Monday, 26 July 2010

The Two Russells


Grant waddles into the dimly lit sitting room and peers around. He sees Brand looking fashionable as ever, sat cross-legged playing something involving burly army men in armour running about with big guns across a desert. The sound of gunfire fills the room. Grant parks his flabby derriere onto the sofa alongside Brand, forcing him to shift to accommodate Grant's monstrous ass as it relaxes into the seat.

"So, what you playing?" sneers Grant, his ass slowly consuming the cushion.

"Killzone," replies Brand.

Grant's eyes widen whilst he excitedly shuffles in his seat.

"Why are you playing that piece of shit?" Grant barks, before muting himself with a Cream Horn.

"...actually its rather good," responds Brand, "it's under appreciated by most, and I got it down the market for a fiver - can't complain".

Grant forces the remainder of the Cream Horn into his salivating chops pushing it in with his chubby digits. He splutters briefly before letting out a belly laugh.

"Five pounds too much!" Grant laughs, "this looks terrible; it looks like a PS1 game covered in mud".

"Visually dated, for sure, but the art style is so strong - the characters look so interesting" replies Brand.

"Ha, well Halo 3 got a 10 in Edge," spits Grant "this got a 6".

Brand rolls his eyes and continues to concentrate on the game. Grant thumbs around on his Blackberry.

"You know this has a metacritic of 70," Grant spouts, hyperventilating at the promise of an argument.

Brand continues shooting the Helghast as they pop up from murder holes in their desert fort.

"The start of the game is pretty rough," Brand concedes, "but you should see the variation in later levels".

Grant purses his grease-coated lips and huffs impatiently.

Brand continues, "You see, later on you get to fight in this park in the middle of a city. There are cherry blossoms in the air, and a subtle white fog masking the outskirts of the city. It's an interesting contrast".

Grant rubs his sticky palms on his face, clearly agitated by the merit Brand is putting forth.

"But look at the frame rate, that's not even 20" barks Grant.

"True. That's true," agrees Brand, "but it's bearable, and I'm taking it for what it is - an above average 6 year old game".

Grant scrambles around the floor looking for the box of Cream Horns. He has eaten them all. He gestures his chubby little arms at the flickering screen.

"Why don't you play a newer game with better graphics?" Grant screams.

"That's the plan," replies Brand, "I've already made a start on Killzone 2, I just wanted to go back and see what had changed or been modernised".

"...but that's on the shitty Playstation fail! Why would you waste your time with that?" Grant spouts.

"It's arguably one of the nicest looking games this generation," says Brand, "and it's take on first person cover, is quite interesting, very cinematic".

Grant rubs his face continually.

"But they stole it from Gears of War!" Grant cries.

"Well, that doesn't matter too much, but if you are going to be pedantic, then they actually stole the mechanic from Kill Switch," sighs Brand.

Grant rubs his face again.

"Killzone 2 is just grey and brown!" Grant exclaims.

Brand smiles and replies, "Yeah, they stole it from Gears of War".

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The iPhone and some other stuff

Mega Man 2As of late I’ve been spending a great deal of time on trains, planes and toilets playing games on my iPhone, since getting it fixed last month. Initially I had my nose turned up at any form of mobile gaming, having sampled terrible iPhone interpretations of Sonic and Megaman 2. However, they were just bad ports. I needed a gateway drug - a killer app if you prefer.

Enter Doodle Jump, a dangerously addictive platform game – or as the game’s tagline warns, “insanely addictive”. The controlled method used is the chief difference between this platform game and the two titles mentioned prior. In both Sonic and Megaman 2, players are forced to use the touch screen as a makeshift controller, which is pretty fucking horrible. With games that rely on such speed and accuracy, the player needs some tactile feedback - having to check if one’s finger is in the correct place on a flat touch screen is no fun at all, and it leads to one’s chubby digits covering the action. Rubbish.

Doodle JumpDoodle Jump however takes the hardware into consideration by using the tilt functionality to control horizontal movement. This is used in combination with your character’s automatic constant jumping to get from platform to platform. The player must make their way up the stage as far as possible using the edges of the stage to loop to the other side a la Pac Man (something necessary as the challenge increases). There are some enemies dotted between platforms, but they are few and far between and telegraphed way ahead of their appearance through amusing gurgling audio cues. They can be either jumped on or shot and killed. The latter is executed by tapping anywhere on the touch screen. The enemies, player character and platforms all have a hand-drawn, make shift look which works reasonably well, bit it’s not going to be winning any awards for visuals. An area it excels at other than accessibility is longevity. I've put a few hours into this offline, but the real time was clocked whilst attempting to oneup the people on my Facebook friends list - this integration should be on every iPhone game. You simply attach your facebook account to the game and your scoreboard is updated with the furthest point your friends managed to jump to. I don't need or want anything more than the that. I just need the ability to see what my friends have scored and let them know when I pass them on the score board. Fuck achievements - this is war. It weighs in at £0.59 for iPhone, so buy it and beat my score!

Zen BoundNext up is Zen Bound, and in contrast to Doodle Jump, a very relaxing experience. It’s a puzzle game without a time limit attached, very pretty and set to a great soundtrack by Ghost Monkey (which is downloadable upon purchase of the app). It’s a very interesting idea; one simply has a three dimensional block of wood attached to a piece of paint covered rope - the aim is to coat the block in paint by wrapping up the block with the rope. When you get close to the extents of the rope you must wrap the rope around a nail found somewhere on the block. The challenge comes as the blocks become more intricate and shorter rope is provided. The control method again takes the hardware into mind. The block can be rotated using the touch screen and the angle at which the player can wrap the rope is determined by the angle the iPhone is tilted. It’s quite a pretty game; the 3D blocks are rendered beautifully on the iPhone’s screen with dynamic shadows being cast on the backdrop as well as the blocks themselves and the textures in the scenes are all of a respectable resolution. It's bloody addictive and you'll find yourself going back to cover more of your previous blocks with less rope. It's very much dip-in, dip-out - the sweet spot for mobile gaming. If you have an iPhone and £1.79 to spare, you should buy this. If you’re a bit of a fat cat and have an iPad with a spare £4.99 to spend, then I would advise picking up it’s sequel, Zen Bound 2.

The moral of the story? When it comes to iPhone games, create with the control method in mind, and stay on the casual dip-in, dip-out side of design.

A couple of things worth mentioning…

I played and completed a pair of early Playstation 3 exclusives; Heavenly Sword and Haze.Heavenly Sword

First up, Heavenly Sword. Very pretty, very short, but that’s not a bad thing. I recommend picking it up if you want something to do on a lazy Sunday and would like to be wowed by some of the most impressive cutscene animation to date.

Second, I gave Haze a whirl as it was gaining dust on my shelf. Haze was such a fascinating idea with tonnes of potential, but with the worst execution I’ve seen in years. HazeFinishing it was a chore. Steer clear of this train wreck. In this day and age it isn’t enough to make an average first person shooter – so you certainly can’t make a bad one and get away with it. Free Radical closed it’s doors shortly after the release of Haze. They didn’t get away with it.

…and Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe grabbed my attention again (thanks to a friendly poke from one of the game’s producers on twitter). Great visuals and good fun to be had – though I found it impossible to pull off a single Fatality/Brutality (I have been offered some form of a tutorial for the next game). There’s a story mode complete with cheesy cutscenes and almost zero load times. I advise picking it up in anticipation for the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot.

Squid In A Box (Waves) now has a website, check it out.

Gamewank is back for another season, find it here. They’re a good laugh, give them a listen.

E3 has been and gone, I won’t comment on it, but I shall leave you with the new Crackdown 2 trailer.

Oh, and I’ve been playing a lot of this.

Crackdown 2

…and for those who want to play it and ask me some questions, I will be around GAME in Dundee Friday July 9th.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Welcome to Shanghai

Kane and Lynch 2Kane and Lynch: Dead Men is still quite fresh to me, having replayed it on Games for Windows just this weekend. I’ve always thought it was an underrated title. I don't particularly want to get into the whole Jeff Gerstmann controversy; however, it is worth noting that the game suffered somewhat critically. Kane and Lynch’s visuals weren’t great, but they weren’t offensive by any means. They were functional and worked relatively well in combination with the intentionally clinical environments. Said environments heavily supported gameplay scenarios sometimes directly replicating the source material touching on scenes from Michael Mann’s Heat and Collateral. It’s true strength was in it’s protagonists – a pair of seemingly unlikeable criminals with a penchant for the old ultra-violence. Through the course of the game I got quite attached to these two potty mouths and was greatly anticipating their next outing together.

Kane and Lynch 2Fortunately I was one of the lucky people who got their hands on an early demo code for the follow up, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Here are my impressions.

The demo opens with a reference to the YouTube nature of the game’s visuals in the form of a “buffering” loading icon - a hint of things to come. The game’s menu backdrop appears to be a window looking out to the slums of Shanghai backed by an Asian pop ballad interrupted occasionally by barking dogs and slow ominous footsteps. I’m reminded of John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow”. Kane and Lynch 2This is a good thing. I’ve not even started the game and I’m feeling the atmosphere.

I jump straight into Arcade Mode and ignore all of the tutorials. I want to go in at the deep end. Whilst the game “buffers”, the scene is set by a conversation between two goons, something I appreciated in the first game. Dialogue always helps ease the annoyance of loading screens (see Modern Warfare 2 for another example of this).

The game begins. I’m part of a crew of 8 thieves and we’re going to do over a warehouse delivery. The action unfolds around me whilst I just sit and look at the game’s interesting visuals. I’m stationary but the camera is constantly on the move, shaking around the me as if being filmed by a handycam. It’s a nice touch and the tension builds as soon as I start to move. The camera bobs and tracks me like a war correspondent on a battlefield and it’s just plain exciting when I break into a run. It’s all very convincing.

Kane and Lynch 2As I manoeuvre around the environment I realise just how smooth and responsive the game feels. The camera rotates looks where I want it to look and all of the controls are where I would expect them. This is a huge improvement. The previous game was condemned for it’s clunky controls and often odd automatic cover system. Sure there are a few pops in animation when switching to different player actions/states, but this time responsiveness takes priority, and that’s more important.

I slam my back against a shipping container and start taking shots at the police across the warehouse. Whilst against cover I check myself out. I’m one ugly son of a bitch, but ugly in the best possible way - if I am playing as a money grabbing ass hole, I want to look like one.

Kane and Lynch 2I clip a couple of cops in the distance and take down an attack dog with a spray of machine gun fire. Satisfying. The weapon accuracy isn’t a problem. The weapons respond just right. I feel taking my time with shots makes all the difference in popping heads at a distance. I’ve let my crew do the dirty work so far so I need to catch up – it’s not long until the next pick up. I don’t want to be left behind.

Kane and Lynch 2I sprint ahead taking the odd stray shot from the remaining cops. I’m hit in the leg, and artifacts are thrown across the screen. I’m shot in the shoulder and blood spatters across the camera lens. This is intense. I slam back into cover and pop the remaining cops in the head before escaping in the getaway car. It’s like I’m in a fucking Michael Mann film. My dick is officially hard.

It’s time to go online.

I have a similar if more random experience playing with and against real people. I start seeing fire extinguishers being tossed as make shift grenades, people using each other as human shields, and an increase in tactical play. This game’s multiplayer deserves legs as did it’s predecessor. This is what APB should have been. Cops and robbers done right.

Kane and Lynch 2I am aware I have only touched upon the multiplayer portion of the game; I’ll leave the single player for when the demo goes public (hint: it’s really good).

Overall, really good fun. Definitely looking like a contender for my personal game of the year, based on one night with the demo. Good job IO Interactive, you’ve made the game I’ve always wanted to play.

IO Interactive are good guys, give them a follow on twitter.