Monday, 31 May 2010

Getting Wasted. Part 2: School's Out.

Day one:

We finally decided that we couldn't hang around in the Ranger Centre forever. Sure, it's fairly comfortable... more comfortable than anything we're likely to find in the Wasteland... but we needed to see what's out there, and how bad things are. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to find out that they are really bad... we were attacked by a Slithering Lizard as soon as we set foot out of the door. Fortunately, YJ Malmsteen had his gun loaded and likes shooting animals. I guess we could have tried the friendly route, but this guy didn't look like he wanted a pat on the head.

Oooh, look at that fella. Wonder if we could use his hide for anything?

Day two:

We set out beyond the nearby mountain range, in search of civilisation, or maybe abandoned technology. But it's so hot by those mountains! We headed inland for refuge, and in a secluded spot in the mountains found ourselves a settlement called Highpool. It seems somewhat deserted ... and it must have been a school town, as there are lots of abandoned dormitories here. It seems like a good place to rest for now... it's pretty enough, and there's a fresh water supply. At least, it seems fresh...

Tomorrow we'll explore the place.

Civilization! Or is it... it's too quiet, and we don't know how civil any residents might be...

Day three:

Well, it seems that Highpool is not entirely deserted. In the farthest corner of the settlement, we found a sobbing child. All efforts to gain information about the place proved fruitless, though... the child was so upset about something that he just blubbed at everything we said.

Having failed to coax so much as a useful sentence from the boy, we headed back to town. We found another resident... a shopkeeper, of all things. It seems bizarre to us that a shop could survive in this place... it's practically devoid of life. And yet, there he was, offering us a range of, it has to be said, useful items. Pity we hadn't thought to bring much in the way of cash...

Jesus! Erm, no thanks... that's alright... see ya...

Day four:

We've stumbled across an infirmary. When we entered it, I initially had thoughts of pilfering anything that might be of use in our travels, even if it were just a few bandages. But then, somebody stepped from behind the curtain...

I take it he was a surgeon or doctor, because he was offering to heal anyone that needed it. Luckily, nobody did... from the look of him, or should I say, his blood-soaked scrubs, it's possible he's not the most proficient at his trade... we thanked him for his offer, and then hot-footed it out of there!

Well, now. This looks interesting. Surely we can do something here...?

Day five:

Things have begun to look very interesting in Highpool. In one of the dormitories, there's a large machine. There are pipes going under the floor... I wonder if it's hiding something? We're going to try and move it later.

Then, later in the day, we went back to try and talk to the weeping kid. Turned out he's upset over his sick dog. He said he'd hidden him in a cave behind the bushes. We've searched the area and can't find any cave... is the kid deluded? Or are we just looking in the wrong place? Hopefully we'll have more luck tomorrow...

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Post 250. It's a Red Dead Letter Day.

I took the day off on Friday for the sole purpose of playing a videogame while my nine-year-old was at school. It's not something I do very often... but when the game was Red Dead Redemption, I expected it would be well worth it.

Now, Red Dead Redemption is a Rockstar game. I'm not really a fan of Rockstar games, generally... nothing to do with the subject matters, I just find myself getting bored and wondering what to do next. I know there are storylines to follow, but it seems that for most people, the biggest joy of their games (and I'm talking Grand Theft Auto here) is going off the main path and finding little side quests. I'm not good with that (and yet I love Fallout 3, which does a similar thing).

I did, however, love Red Dead Revolver. And I like the old West setting. And Clint Eastwood movies. I'm not saying I like cowboys. Don't take that the wrong way.

Hehe. They won't even know what hit 'em.

Red Dead Redemption has been on my radar for a long time now. Not just because it's the follow up to Red Dead Revolver, but also because every screenshot and video released over the last few months has made the game look better and more interesting.

Typically, my Friday saw me unable to start the game until after 11am... not really how I'd hoped my day off would go. Still, that gave me four hours of uninterrupted yee-hawing to start with. Having said that, the last time I took the day off for gaming was on the release day for Grand Theft Auto IV, suprisingly enough. And after about an hour in that game, I was wandering around in circles with nothing to do. I did that for hours, before finally noticing that the next trigger point for a mission was just around the corner, and I'd missed it for that whole time. Kind of ruined my experience, and my day.

A grizzled old marshall. That's not his "pleased to see you" face.

I haven't had any such problems with RDR. The story has flowed really well, and I've been able to break from it to do my own thing (which has mostly involved playing poker) and pick back up where I left off without any problems. As for that story, well... so far, it seems like a pretty good Western tale to me. The voice acting is very good, as are the animations of the characters while talking. This is usually something where games fall down... the characters could be spouting the finest prose written by man, but it looks like they're going "Blaaaahhhh... blaaaahhhhh... blaaaaaahhhhhh...". Here, they actually look pretty much like they're talking.

I've spent a good chunk of the weekend with the game, and I reckon that Rockstar have got a hell of a lot right with it. It looks phenomenal... sweeping vistas and dusty plains are the order of the day. At one point, I was sitting on my horse on the edge of a cliff, looking miles into the distance with the sun beating down and a heat haze obscuring my view... I could have sat like that for hours. The sound, too, is really good, with little western snippets striking up at appropriate moments, and the incidental sounds all hitting the right notes.

Dead or alive, you're coming with me. Just your skin and meat if you're dead, though.

But it's the gameplay that's the main part of any game, obviously, and this just feels great to play. And I'm not just talking about the gunfighting... a lot of the old West was rather mundane, but Rockstar have made even the mundane exciting. I've just spent some time rounding up a herd of frightened cattle in a thunderstorm... an everyday job a hundred years ago, but it felt important in the game, and there was a real sense of achievement at seeing them all safely home.

There's a lot left for me to do in Red Dead Redemption, and I'm looking forward to every minute of it. Whether it's sticking to the storyline, breaking off for a game of poker with the boys or just heading off with my horse for a mosey across the desert, it's an experience I'm planning to savour.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Number 1.

Halo 3: ODST

And so, we come to the game I've enjoyed the most during my time so far with the blog. And to the possible disappointment of some, it's not some obscure little undiscovered gem, but a massive gaming juggernaut. For shame.

But while it might have been nice to have unearthed an unknown classic for the top spot, it wasn't to be. There have been plenty of those scattered throughout the blog, and there will undoubtedly be more to come.

Halo 3: ODST, for me, though, is something of an undiscovered gem. I say that because I've never really been into the Halo franchise. I played the first one for the first time in March 2009, and enjoyed it quite a bit. But then I left it alone, and I haven't played Halo 2 or Halo 3 yet, at all. A mate at work lent me ODST in exchange for one of my games... I can't say I was particularly bothered in having it, and actually didn't think I'd even get around to playing it.

Still, one night I found myself at a bit of a loose end, and wasn't in the mood for any of my games. And so, I found myself turning to ODST.

I hate those little buggers with the shields. And they hate my big gun.

I'd barely even looked at the box before that point, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find that the three main characters were voiced by actors from the Firefly TV series. I absolutely love that show, and so I was instantly provided with an "in" to the game. And yes, their "acting" and the characters' interaction was a definite highlight for me.

That wouldn't have counted for much, though, if I didn't enjoy the game. Thankfully, it lived up to the promise that the voice cast provided, and then some. It wasn't just the shooting action - although that was satisfying, with some very intense moments - and it wasn't just the story. For me, it was the way the story was told that did it.

Halo 3:ODST puts you in the suit of a rookie trooper investigating the disappearance of the main ODST team. It sees you playing a level as the rookie, and at the end of the level you'll find a clue as to what exactly happened in that area. Taking the clue, you'll then play a flashback as the character involved in that particular plot strand.

That hardly seems fair, a little jeep against an armoured space craft. Let's even it up with some well-placed firepower.

I don't recall ever playing a game with this approach (although I'm sure there probably are some), and it was highly refreshing and really intriguing, and I was genuinely pushed on through the game because of this, wanting to find out what had happened. And because of the atmosphere in the levels where you play the rookie, there's a definite feeling of "what the hell happened here?".

The gameplay is really quite varied for a first person shooter, with vehicle levels, massive battles across large areas, or tight, constricted corridor sections. There's a lot of humour, both from enemies and the main characters. And of course, there's a good story which is told really well. I was thoroughly gripped from beginning to end... which is saying something, because I've hardly completed any XBox 360 games at this time.

For all these reasons, for all the hours I put into it without a single moment of boredom, frustration, anger or apathy, for its constant entertainment across the entire game and for actually making me want to play a FPS from beginning to end because I cared what happened, Halo 3:ODST is the game I've most enjoyed playing for my blog to date.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Number 2.

The Sentinel (Commodore 64)

If you've been playing games for any length of time, then the name Geoff Crammond will likely mean something to you. Responsible for some legendary, even revolutionary racing games, he's provided more computerised speed thrills than maybe anyone else. But if you look down through the list of games he's produced, one name, like the character in its game, stands alone: The Sentinel.

It's a bit odd that a man that loves fast things produced one of the slowest-moving games of all time. But just because things aren't motoring on the playfield, doesn't mean you don't need your brain in high gear.

The start of what you hope will be a long and epic journey.

It was with some trepidation that I first played The Sentinel for the blog. I'd briefly played it on the Commodore 64 back in the day, and got absolutely nowhere. I think that was because I didn't have the original, and had no idea what to do. It was really frustrating.

Playing it "properly" this time around (via the wonders of a cracked and emulated game, with instructions), my eyes were opened. It was still really difficult, but it was also doable once I knew the rules. And it gave me some of the most intense gaming I've had for some time, as I tried to plot my way across the landscape, figuring a way to stay out of sight of The Sentinel whilst accumulating enough energy to mount an attack. And all the while he's turning, turning...

That's where you need to be. But he's got his evil eye on you...

The Sentinel really is one of the best games ever. It's not to all tastes, but it's got 10,000 levels of brain-melting strategy, and it's incredibly satisfying to complete even one of them. The atmosphere is amazing too... although it's mostly silent, that just ramps up the tension, and the sound effects, although nothing spectacular, do a good job of unsettling you just a little more. It's a shame in a way that it's not more immediate... that's bound to be off-putting to a lot of people. For the rest, there's a lifetime of mentally challenging gaming ahead.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Number 3.

Bayonetta (XBox 360)

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was gagging for Bayonetta for a long time before the game was released. Sure, it looked like a Devil May Cry game... no surprise, given that the director was responsible for both games. But the charm, wit and sauciness promised to elevate it to another level.

And it did. Well, that, and the madness. There was oh, so much Japanese madness. Few games cause you to burst out laughing at the sheer over-the-top ludicrousness of your own special attacks. Bayonetta dared to be different, to push its tongue firmly into its cheek and say, "yeah baby, you know I'm a good time".

I see no ships. I don't really know what the hell those things are.

There aren't many games that I've completed on the 360... there are even less that I've restarted on a harder difficulty level. In fact, there is but one. Can you guess what that might be?

Yep... I'm now playing through Bayonetta on the Hard level. That's not something that's ever appealed to me with games before... when they're done, they're usually done. But I still had loads to unlock by the time I'd finished it, and I actually want all those weapons, moves and powers, just to see how I get on with them. Plus, it's just stupidly entertaining. And I didn't find the cutscenes so cheesy that I couldn't bear to see them again... just the opposite. They're full of sly, knowing winks and innuendo, and I'm all for that.

There's just so much wrong here.

Bayonetta is a brilliant videogame, one that was well worth my frothy-mouthed wait. It delivers everything that it sets out to, with style and flair. It's got a sense of humour, but it's not forced or to the detriment of the game. And it's packed with action, and for me, never gets boring. Money well spent, and easily in my top three blog games to date.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Number 4.

Chaos (ZX Spectrum)

Of all the games in my blog top ten, Chaos is probably the one I knew least about, prior to playing it. In fact, I knew nothing about it, other than a couple of Speccy-owning mates loved it.

Chaos was actually the tenth game I played for the blog, and the first Spectrum game, all the way back at the beginning of February 2009. So for it to have stuck with me for that length of time, to be fourth on my list of favourites, you know it has to be pretty special.

Whooo, look at those spells, feel the power! Actually, that's not that great a "hand".

Now, I'm not generally one who likes a lot of thinking in my games... time spent thinking is time that could be spent blasting. But Chaos had me intrigued from the start, and it was a classic example of using what the game gives you and adding to it with your imagination to make the experience even better. It's a lot like a board game in that respect, and in every other respect, actually.

And so it begins. Things will get a lot messier than this...

I did some deeper digging into the game with it having made my top ten, and found that it's got a really good Wikipedia page. Reading that gave me a deeper appreciation for the game... no bad thing, the game deserves it.

As with many games like this, be they computer, board, card or whatever, your fate depends to a degree on the luck of the draw. But in Chaos, if you're good, you can play around almost anything you're dealt. It remains an intriguing and enjoyable game... and that's just for one player. One of these days, I'm going to introduce it to Aidan, and then the real fun will start...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Number 5.

Dungeon Master (Commodore Amiga)

Many of the games I've played for the blog, I've never heard of before. Then there are others that are absolute legends of the gaming world. In those cases, I've looked forward to them for ages before actually playing them.

Dungeon Master is an absolute legend. I had been looking forward to playing it... and then found that it wasn't in my pile. A quick ebay trawl soon put that right, and a-dungeoning I went.

What an experience Dungeon Master is. It was almost certainly the first game to do dungeon crawls in such an atmospheric and immersive fashion. I don't mind admitting that there were more than a couple of moments where I was a bit nervous about turning a corner.

I had to nick a picture this time. And this is the best I could do. Pah.

It's a beautifully designed game, and I always felt like I was progressing just enough to be able to cope with anything new that I happened upon... as long as I was careful. Of course, I wasn't, and I saved the game at a place where I hardly had any energy and there were four mummies in my path. There was no other way past, so I kept dying.

That was frustrating, but it was my own fault. I've started another game since, and I'm doing a bit better, or at least being a bit more careful. Dungeon Master may have aged, but it's still a truly excellent and groundbreaking game. It's one of my favourite experiences from the blog, and more than justifies its place in this rundown.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Number 6.

Angry Birds (iPhone/iPod Touch)

There really isn't much that needs to be said about Angry Birds. I loved it when I first played it, and I still love it now. IT's become something of a phenomenon, though, pretty much taking the world by storm.

There's about eight of us in my office that have Angry Birds, and the great thing is, it appeals to all kinds and all needs. The OCD gamers have had an amazing time, blasting through all the levels and feeling a compulsion to three-star the lot. That takes some doing, too! But those that have less time on their hands can just play two or three, or until they get stuck, and then put it down again.

Well, that's just an accident waiting to happen...

It really is a genius piece of design. A level can last ten seconds or, if you get stuck, an absolute age. But they can always be figured out, and you can fit sessions into almost any spare time you might have.

Since I first played Angry Birds, an update has been released, which adds even more levels to the game, plus a couple of extra little features. It was fantastic value for 59p before, but now there's absolutely no excuse for anybody not to own it. Unless they don't own an iPhone or an iPod Touch. That'd do it.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Number 7.

Shoot1Up (XBLA Indie Games)

Every once in a while , you come across something that is a very pleasant surprise. One of the nicest surprises of A Game A Day so far has been Shoot1Up, which cost me all of 80 Microsoft Points (60-odd pence) when I first bought and played it at the end of February 2010.

Shoot1Up is probably the simplest game in my top 10, so there's maybe not much I can say about it that I didn't say three months ago. It's a terrific piece of arcade fun, and although it's not tremendously difficult, the real fun lies in getting a high score. And that, my friends, is the essence of arcade gaming, and something I still love to play for after 30 years.

That's the stuff. Massive laser death all round.

I've played it a bit more lately, and I seem to have missed a couple of things in my initial euphoria. The first thing I missed was the Score Trek mode. This, as you might suspect, is a score attack mode, but you only get one ship to make it through as much of the game as usual. It's quite a clever way to incorporate a score attack mode into the game.

That fat purple thing is an end-level boss. It's huuuuuuuge!

Something else I missed, or at least I think I missed, concerns the scoring system. When you shoot anything, the score you receive appears in a box in big numbers on the screen. Naturally, I presumed these scores were just added to your total. But it appears, I think, that you have to collect them to add them to your score. That's pretty novel for a shooter, and adds another element of risk/reward to the game.

Shoot1Up seems to be doing very nicely on XBLA's Indie Games store. It's certainly planted itself in the Top Rated games section, and rightly so. It's a game that I expect to be playing for a long time yet, even if it's just to pick up and play for fifteen minutes. It's easily one of my ten most enjoyed games from the blog.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Number 8.

Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn)

Bit of a cheat, this one. It's not a discovery, but a re-discovery. I picked it to celebrate my 100th post, and here's what I said about it then.

I think it's probably impossible to not love Guardian Heroes. It's such a well-crafted and constantly entertaining game, and to this day I haven't really played anything else quite like it. That's quite rare in this day and age where successful (and I mean that as in a formula that works rather than massive sales) games are copied and diluted to death. It also means that there's no way I'm letting this copy out of my sight... there's no way to play this, other than on the Saturn (the GBA version isn't the same game, and it's not as good).

It's strange, how much fun it is to watch a number go up when it's counting how many times you've hit something.

The pictures I've sourced for this aren't the best quality, but they're better than the ones I took, so you'll have to put up with that. It looks an absolute treat when you're playing it.. the characters are full of, erm, character, and each location is a joy to battle through.

It is, though, a beat 'em up, which might be a bit simple for some. But once you play it, and learn to master the use of your team, you find that the strategy is just deep enough to be satisfying and yet just simple enough to be accessible and, above all else, fun.

Look, don't even ask. Alright?

I still haven't managed to pick up a memory card for my Saturn, to my disgust. Must try harder, the report would read. It would be for my own benefit, though... Guardian Heroes really is worth it and I really want to play it properly, instead of having to discard my game after an hour or two. I'd recommend this to anyone, but it's pretty expensive to get hold of these days... well, about the cost of a new 360 or PS3 game. If you feel in the mood, and own a Saturn, you'll get as much play out of it as you would a brand new game, without question.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Number 9.

The Red Star (PS2)

If ever a game deserved a bigger audience, it's this one. Having survived the sort of development hell that would usually see a game brutally killed off after most of the hard work had been done, The Red Star battled its way into the shops to glowing reviews and, seemingly, not much else. Well, have YOU played it? Not many have, which is a real shame.

I've bought this twice... the first copy, I traded in (sealed) at Gamestation and was gutted to see they'd given me a quid for it. What a waste. I did, though, manage to pick it up again at Game for £2.98, which is excellent value and I'm not getting rid of it this time.

Here's what I originally thought of The Red Star...

I'll draw his fire, and you blast him. Oh, wait...

Based on a graphic novel (no, I haven't read it), it's a really imaginitive shoot 'em up, with elements of Alien Syndrome, Smash TV, Contra, bullet hell shooters and a few other games thrown in for good measure. It takes those games, ramps them all up to eleven, throws in some thrilling setpieces and surprises, and really makes you want to keep playing, not just to see what it'll throw at you next, but also because you're enjoying it so much.

This just reminds me of how much Ikaruga kicks my arse.

Playing it again has given me an even greater appreciation of the game. And there's some possible good news... it's been released on the PSP, and it seems that an iPhone/iPod Touch version is in the works with a release imminent. I hope they do a good job, because the game deserves more exposure, and more love. Oh, and there are three instalments of the graphic novel on the App Store right now... for free. Just search for The Red Star.

I'm really glad I spent that three quid at Game to get The Red Star for a second time... it's a fantastic shoot 'em up that's more than just that, and gives a guaranteed great time. I would still highly recommend you get this, if you have a machine that will play it. It's hugely deserving of its number nine spot on my list.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Number 10.

Before the countdown begins, I'll explain how the games made it into the top 10. Basically, these are the ten games I've most enjoyed discovering (or in one case, rediscovering) in the time I've been writing the blog. If I've specifically picked it for a feature, I'm not going to count it, but anything else stands a chance of making it in. Or should I say, stood a chance... the top 10 is already picked and ready to go.

So, without further ado...

Number 10 - Rock Star Ate My Hamster (Commodore 64).

If you'd told me a year ago that after more than two hundred posts, Rock Star Ate My Hamster would have been in my top ten blog games, I'd have thrown a telly out of the window. It seems ridiculous to suggest that... it's not even a very good game.

Doesn't matter. For all its flaws and lack of any sort of long-term play, Rock Star Ate My Hamster will give you two solid hours of pure addiction as you try to manage your mismatched band of reprobate rock stars to the top.

Here's what I originally thought of it...

Three days? I suspect that three months wouldn't knock my lot into shape.

I think the appeal with this game lies in the fact that everyone wants to be a rock star or pop star. There's nothing that seems more attractive than being top of the charts... why else do you see film stars or sports stars releasing records? It's not enough that they're famous and have glamorous careers, they want the adulation that only crowds of concert-goers can give.

Rock Star Ate My Hamster doesn't let you become a rock star, but managing them is incredibly addictive... up to a point. That point being when you manage to have a hit record. Really, once that happens, there's nowhere else for this game to go. It's a shame, but back in those days, games were often a lot more limited. With the likes of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Singstar and Lips out there now, the music game market is on a real high (or has been... it might have reached a saturation point by now). I wonder if there would be any market for a much deeper version of this game now?

I don't know. Maybe it's best left in the Eighties. What I can say is that, in terms of pure enjoyment, the two hours of glued-to-my-screen clicking that ensued upon loading Rock Star Ate My Hamster are enough to make this my tenth favourite blog game.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Something about April...

...funny, it was exactly the same time in 2009 that this all started to go tits-up, and 2010 has followed suit, with tiredness and lack of time meaning I've got a stack of queued-up and half-finished posts sitting there. I could finish them and post them out of sync... or I could write them off and try them again in sequence.

But what I am going to do to kick-start things yet again is to revisit the last 200-odd posts, and count down my top 10 games from my time doing this, and post a few new thoughts on each. Which I will enjoy, even if you don't!