodile I suspect I’d develop a severe case of Tourettes too.  There are some memorable lines or scenes though – such as the “EAT ME!” shouted by Mr Sleazy Businessman from a first floor window (while flipping the bird at croc-zilla).  His wish is granted.  Personally, I loved “You a survivor – you go survive!” (said in such a tone that it should really have been followed up with head-bobbing and finger snapping).

Overall, it has pretty much everything you’d want from a monster movie – bad acting, ridiculous characters, some silly deaths, inexplicable explosions, cheesy dialogue.  Oddly, the effects are pretty decent and the crocodile doesn’t look like a huge lump of plasticine.  The attempted rape scene is er…a bit serious for what really should be light-hearted entertainment – they haven’t really got the balance between jarring people with serious issues and umm…the rest of the film.  I wouldn’t be in a rush to see it again but it was most certainly an improvement on Crocodile

Lydia in the Skyrim with Diamonds

9 Dec
Main character

I made all the armor myself...

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Bethesda ever since Oblivion came out. Sure, the game was pretty (aside from the death stares every NPC would give you as you walked up to them), and sure, the gameplay was great.

But the game was too damn open.

I’m not an achievement whore. I really don’t need to get 100% of everything in every game I play. But I am an OCD-driven quest whore. Give me a world with so many side quests and options other than the main storyline and I’ll follow the same pattern: I’ll start the game, veer wildly off the path at the first distraction, then wake up one morning and uninstall the game in a fit of panic when I realize just how much of my life I’ve given to the game and how little I’ve progressed in the story.

Fallout 3 was no better. An incredible (and incredibly open) game with a predictable outcome for me. Play. Obsess. Uninstall.

Maybe it’s just my nature to be compelled to help people in need (and then rob them blind for their caps and ammo). Maybe it’s the quests themselves, well designed snippets of story that enhance the game world. Or maybe I’m just easily — ooh look, jangling keys…

With Skyrim, I was planning to give it a miss. Really. There were other games coming out at around the same time and I had finally escaped from the crack house known as World of Warcraft for good. Did I really want to pick up another time sink?

Apparently so. And I don’t regret it at all.

The first thing you notice about the game is the graphics. The Fallout games were good, but I always thought they were too bland (nuclear annihilation will do that to the landscape). There is no such issue with the world in Skyrim – from gorgeous snowscapes to lush greenery to impressively large cities. My PC isn’t the fastest on the block, but the 560TI card I use is more than enough to showcase the details put into the world.

And there’s an insane amount of details in the game. From tree stumps teaming with bugs to a truly impressive night sky, the level of immersion with this game is higher than in any previous effort.

Levelling in the game is an interesting affair. You gain experience by levelling various skills, which you increase in game by reading books, paying for a trainer or just using them. It’s odd to turn in a quest and not get any closer to levelling, but it works in this game.

Gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve played previous Bethesda games, which isn’t a bad thing.

There are a few glitches, some more annoying than others. Sometimes textures would start to glow for no reason. Other times your companion might get stuck. And as of this writing you still can’t marry Lydia.

Lydia

Won't marry me? Fine. Carry all these dragon bones, then...

There is a sword maiden from Whiterun,
Who’s sayings are always the same.
And at every doorway,
She’ll be in the way.
But she won’t marry me? That’s just lame.

The biggest gripe with this game for me was the random and frequent crashes to the desktop I encountered. I was getting them as often as once every ten minutes at some points. Fortunately, I found they went away as soon as I installed the 4GB mod from the Skyrim Nexus site. Bethesda, you really need to rethink memory utilization — a player-developed mod should not be required in order to run the game.

That said, I’m enjoying the game immensely. I’m still not finished with it, but in the age of the 5 hour solo campaign (I’m looking at you, Modern Warfare) it’s well worth the money spent.

Oh, what’s the game about? I think it has something to do with all the dragons flying around. I’m not entirely sure, though — I’ve been wandering around doing side quests and mastering my blacksmithing and enchanting skills.

I figure I’ve got a couple of more weeks to find the main story and finish the game before the newest opium den — The Old Republic — opens for business…

Hello world!

5 Dec

Coming soon!