Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Homefront: Singleplayer Gameplay and Story Opinion

Homefront is game set in an alternate future where a unified Korea decides to invade America. The game takes place several months after the invasion where Korea has instituted martial law and is increasing committing acts of brutality.

I prefer old-school shooters and I haven't played any Battlefield or Call of Duty games so Homefront is a game which is difficult for me to review because I can't compared it with anything except games I've played such as Hard reset, Half Life 2, Gears of War, Fear 3, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2, Spec Ops: The Line.

My impressions are overall that yes, it works fine as a modern chest-high wall shooter. The combat and mechanics are generally good. Shooting people is okay. The game itself seems very shy in doing anything new or different with the gameplay. It's pretty much shoot this and that with guns. There are no special abilities to speak of. Explosives are also introduced in the beginning of the game but they aren't really used until the end of the game except for grenades. There are some stealth sections which I found a bit of an interesting change of pace but like many other action games, the stealth is pretty much scripted rather than organic.

The sole new outstanding  feature is the ability to remote control a six wheeled drone, basically a jeep with a machine gun and rocket launcher, which is very fun by the way. Considering this does take place in the near future, I felt that if they had increased the number of robot drones you could use the game and make you some sort of gifted robotic 'puppet master' rather than a former military pilot it might actually worked out much better to distinguish itself for the rest of the other shooters. Back when Homefront was released, there weren't many games where you get to fly and coordinate robotic drones so I think that would have really helped make a difference.

The storyline however is really too American for me, a New Zealand Chinese (formerly Singaporean Chinese). It's trying to go for a gritty realistic "America under siege" game but it's precisely because of this, that it fails to engage me. The problem is that its just so overbearingly pro-American something out of a Tom Clancy type novel that everything ends up being too cliche. Everything 'good' is American and apple pie. Everything 'bad' is North Korean.The Koreans are hilariously evil to the point of being cartoonish, committing brutal acts for the heck of it. Compared to Spec Ops: The Line, the disturbing scenes in the game feel stupid and pointless. There to deliberately elicit a knee-jerk reaction. Spec Ops really asks you to question what it means to be a hero. In Homefront, you are the standard action hero who is definitely the 'good guy' just like in a Hollywood blockbuster. The entire game is a celebration of "American values". It's like having a baseball bat wrapped in an American flag being smashed into your face while someone yells "America! Yeah!" This game isn't a thoughtful piece of social criticism but a piece of American paranoid right-wing propaganda. I won't go much more in-depth into this but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Overall, if you're American, you might get some kicks out of Homefront but the hamfisted "Go America!" values it espouses makes it difficult for non-Americans to understand just what is so great about the game. It's an okay action game but you're better off playing Spec Ops for the social commentary or an old school shooter like Painkiller or Max Payne or you're looking for awesome action.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Matrix: Path of Neo: Game Design Review

Matrix: The Path of Neo was released back in 2005 with you playing as Neo through a number of key sequences in the film. Here's my thoughts on this action game.

What I liked:
Very fun. Its a solid game with plenty of action, wall running cool kung fu moves and definitely faithful to the movies atmosphere and style. Lots of interactive explosions and debris making the world feel alive.

Controls are solid for this sort of game and the brawling feels mostly natural and fluid.

What I disliked
Camera angles- Camera angles are normally okay, however this ends up problematic in closed rooms especially when wall running. All too often it ends up blocking your view of enemies in an enclosed room. Fortunately most levels occur in large rooms or arenas so this usually isn't a problem.

Cover based shooting is there but pointless- The game makes a big deal of this cover based mechanic in the beginning with a fairly lengthy tutorial sequence. The truth is its actually kind of useless. Neo has a fair amount bullet time, enemies tend to rush you and most of the game ends up in a hand to hand brawl anyway. You eventually even get the powers to jump across rooms! I've never really needed to use the cover based system although I have on occasion hid behind a corner.

Slow beginning- The game starts you off playing a number of tutorial missions and learning how to be stealthy etc. I kind of found it dragged on too long although the locations were certainly interesting.

Stealth is useless- The game devotes an early level in stealth but I never found any real use of stealth in the missions. The enemies after the stealth level seem to automatically turn around to attack so there's no sneaking at all the game. Why they made such a big deal of it is very curious.

More attacks- What's especially missing is probably a guard crush ability to stop enemies from blocking. The hardest enemies I found were not agents but in fact police carrying shields because the shields were impenetrable and they had a special knock back ability.

Multi-attacking is hard- There's an option to launch a multi-attack move where you attack two or even three people in one attack. For example this would make Neo would punch and kick two people at the same. Unfortunately there is no visual indicator on screen to indicate you're successfully activating this ability. Its a shame because this has some of the coolest moves and attacks.

Poor story presentation- If you go into this a fan of the Matrix like I am, you'll love this. It basically expands certain scenes while fleshing out other parts of the Matrx world Those who aren't fans or who haven't watched the Matrix trilogy will be confused by how the story is told. It's told by montages comprised of quotes from the movies which aren't even in chronological order.

Overall I enjoyed the core mechanics despite its rough edges and I do recommend it to those who enjoy brawlers and watching the Matrix.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Out There Somewhere: Mini Game Review

Out there Somewhere by Miniboss is best described as a simple action puzzle platformer with a teleporter gun. It received much praised from its reviews and its clear to see why. It's a fun well done platformer with a fairly unique element. There's a lot of cool things you can do with the portal gun and the walls and environment.

I have a couple of minor complaints about the game however:
Only two guns- The teleport gun and the normal shooting gun are the only two weapons. That's it.

One boss only- There is only boss in the entire game. Considering the studio is called Miniboss, I was hoping for a few more battles.

Very short length- Because of the game's length it reminded me of those old shareware games where you played Episode 1 and they promised more gameplay in Episode 2 and 3. I was in shock when the game ended. I thought, "no way, it's already over"?

Highly recommended just don't expect to be playing this game long. I'd say maybe between 2-3 hours.

Rage: Game design review

Created by ID responsible for Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, Doom 3. Rage is suppose to be the next-generation shooter using the ID5 engine back in the 2010. I read the reviews about the game  and watched some gameplay with many reviews giving it 75-80%. I thought I would be getting a shooter with some questing and driving elements. Unfortunately what I got was a shooter with too much walking around, talking and driving.

First of all the shooting is rock solid. It's very fun and very exciting. Weapons all handle well and the physics are pretty good. However nearly all the non-shooting sections are just busy work or unnecessary, the section below highlights various features and explains what I felt padded out the game unnecessarily.

Game Issues:

Town areas: It's fun to walk around the town for a while but like in so many RPGs, there's nothing to do but accept quests, play games and stock up on supplies. I personally think a menu driven interface would have been fine rather than having to wander around town.

Driving: Driving is fine but feels very basic. Furthermore, driving and shooting are separated by clearly marked areas. You can't for example, drive into a base and take out a generator for example and then hop out of your car like in Farcry. No, you have to drive up to the roadblock demarcating the end of the driving area, hop out, walk to the entrance and proceed indoors. Also you have to spend money to buy ammo and repairs which means you have less to spend on your normal weapons.

Combining items is okay: As you walk around you'll be able to pick up stuff and combine them into various items. It's a simple effective system but I find it a little bit out of place when you get back to town and have to browse the shop to find parts you're missing to craft certain items. Again, it just seems to pad things out rather than allowing me to jump into the action.

Quest interface: Each main quest is compulsory so I don't understand why you need to click 'accept the quest'. It feels redundant. Also, each quest is accompanied by a long text displaying what the quest giver is saying, another redundant feature.

Enemies are mostly humans: Most of the enemies you fight are humans or mutants. Yes, they all dress quite differently but the humans mostly act the same and have very similar weapons. Each faction you fight does have one or two different unit types to mix things up but it still feels a bit too similar at time.

Lack of autosell: There are bits and pieces that you can pick up that serve no purpose except to be sold. But there is no autosell button so you have to manually sell your junk.

Lack of boss: There are several bosses in the game but nothing particularly memorable or worth noting. For example you have your typical 'giant mutant' and 'car with turret' bosses.There isn't even a final boss either, just you in a room full of respawning mutants.

Lack of levels: Most of the 'levels' are designed well but the game has actually very few levels and most of them are fairly small. What's worse is that there is a main quest level where you have to return back to a city and go through the same level again except in reverse! Furthermore the side quests/missions in the game take place in the exact same levels as the main quests so you're just repeating what you've already done in the already sparse levels.

Earning money feels like grinding: There are two ways to earn money. 1) Accept side missions and 2) Play minigames. The side missions as mentioned above are repetitive because they take place in the levels as the main mission. Some of the mini-games are actually quite fun but in mini-games you have to risk your hard earned cash and unfortunately the rewards aren't that worth it.

Mini-card game is expensive: I think the mini-card game is actually quite fun but the cards are very expensive or you have to find them in the various game areas! Furthermore, you need more cards in your deck to make a viable deck meaning you probably won't have a good deck until at least 75% of the game is done.

Unchanging world: I don't really mind an unchanging world too much if this was a linear corridor shooter but for a game that attempts to be a mix of sand box and action the world feels unchanging and static. None of your actions feel particularly eventful in the larger scheme of things. I guess I was hoping to see some buildings get destroyed or built as you made areas safer. As it stands, it's pretty much being attacked by the same bandits over and over again as you drive around.

Pointless RPG character class: There's an RPG-like class selection at the beginning of the game where you can specify what bonuses you might receive such as dealing more damage. However nothing really comes of this, you don't get to improve your skills or anything. Again another pointless feature.

Overall this is a mechanically sound shooter spaced out with way too many unnecessary mechanics. I love old-school shooters like Doom, Quake, Painkiller and Serious Sam. I started playing wanting a 6-9 hour linear shooter and that's all I was asking for really. Instead what I got was a shooter with driving, crafting and questing unnecessarily shoved into this padding out its core gameplay mechanics. This should be scoring 50-60% not 80% or 90%. I don't recommend buying this when you could have a more satisfying game by purchasing those old school shooters or games like Crysis.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Darkness II: Game Design Review

Based on the Darkness comics by Image Comics and sequel to the Darkness which was released on the consoles, this sequel continues Jackie's story and the mysterious brotherhood pursuing him. Spoilers will be mentioned in this game design review.

First off, Darkness II is a fun, violent and gory action game. It hits all the right notes with comic book feel using cel-shading voice acting and very solid combat mechanics. I used a Xbox 360 game pad so it might be a different experience with mouse and key board.

What I liked about the game:

Executions have a point- Executions in game are very cool and actually serve a point rather than just to finish off the enemy. You can choose to execute to get health, ammo or a shield which creates a nice tension and choice in the game and each has its own use depending on your situation.

Tentacles- You have tentacles hovering next to you at all times acting as extra arms allowing you to attack as well as grab and throw objects like guns, metal poles, shields and other important items. With the controller, the tentacles are mapped onto the shoulder button. It's quite intuitive and fun and you kind of wonder why other games don't have something similar.

Story combined with action- I think the game has a good balance between gameplay and story weaving both together well without either dragging on to long.


Linearity- This is a fairly short straight forward game. It's pretty much level after level. The levels themselves aren't particularly creative either just your standard urban environments. I found them okay but nothing I hadn't really seen in other games.

Lack of enemy variety and bosses- The game plays it a bit too safe with the enemies. You'll only be fighting humans and darkness powered humans. That's it. Aside from you, the people you fight are quite tame. Even in the last level where you find inhuman enemies spawned from Hell, they carry around guns that behave exactly like the ones all the humans have been carrying. I was hoping for some cooler enemies you know? The boss fights feel tame as well since the only enemies you'll fight are human bosses.

Disconnected Co-op multiplayer- Co-op is actually quite fun. In the game you choose one of four characters which have different powers and go around completing missions. It feels very strange and although supposedly running parallel to the main game, there is no mention of it in the main story. As a result it feels very disconnected and very shoehorned in.

Darkness explosions need to be bigger- Instead of grenades you can unlock a power early on where anything you pick up and throw explodes into Darkness. Great. Unfortunately the explosion is a bit small. It's sometimes a problem when the explosion hits a corner rather than the enemy you're targeting and nothing happens.

Dark Vortex too random- Dark Vortexes are like super grenades in the game, they are very powerful and pretty much kills anything. Unfortunately they are dropped randomly. I think they should make it more skill based rather than luck based. Maybe if you kill enough small enemies via combos you can summon it up instead.

X button is both grab weapon and heart- minor point but occasionally you end up picking up a worse gun in battle.

Lacks automatic healing- Unfortunately for some reason you can't heal automatically. This usually isn't a problem but sometimes I would end up at the end of a fight with very little health meaning the next fight became harder than it needed to be because there was no one left to consume health from. When I died and the checkpoint was reloaded I ended up in full health allowing me to pass the next area.

Too weak in light- Being a game where you're constantly needing to be in darkness is a great idea but being exposed to light in the game is extremely penalising. Not only do you lose your armour, you start to become blinded making it extremely hard to see. This becomes especially problematic when the enemies start carrying out powerful lights to attack you. It just makes your weakened state even more punishing than necessary.

No climbing- Hard to believe that a guy with the powers of Darkness no less can't even scale walls. I mean seriously? This guy can pick up dumpsters but can't super jump or clamber over walls? Despite all the innovations in attacking this made Jackie feel illogically stunted in the game and reminded me it was 'just a game' rather than an 'experience'.

Melee- Melee combat is okay but I kind of wished they would have done something a bit different. You basically press attack and flick the right joystick in the direction you want the attack to go. But there are two directions horizontal and up and down and the only reason you need to slash up is to activate a special power and stun enemies. I feel like they should have just had melee as an auto attack and use the joystick for something else. Maybe commanding the imp or activating some special dodge move?

Lack of special attacks- There are only two special attacks. A auto-targeting and a stun attack. That's it. I was hoping for something a bit more creative considering you have the powers of darkness. How about summoning up demons or something? In the comics, Jackie could craft all manner of dark beings and dark attacks. Well I understand a video game has balance surely some abilities like 'summon dark fire' would have been cool?

Terrible ending- Okay seriously what is up with the ending? Don't get me wrong, I quite liked the cliff-hanger ending but  also ends up with Jackie trapped in Hell; or the Hell as created by his Darkness powers. I bet you the Darkness III will feature Jackie having to fght his way out of Hell as the first level.

A more satisfying ending would have Jackie fighting his way out of Hell back into reality, partially defeat the Angelus who then escapes and then closing with some sort of: "I don't know what will happen now but its out there" speech which at least provides more closure. You know, a real final boss fight.

The Darkness II is a fun game don't get me wrong and its innovation of tentacles allowing you to quad-wield really increases the fun factor. Unfortunately, despite the premise, the game only adequately delivers its promises but never really forges ahead in the area of innovation. It's a missed opportunity in my opinion and something I hope the next game in the series will fix.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Farcry 2: Game Design Review

Farcry 2 is an action adventure game taking place in Africa in a fictitious wartorn region. It is a sequel to the original Farcry but its best to call it a thematic sequel than a direct sequel as the only thing that connects both is the theme of an open free roaming world. My original impression of Farcry 2 was good. The game starts by having you pick a character with an interesting history and has an opening showing off the very nice graphics. Most importantly, it didn't slow down on my fairly modest computer. That being said, about an hour in, it's pretty clear to me what the faults of Farcry 2 are. I did play it right to the end, so here's my list of what I liked and disliked after about 20 hours or so of gameplay.

What I liked:
Large well-designed 'organic' looking world- Farcry 2 has a wonderfully crafted sandbox map with each area and region feeling differently well design. This is a virtual explorers dream. It's clear a lot of effort was put into making the map topography and geographic interesting and unique.

Solid combat and stealth- Combat is very satisfying and very fun. There are lots of different guns in the game so there's plenty of choose from. If you prefer going in and shooting everything you'll want to carry mostly automatic weapons while those who prefer a long range approach will prefer a mix of sniper rifle and explosives. There are even flame-based weapons that you can wield to set fire to bushes and grass which can spread and kill enemies! Stealth is also definitely a viable albeit slow tactic especially with silenced weapons you can purchase. Just as importantly, you're always carrying a machete as a melee weapon compared to the first game where it took up an entire weapon slot.

Enemies AI and reactions- The enemies are quite smart in the game and will try to flank you, search for you and work together. They flinch if you shoot but miss them and try and seek cover in general. They'll even try and carry away a team mate who's injured!

Environment physics- The environmental physics such as a fires, winds, lighting and weather really help make this feel like a living breathing world.

Static world and enemies- The issue with Farcry 2 is that the entire world like many sandbox games is static and unchanging. Guard posts and enemies continually respawn no manner how many times you destroy them. It doesn't matter how many main quests you complete either, the entire world remains a hostile unfriendly place. This creates a sense that none of your actions have any real weight or impact on the world.

Can't choose multiple quests and poor quest location- Although the game makes it seem that initially you have a choice of faction it turns out you don't have a choice of factions. You have to finish every single main quest for both factions to advance the game.

Lack of story pacing and impact- As a more story oriented gamer this is what disappointed me the most. Farcry 2's storyline is suppose to be about you entering into a war torn region to assassinate the Jackal, an arms dealers who's been arming the two factions. But things go seriously wrong when you enter, you contract malaria and then end up being saved by the Jackal and basically abandoned by the people who hired you. To survive and get out of the country, you start working for both sides of the conflict picking up missions and playing each of the sides against each other.

Now this could have been a great story about moral choice, wartime atrocities, the dark side of human nature. The audio tapes you pick up and philosophy of the Jackal and the ending are actually thought provoking in nature. But the whole story lacks emotional impact because your actions have no consequences in the game. The game world doesn't change, the missions don't change, the way the characters speak doesn't change and when certain game-changing situations occur nothing really happens. You survive and continue to do things in exactly the same way as before, no different from previously. Your choices lack impact undercutting the initial narrative. This is a real shame because for all the freedom the game gives you in the world, the story and narratives as presented is simply uncompelling.

Quests are repetitive- At one point, it just so happened that the main quests and subquests were all located in the same area which meant that I had to visit the same area three times just to do pretty much the same thing, clear it out full of bad guys. It got repetitive and nearly all quests basically involve you going somewhere and clearing everyone out, destroying something, killing someone or picking something up so it can get repetitive fast.

No variety in enemies- Aside from different weapons you'll see the same guys over and over again. Yes some do carry weapons but you're otherwise shooting the same people over and over again.

Enemy intelligence and driving- As mentioned enemies do flank and it's actually fairly realistic. Unfortunately they don't seem to get smarter when it comes to driving. Basically whenever you see a car, the enemy AI will automatically attempt to ram/attack you and then they'll get out and try and shoot you. They have no sense of fear and will quite happily get out of the car as you're shooting them rather than run or drive away. As a result this makes driving more annoying than fun especially when you're trying to travel across to a different part of the map only to constantly attacked every single time you run across a guard post.

Malaria- At the start of the game you contract malaria which serves as an explanation for why you start off so weak and get stronger throughout the game. I thought this was a good idea as opposed the standard amnesia ploy. Your malaria level is related to how many main missions you've done but will also strike at completely random moments throughout the game with no prior warning. And these strikes are serious interruptions when you're unable to move for a few seconds. Occasionally resulting in damage and sometimes death.

No stealth meter or radar- One thing I do miss from the first game is the stealth meter and radar. Unfortunately this makes the stealth portion of the game much harder than before. Some people complain about the lack of crawling compared to Farcry 1 but I didn't really find it too much of an issue as long as I hid in the bushes and foliage.

Buddies are pointless- There is a buddy system in the game where buddies will rescue you if you get knocked out or injured in a fairly lengthy sequence. What else buddies good for? Aside from giving additional missions they don't actually do anything. You can't ask them to accompany you in a fire fight, you can't hire them, you can't drive around with them. It's a real shame considering they gave each buddy a history and animation but they only act as generic NPC backup and only if you get hurt badly enough to pass out.

Overall, I can say I enjoyed Farcry 2 for the first few hours but not the rest. Mechanically very solid but it feels as if no one really took the time to look at the larger game and see how the various bits fit to create a cohesive game. The result is a repetitive game that looks and plays great but just can't offer enough content to justify keep going unless you are solely into shooting. According to reviews, Farcry 3 fixes all this and I think all gamers should skip this game and go straight to Facry 3 instead.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dragonball Z: Super Sonic Warriors: Mini-Game Design Review

Dragonball Z: Super Sonic warriors for the Gameboy advance is an arena fighter game where you pick Dragonball Z characters such as Goku, Vegeta and Piccolo and going around blasting, kicking and smacking each other.

My initial impressions is that its a fun game and for the first few hours it was. Mechanically the game is solid. You control 1 fighter at a time and fly around on screen and are able to attack each other from any direction and have other fighters swap in if you're in a team game. There is a very solid rock-paper-scissors balance in the way attacks, blocking and dodging works to good effect. For example, it's easy to dodge and counter the very powerful slow super attacks but if you misjudge the enemy might just follow up with another super attack or several quick fireballs instead.

Each fighter has different special moves and abilities.For example, some of the fighters have homing missiles, others have direct blasts that travel in a straight line, android characters have infinite fireball energy but can only recharge super attack energy via sucking it from the enemy characters. Unfortunately the more I played it the more I realise the lack of special moves and abilities between fighters really hurts the game in the end.

 Because of this, there's not much to say about the game design, you can play this in about 15 minutes and you've pretty much explored most of what the game has. It is a bit difficult to perform certain attacks which require holding two or more buttons down at the same time but you do get used to it.

It's fun to play but I amongst 360 arena battlers I would recommend you go play the Psychic Force series instead for a true arena battler with enough variation and special moves.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy: PC Game Design Review

Recently in December I won a free copy of the Half-Minute Hero thanks to a twitter giveaway. Having finished it, I thought I would give my opinion of the game.

First of all it a really fun game. The game is an action-puzzler with an fantasy Japanese RPG setting. It uses a lot of existing JRPG cliches but in very much tongue-in-cheek light-hearted manner as to be expected from a game entitled Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy. I very much recommend this if you love Japanese RPGs or action-puzzlers.

It's worth explaining the very unique gameplay:
Gameplay Mechanics Overview

Each map is small and has a time limit of 30 seconds before the world is destroyed and you lose the map.
Your Hero starts each level at level 1 with whatever equipment you've equipped. Gameplay for the main Hero mode  is divided into walking around a world map, talking to people in towns/villages and combat.
Like in any RPG, the goal is to defeat the boss.

World Maps- Walking around the world is similar to your standard RPGs. You have a top down view and move your character in classic 2D Final Fantasy manner.
Towns- In towns you shift to a side view, time freezes and you can chat to the people in the town.
Combat- Combat is straight forward. It shifts to side view and your Hero and enemies will run towards each other and start attacking each other rapidly. Each will automatically lose health based on their statistics just like in any RPG until one dies. Winning means your Hero gets experience and gold. Like in any RPG he will level up if he has enough points. Losing sends you back to the beginning of the level.
Time- You have 30 seconds which can be rewound at Goddess statues by paying gold. However the cost will keep rising until it becomes unaffordable.

A great deal of each level is therefore trying to do as much as you can before the timer runs out and then rewinding time to get another 30 seconds. Each level usually has a gimmick, quests or alternative routes you need to finish in order to unlock all the equipment and paths and is a great way to encourage replayability.

Although the last stage you'll play is stage 30-something, there are actually closer to 70 stages because of all the branching plotlines and alternate routes!

There are two modes, the first is a retro style similar to 8-bit and 16-bit era games on the Nintendo or Super Nintendo. The second is a Neo-cartoon style which makes everything look like paper cutouts. Personally the new graphics look terrible and I spent all of my time playing the classic retro style.

Other Gameplay modes
Aside from the main Hero 30 mode, here are other other modes as well such as Evil Lord 30 (RTS style gameplay), Princess 30 (a side shooter)  and Knight 30 (top down action mode). These are full game modes (relatively speaking) and feature about 30 levels each.

Should you purchase?
Simply put this is a fantastic game with whole heap of content for just US$10 and an even better deal if on discount! Of course, for me it was so much sweeter because I got it for free thanks to winning a competition!

Here are some very minor issues with the game.

Other modes- Other modes such as Classic mode Evil Lord 30, classic mode Princess 30 and classic Knight 30 don't feel as tight and well implemented as the original. For example, the Evil Lord game has you summoning creatures but there's little control except to order them to charge in a direction. It's still fun but compared to tight puzzle gameplay of the first, the other modes feel much less polished and like extended mini-games.

Neo and classic mode Extra modes are different! - I could have missed it! The classic extra modes such as Evil Lord 30 have full games while the Neo-cartoon mode gameplay offers a single level in the other modes. Nowhere is this mentioned that the two graphic modes are actually different! I think its because the Neo-cartoon comes from one version of the game (XBLA) and the classic retro mode comes from another (PSP version).

One 'semi-secret level'- One of the path branches on mission 25 isn't very clear due to lack of dots connecting it on the- A strange move considering that's the only alternate path that lacks a dot.

I loved Half-Minute Hero. Its a fun challenging puzzle action game wrapped in nostalgia. I found it great fun and the sheer amount of content is staggering. Get this if you're a fan of RPGs or Puzzlers!

Alternative endings + Gameplay
There's an alternate path/ending you can unlock by picking up an item in cave on mission 25 which is highlighted in the level summary but seemingly can't be found in the world map. Once you have the item, to access the end from the main menu, press right from Level 25. This will move your cursor to the volcano. Don't forget to try the extra modes such as Evil Lord 30 in both classic and Neo graphics modes as they are different games!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Game Design Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution won't need much introduction for most players. It's a prequel to the Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War taking place 20 years before the events of Deus Ex. From a game design perspective, it's worth breaking down a little of what the hallmarks of Deus Ex have been in the first two games from my view point and then comparing them to the third.

Gameplay pillars of Deus Ex
First Person Shotter- The first two Deus Ex's were built on FPS engines (Quake and Unreal) and builds upon the FPS genre. You have guns and  standard FPS controls. You shoot people and robots and they die or explode.

Exploration, multiple pathways and interactive elements- Levels tend to be sprawling and here are usually multiple ways to travel through the level. There are usually objects like explosive barrels, crates and terminals that can be hacked to assist the player again giving the player choice in completing the level.

Stealth option- Unlike most action shooters, stealth rather than shooting is usually a viable tactic and often beneficial in many respects as enemies can and do respond to sound and you will often find yourself surrounded if you go in guns blazing.

RPG Elements and upgrades- Your character is able to be upgraded like in a role playing game allowing you to increase various aspects of your character such as being able to run more silently or jump higher

Hubs instead of traditional levels
- Generally each area is broken up into game hubs. Each hub is large interconnected area where you can visit bars or chat with the locals. The 'levels' in the game are either part of the game hub, such as different levels in a bar or areas that you travel to from the game hub. Your character will often return back to the game hub after you successful complete an 'off-site mission'. This gives the impression that your game is taking place in a city or organic space helps immerse the player in the environment.

Logs, stories and subquests- Very often there will minor plots and stories that can be gleaned from logs and computers located around environment. This helps give more substance to the world. Furthermore, certain facts of the world such as passwords or secret locations maybe located in these logs rewarding players for being thorough.

Does Deus Ex: Human Revolution match all of these requirements?

The answer is yes. Every single one of those things are in the game and in a fairly good way.

Game Issues:
However, there are a couple things I would like to mention that disappointed me about the game. Some of which has been part of the series since the first game. Let me say first of all however, this in no way diminishes Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It's still very much a game I recommend playing.

Box simulator- The game has a heap of boxes and crates which serve various useful purposes mostly as a way to get up to high places and distracting enemies. At times it felt like I was playing a really expensive box simulator considering how much stacking and shifting of boxes I was doing.

Vent crawling simulator- Playing as a stealth character in the game means you spend a huge amount of time stuck in vents. I think I spent more than half my time in levels crawling through them or retreating through them. I'm not sure how else to make this less boring but maybe reduce the number of vents and increase the number of catwalks?

Yellow and Gold everywhere- Yes the gold filter is cool but after a while I did wish there were more colours than that. For example, maybe gold could be used for Detroit, green for Hengsha and blue for Singapore?

Melee combat could be better- Melee combat isn't bad but it does feel a bit inorganic since all you really do is head towards one enemy and watch a cutscene about it. If you have an upgrade you can watch Adam take down two enemies at once.

Also any melee combat regardless of whether you're sneaking behind someone or confronting them consumes 1 whole energy bar. This creates a rather strange situation where disabling three guards costs more energy than cloaking for a few seconds or lifting a large dumpster to chuck at them!

There are probably several ways I would improve this. 1) Having takedowns of various 'power levels' where you can slowly take an enemy down without energy or have a faster takedown where energy is drained. 2) Have a system where you can take down a group of close enemies similar to the Typhoon system but for melee. 3) The ability to drop down on enemies and knock them out.

Lethal and nonlethal methods- Being non-lethal is quieter and awards you more points if you knock guards out however at the same time but storywise, this doesn't really seem to affect much at all which is a bit of a shame.

More hubs and levels-There are only 2 major hubs. Detroit and China. Feels a bit of a shame considering how many different cities there are. The last few sections are linear levels and the revelations just come way too quickly compared to the drawn out nature of Detroit and Hengsha. A second or third hub would have really helped pace the game much more instead of the many linear levels that are suddenly thrown at us at the end.

Enhancement variety- I kind of miss the quirky nature of some of the other enhancements in the old games such as the exploding spy drones. I think more thought needs to be given to the enhancements in the game to make them more exciting and with greater variety. Maybe more drones or something.

More and better dialogue battles- These are definitely fun but compared to Alpha Protocol which had plenty of major characters and where each dialogue felt interesting, the dialogue battles here seem a little bland and it's sometimes hard to know whether what you're saying is working or not.

Linearity- Like all the previous games, the game is very linear except for choices at the end. Nothing you do is actually is going to affect the game missions in any real major way.

Nothing new- Throughout the game I got the feeling that I wasn't seeing anything really new in the series aside from the combat and dialogue battles. Everything else, the box stacking, the upgrades etc. the questing system are all gameplay mechanics we've seen before in past Deus Ex games. I'd like to see a more in-depth factional system in progress and different storylines with different missions. For me the linearity of Deus Ex in each game is a real sticking point for me. I understand the need for linearity but surely having multiple plot lines (even if they all converge on the same ending level) is something we can achieve more than 10 years after the original? I guess you could say Alpha Protocol has really raised the bar for other FPS/RPGs when it comes to choice.

Ending- We know the future of Deus Ex so it would be good to clarify what ending was actually canon. Why keep it a secret?

I enjoyed Deus Ex: Human Revolution with its robust combat system and multiple pathways in levels. However, at times it seems like could it use a bit more innovation in the areas I mentioned above. I think making this the final game in the trilogy would be fitting and the next game should take place in a fresh universe with a fresh storyline.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Clock Tower 2/Clock Tower Playstation: Game Design Review

Clock Tower 2 (Japanese name) or Clock Tower (US release) is an adventure horror point-and-click game for the Playstation. It's a sequel to the original Clock Tower on the SNES. The first game was not released for English speaking countries hence the slightly different title. As before, the scissorsman returns and this time you have to try and figure out how to stop him for good.

What  I liked
Sound- Once again sound plays an important part in the game and the disquiet and ambient noise only heightens the fear. Silence is just as important as noise.

Horror- Like in the first game, you can only run and hide and occasionally ambush the Scissorman. That's pretty much it.

What I didn't like

 Very short- The game can be finished in about 40 minutes if you know what you're doing.

3D graphics aren't particularly exciting- Unfortunately the graphics haven't aged well compared to the 2D sprites of the original SNES horror.

Missing a single item or item can change your entire game- A great deal of the problem with the game is just how Japanese it is in game design. Even missing a crucial item which isn't particular special can mean your entire game is screwed or changed. There are hints in the game you can find and they are useful during replays but the fact that you sometimes don't even know why you're getting a certain ending or what requirements need to be fulfilled to get a 'good' ending is very annoying.

For example at the start, if you want to play as Helen you have to talk to someone once, if you want to play as Jennifer you have to talk to the same person twice. This doesn't really make any gameplay sense. The dialogue itself isn't related to choosing a character, it's just a comment on the other characters. You'll only know this changes your character choice if you collect a hint at the beginning. The hint is viewable in the main menu not in game either so you can only see it if you quite the game!

Missing replayability- In the original Clocktower there was some replaybility as the story itself would randomise certain events and rooms. In this game, that has been pared down somewhat so replaying the first parts of the game are pretty much the same. It's only the last scenario that has any real changes and most of them are fairly minor.

Clocktower 2 is still a scary game and some real good atmosphere going. If you enjoyed slow Japanese horror, you should definitely try it out. If you don't already like the genre however I would recommend you play it once through and just check out some Youtube videos of the multiple endings.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bioshock: Game Design Review

Bioshock is an action RPG developed by Irrational Games and has won many awards. It's an action game taking place in a secret underwater city called Rapture and is a spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Here are my thoughts on the game.

What I enjoyed
Storyline and atmosphere- Great atmosphere and good story and great plot developments One of the highlights of the game.

Penalty free, customisability- I really hate games which force you to replay the game over again if you want to try a different build. I don't have time to replay a 20 hour game much less a 50+ hour RPG. That's why I really liked fact that you can recustomise your character any time you like by returning to a gene bank in the game.

Photo Research- Taking photos is a fun unique take on doing research and gaining special abilities.

Enemy intelligence- Enemies are smart enough to work together, retreat and use healing station.

Environmental damage- You can use water, fire, debris and oil to your advantage in the environment which helps even the odds. I also like how your destroy health stations to get health kits over the long term benefit of being able to heal for money.

What I didn't like

Difficulty curve is all over the place- Due to lots of ammo and health, the normal enemies simply don't pose any real challenge at all. Combined with Vita chambers which basically restore to full health and no cost and the main  game itself is a breeze. The Big Daddys on the other hand are hulking, walking tanks that will decimate you within seconds. They are optional part of the game on every level and there really isn't any real reason to fight them except as an additional challenge of sorts and to make the final boss easier because of all the ADAM you can collect. As a result game swings between mostly easy (normal enemies) to brutally challenging (trying to take down a Big Daddy). It just doesn't work.

Morality system- Very token. You get the choice of saving a Little Sister or killing a Little sister. A and B choices. Very simplistic and just feels silly and pointless.

Slow switching- I don't know about other people but I found that switching between combat and plasmids (physical attacks and magic) a bit too slow and I wished it could be a bit faster. Combat felt 'jerky' rather than fluid at times because of this.

Lack of enemy variety- The world of rapture is very interesting and unique but aside from turrets and cameras, the humans and big daddies are your only enemies. I was hoping for some other variations like mutants as promised in the preview art. A real shame in my opinion since the idea that some humans/splicers have 'evolved' to become even more inhuman could have been really effective and interesting.

Lack of flavour text- Compared to System Shock 2 A lot of the flavour text is missing, there are no descriptions of things in general which I thought was a real shame. That being said, the atmosphere and posters do way more to bring things to life compared to the dull looking corridors of System Shock 2

Lack of mini-games- Aside from the hacking mini-game, there aren't any mini-games in the game. I mean System Shock 2 had a gameboy parody called the gamepig with additional games in it!

AI- AI knows when to take cover and will hunt you down or run away as appropriate. But for some reason they aren't they will still run directly into turrets and cameras in an effort to take it down. They are smart relatively speaking but still fall the same tricks over and over again.

Tactical options soon run out- About 60% way through the game, no new game mechanics or weapons are introduced from then on except for more powerful versions of existing powers. There aren't any new enemies introduced. This means that whatever tactics you develop from the first part of the game such as burning enemies and then shocking them when they cool off in water are just as effective in the second part of the game. It's just something I noticed as neared the end of game as I realised that hadn't really been killing enemies any differently for a long time.

Compared to System Shock 2, Bioshock is a more streamlined evolution rather than revolution. It is enjoyable but almost everything we've seen in this game is seen in System Shock 2 as well. There's plenty to like about the game despite its minor flaws and still worth playing even today.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Global Game Jam 2013: Eat Your Heart Out

Global Game Jam 2013 is over for us in New Zealand I'm proud to say that I designed a very fun co-op multiplayer game called Eat Your Heart Out that netted the 1st runner up in the Innovation category as voted by other teams at the Auckland venue.

It's a hide and seek co-op game where three players have to tag one player disguised as an NPC amongst lots of NPCs. If you take too long the disguised player will transform into a demon and hunt the searchers down instead! Try using Chrome or Internet Explorer to play the game. It supports 4 controllers as well.

All credit to my two other team members Erik and Michael who helped program the game and bring my idea to life with such polish.

My fellow team member Erik Hogan posted a detailed blog post here about the game and other games from the Auckland New Zealand competition that deserve your attention. Check out the game here on the Global Game Jam 2013 website.

My thoughts on the experience of the 48 hour Global Game Jam competition:
Think small but with a twist- You only have 48 hours to finish the game, don't try to make the next Minecraft, think instead on how to build upon existing ideas but create your own spin. In this case, Eat Your Heart Out is a mix of stealth gameplay and action. You've seen both parts before in various games and there probably are games just like this out there. Assassin's Creed multiplayer comes to mind.

Be precise- Have a clear idea about what you want. If you can't convince someone what the idea and game mechanic is shortly and succinctly, go back to the drawing board and if necessary reduce the scope. Some of the teams didn't have a game in the end.

Passion and courage- I arrived without a team at the Global Game Jam, however I had met a number of people at the Auckland Game Developers meeting. I stood up in front of everyone and pitched my idea to the 50 or 60 people there. Fortunately, Michael and Erik thought it was a great simple idea and joined up! If they hadn't responded I would have probably joined the other teams as a level designer or something else. If you don't have programming skills (my background is in copywriting and marketing), having the passion and courage to speak up and present your idea is especially important.

I learnt a lot at this Game Jam and hopefully my 'game designer street cred' has improved a little amongst the game developers in Auckland.

Violence in video games- It's clear that the heart beat theme of the Game Jam wasn't suppose to encourage violence but rather about connecting people and conveying emotion.  I didn't actual set out to make a game which is actually really violent in many respects. For example, whenever the demon appears, he literally appears in a red explosion (signifying blood) and goes around eating bystanders and searchers leaving a bloodstained screen. A little bit disappointed in myself for not being able to come up with a less violent but equally viable game but given the tight time constraints I decided to opt for something 'safer'. Hopefully next time I'll be able to come up with something better!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Cave Story Plus: Game Design Review

Cave Story was a freeware game released in 2004 that quickly gained a large fan base. We eventually saw several commercial releases in 2010 with a PC release called Cave Story Plus released 2011. It is a very fun Metroidvania game that's definitely worth playing. That being said there are a few things I didn't like about the game.

What I didn't like:
Jumping physics- Uses the Mario style of jumping where you never quite stop but slow down to a stop. I never liked this esepcially when I keep slipping off ledges.

Secret choices and closed off areas- Just like in old video games, there are secret choices and decisions that affect the ending and the weapons.  The game is semi-linear like Metroid so you can revisit areas using the teleport system or travelling there. However there are some areas where you can't revisit or quests you can't complete if you make a decision so if you miss it, that's it! Just something to be aware of it. I personally don't like it and I think developers should stop doing this.

Final level, ending zone is sealed off - Once you enter the final few areas, that's it, you can't turn back after that! I wished the game would have warned me because I would have liked to have gone back and finished up some subquests.

Short- Playing on easy, I finished the game in less than 6 hours even including all the deaths. It's a good time considering this game was originally a freeware game. I wished they could have included a couple of more extra levels or areas.

Overall, Cave Story is definitely a solid game experience. I didn't find it particularly revolutionary or as polished or large as Metroid or Castlevania games. That being said, its about 75% as good as these professionally created games from professional studios. In the end, I think that's part of its success, it's inspiring to think that a freeware by a guy and some help from his friends can be almost as polished as game put out by companies like Nintendo or Konami.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Ninja Blade: Game Design Review

Ninja Blade is an action game where you play as a modern day ninja, Ken Ogawa who is sent along with a team of ninjas to defeat 'worms'. Worms are strange new biological organisms able to infect living things and turn them into zombie like monsters. Set in Tokyo, you follow Ken as he tries to stop the infection and find out more about why his father and friend have betrayed the ninjas. I played on the Xbox 360 Controller on PC which I highly recommend.

Overall gameplay impressions:
The gameplay can be roughly divided into two parts: The first is where you control Ken from a third person perspective like any other normal action game and the second contains the much touted quick-time events. As in other reviews, the quick-time events are extreme cinematic attacks that has Ken flying everywhere doing  impossible things like slowing down a jumbo jet airplane with his blades and leaping off extremely tall buildings. Almost every single quick-time event is unique so you'll almost never see the same cinematic twice except near the end where you have to fight the bosses again.

I find that the platforming handles well and you can run along walls and up walls seamlessly. The combat is also solid and the three weapons do feel differently and all have their uses. You can also use your magical disc which has a wind, fire and lightning forms to attack enemies with different results.

While the normal enemies aren't particularly exciting, the bosses look quite fantastical and suitable ugly and crazy.

What I didn't like:
Here are some issues I had with the game.

Graphics and artstyle- The entire game is draped in grey and black taking place at night in an urban environment. We've seen enough grey concrete buildings in other games so why create such a boring looking environment? The enemies are similarly given white, grey or brown colours as well.

Considering this is the same team that created Otogi: Myth of Demons which was apparently really colourful and interesting it seems rather disappointing. This is probably my biggest complaints about the game. It just doesn't look visually appealing.

Ninja vision blurs after usage- Ninja vision in the game acts like a cross of bullet-time and super-vision. When activated it slows down the world, highlights barrels, highlights climbable surfaces and shows boss weak spots. Unfortunately, whenever Ninja vision is turned off it the screen goes blurry and you can't see anything for about 1 or 2 seconds. It's very annoying especially in crucial moments like trying dodge boss attacks.

Normal enemy units are boring- While the enemy bosses are quite large and epic, the normal units are quite boring. There were only a handful of normal enemies and most of differences come from the main zombies having different equipment.

Lack of stun in normal weapons- Only the most powerful heavy weapon has the ability to actually stun enemies, the standard sword and twin blades don't. Its a bit annoying because you have to continually dodge attacks while attacking rather than focusing your attacks on one enemy.

Lack of weapon and magic variety- You can only get three weapons and three magic spells with a secret fourth magic spell. While I thought the game was fairly balanced with each one doing different things, it would have been nice to have a few more options.

I quite enjoyed Ninja Blade actually especially the over the top quick time events and solid action gameplay. It's not as good as a Devil May Cry game because of its lack of variety but its a solid game. There really isn't much replayability once you finish it except to try and beat your previous times and unlock a couple of extras but its enjoyable from start to finish as is.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Darksiders: Game design review

Darksiders is an action adventure game that I recently purchased thanks to the THQ bundle. You play War who is tricked into accidentally appearing before he was suppose to. He is stripped of his powers and must seek revenge on those who have wronged him.

According to a developer interview, the game is designed to be similar to Legend of Zelda. You have an open world and travel between various areas and dungeons to collect items and unlock powers. The closest on the PC to this game is probably the Blood Omen and Soul Reaver series.

It is very solid well put together game and I quite enjoyed the combination of modern day buildings taken over by fantasy elements in a post-apocalyptic world. If you're an action gamer I would highly recommend playing it. I played this game with an Xbox 360 controller on the PC which I would highly recommend.

So here are my thoughts on some of the minor issues that annoy me about the game:

Camera doesn't work in small rooms- The usual problem of action games rears it ugly head. Fighting in a corner or near walls in small rooms  usually results in a camera focusing in the wrong place. The numerous enemies also make it very difficult to figure out where you are sometimes swamp you blocking your view of things.

Short Length and lacks replayability- According to my Steam account I've only been playing for about 15-18 hours. It actually felt a much longer epic game than that but some might find it lacking. There's isn't much replayability similar to other action games like this although for those who enjoy collecting there are various minor health and magic powerups you can collect.

More interesting bosses- I find the enemy bosses kind of ugly and boring. They all look very much like ugly insect-like demons and pretty much just scream and taunt you like any other comic book villain. I was hoping for some variation like in Soul Reaver where each bosses looks different based on their powers and some one like Kain with depth and a charisma.

Hard to empathise with characters and lack of characterisation- Most characters are really hard to empathise with in the game. War is pretty much angry and angst-driven all the time and most of the other characters fall into the archetypes of being 'too righteous' or 'too evil' declaring in loud tones their desire to defeat you. I appreciate this is a comic book style game but even a mediocrum of restraint would have been good.

I think the greatest misstep is probably the Watcher who accompanies you on the journey and who is plain out comically sadistic and evil always looking for opportunities to taunt War. He also acts as an in-game guide and I really didn't enjoy summoning him. I think that's a mistake. The helper character should be someone the player should want to converse with. Or if you have to make him/her a villain, make the character someone likeable, like a scoundrel.

In fact I would say that the character that I liked best was Samael, the former demon prince who assists you who has an agenda of his own. Right off the bat, The Watcher and everyone else expects Samael to betray War but surprisingly this doesn't happen in the game at all and Samael remains enigmatic on his true goals hinting about the bigger picture. Samael seems more developed than everyone else in the game including War and shows a level of restraint despite every thing. Unfortunately, he yells a lot and taunts War like all the other characters in loud brash tones which I think works against his favour.

Lack of horse-riding- You get a horse and can ride around the desert and even fight the boss with it but the horse section seems token unfortunately. I wish there was a bit more chances for horse riding to show off the vastness and landscape of the world.

Some items are just useless after a while- Like a lot of Zelda-like games, some of the early weapons and items become a bit useless. I've always found it puzzling frankly. I personally think a game should just upgrade existing weapons so they become more useful or simply replace them.

Portals- Late in the game you get a gun which fires orange and blue portals which allow you to teleport between them. That's out right copying of the portals from Portal! Its a minor detail but seriously, couldn't they colour them differently or something?

As mentioned above, I enjoyed Darksiders and its a very fun game despite its few quirks. It's somewhat derivative but we don't really have many games like this on the PC. I highly recommend it if you're an action adventure gamer. It's often on sale for just US$5so there's no excuse to enjoy this game.