Archive for the ‘Gaming’ category

Assassin’s Creed

November 26th, 2007

Altaïr - “The Flying One”I’ll come right out with it: Assassin’s Creed has to be one of the, if not the, best video games I’ve ever played. I’m usually content with flash-based games or the occasional gracious defeat in Command & Conquer 3 but Assassin’s Creed has given me a new taste for video games and a renewed faith in the video game industry that new IP can be, and is being, successful.

You, the player, take on the persona of barkeeper Desmond Miles who in turn is kidnapped by a group of scientists. They make you enter a machine called the Animus which extracts genetic memories from your DNA. Stay with me. The premise is that your DNA holds memories of your ancestors which this machine can access. Your player, Miles, is the distant ancestor of an Assassin; Altaïr – “The Flying One”.

This machine lets you take control of Altaïr as he completes missions throughout 4 [said to be] historically accurate cities, 3 or which are highly detailed worlds in themselves. As the game unfolds, you discover that the people you are charged with assassinating are actually Templars with the goal to unite humanity. The scientists are found to searching through these genetic memories to seek the location of certain artefacts which can help them revive the Templar mission and unite humanity under one cause.

Hubbub

I knew very little about Assassin’s creed before it was released. I had followed a few articles that Digg gifted me with and a few discussions on the Xbox.com forums and was partially excited by the rumour a major theme of the game would be time travel. Although this particular rumour isn’t technically the case, the game does live up to the hubbub surrounding it pre-release; albeit that some of the hype was unfounded.

The games industry is always hungry for a new concept and new ideas but at the same time are weary of the claims that are made about them. Assassin’s Creed was no different and the eye candy and demos Ubisoft provided created high expectations of the game. The tid bits of information that Ubisoft trickled out to technology blogs and journalists certainly caught peoples’ attention and the end product didn’t fail to impress in most areas. The battle system and basic character interaction system has improved much since the last demos which many are thank full for.

History is Beautiful

You play the vast majority of the game as Altaïr in the delicately crafted cities of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus as well as Masyaf which is the assassins’ stronghold. I play the Xbox 360 version of the game so I don’t know whether the Playstation 3 version has different textures but what I can say is that the textures and the graphics in general are just beautiful. Assassin’s CreedYou feel you’re in those towns in that time because the look and sound of the cities is immersing.

It may be because my computer is rather lacklustre in the graphics department but the graphics Assassin’s Creed provide are nice, at least from my viewpoint and considering it’s a games console and not a PC. Shadows, textures, buildings, hay, horses and character models are really detailed and look beautiful.

Creed Control

The game is very easy to play and the control system becomes second nature after you’ve played through a few memories. Engaging enemies and scaling the scenery is quite exciting and although escaping enemies becomes rather easy, it still remains rather thrilling finding a pile of hay or a rooftop hide to disappear in. You’re able to disappear into the crowd as it were in a number of ways. Firstly, you can just blend in by pressing a button but for short-term anonymity you can sit on a bench or for long term anonymity you can join a group of scholars who are dressed similarly and walk around the city unnoticed, but very very slowly.

Greatness or Guillotine?

Assassin’s Creed is a wonderfully crafted game but it’s not perfect. If the developers had spent as much time as they did on making it look as good as it does on game play and the story line, it would be one of the best console games ever. The world is huge and patience is a virtue that one must learn as quickly as possible if you’re to stay under the radar and keep to the creed.

You develop a range of weapons and skills during the course of the game which aren’t exactly put to good use except for the main kills you have to make. Silly side track missions such as ‘interrogation’ and ‘pick pocketing’ deter you from what you really want to do – Assassin’s Creedexplore the cities and be able to assassinate your targets in a number of different ways (which are limited still by the paths you can take and the weapons available to you).

I hope that rumours of it being the first in a trilogy of games is true but now it has been released, this seems less likely. This game is a great buy and the ability to complete it a number of different ways and the atmosphere the graphics and sound makes will make sure you really get into it. The mystery surrounding the characters (which I’ve probably spoiled if you bothered to read above) and their intentions is exciting to unravel and learn for yourself. I would like to see more Assassin’s Creed games and if the idea of a film becomes reality, I wish everyone involved well and good luck.

Super Mario Galaxy

November 23rd, 2007

Super Mario GalaxyWe’ve known Super Mario Galaxy has been a long time coming and although the hype surrounding it may have only been contained to a small circle of Nintendo and Mario faithful, the game has certainly made a splash since being released in an unprecedented way.

Super Mario Galaxy is the latest instalment in the Super Mario game series and brings the traditional quest to rescue Princess Peach from his evil nemesis Bowser. This new title takes place in a series of galaxies within each is a series of planets and other objects like asteroids and space ships (among the other usual objects you associate with Mario). The object of the game is to collect stars which further your reach into the Universe allowing you to reach ever distant galaxies and eventually harder and harder enemies.

I’ll admit to you now that the only Super Mario game I’ve played before was Super Mario Sunshine, on the GameCube, which didn’t really create any buzz within me. This game was an impulse buy because my Wii was starting to gather dust and I wanted it to have some company.

Graphics

Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Playstation 3 and PC gamers don’t have a reputation of praising the graphical power of the Wii. I myself am the owner of an Xbox 360 but Super Mario Galaxy produces some of the best graphics I’ve seen on the Wii. Whether or not it is the case, it seems to me that anti-aliasing has been turned on and textures look really nice. Water and ice effects are used heavily throughout the game – at least throughout the part I’ve played – are are put to good use.

Gameplay

This title makes use of the Wii’s motion sensing capabilities in a number of ways. Throughout the game you use the Wiimote to point at the screen and collect gems, or star bits, as well as some other novel uses. These include ray (as in sting) surfing and a hamster ball-esque riding mini-task. Basic controls are well layed out and intuitive enough that as you learn them you always remember them. For example, spinning Mario to disorientate enemies or break up crystals to free your friends is initiated by flicking the Wiimote from side to side. It is surprisingly good at differentiating unintended flicks from intended.

One of Mario’s CostumesFrom what I’ve played so far, there is a small amount of puzzle solving (as you would expect) that you experience on your adventures. So far they’ve been simple but still manage to make the game fun. Unless you play the game non-stop, you can expect to get some pretty decent time out of this game. When you’ve completed the game – spoiler alert here – you get to play it all over again but as Luigi. Luigi acts and behaves differently to the environments so you’ve got to play differently. I would say that you could play many levels over again, just for fun.

Throughout the game, Mario is able to transform into things that provide helpful skills that allow you to complete the level. For example, there’s Bee Mario which can fly, Rainbow Mario which is invincible, Fire Mario which uses fire and more.

A Few Niggles

I would say the game is perfect but not for a few niggles, as with any game. The camera can be controlled to a limited extent in limited parts of the game. Sometimes this is understandable but other times, such as when Mario becomes upside down, it becomes rather uncomfortable tilting your head to see where Mario is going.

Super Dooper or Super Pooper?

Super Mario Galaxy is a truly awesome game and a must-buy for all Wii owners. I think that this game could just be a game on its own and do just as well on sales and rankings – it doesn’t need to be under the umbrella of Super Mario to share the same success. There is a lot of playability to this game and many levels could be played again and again and still be exciting.

If you’re a Super Mario fan, buy the game. If you’re not, buy the game anyway. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Ctrl+Alt+Del Web Comic

November 26th, 2006

Ctrl+Alt+Del (CAD)I’ve posted about Ctrl+Alt+Del (CAD) a few times in the past – it was even my blog of the week – but I have little time at the moment to try out some new software, or review a web application so I’m just going to post again about my favourite web comic. My parents have been away since Friday and are until Tuesday so I have a reduced amount of time to do this. Let’s go.

CAD is a gaming-related web comic (and animated series) written and created by Tim Buckley. It went live on the 23rd October 2002 and is updated every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The comic is mainly centred around video games but the humour in the comic is sometimes about other things such as the long running gag around arrows. The comic features long running story lines but also can be random at many times. The comic isn’t always about the main characters, some are set around one particular video game, others around other little sketches featuring other reoccurring characters. Whatever the comic is about, the graphics are great and the humour will have you laughing at each frame.

Main Characters

There are two main characters that have been in the comic since it went live in 2002. These are Ethan MacManus and Lucas Davidowicz. Since 2002, they’ve undergone major graphical enhancements, Ethan has got engaged and Lucas has had many bad experiences with girls – just some of the changes in the comic.

Ctrl+Alt+Del - Ethan MacManusEthan is a crazy character and a fanatic of video games at the age of 25 and is either inciting or engaged in trouble in every strip he’s featured in. His antics have resulted in many story lines and many laughs. On Valentines day this year, Ethan finally proposed to the recurring character Lilah – also a game fanatic – by, what could more appropriate than, getting the 7 tops scores on an arcade video game and making them spell “LIL” “AH_” “WIL” “YOU” “MAR” “RY_” “ME_”. In the comic, Ethan works at a gaming store but how he has managed to keep his job is beyond me (though he has gone through quite a few jobs) and his antics there are amusing. He always finds a way to pre-order the latest game or grab the latest games console by any means and even when he doesn’t always have the money to do so. Ethan is a rather odd character but one you can love, pity and laugh at all in the same strip.

Ctrl+Alt+Del - Lucas DavidowiczLucas is the more level-headed main character but apart from being totally serious he’s also sarcastic and cynical. He tries to keep one step ahead of Ethan and always tries to bring a sense of reality to the story line. Lucas is a programmer currently and has worked at the customer service desk at two stores since the start of the comic. Because of this, he has developed a distaste for ignorant people and often provides his customers with a dose of harsh truth when they act so. He often calls 911 in advance when he suspects that Ethan is going to do something silly. The comments that Lucas makes are often a reality check for the other characters and usually the sarcastic comments are taken literally by Ethan which always makes for a good comic and a laugh. He’s laid back and will choose a video game over work if he can.

Reoccuring Characters

Besides the two main characters above, there’s also some other characters that have been starring in the comic for some time now. I mentioned Lilah – Ethan’s fiancée – earlier but there’s also some other characters that are just as funny, just as exciting and just as crazy as the two mentioned above.

Ctrl+Alt+Del - ScottScott has been in the comic since 2002 and is an avid web designer and Linux user. He brings a pet penguin into the equation, called Ted, which is always funny to see when it is interacting with Ethan – Ethan is always trying to capture and kill Ted, yet is always outsmarted. Scott is intelligent, relaxed, mysterious and practises meditation here and there. He’s been working on a rather secret project in his room which is guarded by an electrified metal door (which is only activated when Ethan is snooping around). Scott is a funny character and brings passive humour to the comic particularly inciting laughs with his use of silence. Although he turned up rather mysteriously, Scott keeps himself to himself and usually stays in his room with Ted, tinkering on his project.

Ctrl+Alt+Del - ScottZeke is a humanoid robot that Ethan originally made out of an Xbox games console. Recently, Zeke suffered an accident and Ethan had to repair him by using parts from the new Xbox 360. Zeke walks, talks, thinks and used to play Halo: Combat Evolved until Ethan decided to handicap his skills because he was getting too good at it. Unusually, Zeke has a crush on Ethan’s GameCube which he wants turned into a female robot. Zeke has been in the comic since 2003 and has been mischievous. Since that time he’s malfunctioned severely and attempted to kill all the other characters. He was eventually stopped but not before he had burned down Ethan and Lilah’s apartments. Zeke provides a much needed dose of humanity as he strives to become more human but in the process become annoyed at the whole of humanity.

Ctrl+Alt+Del - Lilah MonroeLilah Monroe is the rare type of girl that you only hear about in dodgy chat rooms or on digg. She smashed Ethan’s preconceptions that cute girls don’t play video games; let alone are good at them. She’s smart, attractive and started dating Ethan only recently. Lilah brought a long running gag to the comic in that every time she entered a video game store, she is drooled over (not literally) by men who cannot believe that girls play video games – a misconception in real life. She is an avid video gamer and recently entered a gaming tounrament and came a respectable place, at first to the dismay of Ethan. Lilah tries to bring a taste of sense to Ethan although usually this isn’t the case. If only Lilah existed in real life…

Comic Impressions

I’ve been reading Ctrl+Alt+Del for a while now and have gone through all the comics that Tim has done and they’re interesting and funny as hell to view. I’ve said it before but it is my favourite web comic (out of the 3 I read). The comic has 5 very different and very distinct characters which means it appeals to a lot of people. It has long term plot lines, inside jokes, one time gags and a distinct style which all group together to create a fantastic read and something I really look forward to reading four times a week.

With the introduction of the animated series in February this year, CAD has made its mark and established itself as one of the most read and most anticipated comics on the world wide web. Tim Buckley has always stated that the comic will remain free while the Premium service is subscription based – it is something people can do to support their favourite comic’s author. I haven’t seen the animated series but the trailer was enough for me to gain interest in it. The comic has also brought about another phenomenon called ‘Winter-een-mas‘. You may have heard of it even if you have never read CAD. Winter-een-mas is the Christmas for video games. It’s celebrated every January of each year but the official dates are from the 25th through 31st of January and we’re encouraged to thank the game companies. Each year Ethan declares himself king of the holiday and hilarity ensues. If only it were a real holiday…

Final Thoughts

Everything I’ve said has already been said. It’s a great comic and something that will brighten up your day. You like some characters, feel sorry for them, sometimes hate them but that’s the point. Buckley has created something for everyone and has crafted humour, wit, sarcasm and graphical expertise into what we see. Check it out and add it to your RSS feeds. What comics do you read and why do you read them?

DEFCON – Everybody Dies

October 1st, 2006

DEFCON - Everybody DiesLeaving the Nintendo and Microsoft bandwagon, I thought I’d tell you about a game that I was introduced to yesterday by a friend. From the creators of Darwinia and Uplink, British game designers Introversion give us DEFCON. If you’ve ever seen the film ‘War Games‘ (1983) – A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III – then this game is just like that except much better. Although not a free game, I thought I’d write about it because the demo is amazing.

Game Statistics

There’s not really a backstory to this game. You open it, make or join a game and wait until you can launch nuclear weapons. You choose a territory to play with: South America, North America & Canada, Asia, Africa, Russia and Europe. You take control of your forces and deploy radar stations, air bases and missle silos around your territory near the major cities. At the start you can only see your enemy’s major cities and have a limited view of any enemy positions (air bases and silos etc.). You start off at DEFCON 5 and that stage is 5 minutes and 45 seconds and work your way down to DEFCON 1. It’s at DEFCON 3 that the fun starts. At that stage you can unleash your first wave of attacks. As well as the missle silos in your territory, you have naval fleets.

These include 12 carriers, 12 submarines and 12 attack vessels. The carriers carry both bombers and fighter planes. Bombers are long-range planes that return automatically to the carriers after they’ve attacked their target. The fighter planes are short range combat craft that run out of fuel pretty quickly and are good in swarms. The carriers can be used to detect and destroy enemy submarines as well. Your submarines can covertly creep up on to the enemy and get closer than any other unit. They can unleash nuclear warheads (but only when DEFCON 1 is reached) and because they’re so near, they can reach almost every target from their position. The attack vessels are just that. They attack any enemy ships or planes they encounter. You need to use these to defend the carriers because the carriers cannot actually defend themselves. You get points for the more of the population you kill (nuke the bigger cities) and also the military installations you destroy.

Gameplay & Controls

The game basically uses just 4 areas of control – W,A,S and D to move the view around, the mouse scroll wheel to zoom in and out, the left and right mouse buttons and the space bar to deselect units. The controls are simple but are powerful when managing your fleets and units – the controls are easy to remember and quick. When dealing with your fleets, you just select one of the units in the fleet and that unit acts as the whole fleet and moves to where ever you specify, while when launching planes or bombs, they act individually for more freedom.
DEFCON - Screenshot
The graphics are so simple, so basic they just work. They are reminiscent of old arcade games like asteriods but with colour! The gameplay is so addictive that the graphics would spoil the game if they were anything like modern graphics. There are 4 main parts of the screen: the units panel, main panel, the defcon indicator and timer and the the score board. The units panel lets you place all your units; your radar positions, silos, fleets and air bases. This panel is to the left of the screen. The main panel lets you see different things on the map like radiation, your territory, your units’ current orders and your radar coverage and this panel is to the bottom right of your screen. The defcon indicator and timer is at the top of the screen. Although you couldn’t miss the announcement of the different decon levels in the middle of the screen, this is useful to keep checking up on the status. And finally, the score board is your average scoreboard that shows who’s winning – or, who’s losing the least, let’s say.

Genocide? Gimme…

The game, although not free, is a very respectable price – you can even get a boxed version! The download only version is £10 / €14 / $17.50 and a boxed version (only available from the official site) is £15 / €21 / $26.25 (shipping included). I was reading the forums on the site and they were talking about how the game was pirated a week before it was officially released and how most of who pirated the game actually went and pre-ordered it. I’m not condoning pirating, but it shows that if even pirates are willing to shell out for this game, it must be that good.

Go and download the demo today and take a look. Join an online multiplayer game or create your own against the computer. It’s a fun, addictive and strangely evil game that you should play. You win by losing the least…