Sunday, 31 January 2010

Mirror's Edge (XBox 360)

I missed the first half of the Arsenal vs Man Utd match for this... not something I'd do lightly, given that I love my footy.

Just as well it was, on balance, worth it.

Mirror's Edge, it appears, is a very polarising game. That's probably what comes of being so strikingly original. It looks very different... very clean, sharp and bright. And it plays differently to almost anything else. It's a first-person platform game.

Right a bit... right a bit... woooooaaahh! Eeeeasyyyyyy!

That's a concept that takes a while to get to grips with. It's a bit frustrating at first... actually, it's very frustrating at first... as you mis-judge jumps and timing, and crash to the rooftop, or worse, all the way to the ground. It's quite unnerving to see Faith scrabbling for a handhold on the way to a sickening crash...

And then there's the combat, or rather, non-combat. This is not a game where you're supposed to beat up all that stand in your way. Instead, Mirror's Edge encourages you to avoid or disarm. You're a Runner... so run! It's difficult, and does put you off initially, but again, the fact that it's different means it's worth persevering and it feels a little more rewarding when you start to get the hang of it.

They shouldn't encourage you to play in a construction yard... it'll only lead to trouble.

I like the way the game helps you out in the beginning... progress depends on finding your way quickly across the rooftops, which is really hard. So all objects of use are coloured red, so that you know at a glance where you need to go. It's a gentle piece of handholding... knowing where you have to go doesn't make it any easier to pull off the moves required to get there. Quite clever.

I'm not saying I'm particularly good at Mirror's Edge... not yet. But I'm sufficiently intrigued by the concept to want to carry on. It's rare to find a game these days that's different enough to grab your attention from the off... kudos to Mirror's Edge for managing that.

TLL: Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum)

Well, my first ever poll to decide which game I would play has ended in a tie. The only surprise is that it wasn't a tie with one vote each! The first game I've gone for is TLL: Tornado Low Level on the Spectrum. I remember seeing the box for this in a friend's house years ago, but never playing it. Apparently, it's quite a well-loved game!

TLL is a fairly simple concept: fuel up your fighter plane, take off, bomb/take out your targets and land. I remember playing Harrier Attack which was a similar idea, but was a side-scroller. TLL has an overhead view, but it features depth, so you have to learn whether you can go under or over certain obstacles.

The black target on the grass is what you're after... but you'll have to drop your altitude to hit it...

That takes some learning, and it's easier said than done. And to make it more difficult, and to make sure the game earns its title, to take out your targets you have to fly at low level.

Sometimes this isn't so bad... the target will be in a field or open plot of land, and you can take your time circling and lining it up. But others will be near houses, trees or powerlines, and these will call for some fancy flying if you want to prevail.

That seems to be it... I wasn't good enough to get past the first level to see how or if things changed. But in that time I could see that TLL was a decent enough game to be worthy of the reverence it's held in. I could definitely imagine it eating up a lot of any Speccy owner's time.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Shane Warne Cricket (Sega Megadrive)

I haven't played many sports games for this blog... odd, seeing as I like a good sports game as much as anyone. So what better way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon than with a nice game of cricket, in the company of everyone's favourite tubby Aussie lothario?

This is not a game that I was aware existed. I certainly can't remember seeing it on the Megadrive shelves in games stores, and I never read a review. Still, videogame cricket is videogame cricket... it's quite hard to mess it up, but it's also quite hard to make it different, or even good.

Thorpe employs the famous "Gower waft", with familiar results.

Picking England in a one day match against Australia, I settled down for a nice gentlemanly sporting afternoon. And it started off in a sedate fashion, with the computer opponent letting me settle in and get my bearings. I wasn't scoring runs, but I wasn't getting out, either, and I was somewhat getting to grips with the controls.

And then my opponents unleashed hell.

It wasn't that they did anything spectacular... just line and length in the corridor of uncertainty, with a few balls dead on the stumps. And as with any cricket game, if you aren't getting the timing right, you're going struggle, and that was the case with me. Athers departed cheaply. Stewart and Thorpe didn't fare much better. Nor did Hick, or Fairbrother. In the end, my entire England team was skittled for... four.

Pathetic. We did have a nice partnership of two in the middle order, though...

Four all out.

Australia won by ten wickets, knocking off the required runs in three balls.

That's a pretty catastrophic result, even by England's standards. But that's how it usually goes with cricket games... it takes a fair while to get to anywhere approaching proficient. I actually quite liked it, despite my drubbing. I can see it being a good game to play on a rainy Sunday afternoon, just whiling away the hours with a good thrashing. I'm aiming for double figures... I reckon I can get there after a few more games...

Friday, 29 January 2010

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Directors Cut (iPhone/iPod Touch)

After the travesty that was 007: Top Agent, I needed something that would reaffirm that the iPod Touch or iPhone can be a decent gaming platform. For that, I turned to an update to a very familiar name. Of course, there are no guarantees, and it could all have gone horribly wrong...

I'm sure most of you have heard of the Broken Sword series of games. I bought this one, Shadow of the Templars, when it was first released on the PC. And I really enjoyed it. It was possibly the first point-and-click adventure I'd really bothered with. The lovely graphics, languid gameplay and (usually) not too obnoxious puzzles made it very appealing.

So, all these years later, is a Director's Cut a good idea? Is it possible to add anything to the original that will enhance it? Or is this just an easy way to cash-grab with an existing title?

Dammit, nobody likes mimes. There's a special level of hell reserved for mimes that murder.

The good news is that Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut is, as well as being quite a mouthful, really, really good. The main thing that comes as a relief is that they haven't broken anything with the game. There's nothing worse than playing a new version of an old game and finding it's been crippled by some daft revolutionary control method or something.

Broken Sword's control method, on the iPod/iPhone, is fantastic. You'll slide your finger around the screen, and anything of interest will flash with a blue circle. Hold your finger over that, and a range of action icons will appear above it. Choose the one you want, and the game will respond accordingly. It's brilliantly simple and intuitive, and makes this portable version of Broken Sword a joy to play.

Don't do it, Nico! Don't jump! What's that? You weren't going to? Oh.

Well, until you get stuck, of course. Yeah, I'm still rubbish at solving the puzzles, and it's been so long that I've forgotten most of them. Plus, of course, there's a range of new puzzles. With this being a Director's Cut, you get more game, mostly seeming to involve George's French female friend, Nico, and her investigation into her father's death.

The game has also had something of a graphical facelift, or reworking. The original's graphics were nice, and I can see that people would be quite happy to keep them, but this version looks lovely on your handheld device.

For just £3.99, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut is one of my favourite iPhone/iPod Touch games so far. It's a big download - over 380MB. There's a lot of spoken dialogue which would account for a fair bit of that, and it's such a polished and enjoyable production that if you enjoyed the original or have never played it but like this kind of game, you'd be daft to ignore it. I look forward to the inevitable release of the sequel... and might it be too much to ask that we could see Blade Runner on the iPhone and Touch?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Krakout (Commodore 64)

Let's face it, there's only so much you can do with Breakout. You can tart it up in all manner of ways, but in the end, you've got a bat, a ball and some bricks to smash. Still, over time, many have tried to give it an appealing facelift. Some have been successful; others, less so.

Back in the 80s, Taito bunged out Arkanoid, a fresh and entertaining take on Breakout. It did alright in the arcades, was ported to almost every home system ever made and still lives on today, such is its popularity.

I had Arkanoid on the Commodore 64, and loved it. It almost looked and sounded like the arcade version, and played about as well as a Breakout game can play without a paddle. But Arkanoid wasn't the only game of its kind on the Commodore 64... there were plenty of others. TRAZ was a fantastic version, and I owned that, too. There was Batty, a perfectly serviceable budget version (also on compilation tapes - I don't remember it ever having a full-priced release).

And then there was Krakout.

Krakout never interested me. I was an avid reader of ZZAP! 64 in those days (who wasn't?), and they didn't rate it very highly. It didn't look anywhere near as nice as Arkanoid, either, although I'm sure the black and white screenshot didn't help. So I didn't bother with it. And yet, there are many that have always rated it more highly than Arkanoid. If you were to look on any C64-dedicated website, you'd probably find the vast majority raving about it. That being the case, I thought it must be worth a try, at long last.

Having played it, I honestly don't see where they're coming from.

Dull, boring and drab. But that's enough about me... look how dreary the game is!

There's no need to explain the game - it's Breakout. So what makes it different? Well, there's the viewpoint for a start. You can choose to start with the bat either on the right or the left. No, not the bottom. It certainly feels different, playing a Breakout game horizontally. It doesn't take long to get used to, but it doesn't raise it above Arkanoid.

Other than that, things are mostly the same. Irritating enemies wobble about the playfield, deflecting the ball at different angles. There are bonuses to help or hinder. The difference here is that, instead of having to collect them with your bat as they fall, you're given them if you hit them with the ball. That sounds great, but in truth it takes away a large part of the risk/reward element that makes Arkanoid such a tense battle.

Harking back to that screenshot... having played it on colour, it still doesn't look very nice. It's nowhere near as clean or sharp looking as Arkanoid. I'm not a big fan of the look at all. Then there's the sound. On the title screen, you can turn off the music and sound effects. That's probably because neither are very good, with washed out sound effects and an irritating tune.

So, having played it at last after all this time, where do I stand, if you can't already tell? Well, I'm with the ZZAP! gang. Sorry, Krakout fans, but in truth, this is the worst C64 Breakout game of the four I've mentioned here. It remains very popular, but for the life of me, I can't see why.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

007: Top Agent (iPhone/iPod Touch)

If Quantum of Solace was a shooting gallery, 007: Top Agent reduces spying to a game of rock, paper, scissors.

I quite fancied another bit of Bond after Quantum of Solace, and when this popped up on the "New" page of the AppStore for just 59p, I bit pretty quickly. But, biting quickly is a good way to hurt yourself...

I knew right away this would be bad. When would Bond ever wear trainers and a baseball cap?

Each screen sees you on one side and an enemy on the other. You have icons at the bottom of the screen, representing available moves. You pick one and your opponent picks one, and then the moves are acted out for you. Get lucky with your pick and you'll score a substantial hit... otherwise you'll miss, and likely take damage yourself. You can increase your stats by earning points, and buy weapons and armour with money. Points and money are usually awarded after each fight.

I'm not going to say much more than that... the game really isn't worth it. It's only a Bond game by virtue of the "007" in the name and the fact the four levels are based on Bond films. Everything else about it is poor.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Quantum of Solace (XBox 360)

I must admit, Quantum of Solace is not a game I'd ever thought about playing. It took me months to get around to watching the movie, so I was in no rush to re-enact it. But a mate at work offered to lend it to me, and I figured, "why not?"

I can't help watching current Bond films and thinking it's a bit like Carry on Spying. Not because they're slapstick in any way - Roger Moore did enough of that to last a Bond-lifetime - but because Daniel Craig looks, at least to me, enough like a younger version of Sid James to be able to play him if they ever made a biopic.

Do you see? Or is it just me?

Still, the new Bond films are doing well with their reimagining of the property. Bond games, traditionally, have not been the best, with just a couple of exceptions. It would be interesting to see if Quantum of Solace could give Bond games a shot in the arm.

The game is set up to follow the film, as you would expect. Key scenes from the movie are shown, and at certain points you'll cut to the game, and that's where you come in. Naturally they have to expand these scenes, or you'd only have about half an hour of actual game, so there are loads more baddies than in the film's scenes.

I got him. In my sights.

A lot of emphasis is placed on using cover in this game. That's fine, but it has the odd effect of making the game more like a shooting gallery, or possibly a light gun game, without the light gun. There are a few chase scenes, but most of the time you're hiding behind a wall, rock or crate, waiting for the right moment to pop your head out and take out another bad guy.

It's all done pretty well, and the game does a good job of moving the narrative along with your help. A fun feature for Bond fans comes with the Achievements... they're named after Bond films or quotes from Bond films. It's a bit disappointing, though, to find that here isn't an Achievement called "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

Quantum of Solace is a reasonable diversion, it's very polished and although samey, it provides some decent entertainment. Given that it can be picked up for just a few pounds these days, it might be something you'd want to consider if you're a Bond fan.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Man Goes Down (Atari 2600)

I read about Man Goes Down ages ago, and it's another game that was lost in the back of my mind somewhere. Christ knows what else I'll find there if I dig about!

Anyway, it's an indie game, and it was posted on the AtariAge forums by its author, Alex Herbert, back in 2004.

The best Atari games were usually very simple, as they had to be when the programmers had so little room to work with. Man Goes Down is kind of the opposite of PapiJump+,which I played almost a year ago. Or is it the other way You're a little fella falling down a world of platforms and gaps. If you fall off the bottom of the screen, it's game over. If you get stuck and the screen scrolls down without you, it's game over. So you have to stay in a controlled spell of falling to stay in the game.

No, the man in the game is not called Roderick...

Thankfully, you can have some help in the game, in the form of bonus pick-up items. A helicopter backpack will keep you from the drop (while it lasts), as will a bubble, and a skateboard will speed you across the platforms in time to avoid getting squashed at the top of the screen. Stop signs, umm, stop the scrolling, and arrows increase its speed. Fruits increase your scoring multiplier, although if you miss one the multiplier resets. And there are magic mushrooms, which can have more than one effect...

Man Goes Down is a really nice little game. It looks great for a 2600 game, plays really well and has that important "just one more go" factor. Sadly, though, it's not finished. The author (who also wrote the much-loved homebrew Protector on the Vectrex) posted in May 2005 that he had been unwell, and doesn't seem to have said anything after August 2005. We can only hope he's doing OK... I certainly wish him all the best.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Soul (XBox 360 Indie Games)

I had thought about downloading a few indie game demos, and maybe doing a little featurette on them. And then I came across a game called Soul, and was completely stopped in my tracks.

In this game, you start off dead. There you are, just lying there, dead. And then a light rises from your body... your soul. The idea is to guide your soul into the light, and away from the bowels of hell.

The basic gameplay is very straightforward... it's basically a "don't touch the wire!" game. In other words, each screen has a course you must navigate with your soul, without touching anything. Touch something and your soul will burst, and you'll go back to the start of the screen.

This one's relatively easy... there's only one way you can go!

It's the way the game is presented that makes it so effective. The game has a dirty, grimy look to it, which is very atmospheric. Besides the backgrounds, there are nasty, growling monsters which spring up (or down!) at you. And at rare moments, a scary face pops onto the screen and screams at you, which is quite unsettling, at least the first few times it happens.

The only downside is that once you press Start, that's it. You can't pause the game, and you can't save it. And there are no lives or score... you just play to get to the end, or not at all. It can be a bit frustrating at times, but that's the nature of the gameplay, and your own cack-handedness.

Still, I don't see those problems as gamebreaking. Soul is actually a real little indie delight. It's extremely compelling, once you get started, and although there are those frustrations which might see you switching it off, you'll probably come back to it soon after. I mean, come on. It's 80 points. That's about 65p in UK money. Just buy it. I dare you.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Creatures (Commodore 64)

I'm surprised I hadn't played Creatures before! It was one of the most highly rated games on the Commodore 64, and it was by Thalamus, and I had most of their games. For some reason, though, this (and its sequel!) escaped me.

Creatures tells the story of Clyde Radcliffe, a cute and fluffy thing that's landed on a desert island on Earth. The heartless (but cute!) bastard then sets about eliminating all the indigenous species on the island, just so he and his friends can bunk down there. Harsh.

Right turn, Clyde!

It's fairly typical platform stuff, but although it's a bit on the slow side, it plays pretty nicely. In fact, it probably helps that you're not haring around at breakneck speed, because it's quite difficult and it would be easy to miss things. You can fire, erm, fireballs, or you can charge up and unleash a flamethrower. From your mouth.

There are also things to collect and go shopping with, and then at the end of each stage, there's a torture screen. In the torture screen, you must rescue one of your fuzzy friends from a fate worse than death. Or you can just sit there and watch them get ripped to shreds. Your call.

Creatures is a fun game, if possibly overrated at the time. On the other hand, if I've enjoyed it now, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more at the time and possibly played it to completion. I don't think I'd be awarding it Gold Medals, but it was almost certainly a cut above the competition then, and as far as 8-bit games go today, it holds up pretty well, I reckon.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Super Star Wars - Return of the Jedi (Super Nintendo)

I've been involved recently in, if not exactly a war, an entertaining discussion around the relative merits of the Sega Megadrive and the Super Nintendo. Or, to put it bluntly, which is the best. It's the kind of argument that has enlivened many a playground break over the years, and it's nice to know that we, as grown adults, can still stoop to that level.

I was a Sega Megadrive kind of chap, mostly because we owned one from early on, and I only got a SNES late on. As I've mentioned before, that came about because my brother swapped my copy of Landstalker for it. That alone meant I felt some resentment towards the machine. Hardly owning any games for it didn't help matters.

Super Star Wars - Return of the Jedi has been recommended as one of the best games the system had to offer. And as it's one of the games I currently own (although probably not for long...), I figured I would give it an outing.

Yeah, I don't remember this bit from the film, either...

It didn't start well. The first level is in the F-Zero vein, only shit. You race into a brown landscape, jumping over holes and avoiding boulders. That's it, and it's terribly dull, almost enough to completely put you off.

Still, the second level reverts to a more traditional platformer, which is better. I wouldn't say it was terribly exciting, though. Lots of jumping and somersaulting, the odd bit of shooting or light-sabering, some being dumped back at an earlier point in the level or falling down holes you didn't know were there... run-of-the-mill, standard stuff, dressed up in a few bits of Star Wars clothing. You get a choice of three characters this time, although there's not that much of a difference between them, and you're going to go for Luke anyway.

And... that was it. I played for ninety minutes and couldn't get past that level. Too much finicky jumping, and getting knocked off a platform and falling miiiiiles down. Pity, I would have liked to have seen if things picked up or what else the game has to offer. Maybe another day, before the SNES is gone for good.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 (PC)

I think it would be fair to say I'd need more time with this game to appreciate it. I didn't have very long today, but I thought this would be easy enough to get into... load up, pick one of three species, and kill lots of things. So in that respect, I found it somewhat disappointing.

Aliens vs Predator, this original version, is interesting for the fact it lets you play as either the classic Alien (from the films, of course!), the Predator, or as a Colonial Marine. I started off with the Predator, thinking that would easily be the best. Not so. You start off armed only with what looks like a dog's paw and your invisibility cloak, which amounts to nothing as the frightened marines will shoot you dead whether you're invisible or not.

These 3D glasses will never take off...

Still, after a bit of sneaking around I was able to kill all the marines in my immediate area. And then... nothing. There were about six rooms available, and I couldn't find any way out. There was a walkway high up, but I couldn't use my grappling hook so I couldn't get up there. Stuck. Bah. So next, I tried the Alien.

I started off in what looked like an Egyptian pyramid. I slid down something that looked like I would imagine a birth canal might look like, into another room... with no exits. What? So with the Alien, I had a total of two rooms and no enemies. This was turning into more of a puzzle game than a FPS!

Die, alien scum! Oh hang on, I've used that, haven't I?

And so, it was on to the more boring and traditional human character. At least, now, I was given a game to play!

It's a very typical FPS, albeit made more tense by the atmosphere that's generated by the standard elements you'd expect. The high-pitched beeping of the alien tracker will always, always set you on edge, and when you round a corner and there's one right in your face, it's jumping-in-fright time. And that's always good.

Still, that alone wasn't enough to keep me in the game. I might go back to it at some point, but I have other FPS fish to fry, and unless someone tells me how to get into the Alien or Predator versions of this, then it'll sit in the Steam "My games" tab, untouched until 2020, more than likely.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Starstrike II (ZX Spectrum)

3D Starstrike impressed me enough to want to go straight on to the sequel. And if that game got the programmers noticed for programming a great arcade game, the sequel is a different entity altogether.

It's a different game. An original game. It's an arcade game with depth. And for me, that's where it goes a little bit wrong.

Starstrike II is a very ambitious game. Rather than just give you the same levels in a set order, you must choose which planet/system you'll visit. Each area has a variety of installations to be taken out: military, agricultural and industrial. The challenges you face in each area will be slightly different, as you would expect.

Die, filled-3D alien scum!

The first problem I had was that, despite reading the instructions, I had no idea what to do. On the second stage, there's a grid with a hole in the middle. In this hole you'll find various shapes, some of which will shoot at you. It's the only way through, but no matter how much I shot stuff, I couldn't get through. Impasse!

Luckily (and I mean that literally!), after many games, for some reason I did eventually find myself past that stage, which meant I could play more of the game. And it's a pot-pourri of spacey shooting. Shoot spaceships in dogfights. Shoot installations in trenches. Don't shoot installations in trenches. Destroy the end-level installation.

It all sounds a lot like Star Wars, or even 3D Starstrike, but it really isn't. It's a more serious game. It's not as much fun. It's probably a better game than its forerunner, by virtue of its originality and ambition. But it's not as pacey... the much-vaunted filled 3D graphics are quite a bit slower than the wireframe originals, and although the Spectrum was lauded at the time for its ability to push this stuff around, the fact that it's slower takes the edge of the gameplay. I'd rather just stick with the original.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

3D Starstrike (ZX Spectrum)

This might be a short post, because there's not that much I can say about it. You see, 3D Starstrike is, almost lock, stock and barrel, Star Wars.

And who doesn't know Star Wars? Shoot the TIE Fighters, shoot the towers, fly through the trench... we've all done it. 3D Starstrike does have a few differences, probably so they wouldn't lose the court case in three seconds flat, but at the end of the day, it's Star Wars.

The towers shoot flowers. Big, deadly flowers.

Still, there's nothing wrong with that. Star Wars is great, and this was released in the days when clones were massively prevalent. Certainly, they were accepted as par for the course.

3D Starstrike is a good Star Wars game. I enjoyed playing it quite a bit. It's certainly better than any Star Wars game I played on the Commodore 64 back then. It moves at a fair old lick, and speed is essential in an arcade game of this type. It plays well, and it's a lot of fun. Good on ya, Speccy.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Alisia Dragoon (Sega Megadrive)

Is Dragoon a Japanese mistranslation? I only ask because any game with a dragon in it seems to be called Something Dragoon. I'm wondering if there was a bit of a Donkey Kong thing going on there.

Doesn't matter.

You want to watch what you're doing with that. Could be dangerous.

Alisia Dragoon is a fairly typical-looking Megadrive game. It also plays fairly typically, with your character slowly wandering about the landscape, jumping when necessary. The difference is that you're accompanied, at least for a fair part of the time, by a dragon.

It's a small dragon, though, and what it essentially boils down to is that it's the platform game equivalent of a Gradius multiple. You fire a big beam of lightning, and the dragon fires, erm, fireballs. It's a handy companion to have.

Which one's your leader? The big grey blobby thing? You're welcome to that!

Naturally, as you explore, you'll find power-ups and health bonuses... that sort of thing. They're possibly the most interesting part of the game, in that you can find more if you go a little bit off the beaten track. There's not that many areas where you can deviate from the path, but they are there and they can be missed if you're not looking.

Other than that, Alisia Dragoon is a fairly standard platform-adventure game. It's not bad, but it's not terribly memorable. I was certainly hoping for a bit more out of it.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

You Will Die (XBox 360 Indie Games)

Just a quickie... although not as quick as my first game of the day! I thought I should make an effort to actually put some words down for the day.

You Will Die is a shoot 'em up, in which you will die. That much is inevitable. They're just letting you know in advance what's going to happen.

It won't be on the first level. It shouldn't be on the second level, unless you're rubbish. But at some point, the game will get you, pounded to death under a hail of gunfire.

That's not me. I haven't done as well as that, yet.

It's just you against an enemy gunship. On level one, it's a small thing you're up against, and it only fires one stream of bullets at you. But for every level you survive, the enemy ship has more parts bolted onto it, until it's a ludicrously huge, death-dealing monstrosity, filling the other half of the screen. And then, the other half of the screen is filled with bullets. It's almost funny, staring down something that size with almost no chance of surviving!

You Will Die boils down to being a test of reflexes, and it rewards you appropriately score-wise for your efforts. It's short, sharp and snappy, a great way to pass a few spare minutes when you don't want to get too involved in anything. I like the way the game appears to throw different enemies at you, depending on how well you've done on the previous level. It's not a game that you'd pay a lot of money for... that makes its 80 Microsoft Points price tag very appealing indeed.

Thunder Blade (Commodore Amiga)

What a right load of unplayable old shit.

Christ. That could put me off liquorice allsorts for life.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Spending Saturday with my girl.

I was looking for games to play for the blog tonight, but I've been neglecting someone, and I thought I should show her some love. She's quite a girl, and as much as I love spending time with her, I've been busy with work, or playing these games. It's quite a new relationship, too, so I don't want to risk letting things go cold.

Let me tell you a little about her. She's very athletic, for a start, with a great body. She's well educated and witty, with a snappy line in comebacks. She's flirty, and more than a little bit naughty. Oh, and she likes to get rough. Very rough, in fact... she can be a right witch.

I've always loved brunettes that wear glasses...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Jumping Jackson (Commodore Amiga)

So much for my huge pile of Amiga games. It's not as big as it looks, purely because a lot of them don't work! And the ones that don't work are the ones that are boxed and complete and in immaculate condition! But the ones that are disk only and slung in a big cardboard box seem to be fine...

I just picked anything out of desperation tonight, after three fails. Jumping Jackson was the lucky winner. I'd never heard of it, and as I only had the floppy and no instructions, I had absolutely no idea what it was likely to involve.

You can imagine my "joy" when I discovered it was a puzzle game. But wait! All is not lost! Because Jumping Jackson actually turned out to be good fun! Is that a flying pig...?

Jumping Jackson sees you take on the role of a big-nosed music fan, whose world is a little on the quiet side. What he loves most of all is rock music. He has a collection of record players in his odd world of grey slabs, but no records to play on there. So he has to fashion them from somewhere.

Are they... audio cassettes in the bottom bar? Wow, this game really is old!

There are a number of coloured slabs in the world. Walking over them changes their colours. Once you have all the slabs in a group at the same colour, you'll be given a record. You then have to collect the record, and put it on the appropriate coloured player. Do this, and a line of the tune (bass, drums) starts up. Do the same with the next colour, and another line starts. Once you've placed all the records on the appropriate turntables, the entire tune will play.

It's a fun game mechanic, and it feels good to build the tune up. Of course, it's not as easy as that... there's a variety of classical music instruments wandering around in an attempt to stop the rock! You do have teleports around the levels to help you, and you'll need to figure out where these take you if you want to win the level, and use them strategically to avoid the bad guys.

It's a bit on the crazy side, but fairly typical of that era, and quite endearing. And most of all, it's enjoyable and not all that frustrating, which is rare when it comes to me and puzzle games. Looks like my desperation pick turned out alright, after all!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Deja Vu (Nintendo NES)

This is more my wife's game than mine. As I've mentioned before, I didn't own a NES back in the day. Lorraine, though, grew up in America, and she did have a NES. One of her favourite games was Deja Vu, so I thought it was only right to educate myself of her past.

Deja Vu, it turns out, is an icon-driven murder mystery adventure game. I think it was released on pretty much every format you can think of before it hit the NES, but as that's the version my wife played, that's the version I wanted to play.

And that you've only got one eye! Jesus! How did that happen?

I've been a bit more at home with adventure games of late, thanks mostly to the brilliance of the Lucasarts games that I've been playing. So although this was released for the NES in 1990, it had been out for years on other systems by that time, and as a result, the icon system that probably seemed fresh at the time feels a bit clumsy to me now.

I think that's partly down to the fact that it's like a graphic representation of a text adventure. So whereas with the SCUMM games, if you try and do something you can't, you get a charming shrug of the shoulders, or some other fun little graphic "reward". But here, you just get the typical "You can't do that" type of message which has frustrated so many gamers over the years.

Awwww, man. I bet that happened after the cleaner went home.

Still, that aside, I was finding the story in Deja Vu pretty interesting for as long as I was playing it. Certainly compelling enough that I want to carry it on. It has an interesting atmosphere... you wake up in a public toilet in 1940s Chicago, and you've lost your memory. Wandering about the building, you find a dead body. I'm sure you can guess where it goes from there.

I'm a bit surprised to find that this was a NES title... it doesn't really seem like the kind of game that would fit on that system. Maybe, being released toward the end of its lifespan, they were trying to appeal to a now-older gaming audience. No matter... it's an appealing game that's managed to get me hooked. And I have to play it more now... it'll get me brownie points with the missus!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Big Bang Mini (Nintendo DS)

I've played a couple of fireworks-related games in the past: Fantavision (which I liked), and Boom Boom Rocket (which I didn't, although to be fair, I only played the demo which was far too hard).

Big Bang Mini promised to be different, though... in a spectacularly obvious move, you get to use fireworks to blow stuff up. Yes, Big Bang Mini is a shoot 'em up. And that's good! I haven't played one in a while, and I haven't played a good one in even longer. So it was about time I blasted some stuff.

I don't know if the game's quite like I expected it to be, though. The fireworks are maybe not used to their full explosive potential. But on the other hand, the game mechanic forces you to be more accurate with your shooting. Every time you miss your shot, the firweork explodes, and the debris falls back down. And being debris from fireworks, they'll cause you damage if they hit you.

Oooh, it's like Chinese New Year.

Of course, this being a DS game, you use the stylus to fling your fireworks skywards. It takes a while to get used to this... you think you're moving your stylus in the right direction, only to be surprised to see it go the other way. It's all your own fault when that happens, though! Strangely, you ship is only on the screen as something to be hit. It doesn't fire the fireworks, it's just there for you to drag around out of harm's way.

It's fun enough, if not quite as frantic as I'd hoped for. And there are plenty of stages to unlock and play. The biggest disappointment to me is that there's no scoring, just the completion of stages. And for a shoot 'em up, that's pretty close to unacceptable. It takes the gloss of a decent little game, for me, but it can be found cheap enough to make it more than worthwhile.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Blue Max (Commodore 64)

One of the first compilation tapes I ever bought for the Commodore 64 was US Gold's Arcade Hall of Fame. It contained five games and three of them, Tapper, Spy Hunter and Up 'N' Down, could indeed qualify for an arcade hall of fame. The fourth, Aztec Challenge, was a game my friends and I all enjoyed. And the fifth was supposed to be Blue Max, but I was gutted to get home and find that, on my copy, it had been substituted for Dropzone.

I hated Dropzone. It was too hard, and I was rubbish at it. But I forced myself to play it, got to be half-decent at it and grew to love it. And as I loved all the other games, Arcade Hall of Fame was one of the more successful compilation releases, at least for me.

Where's the Aztec representation here, eh? Bloody racism!

But what of Blue Max? The name conjures images of epic dogfights, fantastic flying feats and moustachioed heroism. I never did get to play it back then, so it seemed that the time to rectify that was long overdue.

This picture reminds me of River Raid. The game, however, does not.

I have to say, it wasn't really worth the effort. Blue Max is merely a Zaxxon game, and not an especially good one. You take off, fly a bit, try and bomb the occasional building or truck, try and shoot down the occasional plane (good luck with that), and then land to refuel. And then you do it again... and again, and again.

Frankly, Blue Max bored me. It's neither difficult nor exciting, and fails to provide any of the derring-dos you'd expect from the game's name. It's really highly rated by everyone on Lemon64... can't think why, though.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Audio Puzzle (iPhone/iPod Touch)


I was a bit disappointed with this one. It sounded pretty good from the description... it would take my music from my iPod and cut it into puzzle pieces, which have to be fitted back together in the right order to "win".

Not my tune... you probably wouldn't have heard of anything on my iPod...

On paper, that's a great idea. In practice, it doesn't really work. For a start, it only chops a tune into six or seven pieces, which is not really enough to be interesting. Also, you either know the song or you don't. If you do, from that number of pieces, you should win every time. If you don't, there's not really any fun in guessing what should come next, and anyway, if you've got any kind of musical brain you should fathom it out easily.

Bit of a shame, that... it was only £1.19, but I could have used that on an app I might have had more interest in. And with there not being a Lite version... well, I kind of fell for the description too easily. Doubt I'll use it again, to be honest... it's neither nowt nor summat.


I might not play a game for the blog today... my copy of Bayonetta has arrived! I will most definitely be playing that a fair bit.

I've got an iPod Touch app that I could do quickly, though...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Manx TT Superbike (Sega Saturn)

Sega have been responsible, basically, for every arcade racing game I've ever loved. From Turbo in the really early days, they went on to produce (among others) Hang-On, OutRun, Super Hang-On, Power Drift, Daytona USA, Virtua Racing, Sega Rally... and then eventually they came full circle and released OutRun 2, and OutRun Online Arcade on the XBox 360. There have been other racers from other manufacturers... Chase HQ, Roadblasters, Ridge Racer... but I've either not been that grabbed by them or simply, as in the case of the Ridge Racer series, never played them.

So, Sega have held me captive for about 30 years now. But one racer they released and that I'd never seen, let alone played, is Manx TT Superbike.

It's an odd one, is Manx TT. I'm intrigued as to how this was given the green light. I can't say I know how popular the Manx TT road race is in Japan, but although I would have thought the answer would be "not very", it must have a decent following for a Japanese studio to go to the trouble of releasing an officially licensed game.

You need to be quick, but clip that wall and you'll be sorry.

Once you've got over the initial shock at the setting (and the eerie similarity of the announcer's voice to Stimpy the cat), in the arcade mode you have a choice of two courses on the Isle of Man: Laxey Coast (Easy), and the more difficult Manx TT course. No choice of bikes... you have to take what you're given. If you play in Saturn mode, there's a choice of bike and a bit more depth in the gameplay.

Depth isn't that important, though. What's important is fun, and sense of speed. And Manx TT delivers both, although not in as great a quantity as Sega Rally. It really is quite thrilling, though, to be tearing through traditional British countryside* in a worldwide-released video game.

Not Britain.

It's definitely a game to be played in short bursts, though. Like the majority of high-score games or arcade racers, you want to get in, make your mark and get out. You wouldn't play it for two hours at a time, but you would come back to it for a quick blast again and again. I'd certainly have been happy to have had this in my Saturn collection in the Nineties... it's not as impressive to me now as it would have been then, and although it doesn't have quite the appeal of Sega Rally, but it's a good little racer, nonetheless.

*OK, the Isle of Man isn't strictly Britain... but it sure looks a lot like traditional British countryside!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A quick note about updates.

Now that I'm back to work (sort of... the weather is playing some havoc with that!), it's possible that I might not have time to post an update every day. Rest assured, though, I will be playing a different game every day, and I will, if nothing else, start a post every day. That way, there will be a daily update (posts are timed by when they're started, not when they're posted), but it might be that I do bulk updates from time to time.

Stick with it if you're a reader, though... I'm committed to making sure there's at least one game played every day in 2010!

I'll also be doing a bit of tidying up, although that will affect earlier posts in the main... still, everything should (hopefully) look just a little bit smarter.

Thanks for stopping by! And if you know of anywhere that welcomes the promotion of little endeavours like this, do let me know... might as well have it read by as many people as possible.

Crayon Physics Deluxe (PC)

Crayon Physics Deluxe is a game that I've been reading about for quite some time now. I've heard nothing but praise, but to be honest, it never really appealed to me, and I hadn't so much as downloaded the demo before today. So when I saw that they were offering the game on a "pay what you like" basis, I gave in to temptation.

I'm pretty glad that I did, too. For although Crayon Physics is basically a puzzle game (and I generally hate puzzle games), it's very enjoyable.

The basic premise is very simple. You have a ball on a landscape, and there's a star somewhere else on the landscape. You have to roll the ball across the landscape to collect the star.

How the heck am I going to get to that star, using only a crayon?

It's obviously not as easy as it sounds, though. There are gaps and obstacles in the way, and you have to figure out how to bridge these problems using only a crayon and your drawing skills. Unfortunately, I draw like a seven-year-old child. Fortunately, as you're using a crayon, that's almost an advantage.

There's not much more I can say about it, other than go and try it for yourself. The game encourages you to experiment and figure out solutions for yourself, and there can be several ways of getting to your goal, so each player should have a unique experience. As I said, it's being offered on a "pay what you like" basis until January 15th, so check it out.

Friday, 8 January 2010

WarioWare Smooth Moves (Nintendo Wii)

I'm totally ignorant when it comes to WarioWare games... in fact, I'm totally ignorant when it comes to Wario in general. Well, let's face it, if I've only recently played Super Mario Bros. properly, I'm hardly likely to have bothered with Wario.

I picked this one up for Aidan as a little Christmas bonus, for the princely sum of six pounds. I thought it would be rude not to... it looked and sounded like silly fun that we might all be able to enjoy, and the Wii could do with a bit more of a run-out.

And, indeed, it's just as you'd expect. It's packed with silly mini-games... or maybe you'd call some of them micro-games, as they might only last a second! The games are appealingly presented, and imaginitive in their use of the Wiimote, although the attempt at passing off the controls almost as ancient mystical kung-fu techniques comes across as a cross between a Marks & Spencer ad and a 70s porn film!

You might be waiting a while... he's only got four!

Porn overtures notwithstanding, bite-size gaming like this is quite appealing, and with the games lasting such short periods of time and being so silly, WarioWare Smooth Moves could be ideal for parties or gatherings. So what kind of ridiculous idea is it to have multiplayer locked from the beginning?

That's right, a single player has to play right through the game to unlock multiplayer. That's ridiculous, and was quite a disappointment for Aidan. Luckily, you don't really have to do an enormous amount of playing to get your multiplayer component unlocked, and it is fun getting there, but it's just an unnecessary frustration.

WarioWare Smooth Moves is not a game I'd ever play for hours on end. It doesn't particularly lend itself well to prolonged playing, but I don't think that intention was ever in the minds of the designers. It's more of a daft distraction than a game, but there's plenty of room in the world for silly toys, and I think I did quite well in picking this one up for that price.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Enduro (Atari VCS/2600)

God, I loved my Atari. I used to drive my mother mental, playing Circus Atari for ages at a time. The bouncing and bursting noises were enough to make sure she's never liked video games (although my dad got her a DS for Christmas and she can be found playing Brain Training or Puzzler World... truly unbelievable!).

I also new people with an Atari. My cousin owned one, and so did a friend down the street. We used to swap games around... I had Activision's Grand Prix and Plaque Attack, my friend had Phoenix and Chopper Command, my cousin had Super Cobra and, umm, E.T.... but hey, I even enjoyed that back then. And as cartridges were far too expensive for ten-year-olds (at least, until I discovered Silica Shop), swapping was a good way to be sure of playing more games than we otherwise could.

One game I always wanted, but never played (or even saw to buy) was Enduro. From the pictures I'd seen in catalogues, it looked like a revolution in racing games - rather than the overhead view, sideways scrolling Grand Prix, this was viewed from behind, with you driving into the screen. I'd only seen the like in the arcades, with Sega's Turbo, or maybe on the Atari with Night Driver. But whereas Night Driver looked cack, Enduro had colour, it looked vibrant. Shame I never got the chance to play it...

Yes, that's colour. It's snow! In this shot, I'm off to stock up on bread and milk.

But now I have played it. And OK, it's the Atari VCS and I shouldn't have my hoped especially high, but I was a bit disappointed with it. It did feel a bit like Turbo, to be fair, which was a bit of a plus. Other than that, though, it lied up to its name, with me just holding down the fire button for as long as possible and dodging "cars" whenever possible. I say "cars"... it feels more like you're racing multi-coloured spiders. A strange effect. Overtaking them is more by luck than skill... it depends where you are on the track at certain points.

Only 8 cars left to pass! Or so I thought...

This is only difficult at times because of the speed at which the game moves. This is another plus, I suppose... the game really does move at quite a lick, which is what you want from a racing game. And it does have a couple of good ideas... sometimes you'll be driving at night, and you can only see the rear lights of the cars in front. Or it might get foggy, at which point not only can you only see the rear lights, but visibility is lessened, which really tests your reflexes.

And that's what Enduro really is... a test of both endurance and reflexes, rather than a racing game. It's hard to say what I would have thought 30 or so years ago, but I suspect I might have been a touch disappointed and lent it out for another go on Chopper Command... I was awesome at that game...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (PC)

Indiana Jones. One of the most iconic characters in film, and centrepiece of three films that people my age have loved for years (well, two... the middle one was just alright). Fans around the world waited for years and years for a new Indy film, until it seemed it would never come. And then, it did (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). And... we'd have been better off without it, to be honest.

But what if there had been another Indiana Jones story? One that was ready many years earlier, when Harrison Ford didn't just look like someone's grandad? Well, there was, and it was called Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

Fate of Atlantis is an adventure game using the much-loved SCUMM engine. I say much-loved, but I personally have not had much experience with it, not having played adventure games that extensively over the years (although I did see a more advanced version of it when I played The Dig). What's great about it is that all the commands you need are displayed in a graphic menu, so you don't have to worry about any of that "I can't do that here" rubbish that was prevalent in so many early text adventures. As a result, it's far more fun, but I suppose it's a pretty different type of adventure game.

I reckon it was when they started selling those pizzas for £1.50. Some of them are really nice.

When I say pretty different, I mean more accessible. For an adventuring novice like me, that's very welcome. I haven't yet found any puzzles I couldn't solve, there's the odd little action set piece, which prove to be nice breaks, and it has a nice authentic feel. The locations are all perfectly plausible for an Indiana Jones adventure and look good. Indy's voice is really quite well done, and in fact, it sounds like it's coming out of an old Atari arcade game, which I think is tremendous.

I've enjoyed my time with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis quite a lot. In fact, the only drawback I've noticed is that I can't find a way to save the game! Anyone able to help?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Atax (Amiga)

Wasn't the Amiga an awesome machine? So many fantastic games, and such a giant leap over the 8-bit computers. Yep, truly superb.

I tried to play a couple of those fantastic games today, games that I knew had been very well reviewed. But their fragile discs had succumbed to the ravages of time, and I was thwarted. Frustrated, I picked up the first game in one of the piles, a game I had never heard of before. A game called Atax.

Oh dear.

To be fair, I wasn't expecting much, given that the game is from the School of Minimalist Packaging. You get a double-cassette sized case, one disk, and the cover art, which has the "instructions" printed on the reverse. There are three lines for the scenario, and a whopping eleven for the gameplay.

Still, this is a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up, not brain surgery or rocket science. I'm all for getting down to the business of blasting. There was every chance that the game itself could have been a hidden gem.

Those hopes were dispelled upon hitting the fire button.

To start with, Atax has the worst opening to a game that I can remember. An interminable, nonsensical bas-relief message scrolls up the screen, reiterating the scenario that you've already read twice on the packaging. I timed it for a laugh - it takes a minute and forty-five seconds. About twenty-five of those seconds are taken up with the word "Atax" scrolling repeatedly up the screen, as if the programmer remembered what fun it was to do that on the computers in Boots or Dixons and put it in on a nostalgic whim. And as you can press fire to skip this intro, it's utterly pointless.

See? I don't make this stuff up.

As for the game itself... it's a rubbish vertically-scrolling shooter, spread over six distinct levels, with a rubbish, Galaga-esque challenging stage between the scrolling bits. Enemies consist of black blobs and rubbish shapes, with the occasional TIE-Fighter rip-off thrown in, just to remind you it's a sci-fi shooter. And they all move in stupid patterns. Oh, and the volume goes up and down by itself, whenever it feels like it.

Look, it's the ice level! How exciting.

The best thing I can say about Atax is that at least it ran for me where others had failed. I might have been better off it hadn't. Atax is the very epitome of the phrase, "just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should". Just because the programmer could write a functioning Amiga game, it doesn't mean he should have. It's a dire game, and there's absolutely no chance of me ever playing it again.

Oh well. They can't all be good.

Monday, 4 January 2010

LED Storm/Mad Gear (Arcade/MAME)

A bonus game today, as my missus is watching some cack on the telly that I'm not interested in. I only have the laptop available for gaming, so I've gone back to the arcades for a blast on LED Storm. Or Mad Gear if you prefer - I don't, I think that's a rubbish name.

LED Storm is a futuristic update on the Bumping Buggies/Burnin' Rubber style of game, which sees you racing against other cars and obstacles over dangerous courses, in a kind of crazy Cannonball Run affair. You can smash other cars into the sides of bridges or canyons and destroy them, although this is a bit dangerous as they will bounce you back. Safer is the option to jump on them... but jumping brings its own problems, as many of the bridges have huge sections missing.

Of course, you have to jump over those to safety, but if you're mid-jump in an attempt to smash an opponent, you're knackered.

Left: it's all a bit frantic at the moment. Right: you've made the jump, but there are other problems to deal with...

There are other reasons to jump... bonus balloons float by, giving extra points for your score, but more important than those are the energy cans that you can collect to prolong your game. Occasionally, you'll see a green canister floating by... jump for this and you'll receive a shield for a limited period, at which point you can just barge everything out of the way.

LED Storm is a game that was well reviewed on the Commodore 64 and Amiga, but I don't think I played it. I have a vague idea that my mate may have bought it for the Amiga, but it's not in my games pile so I'm not sure. It's a pretty enjoyable game, and playing it and then writing about it has seen off the TV cack quite nicely indeed. I can see it being frustrating for some, due to the slightly trial-and-error nature of the jumping, but I'd have been happy to see this arcade machine in any of my local haunts.

Super SWIV (Super Nintendo)

Silkworm is a game I loved on the Amiga. It's a horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em up, where you can choose to play as either a helicopter or a jeep, blasting opposing military forces to Kingdom Come. It's really hard to play as the jeep in a single player game, but the real beauty of this is the co-operative two player mode. The helicopter relieves a lot of the pressure on the jeep, making the jeep much more effective.

It started out as an arcade game and was converted to the home formats, where it was so successful that a pseudo-sequel, SWIV, was released. And, as interested as I was, I never got to play that. And that obviously did OK, because another sequel was produced for the SNES, entitled Super SWIV, and that's what I've just played.

Helicopters, as a rule, should stay away from giant lasers. They're harmful.

Given my enjoyment of the original game, and that I was quite looking forward to playing this, I came away a touch disappointed. For one thing, switching the game to a vertically-scrolling shooter has taken away a fair bit of the charm and polish. It actually looks like an older game than the original, which is a bit odd.

As before, the jeep is more difficult to play with than the helicopter. But not in a good, challenging way - more in a weird, difficult-to-control way. That said, given enough practice, I would say it could be perfectly workable... if you hold the button down, the firing locks in the direction you were travelling at the time. I just don't happen to like it.

And so I've been playing Super SWIV as a simple, straightforward shmup, using the helicopter, relegating it to the ordinary. There's nothing wrong with that, particularly... it's a serviceable enough shooty game. But it certainly didn't grab me like the original Amiga version of Silkworm did.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega Master System)

Alex Kidd was, pretty obviously, Sega's attempt at creating a character to challenge Nintendo's Super Mario, given that their consoles were in direct competition with each other. And, for a few years there, the attempt seemed to be paying off, with a series of successful games featuring the cute young scamp.

I never got to play them, having not been able to own a console of that generation. I never got to play Super Mario games either, but I've mentioned that already. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a pretty decent stab at a Mario-esque game, with jumping and swimming and hidden cash and so on, but with elements of Sega's own Wonder Boy in Monster Land thrown in.

It is, however, more difficult to play than Super Mario Bros. That's entirely down to the controls... Alex is more floaty and slidey than Mario which can lead to a bit of frustration, particularly when it comes to timing jumps. Many's the time I tried to drop off a ledge only to fly much further and land right on a bird.

It would be nice if the game would let you swim over those blocks...

There's also a little bit too much trial and error involved. There are times when you'll have to drop off a ledge into the unknown, and just hope that you won't land on an enemy. This is especially worrisome, as you only have three lives and it seems to be very difficult to earn more.

Also discouraging is the fact that you don't get any points until you complete the level you're on. And your score is not displayed on the actual game screen. The game could do with throwing the player a bit more of an obvious reward than that.

That's a lot of negatives, I realise that. For all that, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a pretty entertaining and very challenging game, and a decent way to start a series. I'm interested, now, in seeing how the series developed, if it got better and if any of these kinks were ironed out. I'm particularly interested in checking out Alex Kidd in Shinobi World...

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Halo 3: ODST (XBox 360)

Another day, another gaming juggernaut. But where Gears of War was just the start of a franchise that will run and run, Halo 3: ODST found itself in something of an odd position right from the get-go. It's been seen as more of an expansion pack for Halo 3, rather than a fully-fledged game. And from what I've been reading, although it was well reviewed, it seems to have been greeted with some disappointment by many Halo fans.

I'm not a long-serving Halo fan, having only briefly played the first one so far. As a result, I went into this game with no expectations. And do you know what? I'm absolutely loving it.

I'm not sure why this game appeals to me where Gears of War didn't. They both involve futuristic wars against alien horrors. And although this is a FPS, which I'm becoming accustomed to, and Gears is third person, I don't think that has much to do with it.

Even aliens love Ready Brek.

No, I think a lot of it is to do with the atmosphere. ODST feels very oppressive. It's not so much that the numbers against you are overwhelming... it's more a feeling that your home is no longer your own. These are your cities you're running around, but they've been overrun, and you're never comfortable, even when the streets are empty. It's quite unsettling, and I've had moments where I've been content to just keep to the shadows and not fire my weapon to ensure I got where I was going, rather than take on the enemy, even though I was confident I could win.

I really like the way the story is told, too. Rather than just plough through from start to finish, the story is told through three main characters, and as you jump from one to another and back, everything links together and makes sense. It helps a lot (for me at least) that these three main characters are all voiced by actors from Firefly, which is possibly my favourite TV show of all time. Regardless of that though, it's a beautifully told story, so far.

Halo 3: ODST is a game I'm only playing because I borrowed it, but I'm really enjoying it. I have no idea how it fits into the Halo canon or how it compares to previous games in the series, but it's ticking all my boxes, and I can't wait to get back to it and complete it.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Torchlight (PC)

I haven't played this a lot as yet, but I really need to mention it as soon as possible, because it's available on Steam for £7.49 until the end of 3rd January. And for that price, I would seriously recommend a purchase.

Torchlight is, basically, exactly what you need right now if you're sick of the wait for Diablo III. It's a game very much in the Diablo vein, created by a lot of the minds behind Diablo. So the gameplay is exactly what you'd expect - an isometric-view dungeon crawler, with loads of enemies to smash and loot to find.

Get 'em, boy... set 'em off.

There's a bit of a difference, in that your character has a pet. At the start of the game, you can choose whether your companion will be a dog, or a cat. Your faithful friend will be at your side (well, I say that... I chose a dog. Christ knows what a cat will do.), assisting you in your questing. It will attack or defend at your command. And if you feed it fish, it will develop special powers. Yes, even the dog.

Torchlight is also a gorgeous-looking game. It's very simple to play, following the tried-and-tested pointing and clicking to move/attack/bring up inventory/character screens. It's a real pleasure, and should be keeping me occupied for a good length of time. There's a rumour doing the rounds that Diablo III was pushed back because of how good Torchlight is. Whether that's true or not, you know what you're looking at here, and it'll scratch that loot-collecting itch very nicely.