Saturday, 28 November 2015

Ballpoint Universe: Infinite Game Design Review

Ballpoint Universe: Infinite is a very enjoyable shoot-em-up game that is set in a world where everything is a ink doodle. Because of the first few minutes, at first I thought it was a platformer but it's really a shooter with platform exploration.

Here are some areas that I thought could use some improvements

Controls- If you're on the PC, you will find that platforming with mouse is terrible. You're constantly moving in one direction and have to do fairly precise jumps. Switch to keyboard or gamepad if you have it. On the other hand the mouse is better for controlling the ship and feels very intuitive.

Item prices- Items are a bit too pricey that I didn't unlock most of them although to be fair, the game is easy enough to complete with the first few items you unlock. I suppose this encourages replayability but even at the end I had only unlocked 25% of the items in the shop.

Difficulty- This game on the whole is fairly easy as a shooter goes. Personally I'm terrible at SHUMPS so I found this game just about right on the difficulty but if you're a hard-core shooter fan you'll probably find this way to easy.

I enjoyed this game for what it is, an enjoyable "lite" shooter with a unique artstyle. I recommend you check it out. You might just be surprised.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator: Mini- Game Design Review

Released near the end of 1999, Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator is a western RPG styled after a Japanese RPG. Like many JRPGs it features a fairly linear story with semi-real time combat similar to Final Fantasy.

What I liked:
Interesting universe, good atmosphere and solid writing- The entire world feels very unique and interesting with a future medievel style very similar to Final Fantasy in a good way.

What I disliked:
Combat and combat skills- The combat system is problematic primarily because everything just takes too long. Waiting around in games like Final Fantasy can be aggravating enough but in this game, killing enemies seems to take forever.

What's worse is the fact that most skills have to be acquired by finding cards. Unfortunately these cards are extremely card to find. Based on the walkthrough, I was half way through the game and my characters still had only 1 or 2 skills to select.

Lack of side quests at the start- These are suppose to reward you with experience and points but because they appear at the middle and late game it makes the game feel padded and too drawn out.

Difficulty- The lack of skills makes it difficult to fight certain enemies causing more frustration as you have to grind to beat enemy bosses.

Great story, great atmosphere but shallow difficult combat meant that I ended up cheating, eventually lost interest and never finished the game. Overall great idea, great isometric graphics but very poor execution. I  think if they had made the game smaller and focused on making combat more fun, cards/skills easier to find and side quests more accessible it would have been great. Unfortunately I believe the studio went bust shortly after which is a shame.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Red Faction Armageddon: Game Thoughts

Red Faction Armageddon is the 4th Red Faction game and starts off with you failing to stop a terrorist attack which forces much of the population of Mars underground. The game continues some time later as a bunch of aliens are unleashed. Red Faction's stories have never really been better than a B-grade movie and this one is no better.

My thoughts
For me, this game is linear but more fun than guerilla. I don't know why people hate this game. Compared to Guerilla's barren sandbox, this is what I prefer. The smaller scale sets mean more time has been spent crafting interesting environments/set pieces, more destruction and the ability to rebuild the environment. This rebuilding means you always have stuff to destroy! The smaller scale also means you can approach things more tactically rather than the previous game which usually involved ramming things with vehicles or climbing into a mech and hoping for the best.

What I didn't like
Storyline- Once again, the story is pretty mediocre. At least it does an okay job of getting through the plot.

Magnet Gun- Personally I think the magnet gun should be part of your permenant arsenal rather than having to take up a weapon slot. The magnet gun is fun but is situational in many cases. I just ended using normal guns in the end ocassionally switching to the magnet gun only when there were lots of buildings and walls around.

Needs more semi-open areas- The best  parts of the game are when you were in semi open areas and you start tearing down enemy towers with your magnet gun and stuff. Why couldn't they have more of this? Clearly the engine could handle it. I'm not asking for the vast emptiness but a few more open areanas would have made the game so much more cool.

Jumping aliens- I think the aliens aren't really the right sort of creatures for this sort of game. It's kind of hard to stop them when they're jumping around all the time.

The Path of War DLC felt really pointless- Of the four levels you only control Mason in two of them. The rest were vehicle levels which were okay but not different to the vehicle levels in the first.

Unfortunately the game did not sell well so Volition are going to be focusing on Saints Row instead. I've always enjoyed the Red Faction series except for Guerilla but it's always been an average shooter game to me so I'm not sorry to see it go. Overall, it's a solid linear shooter with lots of potential to be tapped with this style of gameplay but never really goes anywhere with it.

Red Faction Guerilla: Game Design Review

Red Faction has always been an average series to me with solid graphics and environmental physics. Red Faction Guerilla is the third in the Red Faction series. Unlike the other games in the series, Red Faction: Guerilla is an open world sandbox like Saints Row 2. Initial impressions of the game are positive. The main feature of the game is the destructability of the buildings and the Geo Mod physics tech which allows you to slowly take out chunks of the building and watch it collapse.

However the games shortfalls soon become apparent:
Lack of side mission variety- There are only a handful of side missions which get stale after a while.

Barren landscape- The landscape is just really barren and boring. It's much hills and mountains of different colour with ocassional trucks and cars.

Missions difficulty all over the place- Some missions are fairly easy, others are way too difficult. Especially the stealth misions or ones where you don't have backup.

Lack of customisation options- Can't choose vehicles, can't change clothes, can't chose walkers.

No control of guerillas- There's no way to control the guerillas so if you accidentally hit something, your rebel friends might appear and start blowing things up.

Always having to run back to safehouse to shake off military- There's no way to lower this except to run back to your safe house. It quickly gets repetitive.

Interesting weapons and abilities like jetpacks are only available late in the game- These appear way too late in the game for any real fun to be had. At that point I'm ready to see the end of the game.

Having played Saints row 2 and 3, this game is step down from the awesome fun that was Saints Row 2. It is fun for the first few missions but then repetitiveness starts creeping in and unlocks are somewhat slow and lack customisation. It's really clear what the problem is. There are just too many compromises made for the Geo Mod engine set in a sandbox world. This means reducing everything to make the game playable. Some gamers swear this the best Red Faction out there but it's really hard to recommend when there are other game series out there like Bioshock, Crysis or Far Cry or Saints Row.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Brutal Legend: Game Design Review

Brutal Legend by Tim Schafer of Double Fine productions is a hybrid game. Half of Brutal Legend is an action RTS game most similar to Battlezone and Sacrifice to teach you the controls of controlling the main character.  The other half is a sand box where which you drive around in to find stuff and play missions. The stuff and upgrades will carry over to the RTS portion.

What I liked:
Atmosphere- It's a Tim Scahfer game so of course it has a wonderful atmosphere and brilliantly creative metal world!

Music- Lots of awesome music. I didn't actually metal music but if I did, I would be in metal heaven.

3 unique factions- When I actually tried the RTS portion of the game by playing a single player battle I was actually quite impressed by the actual three different sides which were different enough with a variety of tactics and units.

What I didn't like:
Boring overworld- lots to do but I found it a bit pointless. It didn't grab me like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. The overworld feels empty, too big and the sandbox missions very bland.

Worse, the spells/skills that you can use in battle have to be found, but good luck finding them as they are hidden! Generally you'll find one per location you visit, but I just didn't have any particular desire to go driving around the area find them so I only had 3 or 4 at the end of the game. To it's credit, you really only need a handful to finish the game.

RTS hobbled by the controls- It's just hard to create groups or feel like you're having a solid strategy aside from making sure you have a balanced group. According to an interview with Tim Schfar you're suppose to play it as an action game guiding a mostly single group to victory.

Comparing it to Battlezone and Sacrifice, both games are way more fun and deep when it comes to strategy. Actually I think Sacrifice is mostly controlled chaos but at least it didn't have tedious overworld driving like Brutal Legend. Instead Sacrifice had branching levels and choices.

Lack of campaigns- You only get to play one side, the Ironhede side which is a bit of a shame. I think playing all three factions in the campaign would have mixed up the monotony of the game.

I do think Brutal Legend is worth playing once simply because the atmosphere, graphics and writing are simply amazing. But the lack of good RTS controls and boring sandbox make this game hard to recomemed to replay. Still, its an interesting if confusing mish mash of a game that is somehow still pleasant in the end. I still prefer Sacrifice and Battlezone still however and would recommend playing those first.

Mafia II: Game Design Review

Mafia II is an action game taking place in a city called Empire Bay. You played as a Vito Scaletta, a war veteran who turns to a life of crime. I got this free during the Golden Joystick promotion sometime back and tried playing it. Here are my thoughts on this game.

What I liked:
Graphics and art direction- The city is beautiful and it feels gorgeous. They really nailed the atmosphere.

Driving- The driving feels solid. Some people complain about the handling of these cars but these are not modern cars.

Vioice acting and Music- The voice actors are good and their are authentic songs from the period adding to the atmosphere.

What I disliked:
Way too much driving- After every mission, the game has you drive back to your apartment to end the mission. If this was film it would be like watching the main character carefully drive down the street and then carefully drive back home with nothing interesting happening.

The reason why it works in other games like Grand Theft Auto is because the driving servers to 1) Aadvance the story through character dialogue 2) shows the city to the player and 3) Highlights challenges and side quests available. In this case, after main missions when you are told to go home and sleep, there is literally none of that. There is no dialgoue because you are just driving home yoruself, there is nothing in the city to show because you've already driven through it and there are no side missions or challenges to discover. It is completely and utterly pointless. It's like someone copied thee missions in GTA and Saints Row 2 but forgot to include the mini games.

No mini games or diversions- As mentioned there are no mini-games, diversions or activities to do in the game making driving around the city pointless unless you enjoy touring virtual cities.

Boring pointless levels- The prison levels are probably the worst ones. You wake up, pick a fight and scrub toilets. That's it. It doesn't really do anything.

There's a missions where you have to destroy a bar using fire and bullets. I thought perhaps this meant we'd get some missions with destructible scenary. But that's the only time you actually do that.

I don't mind linear games. I like Half Life, Serious Sam, action platformers and Japanese RPG. All games which focus on linear or boxed environments and provide fun tactical shooters. The game fails because it tries to be like an interactive movie too much and has levels where you do nothing of significance.

Characters- The characters are just boring for the most part. The main character Vito feels like a brainless bully than a sympathetic game. He just follows whatever his pal Joe says and does jobs for everyone. He's the one being betrayed all the time and for entire game he's always a dispensible foot soldier rather than growing to become the head of a mob. That's boring.

Overall Mafia II has a very solid engine and graphics is well-voiced. However the badly edited story, boring levels and the lack of the any innovative ideas means all this is a waste .It fails to provide interaction in the environment, fails to provide a compelling story and pads itself outwith pointless levels. I got this for free and I would have rather spent 15 hours playing other games! Go play Saints Row or Sleeping Dogs and give Mafia II a miss.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Murdered: Soul Suspect Design Review

Murdered: Soul suspect is a third person ghost game putting you in the shoes of ex-criminal now detective Ronan who is murdered in the opening cut scene in Salem Massachusetts. Now dead, Ronan must figure out how to stop the killer with the help of a teenage girl. Unsurprisingly this game has links to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. I've played the Blackwell games by Wadjet Eye Games and this game is quite similar although in this game.

What I liked:

Feels exactly like what a ghost game- The game's overall mechanics such as the ability to work through normal walls but not ghost walls, influence people to do things and even possess cats. It just feels right.
Solid voice acting- Very spot on solid voice acting.

What I didn't like:
Straightforward- The game is a bit too linear and straight forward. I realise this is a staple of the adventure genre but the puzzles and investigations were a bit too easy to solve. You just need to spot all the evidence and answer a simple quiz. Wasn't really challenging.

Very short- The game is very short and can be completed iin 5 to 6 hours.

Too many collectibles- You have these collectibles you can collect to get narrated ghost stories and if you miss one, you won't be able to get the story. And there are a lot of them! What's worse is that there is no radar and some are only available in missions so if you miss them you can't back for them!

Combat- Adequate but sort of pointless because you have to creep around and 'stealth kill' demons. If you get spotted you have to sprint away. Most other reviews mention this and it really is boring.

Map- This game lacks a map unless you pre-order. Which is silly. To be fair, the town area isn't big enough to really need a map and never really got lost but deliberately chopping off the map and making it 'pre-order' just doesn't sit right.

Lack of innovation-The problem is not what it does in my opinion, the problem is that it never truly expands on the gameplay to become something more. Both the Blackwell series and Episode 5 of Tales of Monkey Island where Guybrush gets turned into a zombie and ghost does more to push the ghost adventure game genre in terms of puzzles way more than this does. For example, why not have the ability to travel into the ghost past? Or have lots of interesting side quests?  It's strange to think that these two lower budget games can be compared favourable to a AAA game like this by a large corporate like Square Enix.

Overall I enjoyed Murdered Soul Suspect as I enjoy adventue games. Its an enjoyable interesting if straight forward adventure game and worth my time. Its worth a few bucks (like in the recent Square Enix Humble Bundle where I got it from) and its an interesting tale. I would love to see a real large ghost city where you play as a ghost detective and have to solve many more mysteries and side quests than the handful here. Unfortunately it didn't sell well so I doubt we'll get a straight sequel. Maybe someone might be able to make a spiritual sequel (pun totally intended).

Monday, 16 March 2015

Golden Sun 1 & 2: Game Design Review

Golden  Sun 1 and 2 on the Gameboy Advance have received lots of praise from all the critics. Having played both 1 and 2, here are my thoughts  on theses two games and the overall game design.

What I liked

Great graphics- The graphics are awesome bright and reminds a great deal of claymation models. They remain quite striking considering how old they are.

Solid puzzles- In generally, the dungeon puzzles are done well and feel fun.

What I disliked
Item Interface- Your character don't share an inventory pool. Instead everybody has their own items and you have to transfer items between them. It's a really strange and anacrhonistic method that serves no purpose whatsoever. There is no time in the game where the characters are separated or anything so why not just have a shared inventory like every single other RPG game since the late 80's!

Item storage- The number of items you can  carry is extremely limiting. All your equipped  armour and weapons take up one space. Within the game, certain special items that grant special abilities  to help move objects or solve puzzles also take up a space. This leaves you with little space for miscellaneous items. There isn't any storage function either so you end up carrying around a lot of items, some of which can't even be used until the right time and place. A good example would be the game tickets and lucky medals which are to be used in mini-games. These games however, are located near the end of each game meaning you're going to be carrying around what seems to be something really useless for much of the game.

Combat instructions needs a bit of work- If all enemies in a group die, your characters don't attack another group. Instead they defend. I wish there was an option to change this.

Class changes- Class changes are fairly clear but the overall effect is sort of lost amidst all the numbers. For example, depending on how many of one of Djinn you assign to a character, you get a specific percentage of stat boosts and a change in abilities. In practice it's usually the case it's best to just assign the Djinn to the best character suited for it. For example, assigning Earth to the Earth character and Fire Djinn to the Fire character.

Djinns need to be reset manually all the time- For some reason you have to manually reassign Djinn if you use them. It's really annoying as for normal battles its usaully more efficient to use Djinn which deals plenty of damage to all enemies.

Slow travelling and teleport function only found at the end- You have to walk everywhere which is relatively slow when you realise you have forgotten something. There isn't even a vehicle to travel in either for most of the game. You do get a boat later on in Golden Sun 2 but even that is relatively slow considering the size of the world. In the final dungeon you do get a teleport spell but its something you should have gotten after the first town.

Generic story- The story is pretty generic. There were no unexpected plot twists or anything. It's pretty stock standard, save the world from evil bad guys. Every village has some minor problem, usually related to the neighbouring village or the surrounding area that needs to be solved.

Psychic powers are not creative enough- The psyhic powers in the game are basically the problem solving skills or tools seen in other games. E.g. a character will have a whip or tool will allow you to cross gaps. The most interesting and unique of them is the mind reading power which will allow you to read the 'real' thoughts of the NPCS. It's not really put good use in my opinion. There are occasions when reading thoughts will reveal some secret treasure or something but these occasions are far and few in between. I was hoping for more creative mechanics like an investigation quest. It could be cool to combine mind reading with a detective mini-game where you have find clues and pin down the real culprit.

Lack of hints- Some of the games quests and secrets like Djinn locations are a bit too secretive. Personally I think the game needs to be a bit more guided in giving you more hints on what to do next.

Underused linking- The characters and items do carry over from the first game so you get them near the end of the game. I do feel its a slightly wasted opportunity as aside from a few minor events, it doesn't really affect the story too much.

I don't know why people like Golden Sun so much. The graphics and overall presentation is awesome for the GBA as are the solid dungeon puzzles but lack of interesting story perspective and average combat mechanics is a real major problem. The innovations in gameplay are never fully taken advantage off and the RPG customisation never really feels substantial. Its not terrible but I feel there are better RPG games to play.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Sonic Generations: Game Design Review

Sonic Generations is a game celebrating  the history of Sonic. In the game each level is divided into 2 acts. Act 1 you play a level as Classic Sonic which plays on a 2D plane and in Act 2 you play as modern Sonic who switches between 2D and 3D gameplay.

This game is honestly one of the best Sonic games I've played in a long time and deserves your time. I don't normally like collecting objects in games but this is one of the few game where I actually spent a lot of time hunting down the secret Red Rings which are placed in the alternative routes of the level and completing all the optional challenges.

It feels fast, it feels fluid and the game design in both the classic and modern Sonic levels feels both familiar and new at the same time. This completely beats my Sonic 4 experience hands down.

What I disliked
Way too fast- I heard a Youtube reviewer mention that Sonic has only been getting faster and faster in the latest Sonic games and after playing this and then returning back to play the first three sonic games. I understand his sentiment. On one hand, Sonic should feel fast but on the other hand the current Sonic speeds in Generations make Sonic a bit too fast to handle especially if you're holding down the boost button when playing as modern Sonic. Yes some people might complain but I think the rest of us will probably be thankful if they slow Sonic down.

No bosses- There are bosses every three acts and rival battles but its a shame we aren't seeing more bosses and more of Eggman's crazy machines from the past.

More levels- There are 9 level in total with 3 from each 'Sonic Era' and you have to play each Act as classic Sonic and modern Sonic. On top of that you also have 10 challenges per level. Some of which have very different gameplay. That's a lot of gameplay. The problem is despite this variety you're only seeing 9 levels in total which I think is a shame. What about all the other levels? Personally I would have liked to see less challenge levels and more money spent on increasnig the number of levels in the main game. Who wouldn't want a new Casino level or Mystic Mine level?

Sonic Generations is a game that restores my faith in Sega. I like it a lot and compared to my experience with Sonic 4, this is light years ahead. Sega needs to work on Sonic Generatiosn 2 or a spiritual sequel to the gameplay in this game. Considering the Sonic games recently released by Sega that have been receiving mediocre reviews, the next Sonic Generations game couldn't come sooner.