Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ring Runner Flight of the Sages: Game Design Review

Ring Runner Flight of the Sages is an indie top down 360 space shooter mixing action, RPG and even strategy into a single game. It was fairly recently released. Here's what I thought of the game from a design perspective. Let me just say, I was very impressed with this game and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves action games or top down shooters .

The only thing that might put players off is the fact that this is a momentum based shooter like asteroids so you need to apply force in the opposite direction before slowing down. Some people just hate this sort of gameplay.

What I liked:

 Gameplay- The gameplay is spot-on for a game like this. The fast ships feel manuverable, the large ships feel slow, the fighting is intense and abilities very fun.

Lots of modes- You get plenty of game modes. Aside from the main campaign, you get deathmatch, zombie survival, base defense and even a Defense of the Ancients (DOTA)/League of Legends mode.

Lots of customisation- The game has 5 classes and a special co-op ship class called Duo for two players to control! Each of these classes represent a type gameplay style. For example, the Arsenal is a heavy weapons and support class, the Rogue is a stealth class which can cloak and turn in invisible while the Grappler class is a melee class. As you play the game, you will unlock new ships for each class at a higher level. At the highest level you get access to special hybrids. For example, there's a Rogue ship which is a Rogue/Arsenal hybrid so it has access to both Rogue and Arsenal weapons and equipment.

Each ship  hull class can be further customised so you can kit out your craft just the way you like. There are lots of weapons and items to unlocksuch as drones, healing, creating barriers to stop projectiles.

For example, you can unlock various types of rockets which behave differently. You have your standard rocket which does good damage, you have your swarm rockets which fire several missiles at once but has a longer reload time and shorter range, you have a stealth rocket that is invisible etc. etc. You also have equipment that will for example, decrease rocket reload times or increase the damage.

If this gets too overwhelming can also choose the prebuilt ships that are unlocked as you amass Plex (the game's currency).

Pilot abilities- On top of all this, you also have pilot abilities that also do a variety of crazy things like slow down time or allow you to gain invincibility for a short amount of time.

You get everything and the kitchen sink in this game, there's lots of missions, awesome gameplay and a huge amount of depth allowing you to customise your ship and pilot the way you want it. I'm not sure how balanced it actually is but I found that each class has its own pro's and cons and just because a current ship is working well now doesn't mean it will always be the best ship for the job. For the price of $10, this game is fully feature packed and extremely fun putting more expensive games I've played to shame.

What I didn't like:
Ship customisation interface/Hanger- This is the one major gripe I have with the game. Every other issue is minor. The game has a terrible shopping and ship customisation interface. It can be a bit overwhelming for a newbie to figure out what everything means. For example, to view the effect of an item, you have to press the Y button on the controller to see what it means. And you have to do this for every single item you want to check out. This makes trying to compare items difficult.

Also what isn't very obvious at first is the fact that different ships have different unique slots that can be confusing at first. For example, the Caster class ship has a caster drive which acts as an engine and also as a slot to put Caster weapons. But like every other ship it also has weapon bays where you can slot in weapons and weapon upgrades.

Eventually, players will get the hang of this but it still feels very unwielding for what should have been fun process. There really needs to be a more intuitive way of doing this. There's also no real way of checking how your ship handles except to start a mission. I think an instant empty test arena would have been great rathr than loading a full map with enemies.

Minor issues

Background graphics- The background graphics are okay. They aren't great but they get the job done. I do find space a bit too minimalist and a bit spartan even in the cities. On the other hand, this also means it's pretty clear what's happening on screen which is very important when you're fighting.

Music- It's okay but I feel it could be more majestic and richer.

Storyline- Wile the main story is fairly serious, it's more Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than Star Trek. I like the light-hearteded nature of it and it's memorable for it's weird plot but I wonder if most gamers would really enjoy the humour? There are also several plotholes in the game. I'm not sure if they are really plotholes are just things I haven't picked up because I wasn't paying attention and reading every single line.

The other major issue probably the fact that some of the races in the game are apparently descended from humans but others are aliens. I think portraits would have been helpful. I'm still not sure who the humans are.

Some mechanics aren't well explained- Because of the depth and complexity of the variety of game modes and the customisation, a number of mechanics just aren't well explained. For example, I didn't realise the Duo ship class isn't actually a new ship class but a special co-op ship class meant for two players.

Campaign map- You can go back and play any  mission you've played before, unfortunately all you see on the map is green dots representing the systems you've been to with no order to them because your journeys have taken you all over the universe. As a result, it's hard to know which missions belong to which green dot except to check them. They should have just created a standard world map instead. There is actually a way to see a list of all the missions by visiting the "Stats and Achievements" but of course, players probably won't be looking there first.

Ring Runner is an awesome game. It successfully merges action, RPG and shooters into one amazingly cheap package. For me, this is now the gold standard for top down shooters and is fantastic value for money. Yes, it has some minor flaws but its really solid otherwise.

Duel of Champions: Game Design Review

Duel of Champions is an online card game by Ubisoft based around the Might and Magic franchise sharing the same units, factions and art style of the main franchise.  I 've played quite a bit of Duel of Champions now, probably 100+ hours and own approximately 4000+ cards at the time of this post.

What I liked:
Core game is solid- As a card game DOC is pretty solid. You have 6 different factions each with a different feel and a variety of tactics. Personally if this was a real card game which you could buy, I would definitely buy this with a caveat. It has to be a "Living Card Game" similar to Fantasy Flight where you buy set packs rather than buying random boosters.

Card Art- The card graphics are solid really appealing and quite large full of fantastical detail.

Interface-  A solid interface with good solid buttons which feels solid. Interface gives it a very professional feel to the whole thing. They've recently revamped the searching and deckbuilding so its easier than ever before to look for cards. It is meant to be played on both iPad and PC and the interface feels like a solid compromise.

What I disliked:
Hero centric gameplay can be unbalanced- The game is centred around Heroes and many Heroes will have certain advantages making you play in a particular style. For example, you have the Necropolish Hero fleshbane that increases all Incorporeal creatures health by 1. Clearly you have to play the deck with incorporeal creatures. Incorporeal creatures are weak against decks with lost of magic creatures so if you get such a match up you know you're almost certain to lose. Because of this, there are certain Heroes that are viable at higher levels of play while others end up 'gimmick' Heroes. I'm not sure if there's a way to get around this per se except maybe to create more balanced Heroes but I wonder if it might be possible to play best 2 out of 3 or with a side board.

Randomness- Because of the randomness of the draw, sometimes you will get a bad hand with no low level cards making it difficult to make a come back if you lose momentum during the battle. It doesn't often happen if you build your deck right but I wonder if it would be possible to tweak the rules so you always start with a certain number of low cost cards. This is something that has always plague these sorts of card games so I wouldn't necessarily hold it again this particular card game.

Free2play Economy- Duel of Champions has gone through numerous economic changes with a significant change with the release of Base Set 2. The main and biggest problem of the game is the Free2play economy and way cards are given to you.

In the game you have gold (currency you earn by playing), seals (currency you purchase) and Wildcards (bonus cards you earn or you get in certain superpacks you have to buy through seals) Unfortunately, as with any F2P game I personally felt there's still way too much grinding to purchase packs. Furthermore, what you get in the pack is completely random. There is no way to actually to buy cards just for one faction. Like the Stronghold faction and want to increase the cards? Sorry you'll buy the booster pack which will give a random set of cards which may come from any faction. And like a real life collectible game, the rarity is all random so good luck trying to get those rare cards to complete your deck!

Until recently, you had to pay 50 000 gold to buy starter deck for each faction every single time. Only the most recent update have they deemed fit to change this, now you will get a started deck if you defeat an opponent using that faction. Of course, there are also rarer cards for each faction meaning which you'll have to hope you randomly get them.

This is where the Wildcard feature comes in, some time ago they put in a feature where you can sacrifice Wildcards to get the cards you want. Older cards are extremely expensive in terms of Wildcards and Wildcards are hard to earn if you're a F2P player. Overall this leaves older players having to pay to complete their old collections although I think its okay for newer players as they should only be buying from the Base Set 2 sets anyway which cost gol.
There is also no trading in the game meaning the only way to get those rare cards are to either hope they appear in those booster packs or grinding very slowly for wildcards and redeeming in the store.

The combination of all of this and lack of alternative ways to earn specific cards means that I actually ended up not really bothering playing the game for long periods of time. The game is fun but once you hit a certain level, not having those cards starts to hurt your game and deck building abilities.

Lacks Online innovation and social space- For a digital card game, its very traditional. The card game mechanics are easy to grasp and could well be played as a physical card game. But what's even stranger is lack of online innovation in the game. For example, it lacks proper chatrooms, card 'crafting', trading, ability to share your decks with friends and player created avatars. There are premium cards which are nothing more than normal cards with a foil colour on them. I would have thought selling alternate art cards would have been top of the list!

The entire game feels very sterile in a sense and lacks a certain vibrancy about it. It doesn't feel like my account or that I have a vested interested in the game for lack of a better description.

OTK and No creature decks- There are some decks in the game where the opponent will play zero creatures and use spells and direct damage to deal damage to your Hero. These are the infamous One-Turn-Kill decks and No creature decks. There is no real way to play against them because most decks are designed to interact with creatures not fight against spells. So all you do is wait and rush the opponent down and hope the opponent hasn't pulled the right cards to wipe the board. Supposedly the Base Set 2 update fixes this but unfortunately some players have figured out some combinations of these. Beacuse there is no real way for you to interact with the cards the player uses (since most spells are instant) its really down to dumb luck and how fast you play rather than how well you play reducing the game to way more luck than strategy.

As a game, I give it thumbs up, I don't know if it's necessarily the most balanced card game out there and there but it packs enough complexity and variability to make me happy. However, as mentioned I feel the digital aspect of the game really lets me down. It feels too traditional at heart and F2P economy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do recommend you try it out anyway but I wouldn't blame you if you leave after playing for a couple of weeks.

Redshirt: Game Design Review

Red shirt is a game which crosses a parody of Facebook with Star Trek. You basically play a crew member, a red shirt that has to get off the station before a certain number of days elapses or else be killed in teh imminent disaster.

Many of the reviews I read mentioned the shallow gameplay and repetitiveness of the experience. After playing and finishing the game once through I have the same impression.

Too much text and information- The layout is immediately overwhelming and somehow very distracting. Because  The actual information relevant to gameplay is scattered around the entire screen and it doesn't feel correct. I feel that a cleaner more attractive interface would have made the game feel more exciting.

A good example is the screen giving information on your what happened while you are at work. There's a lot of information about what happeneed and what your workmates feel about you all squeezed into the side of the screen. In a game like this, all this information is required and important as it affects what actions you should take

Too shallow to be a social simulator but too long to be a parody- Playing a Paradox Interactive like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, is a complex game of social interactions, backstabbing and betrayals. These games are true strategy games which span generations and years. Unfortunately this game feel like it lacks the depth, content or reactions for that. There are lots of activities to partake to boost different stats but it all starts to blur a bit. Yes, there is some backstabbing and deaths when crew members get killed during missions but I soon got over them by working and buying stuff or making new friends. Despite having you work in the game, you can only interact on Spacebook so it doesn't really even feel like you're a crucial part of the space station.

This game is relatively long per play through. Personally I would have stopped playing after 1 hour but I thought I would at least try to finish one game properly. At the end of the game there are some stories to tell about how you pulled off some good strategy or managed to negotiate through a tricky situation. Because of the nature of redshirt, I just didn't feel invested in it as much as I would have liked to be. I didn't see any visual changes, just more text telling me I was getting better.

I feel that if it had taken a more roguelike approach like Strange Adventures in Space where games were meant to be finished in 20 minutes or less with funny and significant decisions rather than stretching each game out for so long I suspect it might actually be more fun.

I can't recommend Redshirt unfortunately, the social simulator part of this game is too shallow, the graphics make it too impersonal to really care and as a humourous take on Facebook, its way too long to be fun. You're probably better off just buying a Paradox Interactive game instead like Crusader Kings II or a Firaxis game like Civilization.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sonic 4: Episode 1 & 2: Game review

Sonic 4 Episode I and II are downloadable games released on numerous platforms including PC and iphone. Here are my thoughts.

Episode I
In my opinion Sonic 4 Episode I is more like Sonic Remix. It features a handfull of levels which can be described as remixes of previous levels in previous games. It even includes the same enemies and even the same bosses! Graphics are okay but opening Splash Hill backgrounds feel dull washed out. In Splash Hill for example, the background are paper cut outs! It's probably not noticeable on an iphone but for on a PC or console it looks horrible!

It feels like its struggling because it was developed for handhelds and the iphone which have less processing power rather than just consoles. Instead of using 3D models which don't look that great I personally wouldn't have minded if they had used pixels and sprites instead.

Episode II

Episode II feels more like its own game. Levels feel better and less recycled and better paced. The inclusion of Tails with co-op and the ability to use Sonic and Tails moves was a good move. Graphics have been improved greatly and now feel brighter, shinier and include more animations. Bossess are completely new and not copied from other Sonic games.

Metal Sonic levels are unlocked if you have Episode I but these are just levels from the first game which are a bit harder and aren't really that exciting.

As a package, overall, Episode 1 is skippable in my opinion. You're better off just playing Sonic 1,2 or 3 & Knuckles. Episode 2 on the other hand feels like a solid attempt at a Sonic game. The Metal Sonic levels don't really add much to the game so I would say save your money and just get Episode II if you must get Sonic 4.  You also only get 4 zones per episode which makes each Episode feel like half of a Sonic game. Don't buy these games, if you're playing on the PC and console, you're better off just getting Sonic Generations, the far superior game which has both classic Sonic and modern Sonic and which was designed to be a console/PC game.

The Ball: Game Design Review

The Ball was originally a mod for Unreal which was eventually turned into a full proper game. Its an action puzzle game where you control a giant Ball and use it to solve puzzles as well as crush enemies. The Ball is fairly well polished, is mechanically sound and has a great atmosphere. However there are certain things that irk me about the game.

What I disliked:
Mine cart sequences- Every now and then there will be a long mine cart sequence for over 30+ seconds just waiting around for you to get to a different location. There is no interactivity with it so it's pretty much just a theme park ride. While other games might use this opportunity to get you familiar with a new environment or tell a story nothing actually happens during these rides except occasionally enemies will pop up growl at you. Not sure why these even exist.

Instant death platforming- Platforms are difficult in a first person perspective and there are a good number of puzzles which require jumping in this game. Some of them leading to instant death which is frustrating. Puzzles like that don't often happen but when they do, they are quite noticeable.

Levels are kind of long- Being a puzzle, the level were kind of long and alot of the game centres around walking around the levels to the next puzzle. It's okay but I miss the more compact rooms of Portal and other puzzle games. Especially when you accidentally knock the Ball off and have to try again.

Boss battles are kind of boring- A lot of boss battles don't take advantage of the Ball. For example, there's a worm boss where you have to step on plates around the room to activate the solution. You don't even take the Ball into the battle as it is blocked at the entranced of the room. I can't think of single memorable battle.

Vehicle is useless- Near the end of the game, you find a vehicle you can stick the Ball to. What does this cool vehicle do? It just allows you to travel faster. That's it. I was hoping that you might have used it as a catapult or something but no, the Ball just acts as a third wheel.

Puzzles- For me the puzzles were a bit hit and miss. Some were okay and others were a bit boring.

I'm not the kind of gamer that enjoys puzzle games, I prefer action games and RPGs so I'm not the core audience for this game. For me the Ball was an average experience at best and full of untapped potential. I don't really enjoy playing puzzle games so you might like it if you're that sort of gamer.

Descent 3: Game design review

Descent 3 is the 3rd in the indoor FPS space shooting series where you control a space ship and fly around tunnels and shoot enemies. The third in the series was released back in 1999 and was recently re-released on with the base game and the Mercenaries expansion pack. Here are my thoughts on it.

What I liked
Gameplay- The game play remains solid and fast paced.

Level design- The tunnel level designs are solid and feel interesting.

Guide Bot- The navigator does a great job of leading you around and adds personality to the game. It can also perform actions like putting out fires and even act as a virtual camera. More games need a guide bot like this!

Variety of weapons- Lots of weapons and missile variety

What I disliked:
Imbalanced weapons- Like most games of its time weapons are somewhat imbalanced. There are some weapons which are really good while others are at best situational like the mines or napalm.

Controls- Controls can be tricky with a standard mouse and keyboard. The mouse is simply too fast causing me to overshoot the target. I found using the keyboard alone made the game easier to play at some points because the turning and aiming speed was more manageable.

Guide Bot could be even more helpful- As guide bot, it can guide you around, put out fires and even damage the enemy if it picks up a powerup. I kind of wish the guide bot had the ability to attack regularly or assist in some more ways rather than rely on power ups. For example, maybe the Guide bot could merge with your ship to temporarily power it up, act as a prism for energy weapons so you can fire around the corridor or generate a cloaking field. I feel there's a lot of untapped potential here.

Outoor level designa and gameplay- The game is pretty fun while indoors in tunnels however once you get out doors, the speed of your ship feels way too slow. Obviously you can't go charging around in the tunnels so your craft is in actual fact slow but highly manueverable. Outdoors however, you have much more space to manuever and need to limit the craft is less of issue. Unfortunately there is no 'flight mode' so you'll find yourself seemingly crawling across the surface to try and get to the next tunnel entrance.  The aiming is also unchanged meaning that outdoor battles become very difficult as it's almost impossible to hit from a distance from your guns but somehow the enemy can.

Difficult levels- Last few levels are a bit to tricky and frustrating to navigate more so than the previous levels.

Desecent 3 in my opinion is still fun and despite its age and shortcomings. In fact I'm surprised no new games were produced like this until the recent Miner Wars 2081.

Sonic Adventure 2:Game Design review

Sonic Adventure 2 original came out on the Dreamcast and was updated for Gamecube several years later. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on Steam is the PC port of the Sonic Adventure 2 game and Battle DLC from the Gamecube version of the game. Note the DLC is still sold separately on Steam although I purchased this as a bundle.

What I liked:
Playing the game is definitely a retro throw back to the good old days. The music is so loud and full of energy its hard to criticise it. The Sonic and Shadow speed levels are still quite fun especially the later levels on the space station where gravity can change the entire perspective. The Hero and Dark story format are kind of cool and provide two perspectives of the story. From a gameplay perspective, the Hero story should be played first as the Dark story goes through the same levels but are generally harder. At the end of the game there is also a final chapter where everybody teams up.

What I disliked:

Boring reptitive boss battles- Most boss battles are rival battles. Regardless of which side you take however, these battles play out exactly the same. E.g. If you play the Hero side, you play as Sonic fighting against Shadow while if you play the Dark Side you play Shadow vs Sonic but both of them are almost exactly the same. The bosses that aren't rival battles are also nearly same but with a slight twist depending on the side you are on. Overall, kind of boring.

Levels- In the game you alternate between 3 types of game play: 1) Speed levels, where you play as Sonic or Shadow where you have to race through the levels. 2) Exploration levels where you play as Knuckles or Rouge and have to find gems and solve puzzles 3) Shooting levels where you play as Tails or Dr Eggman and go through the level as a third person shooter.

As mentioned above, the speed levels are still pretty fun. However it is worth noting the controls aren't precise even when playing with an Xbox 360 controller and awkward jumps to your death are frequent in certain places. One of the worst levels for this is the last few space station levels which are both some of the best levels in the game and worst levels in the game particularly the parts where you have to switch and grid between rails and where missing means instant death.

The exploration levels are either alright or aggrevating depending on what you look for in a game. There were times that I got frustrated at them greatly because of all that searching. It is unique from most other games and some of them were pretty cool such as the level taking place in space where each meteorite has its own gravity. I don't really like their inclusion but they were more pleasant than I expected.

The shooting levels are probably the worst not because there was anything mechanically wrong with them but because they were mediocre. If I wanted to play a third person shooter with platforming, there are tons of other games out there which do that better.

Overall,  2/3's of the game is simply average and not very fun making it difficult to recommend. Time has moved on. With the release of the original 2D Sonic games and the superior Sonic Generations on multiple platforms including the PC, I just can't recommend buying this game. Save your money and buy Sonic Generations instead.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Saturday Morning RPG: Game Design review

Saturday Morning RPG is an episodic RPG game where you play Marty, a guy who is given a magical notebook to stop the evil Commander Hood from taking over the real world. It's a homage and parody of 1980s shows and toys. Commander Hood and his goons for example are a paraody of Cobra Commander and his henchmen from G.I. Joe. The game really nails the atmosphere of the 1980s with its heroes, villains and supporting cast.

What I disliked
For me there are three main gripes with the game.
Combat System- Before combat, you can scratch stickers on your magic sticker book which grant you special bonuses such as extra health or magic. You have to do this by rocking your joystick around before the time runs out. I like the concept of being able to choose what bonuses you get before you encounter the enemy however but its repetitive and not necessarily fun after the 20th time you do it

During the combat rounds you rely on items as your main attacks and skills. Each has a limited use within a combat round. For example, you can only use the basket ball deals a small amount of damage and makes the enemy burn and can only be used a certain number of times. There's no way of restoring your items so once you've used all of them up you're out of options.

You also have a charging mechanic where you use your magic to multiply the damage your attack. There are three different methods of charging. One by button mashing, two by automatically charging and three by timed method. They are result in the same effect and its really about which one you prefer the most. Personally I find having 3 methods little bit silly and almost like the developers didn't quite know what they were doing so decided 3 methods

Blocking is also interactive and by pressing the block button at the right time, you can reduce damage and regain magic.

The game is clearly geared towards this charging mechanic because you get magic for blocking enemy attacks and have a special attack which charges your magic. At the same time you have limited items with normal weak damage.

Finally, when you attack some attacks require timed attacks, others require button mashing while others require you to memorise a sequence.

 In a genre where repetitive combat is already a problem, all these factors serves to lengthen the combat more so then I liked. I think that's a problem here because it means that literally half the combat is charging your next attack.

Overall the combat system feels like a drag rather than joy. But I have would rather have a more strategic system rather than relying so many button presses. Its fine to have interactive bits in the combat but not all the time otherwise it becomes boring.

Atmosphere- As mentioned, the game nails the 1980s atmosphere perfectly. Because I grew up in the 1980s, I understand the numerous refernces to toys and cartoon series and the characters. However that's also the problem, the game literally revels in the 1980s. If you don't understand the references, I fail to see how the  mish mash of 1980s characters and people would appeal to you.

Rather than focusing on various villains that parody several 1980s cartoons, they should have instead focused on parodying just one cartoon series and then slowly drawn the players into that particular world. For example, they could have just focused on parodying GI Joe and followed the fake TV series episode by episode. At the same time they could have some sort of encyclopedia or something to help introduce a larger cast.

Unfinished- The final gripe I have is with the unfinished nature of the game. Because its "Episodic". The developers haven't finished the game despite it being already out for so long and even on Steam. I'm looking forward to playing it but when will that be? There is no release schedule for the next episode nor any sign of closure.

Saturday Morning RPG wasn't terrible by any means and I enjoyed my time with it but the combat system, multiple button pressing really annoyed me. The atmosphere was great but even I had to ponder for a moment and try to figure out who some of these characters were parodying. I can recommend this to people who love RPGs and also those who enjoy 1980s cartoons but its hard to recommend to anybody else.

Jade Empire: Game Design review

Set in asn asian fantasy setting, Jade Empire by Bioware is a story about you and the current trouble in the Empire. It's the usual "Save the world" gimmick but set in an Asian setting.

What I like
Unique setting- The Asian setting is very rarely used in games and this sets it apart from many other games. I especially liked the cool looking statues in the game and the outdoor environments.

Fun character- The characters are all very interesting and unique. Some might say cliche but I genuinely enjoyed my time with them.

Martial arts- Who doesn't love martial arts fighting? This is one of the few games where you can actually see Chinese style martial arts in an RPG.

What I disliked
Unfortunately there are significant problems with the game which really drag it down.

Combat system- When you play the game, the combat and targeting system is for one on one fighting and simply unsuited for a brawl. For example, if there are three people infront of you and you attack, you will only hit one person and very rarely hit the other two or three. There is also sweep attack which allows you to knock people away and basically isolate and finish them off individually, again with a focus on one on one.

The targeting system itself seems to rotate through the enemies rather than focusing on the enemies closest to you or in front of you again feeling extremely out of place.

There is a free targeting mode but again this feels clumsy, you will simply attack in whatever direction you're facing, regardless of whether there's an enemy there. This might sound okay for the melee attacks but your ranged magical attacks in particularly will simple fly in a straight line rather than where the enemy you're targeting is.

Finally there is the issue of transformations where everytime you swap to a body transformation you will find the entire screen glow, the game paused and your character replaced by a demon form. This happens every single time making swapping between demon and human annoying.

Overall, the entire combat system is average at best and frustrating. Considering you're stuck with this for the entire game, it can get very frustrating when you're fighting mobs.

I wonder why they didn't just have a side scrolling fighting system like Final Fight or Golden Axe. I think that would have made the game much more bearaeble.

Bioware Morality system- Choices are way too black and white. Unfortunately nearly all the moral choices in the game are way too extreme. Here's an example, one of your characters has a good spirit and an evil spirit living in her. Part way through the game you have to choose between one of them to gain permenant control. The good spirit will co-exist peacefully with her. The evil spirit will torture her for all eternity. This is the type of moral choice you face in the game. Doing the sane normal good approach or the insane psychotic approach.

The same thing happens for teh ending choices which again feel like an extreme choice between good or evil.

Story pacing feels uneven- The first few chapters move somewhat slowly because of the hub cities. 
The game has two hub cities, three if you count the opening village and a world map. Just like in Knights of the Old Republic you get a flyer to travel around the world map. But there are only two hub cities so its almost strange and pointless having such a large world map.
 Once you hit the latter half however, things move at a brisk pace because it becomes a linear succession of levels. I don't hate linear levels necessarily, it just feels strange that it suddenly became so linear.

I like Jade Empire despite its very obvious flaws. I have to admit the combat is below average at best but the game has a unique atmosphere, solid characteristation and good overall writing. I would say try it at the very least, you might just get sucked in assuming you can withstand the terrible combat.

The Baconing: Game Design Mini Review

The Baconing is the third game in the Deathspank series and the so far the final one. Its a top down action game where you go around as Deathspank to destroy certain magical items and save the world.

What I liked about the game
Atmosphere and graphics- The game oozes charm everywhere, from the enemies, to the towns to the voice work and descriptions. The descriptions are funny and the various themes poke fun at the typical science and fantasy tropes.

There are plenty of hilariously described items and equipment through out the game although many do the same thing for example the food you get can heal you but each zone has a different food with its own picture and flavour text.

What I disliked

Combat- Mechanically the combat is solid, but Deathspank takes way too much damage and as a result it becomes extremely frustrating fighting through the hordes of enemies that keep mobbing you. Even on easy and using the special items you can find around the game it is still extremely difficult to keep yourself alive. You'll die alot or find ways of cheating the AI to stay alive.

The game is a bit too simplistic as well and is actually closer to a beat-em-up like Final Fight with some lite RPG elements such as status effects. It's okay but as mentioned, the cobmat balance is so terrible that you'll barely notice the RPG elements except when you need for example to attack enemies which only take damage from poison.

Considering the entire game is pretty much combat, loot and getting more stuff, the unfortunate difficulty of the game and the simplistic combat means in my opinion  it might be better spend your time and money on a different game. The frustration factor is way too high that unless you absolutely love Ron Gilbert's sense of humour you're better off just buying a different game.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Serious Sam 3: BFE Game design review

I'm a big fan of Serious Sam, having played the originals, 2 and now 3. I've always enjoyed the solid gun action, the interesting environments and the overwhelmingly crazy number of enemies running towards you. Serious Sam 3: BFE (Battle for Earth) tells the story of what happened just prior to Sam entering the time lock which allowed him to travel back into time.

What I liked
Serious Sam arcade action- It's a Serious Sam game full of action, large arenas and a multitude of crazy enemies and overwhelming odds.

Running- This is a good new thing to Serious Sam. I like the ability to run and reposition yourself.

Destructible scenary- This is a good fun addition to the game. It really kept me on my toes as no place is truly safe in the larger arenas.

What I disliked
Weapons- The sledgehammer is fun (albeit slow) as is the devastator shotgun which is really awesome. However the sniper rifle and laser gun are secrets in the game which you have to look for. It's also missing weapons like the chainsaw, grenade launcher, flamethrower and the Serious bomb.

The new C4 explosives are alright but I don't feel like its the same as the grenade launcher. You also get the Sirian multilator which is unfortunately next to useless. You might as well just melee the enemy.

Finally, I kind of wish there was something similar to the homing parrot of Serious Sam 2.

Reloading- One of the best parts of Serious Sam was the lack of reloading. Unfortunately reloading is a big part of this game and it feels out of place and slowing the game down.

Melee attacks- I like the addition of melee attacks in the game which instantly kills an enemy. However what I don't like is how Sam holds on to a bodypart as a trophy afterwards. You can actually toss it at enemies and damage them but it's really slow, next to useless and almost never hits.

Graphics and artstyle- Serious Sam 3 takes place in a future Egypt very similar to our modern era which is also the same setting for Serious Sam Episdoe 1.

This Eygpt however is a realistic and gritty war torn modern zone and when compared with the Egypt from Serious Sam Episode 1, the variety of time periods from Episode 2 and the crazy wacky episodes of Serious Sam 2 I find Serious Sam's environments very disappointed. Who can forget the splendor of fighting through Mental's hordes in Egypt during its heyday or Babylon? What about that planet where everything was really big in Serious Sam 2 or the Kleer planet? If I wanted to play a modern military shooter set in a gritty urban environment, I would play Call of Duty. Overall, I feel Serious Sam 3 needed to be more creative and interesting. Why not have more sections with futuristic alien technology? Aside from the enemies and some alien tombs, there was nothing interesting. Even a couple of alien tanks or structures would have livened things up around Egypt.

Level design- The game in my opinion often forces you into cramped corridors and space especially at the beginning which in my opinion is terrible. Serious Sam has always been about large open spaces faces hordes of enemies, not closed corridors and everything just needs to be even larger and bigger. Furthermore, because of the very similar environments the levels just don't feel memorable. The game gets better as it progresses and the last level is awesome and epic as always.

New enemies- Unfortunately the new enemies don't add to the game. Most of the new enemies, such the pillar hoping attacker and the flying sorceress feel very out of place. The first actively hides from you around pillars turning it into a hide-and-seek game while the flying sorceress is invicible until it starts using its magical powers of stasis. There's simply no way to damage them properly for the majority of the time and you end up having to wait around for them to expose themmselves. It feels out of place for a game like Serious Sam.

Sandclouds- Great showcase of technology but this tends to obscure the action. Enemies aren't affected by this as far as I can tell so they can still see you.

Story- The story is average but the talking is just boring and way too serious. And it kind of just ends abruptly with Sam entering the timelock. Also, in the ending, Sam has jetpack but he doesn't start with one in Serious Sam: First Encounter.

Jetpack- So you have a jetpack but you only get to use it in the last level. A real wasted opportunity.

Serious Sam 3 is a fun game don't get me wrong, but the new things they added just don't quite seem to fit my expectations of a Serious Sam game. I'd still rather play Serious Sam Second Encounter HD over this any day.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Capsized: Game design review

Capsized is 2D action platformer game with grappling hooks and jetpacks with its mechanics very clearly influenced from Liero and Soldat. You control a spaceman who can wield multiple weapons and have to complete an objective such as destroy something, kill enemies or reach the exit.

What I liked:
Grappling hooks and jetpacks- Few games have both. This game gives them to you pretty much straight away and its really fun to grapple around and fling yourself upwards.
All weapons have dual fire- Each weapon has two firing modes effectively doubling the amount of weapons you have.

Solid mechanics- Mechanically the game is smooth and solid and controls were responsive.

What I didn't like
Level design is way too claustrophobic- The levels are terrible for a game with a jetpack and grappling hook. All too often you end up stuck in a cave with poisonous gas billowing at you or a requirement to move rocks through thin narrow passages.

Physics puzzle- Like many other physics based games, occasionaly you will have to drag and drop rocks to certain places but frankly its a real pain to actually control them and al too often I'll get stuck trying to place a rock in a specific place or overshoot it. Frankly I think they should just had you pick up keys rather than trying to position rocks or alternatively have objects click in place one you're close enough.

Enemy camoflague- Just like the environment, the enemies are all green meaning they are difficult to spot when you're whizzing through the level.

Jetpack underused- Jetpack is almost slow considering the grappling hook can easily fling you across the entire screen if timed right. There's also a hammer which air blasts you backward. Using both the jetpack and hammer can allow you to pull of some amazing moves. The jetack on the otherhand does very little flinging and is mosty used to stabilise yourself to close the remaining space to reach a platform.

Small screen size- Screen size is very small especially considering how fast I could fling myself. All too often I would not know where I was headed. The ability to zoom in and out the faster you travel would have helped solve this problem.

I played up to level 11 in Capsized, but the game became way too tough and reptitive. So I stopped playing. As mentioned I don't understand why this game got such high scores from everybody. While mechanically sound, the game lacks interesting level design and just doesn't make use of its full potential. I can't really recommend you play this.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Dead Space: Game Design Review

 I enjoyed the extremely tough (and unfair) System Shock 2 for its survival horror elements, I enjoyed Bioshock for its solid action and atmosphere and I also enjoyed The Thing with its action and creepy atmosphere. Dead Space is basically a cross between all three. It's more simplistic than System 2 or Bioshock as there are fewer types of upgrades and less RPG elements. In terms of atmosphere, its most similar to The Thing where you fight zombie like creatures that spawn out of body parts.

It's not bad but there are a few areas which I felt are worth pointing out:
Not really horror- It's more of an action game that is horror themed. Having the necromorphs jump out is almost predictable throughout the game that it quickly takes away from any potential scariness.

Melee Combat- Melee combat is very clumsy. For example, you could run up and swipe or stomp an enemy but more often than not you'll actually miss due to the way the collision detection work. Its also very difficult to attack smaller enemies.

Needs better autoaim- Isaac's inability to properly autoaim means the small enemies are even deadlier than the normal. You end up wasting ammo and dying from tiny enemies rather than the big ones.

Lack of environment interaction and damage- In games like Bioshock, fire spreads and water can be electrified. Compared to the Thing or Bioshock, fire and the flamethrower seem underpowered. In both previous games, fire had a truly deadly effect on enemies, causing them to panic and run away. Here the Necromorphs show no fear or reaction to fire and there isn't really anyway to spread fire. There is telekenesis in the game which is a good idea but difficult to use in my opinion.

Enemies feel overpowered at times- I found the enemy balance occasionally a bit off. Sometimes they were really hard, other times way too easy.

Story doesn't make sense- Unfortunately in most horror games, the plot doesn't make sense, unfortunately Dead Space's final chapter and plot twists make no sense whatsoever. *Spoiler alert here*. The Earth sends a military ship to seceretly deal with the Necromorph problem but they quickly get overrun but a single necromorph? They were sent there to deal with this problem, surely they would have been briefed on how to manage the situation. The Earth manufactured the beacon but somehow allowed the ship to mine in that sector anyway? Why not just send a normal excavation team rather than an entire mining ship? One of the characters was secretly an agent? Why not have this person in the military ship? Why steal the beacon if Earth knows  how to manufacture it? All of this makes little sense. It would probably have made more sense if there was more than one faction at work here rather than just the miners and the Earth government.

I find Dead Space an interesting idea somewhat shallow game in my opinion. Just different enough from other mainstream games but never really seizing the chance to really break away from its 3rd person action shooter roots to innovate like Bioshock or the Thing. Like a B action movie, this game plays second fiddle to the other shooters. Go play Bioshock, System Shock 2, The Thing or Resident Evil in my opinion.

Medal of Honor: Game mini-review

Having recently picked up MEdal of Honor as part of the Humble Bundle. I finally gave it a chance. I'm going to give a quick review of the game and my thoughts on it.

Standard and linear action- It's extremely linear game with lots of scripted sections. Unlike games like Farcry or Crysis, you don't really choose the approach. If its an action section you will be shooting. If its a sniper section you will be sniping, if its a steath section you will be sneaking. If you don't follow the scripted sequence, you will fail the mission.

Confusing storyline- The opening sequences are very confusing and don't really help explain the characters, situation or plot very much. It also doesn't help that the opening sequence takes place in the night time.

Lack of squad control- You work as a squad but you can't control your squad members which is a shame really.

Is MOH propaganda?
One of the criticisms of the game is that its America propaganda. Compared to Homefront with its cartoonishly evil concentration camps and brutality or Spec Ops: The Lines criticism of the FPS genre I find MOH occupies more of a 'war documentary' space.

 The more I played it, the more I feel its more similar to compare MOH to a documentary based around interviewing soldiers. Although ficitionous, MOH is based on a real operation in Afghanistan. As I played I felt that MOH is trying to show players how soldiers felt about the conditions of fighting in a mountainous terrain against a Taliban army and the various difficult scenarios they encountered while doing so.

Unlike other war games like Brothers in Arms however MOH lacks the educational aspect of a documentary. Aside from some cutscenes between commanders, there wasn't really enough context about what they were doing. No mission briefings or maps. If anything I felt kind of sorry for the Taliban I was shooting up. You are part of the US army, a hi-tech force with drones, powerful guns, helicoptors and airstrikes. The Taliban on the other hand, look like they are dresed in traditional garb, live in primitive houses, use old tanks and are having their villages and houses bombed to bits by the US army.

Everything in Medal of Honor is competent but the linearity and somewhat confusing storyline  makes it feel more like an interactive movie than a game. I don't mind linear games, I enjoy games like Serious San, Painkiller and Brothers in Arms which are all linear but the extremely restrictive nature of MOH and lack of any real gameplay innovation just makes it feel unmemorable. I can't recommend it unless you really enjoy mediocre shooters.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Batman Arkham Asylum: Game design review

Winner of multiple awards, Batman Arkham Asylum needs little introduction. I enjoyed my time playing the game and even went back to find all the collectibles and hidden items. That being said, there are parts of the game which I feel could be improved.

Game issues:
1) Camera is a bit too close when walking or gliding- Often your cape will obscure the action making it hard to see where you're going. This is especially annoying when gliding because you can knock people out if you glide into the right spot so its important to control where you glide.

2) Lack of freedom to decide when to engage in a brawl and when to stealth- I found as the game progresses that it was extremely limited. You have to Brawl here, you have to be a Predator here the game says. There are no multiple pathways or multiple choices like in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Here's another instance. Near the end of the game, I wanted to avoid the enemies in the main areas of Arkum asylum. So I went to one of the doors to the next area only to be told "You have to defeat the enemies in the area". Why couldn't I just walk through the door like I had done countless times before? It wasn't locked or anything except by the contrived requirement I beat the bad guys.

Its a small nit pic considering the game has solid action and gameplay but something I feel could have been done better.

3) Stealth system- Its sometimes hard to know when guards detect you and how hidden you actually are in Predator mode gameplay. This occasionally leads to situations where you think you're safe but get spotted or vice versa. Also, you can't hide unconscious bodies which makes guards go into the alert when spotted.

4) Detective mode is too useful to ever turn off- Detective vision is great but way too useful as it reveals important spots and enemies. It also dyes the entire world greenish grey and the only reason to turn it off is to enjoy the world in normal colour.

5) Brawling camera and distance- Brawling is fun but sometimes the brawling camera is sometimes too close. Occasionally it is also sometimes hard chain combos sometimes as its hard to judge distance and direction of how far Batman can actually attack.

7) Finishing enemies that have been knocked out is too slow. Almost pointless in a brawl as there's no way to knock enemies away so attempting to finish an enemy leaves you vulnerable to other enemies attacking

8) Boss battles are boring- Boss battles are nearly all about fighting henchmen rather than villains which is a shame really. What boss battles there are aren't particularly exciting either.

9) Villians aren't really fleshed out. No real story or understanding of their motivations. Assumes a familiarity with the world. This is good and bad in a sense. I enjoyed it being a comic book fan but others might not.

10) Instant death scenes like in Scarecrow or killer croc sections. These sequences can be very frustrating as a misstep can lead to instant death and requiring a somewhat lengthy wait for the sequence to reload while the villain mocks you.

Batman certainly deserves its accolades but the lack of flexibility in the gameplay in my opinion serves to remind us even great games have flaws.

Megabyte Punch: Game Design Review

Megabyte Punch is an action game inspired by Super Smash Bros and Megaman with a graphical style of a Nintendo 64 game. Its the first game by a new indie studio Reptile games. There are several modes to the game. A single player campaign, a challenge mode and multiplayer modes.

What I liked:

Combat and bounce mechanics- As an action brawler Megabyte Punch is a great game. The way the robots move, fight, fly, punch, jump and use special moves are spot and feel very responsive. I can't think of a better game except Super Smash Bros itself with such great handling.

Like Super Smash Bros, you have to knock the opponent off screen to win a match and just like in Super Smash Bros, as a robot takes damage, the robot becomes lighter/bouncier. So just because you're taking damage doesn't mean you can't fight back, it just means you have to be careful not get knocked out of the arena.

Customisation and a wide of variety of parts- Once you've earned or collected arts in the game, you can then swap parts on your robot giving them new abilities or upgrades. You can only up to a maximum number of 3 active skills helping balance the game. And there are plenty of upgrades and weapons ranging from the fairly normal as the sniper rifle, to the more exotic such as teleportation.

Graphics- The block like graphics of the game are great and perfectly fit the game giving it a unique retro feel.

Destructibility- Parts of the levels and multiplayer maps can be destroyed by explosives or by attacking them. It's a good way of expanding the level as you play.


Swapping and parts interface is terrible- The menu to do this is just plain terrible. Rather than being unlocked, parts you find are stored individually. For example, if you find two of the same leg parts you have to manually transfer them from your parts vault into your inventory and then equip them individually. It's a clumsy system that does nothing for the game.

Single player levels lack variety- As a multiplayer combat game, this game is awesome. As a single player game, it feels slightly anaemic in my opinion especially when you have to play through the single player to unlock parts in the multiplayer.

The levels feel boring and repetitive after a while and every couple of screens, you get locked into a room and have to fight some more robots. At the end of the every area, you fight a boss character one on one just like you would in a multiplayer game. There's nothing that you haven't really seen after the first few are.

There is some exploration but its mostly moving from left to right. The game really should be 'proper' Metroidvania style game rather than the current linear levels.

Lack of collectible radar and list- A large part of the game is about picking up robot parts after defeating enemy robots and collecting colour capsules. However the game doesn't tell you if you've collected all the possible parts and capsules in the area. Nor does it provide you with a list of what you've collected so you have no idea of just what you're missing.

Lack of enemy variety and bosses- Despite all the parts as mentioned there's a distinct lack of variety and boss creativity. I was looking forward to some creative large enemy units and buildings to fight like you would see in games like Megaman. The bosses (with the exception of the last boss) are all your standard robots with special parts which you get to keep after you defeat them.

I like Megabyte Punch, the combat is extremely solid and the ability to customise and create your robots is brilliant, but the other parts like the interface and single level design really need to be addressed. I only hope that the developers develop a second game to address the concerns. If they do, I'm sure we'll have a real classic on our hands.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Bioshock 2: Game Design Mini Review

Bioshock 2 is the a sequel to Bioshock 1 and is set in Rapture several years later where you play as a new main character in the game. So here are my thoguhts on it.

What I liked
More slots for plasmids and gene tonics- You can now equip up to 8 plasmids now for way more tactical flexibility. Compared to the 6 of gene tonic slots in Bioshock 1, you can now store up to 18 gene tonics making the game much more fun. The plasmids and gene tonics are mostly the same however although there are some new ones.

Plasmids now charge- You can now unleash more powerful effects with plasmids such a chain lightning with your plasmids when you charge up.

Glowing plants and water sequences- A lot of sea plants have invaded Rapture allowing the artists to go crazy with adding all sorts of crazy stuff. I also quite enjoyed the water sequences which allowed them to make it feel like you're underwater.

What I didn't like

Walking around in water is boring- Because you're a prototype Big Daddy you can walk around in the sea which I actually kind of like because of all the cool plants and sea life. Unfortunately you can't actually do anything except occasionally pick things up and getting from point A to B. I wonder if there was as better way to integrate the water and ocean travel in the game. Wouldn't it be cool to actually be able to use your ability to travel in water to ambush enemies or flood areas to kill people?

Too similar to the first- There are a few game play changes such as hacking being easier and harvesting ADAM is made more complicated since you can adopt Little Sisters to extract ADAM from special corpses. But otherwise, the behaves exactly the same as the first game with almost the same enemies and plasmids.

Morality system- This ugly feature once again rears its head. It just doesn't feel required in a game like this.

Lack of enemies- Once again the game fails to bring anything imaginative to the enemies beyond the typical humans.

Lack of controller for PC- For some reason you can't use the controller in the PC. I really missed the ability to have rumble. Recently they did update this in October 2013 but its still disappointing considering how old the game is.

Bioshock 2 is still a very fun game full of interesting ideas etc. It's biggest problem as other reviewers have noted is that Bioshock ended with no real need for a sequel. This game just feel unnecessary from a story perspective and in my opinion is more of an expansion pack than a proper sequel. I enjoyed the game and as long as you treat is as an expansion pack, so will you.