Game of the week #10/2011 – From Dust

I’m still on my free days and I still use this time to finish and complete a lot of games I haven’t found the time for yet. These days I stick pretty much to some download only games. One of them is the long awaited “From Dust”. I personally always wanted to have a game like “Populous – The Beginning” again and Ubisoft made my dream come true and released a game that is pretty much the same. You play a godlike person that is able to manipulate the elements. In the old “Populous – The Beginning” it was a shaman that was able to control several elements. Shamans in “From Dust” play a minor role.

The game is basicly about capturing totems, these totems gives you the opportunity to control several elements, like water, lava and of course earth. It’s by far not that easy because your tiny and progressively stupid worshippers are in danger due to some catastrophes coming up, like floods, volcanos and earthquakes. The first levels of the game are easy compared to the ones you have to face by the end of the game. Unfortunately, if you’ve found the strategy needed to finish a level, it turns out to be too easy, even on the last levels. You don’t really have to solve submissions and such, it’s always the same schema. You enter the new level, you find out what the catastrophe is your people have to face and develop methods against it.

Anyhow, “From Dust” is an intriguing game that has some gameplay issues and is far too short and easy for my concerns. I used to play the game in a way that I was able to finish every level with a 100 per cent rating and it took me almost eleven hours of pure gaming. Ubisoft announced, if the game will find an audience they might add some content to the game. Even a mod function would be a nice feature, too. But games like these are pretty rare nowadays and I recommend it to everyone who just feels like playing something different. You’ll feel entertained.

Game of the week #9/2011 – Beat Hazard

It’s been a while since writing the last “Game of the week” report and the reason for this is simple. I was playing lots of AAA titles during the last weeks and I just don’t wanted to give reviews on games thousands of websites also report about. So, this week I’ll introduce you to a title that uses the classic gameplay schema of the good old “Asteroids” combined with a little touch of modern music games. Well, actually, it is an “Asteroids” game but it differs from its predecessor. The name of the game is “Beat Hazard” and its ingeniousness comes from a very simple component, the level design, or better said, the way how you experience the level depends on the music you chose.

It’s pretty similar to a game like “Audiosurf”, you chose the music. The game calculates the level design depending on your currently chosen title. If you chose a quiet song the level is going to be a relaxed one. If you chose a thrash metal song or some techno music with a fast beat the whole things turns out a little bit more hectic. A pretty cool feature is that the fire rate of your space ship you’re controlling also depends on the current mood of the song. So if you enter a boss battle for example and the music is getting slower your fire rate will be low, too.

In this case the game also gets a little tactical and claims some planning. The easiest way to survive things like this are mainly kiting, but in the matter of a boss battle you can only try to “hide” as good as you can. It was also curious to see that pretty normal songs like Top 40 stuff turns out to be much harder than the fast and brutal metal songs I’ve tried. Classical music is an absolute no-no because you’ll die of boredom by playing with this kind of music. Everything up tempo is fine but as soon as the beat rate drops the game also gets some kind of lame.

“Beat Hazard” is a blast to your eyes. I can’t remember any game being that full of colours and flashes and explosions and things appearing on the screen. It’s weird during the first ten to fifteen minutes, but if you’ve managed to finally get into it and if you’re not suffering of epilepsy you sure can handle this game. I always find it a good thing when you are able to put something of your own into a game and “playing” your own music is definitely a lot of fun.

Links: Official website

Game of the week #8/2011 – Amnesia – The Dark Descent

After games have left the uncanny valley, talking about scary does not always mean the horrible graphics, nowadays it can also mean that the game itself and his whole plot and story is scary and frightening. In the early nineties there were games like “Alone in the dark” that scared gamers to the bones. Nothing really was able to follow up this game and the first real horror game that can remember again was the ingenious “Clive Barker’s Undying”. Based on Unreal Engine I the look of the game still was almost artificial, but it was well scripted and was definitely able to give you the creeps. There were lots and lots of bloody and gore rich games in the late nineties and early new millenium years but nothing with a subtile horror feel. Even though games like “F.E.A.R.” and “Dead Space” are scary and claustrophic as well, in my personal opinion, they are still gory action games with a few frightening moments. The only game that had this special horror touch was “Silent Hill”, but it was stuck in the previously mentioned uncanny valley. If you really want to feel a cold chill floating down your back and shaking every single bone of your spine you should, no, you MUST play “Amnesia – The Dark Descent”.

First thing that I really like about this game, you cannot fight, you can only run away. But let’s start at the very beginning, you wake up in a probably abandoned castle and you don’t even know how you got there. You suffer from amnesia, only your name, Daniel, and after finding a note you get to know that your memory was erased with intent and that you’re the chosen one to kill someone in this castle. During the exploration of the castle you’ll find more and more hints that make you come to several conclusions why you are here. Needless to say, that there are lots and lots of bone chilling moments while wandering deeper and deeper through the halls and floors of this mysterious castle.

Like I mentioned before, you cannot fight in this game. You have no real weapons. You can only run away and hide. Another important thing is, that you have to keep an eye on your health status. A rapidly beating heart is everything else than helpfull and also your brain might play some tricks on you. Did I already mention, that Daniel is afraid of the dark? As you can see, lots of elements that are actually needed to give you a nice and intense horror feeling with a nice dash of claustrophobia. I wasn’t actually able to play this game longer than thirty minutes because I found it too scary. Mostly played at the dark hours and home alone. Which is not a good idea, well, in this case it is.

The presentation of the game is up to date. Based on Unreal Engine III you’ll barely have anything to complain about and the level design is done perfectly as well. You’ll also find some nice physics elements which leads to the grade of realism that was missed in the horror genre for such a long time. I missed that aspect personally. So if you’re tired of being a nearly immortal super soldier fighting hordes of monster in the dark with oversized weapons, you should, no, you MUST play “Amnesia – The Dark Descent”. It’s worth every minute of play, because it’s very intense and of course something different in these days of stereotype game mass production.

Game of the week #7/2011 – Bulletstorm

Yes, time for stuff. It does not happen very often that a videogame makes me laugh out loud and manifests a solid smile in my face while playing, but this week’s GotW is one of those. It’s ‘Bulletstorm’, the latest output by Cliffy B., realized with the Unreal engine III and developed by the guys from ‘People Can Fly’, that you might know from the ‘Painkiller’ series. ‘Bulletstorm’ is truely a FPS that puts the fun back into shooter gaming. After playing thousands and thousands of ultra-realistic first person shooters situated in a modern warfare scenario it felt like a kind of deliverance to play this particular game. I was a little sceptical before the release of ‘Bulletstorm’ if this game is not just only a pure feature-gadget-firework that lacks of fun in gameplay. I was seriously wrong.

First of all, for those of you who still don’t know, here’s short story introduction. You play Grayson Hunt, a space pirate from the black-ops squad called Dead Echo. After finding out that their squad was misused by the evil General Sarrano, who let them kill innocent civilians, the squad starts to revolt against Sarrano and calls for revenge. The real plot of the story starts with a crash landing on the planet Stygia and basically two things are left to do. Finding General Sarrano and kill him. And to escape from the planet.

During the escape you find lots of interesting guns and you also get a nice gadget plugged on your arm to grap enemies with a kind of tractor ray. You gain the most of the fun with the so called skillshot system. It’s not just only about fragging enemies it’s about fragging them with style. You can grab enemies with your little arm gadget. You can throw them in the air. You can push them into spikes. You can make them suffer on a slitted throat and gain points for ‘gargle effects’. You can shock them with electricity. You can shoot their balls off. You can slide them off. You can throw them off heights… etc. etc. etc. It’s just so much you can do, to frag your opponents with style and gain points for that. The earned points can be spent for new guns, ammunition and extra charge for your weapons. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode which is much more devastating, and fun, than the primary mode and mostly effective in boss fights. The boss fights itself are challenging, not too tough and of course a lot of fun.

The game is also rich of totally nice and funny events like escaping from a giant, I mean GIANT, mining wheel. Fighting a mechanical dinosaur in a miniature theme park. Fighting your enemies with the help of the mechanical dinosaur. It’s also nice to see, that the pace of the game is not always be held on high speed, and that it offers some moments to let you breathe. Which is actually good because the whole presentation of the game is just awesome. Even though it was made with the “old” Unreal Engine III, the game looks absolutely state of the art. It also does offer Physx, with some manual tweaks, and a DirectX10 render path, also with manual tweaks. For some unknown reason are the config files encrypted so you cannot simply edit them by using a standard text editor, you actually need a decrypter (!?). This seems to me, like the curse of the multi-platform development, hopefully we, the PC gamers, get rid of this with an upcoming patch.

To summarize, I want to recommend this game to everyone who is tired of the common, standard first person shooters stuff that gets released each and every day. This game gives you a fresh breeze into your face that soon becomes a storm of pure shooter fun that you haven’t experienced for years. ‘Bulletstorm’ has so many great ideas included and so many funny things either that your money is well spent on this game. I also want to mention again, this is not just a game that builts its innovation on a couple of newly introduced game gadgets. GO! BUY IT!

Links: Official website

Config decrypter

Duty Calls (commercial game)

Game of the week #6/2011 – ScummVM

I have to apologize that I haven’t made it to announce the game of the week for such a long time, but finally I’m back and I have to apologize again, because this week I don’t have a specific game that gets the title, it’s just an emulator. Actually, this whole thing happens because for one simple reason, because I can. As you may know, I was modding and coding on my cellphone for a while to improve its performance and gain a couple of features of it that I actually haven’t had before. One side effect was the installation of ScummVM, which is in some kind of way this week’s “Game of the week”. ScummVM is an emulator that lets you play all the good old Lucasfilm/arts adventure games from the early to the mid-nineties. Actually, this emulator made me revisit a couple of games that I still love and I recommend to everyone. I’m talking of games like “Maniac Mansion”, which was like my first comedy, horror adventure game ever and it was only topped by the ingenious “Day of the Tentacle”. Secondly, “Zak McKracken and the alien mindbenders” which was for me, back in 1991, the incarnation of open world gaming. I mean, you could travel the whole world, while in other games you where simply walking from the left to the right to free the princess.

ScummVM is such a great tool, you can play these adventure games on nearly every platform. I started playing “The secret of Monkey Island” on my Android and it’s such a nice experience. If someone told me 20 years ago that I gonna play Lucasfilm adventures on a cell phone you would have found laughing on the floor. Back in the pixel days you needed monstrous computer with a large amount of nearly 2-4 MEGABYTES of RAM and hard drives with at least 80 MEGABYTES of space. My first PC actually had 2MB of RAM and a large 85MB hard drive. I wasn’t able to play a game like “Doom” since I got my first Pentium PC in 1995, but that’s another story.

I don’t want to get too much in detail with the games of Lucasfilm, but I can only advise to everyone who still does not know any of these games give it a try. I also recommend these games to everyone who is simply interested in videogames history, because if you don’t know the Lucasfilm games, it’s truely a lack of knowledge. Once upon a time where adventure games where the strongest and biggest genre in PC gaming and these games are one of the reasons why. If you tried these games and you found them great, give Lucasfilms competitor a try and play the Sierra adventures. But when it comes to Sierra, you can no longer use ScummVM, for most of the games (like 99%), the DOSBox is doing a great job. Sorry for the short and minimal description on the games, I just wanted to give a short introduction to them by presenting ScummVM.

Links:

Official Website

Game of the week #5/2011 – Borderlands

Actually, this week’s game of the week is not as “indy-ish” as the games before and one could say that this is mainstream. Well, it may be mainstream and it was very succesful in 2009 and 2010, but I still know a lot of people saying, “Yes, I heard of this game before, is it truely that good?” and I can answer “Yes it is, try it, you’ll love it”. I’m talking about “Borderlands” by Gearbox Software that delivered a great piece of software and a brilliant mixture of first-person shooter, RPG and brawler. The story of the game is simple too, but nevertheless  really entertaining. You play one out of four characters that land on the planet Pandora to unveil the secret of the “Vault” that grants wealth, fame and honour to its owner. These four character have different abilities and skills, like “sniper”, “rogue”, “soldier” and melee fighter, so you can play this basicly in a FPS style that suits you the most. I personally decided to play the hunter which is the previously mentioned “sniper”, he can also control a pet that can attack enemies. The pet control is pretty basic and only available for the hunter, all three other classes have different special skills like a phase walk, gaining more bullets for you and your team, just to mention a few.

Team? Yes, and here’s the thing, you can play “Borderlands” completely in a single player mode, but you can also switch to cooperative online play at any time. The coop is a lot of fun, even though it lacks a few features like an interface for simply sharing loot or a roll mask to decide who’s going to get the loot. When it comes to booties of the prey, “Borderlands” has got a lot to. The developers can’t to mention it as often as they can, that they have included a “bazillion” of guns and tons of other goodies, like shields, grenade kits, class mods, to improve your character. This is also a positive catch of the game, you can’t stop playing, because you always want to get new guns and new guns and new guns and new guns. And of course new guns. Urm, and you also want to reach the next level to spend a skill point in your skill tree.

The AI in “Borderlands” is not the smartest one, but does its job and that is what counts, I mean, this is not a high intelligent tactical shooter, this is a fun shooter with a couple of RPG elements and a nice taste of humour. The characters in the game are developed very well and the bosses you meet in your encounters are challenging and not this standard meal you have to choke on in every other game. It’s also not a game with lots of moments of frustration, when you die in the game you can revive by simply killing an enemy in your phase of dying, which is about 15 seconds, and if you die anyway, you revive at a spawn point next to the fight not too far away. I enjoy “Borderlands” for more than a year now, I also bought the GOTY edition of the game, that includes all four DLCs. The DLCs are worth every penny, except “Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot”, which feels a little like a hoax compared to the rest of the game. So if you like FPS, a little of amount of RPG and have some friends to join you in coop, then “Borderlands” is the game of your choice and why it’s my “Game of the week”.

Links:

Official website

Wikipedia

Game of the week #4/2011 – The Ball

If there’s one thing that is popular the most in the world, it’s ball games. It doesn’t matter if you like soccer, basketball or baseball, it always includes at least one ball, like the game of the week. It’s simply called “The Ball” and you may see this game as a copycat of Valve’s “Portal” but it’s definately not. Manipulation of objects using physics is one aspect of the game, but additionally do you also have to fight in this game, which is not part of “Portal”, except the automated guns that stand around. So, what are you actually doing in this game? Well, you push a giant, giant ball in front of you through levels that look like forgotten Inca or Maya places. You don’t push it just by using your bare hands, you’ve got a gun like tool, pretty similiar to the one you got in “Portal”, where you can push, or hit, the ball and you can “suck” the ball towards you from a distant area. Just imagine you play “Portal” and you also have to carry a 5 feet tall ball with you everywhere you go, this is pretty much how “The Ball” actually works.

There’s also a kind of Tomb Raider feeling when it comes to explore the ancient underground world. You have to solve riddles with levers, ropes and weights by using your ball and your, let us say, gravity gun. The only thing that you can’t do in this game is to build portals, but you can fight enemies with your giant ball instead. There are no shooting guns in this game, so you have to use your ball and simply roll it over your enemies. Like many games in FPS style, this one is easy to learn, but relatively hard to handle. Some riddles might take a few tries before they are finally solved, but this is just an issue at the beginning of the game, after making some ingame progress you become one with your ball. Does this sound ambiguous?

The Ball

“The Ball” uses the Unreal III engine, looks very beautiful and well designed and due to the game engine does it take advantage of a Nvidia powered rigs, because PhysX rocks. I recommend this game to everyone who loved to play “Portal”, who likes balls (ya, this is oviously ambiguous ^^ ) and to those who like to play with physics in games. It’s also a recommendation for those who loved the Tomb Raider-series and just want to try out some new ways of how to be an archeologist.

Links:

Official website

Demo download

Game of the week #3/2011 – Osmos

This week’s “Game of the week” is something I’ve chosen, because I actually haven’t really found the time for playing as much as I do it normally. Anyhow, to get a little bit more relaxed and to calm down did I choose “Osmos”. Nowadays would you say that this game is an indie title, for whatever that means, and you can get it for real cheap, like every indie title does. Its game design is very simple to learn but it’s hard to handle. You are a small organism, that’s not an offense, that’s what you play in the game, and you have grow bigger. Sounds easy but it’s not. You can only absorb other organisms when you are bigger than them and you can only move by investing energy. Investing energy does mean that you lose valuable mass and when you lose mass you may become smaller than other organisms so you cannot absorb them.

This whole things happens at a very slow pace and the ambient soundtrack of the game also gives you a feeling that you don’t have to rush anything. I personally really like the ambient soundtrack of that game and this is actually one of the major points why I like this game, besides the simple but ingenious idea behind the game. As mentioned before, this game is something if you don’t feel like playing something with a large amount of complexity, but you also don’t want to play a brawler. This is what you play when you want to chill and relax and I personally recommend this game to everyone who wants to play something different. The setting is nice, the music is great and the whole gameplay feels ‘organic’.

Links:

Official Website

Wikipedia

Game of the week #2/2011 – DeathSpank – Orphans of Justice

This weeks game of the week is something special, a game created by a living legend. It’s “DeathSpank” by game designer Ron Gilbert. You might remember this name  from the legendary “Monkey Island” one and two, the good old “Maniac Mansion”, the ingenious “Zak McKracken” or the amazing “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”. This man created so many great games why shouldn’t “DeathSpank” be as good as the previous games? Well, first of all, “DeathSpank” is obviously a great game, with the typcial sense of humor that you can expect from Ron Gilbert and the design is something really special, but it can’t follow in the footsteps of the previously mentioned games.

DeathSpank - Orphans of Justice

In “DeathSpank” you play the homonymous hero DeathSpank who is looking for an artifact simply called “The Artifact” for his entired life. DeathSpank finds the artifact during the game, but it gets stolen by the henchmen of a guy called “Lord von Prong”. You might have already guessed what comes next, yes, DeathSpank has to get the artifact back and has to defeat the evil Lord von Prong. The game itself is a simple hack and slash RPG with a focus on a good told story. The character customisation is mainly done by getting new items that improve your attributes and by chosing cards on each level increase that improve thing like melee/range damage or the speed of the character. You don’t have to think too much and that is good because this game is perfect after a long exhausting day when you feel like getting easy entertainment but you still want a nice story to be told.

I played this game with mouse and keyboard first but I personally find that playing with an Xbox 360 controller is much easier and faster to handle. You also don’t have to switch between two weapon sets when you play with the Xbox 360 controller and moving the character feels more ‘logical’. The combats are not too easy and not too tough and if you ever come to a situation where you find it too hard or easy you can chose a different combat difficulty. The co-op mode in this game is, let us say, okay but it’s not what you want to play the whole time because the second player soon starts to feel like the fifth wheel of the wagon. The second character can’t loot or improve his skills and equipment, he’s just walking beside DeathSpank, does some damage and heals from time to time. Besides these minor issues “DeathSpank” is a game where you can’t do anything wrong if you like hack and slash RPGs, loved games like “Diablo” or “Torchlight” and if you feel comfortable with the sense of humour from games like “On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness”. There’s a reason why this game is finally the “Game of the week”, so go and get it or you will be spanked.

Links:

Official website

WikiPedia entry

Game of the week #1/2011 – Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light

So now, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for the very first “Game of the week” post and it starts with a really tough decision that I had to make, a neck and neck if you want. If I want I could have done three games in one single post, but there’s only per week and after a strong battle with me, myself and I the winner is “Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light”

As you may know, the Tomb Raider franchise is at its end for years now and it was a tough job for every game developing studio to create a new Tomb Raider that the gamer will find attractive. For me personally the last three games “Anniversary”, “Legend” and “Underworld” are good games, but that’s it, good and nothing special. Something nice to entertain but nothing remarkable at all though. The Lara Croft franchise is different, the whole gameplay is different, you play in isometric viewpoint instead of third-person for example. The whole presentation is up to date and does not feel like a three years behind game like the Tomb Raider franchise, where the presentation was okay but nothing that gave a total blast. The basic idea of “The Guardian of Light” is pretty much the same to “Tomb Raider”, you walk through some ancient ruins, capture some artifacts, fight some evil guys and solve riddles with levers and buttons. “The Guardian of Light” puts more attention and love for detail into the riddles, there’s also a fine usage of realistic physics in the game which makes the game up-to-date and the riddles itself more fun.

Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light

The game has one j0ker card that kicks it directly in the front row of the game with the highest fun factor – the co-op mode. When you play the single player mode you start the game in front of a temple, and a Maya warrior named Totec tells you about the dangers inside, gives you his weapon and the adventure starts without him. In co-op mode another player can play Totec and both, Lara and Totec, have to work together to get through the very well designed levels. Totec mainly uses his shield for blocking attacks or pushing Lara to higher located levels and Lara has got a grappling hook to swing around or Totec can use a tightrope to reach some places that are barely reachable. I only played the local co-op with a friend of mine by using the Xbox controller for Windows and I can say nothing about the online mode, but I would say that it’s necessary to have direct voice communication when you play the game in co-op for the first time, because some riddles demand it.

The game itself is very well balanced, the riddles need some brainpower but they never get frustating. The ingame fights are claiming but not too tough, the dodge ability will soon become your best friend if there’s enough room to dodge off some range attacks. There are a lot of challenges and achievements to unlock in the game that will give a long time motivation to play the game or even to replay it for several times. “Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light” for PC is only available on Steam and costs around 14,99EUR. That’s a fair price for a game that is able to catch you for a long time. For more information about the story just follow the links the below.

Links:

Official Website

Wikipedia entry

UPDATE

Today’s morning did I find out, that there’s a new DLC for “Lara Croft and The Guardian Light” available. You can join the game with Kane & Lynch of the same titled game. This DLC is for free, you can also buy another one with figures from “The Legacy of Kain” games.