Monday, March 21, 2011

Unreal 2: The Awakening Review

Game:  Unreal 2: The Awakening
Year (s):  2003
Company:  dev.  Legend Entertainment
            pub.  Atari
Engine: Unreal Engine 2.0
Type:  FPS
What I Paid:  NA, package deal
Game Time:  first time, 9.5 hours (on easy)


I would like to point out first that Epic Games developed all other games in the Unreal franchise.  This, however, was developed by a different company.  It's the kind of plot a twelve year could come up with.  There's seven ancient alien artifacts scattered across the galaxy.  Nobody knows what they do, but some of the corporations and alien races are trying to collect them all, so you should too!  I am not joking.
This has three things in common with other Unreal games: the Skaarj, the Liandri Corporation, and the Izunagi Corporation.  Otherwise, nothing.  Not even a Bio Rifle.  Fortunately, the plot is entirely self-contained, and Unreal titles have little to no story, so questions of canonicity are irrelevant.

The Little Things

There were three small things this game did not have that would have made 15% better.  The first two are taken for granted now: a flashlight and a map.  My third annoyance involves dodging, where  you hit a directional button twice and you leap in that direction.  This has been utilized in Unreal games since the beginning.  In Unreal 2, hitting a directional twice is incredibly sensitive, though.  I found myself vaulting in to pits completely on accident too often.


Weapon selection is surprisingly cumbersome.  A few times, you can set up forcefields and automatic turrets to help defend.  Otherwise, nothing new.  No vehicles.

Final Thoughts

This was a bit buggy (enough that I'd recommend the occasional hard save), and certainly not a great game.  But I wouldn't call it awful.  If you buy (or have bought) the Unreal complete pack, it'll give you something to do for a weekend.  Otherwise, don't bother.

Legend Entertainment existed from 1989-2004.  Other than this and the earlier Unreal expansion Return to Na Pali, they developed a game (1995) dealing with Piers Anthony's Xanth world, and a critically-acclaimed but unsuccessful game (1999) about Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Magic : A Timeline

In the last year or so, I have gotten cards in packs that I then sold for ten to forty bucks.  When I started playing, things were more like, "Wow!  I got a ______!  That's worth like, five bucks!"  In the end, price is all about card power and utility.  This got me to thinking about power and dollar value through the game's history.

The first six Magic sets had the Power Nine and a few dozen other cards that are worth a pretty penny.  Some cards were clearly overpowered and were cut from the core set with the release of Revised.  All development has a learning curve, and I don't think the game designers knew how powerful some cards would be.

From Revised onward, cards that were overpowered (Dream Halls), abusive in combos (Tolarian Academy), or just being put in every damn deck (Necropotence), were restricted or banned.  For the most part, if you wanted a powerful card, it would:  
1.  Cost a lot of mana (Darksteel Colossus) and/or 
2.  Have significant drawbacks (Polar Kraken) and/or
3.  Be a legendary card (Akroma)

These efforts kept prices down and made building a deck involve some thought.  Judgment featured a handful of cards that read, "If ______, you win."  However, it was hard to fulfill the if part.  And honestly, if you have twenty creatures or fifty life, you're almost certainly going to win the game anyway.  The point is, powerful cards remained balanced for a long time.

Then, Lorwyn introduced planeswalkers.  The first batch, you kept them around a few turns, and you then they did something cool.  One of them mirrors the card Living Death, another one does the same thing as Denying Wind.  I don't like planeswalkers and I never will; this was the start  of the slippery slope.  Newer planeswalkers like Jace the Mind Sculptor can remove someone's library from the game.  Others are also, basically, "I win now" cards.  Oh, and no drawbacks.  ANGER.

Not long after, we see the Eldrazi.  Does your opponent have an Eldrazi out?  Ok, they win.  You're fucked.  RAGE.

In addition to printing retarded cards, Wizards of the Coast has gotten lazy about banning and restricting cards.  They just aren't doing it.  AND they are un-banning/ un-restricting some older cards (like Grim Monolith). 

The game is being dumbed down, clearly and intentionally, to sell more packs.  Good for business.  Bad for the wallet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Half-Life Review

Game: Half-Life
Year (s):  1998
Company:  dev.  Valve Corp, Gearbox (expansions)
            pub.  Sierra Corp
Engine:  GoldSrc
Type:  FPS


You are Gordon Freeman, physicist at the Black Mesa test facilities, a place for classified advanced research in a number of fields.  One day at work, a catastrophic "cascade event" occurs, and aliens from another dimension start killing everyone.  Then the military shows up, and... also starts killing everyone.  Have fun!  Should've called in sick...
Actually, this has more story than previous shooters.


The GoldSrc engine is a modified version of the id Tech 2 engine used in Quake.  When it debuted, it was graphically competitive against Unreal Engine 1, id Tech 2 (and 3), etc.  With only a couple of exceptions, GoldSrc was used exclusively by Valve for Half-Life spin-offs (Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, expansions) and multiplayer mods.

So, What's New?

This was the first game I ever played that made the player reload weapons.  A simple thing, a logical thing, and it made sense.  Also new, there was a reason to not sprint all the time, as walking was required against some enemies, and running in a minefield is stupid.  Lastly, the flashlight.  It also makes sense, but hadn't been a constant item in previous games I played.


This game introduced me to secondary-fire for weapons.  A few times, you get to use turrets, and once you have a chance to call in air strikes.  Security personnel and other scientists offer assistance.  Aside from that, the fighting is pretty standard.

Expansions / DLC

Gearbox released two expansions.  In the first, Opposing Force, you play the part of one of the marines.  Sometimes other marines help you.  The enemies and plot have nothing to do with any other Half-Life game, it's buggy, and some of the new weapons, while creative, don't make up for this being a piece of shit.

In Blue Shift, you are Barney Calhoun of Black Mesa security.  If you recall the opening tram ride in Half-Life, there is a guard knocking on a door at one point.  That's you!  This game felt much more like a thought-out expansion, and is worth playing if you liked the original.

Final Thoughts

Valve was founded by two former Microsoft employees.  Half-Life was not only the start of a franchise, it was the first game the company developed.  Half-Life won over 50 game of the year awards, and by 2008, 9.3 million copies had been sold.  Now, Valve is a key service in gaming via Steam, and the Half-Life franhise seems to have stalled, with the last installment in 2007, and no news on anything further.  In 2004, fans began a full conversion of Half Life to harness the capabilities of the newer Source engine.  This project is called Black Mesa, and has a couple trailers up, but also seems to have stalled indefinetely.

In any case, all of the Half-Life games are fun and you should play them.  Also, I hadn't written about any Valve games yet, and, well, it's about time.  I have a feeling that the next Half-Life game is going to be announced at this year's E3.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dead Space Review

Game:  Dead Space
Year (s):  2008
Company:  dev.  Visceral Games
            pub.  Electronic Arts
Engine:  Godfather Engine
Type:   Third-Person Shooter, Survival Horror
What I Paid:  $7, can't beat Steam sales
Game Time:  first playthrough on normal, 16 hours


You are Isaac Clarke, engineer (the character was named by combining the names of sci-fi authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke).  You and a small crew of a repair vessel are sent to aid the mining ship Ishimura, who is not responding to communications.  After a near-crash docking procedure, the crew recieves no greeting.  Shortly after, monsters wipe out most of the repair party, and the ship they came in on.  Isaac and two comrades fight their way through the ship in a search for answers, survivors, and escape.

Survival Horror

Ever since Resident Evil coined the phrase "survival horror," I've seen the claim attached to various games.  Dead Space fits the bill better than others I have played.  In general, you're running around with almost no ammo, no health, and no money.  As in Resident Evil 2 (?), there is an invincible boss that chases you around a bit.  All that being said, was this game scary?  Not really.  The monsters looked creepy, and there were some jump scares.  No playing with the light levels to intimidate.  I don't know, it just didn't pack the fright punch of Doom 3, FEAR, or the movie Event Horizon (starts out the same!)


This engine is competitive, but doesn't offer anything visually new.  *shrug* can't complain

You're In Space, Dummy

Like previous games have done since they added water, there are areas where you have limited air supply.  In addition, and uniquely, Dead Space has zero-g areas (these may or may not have breathable atmosphere).  You have magnetic boots to keep you grounded, but you can (actually, must) jump from floor to wall to ceiling.  As the enemies can do the same, this makes for some interesting combat a step above Prey's wall-walking.


"...excessively violent, with a chance of dismemberment!" - Fallout 3

This game encourages cutting off limbs.  In fact, I don't think anything dies without some degree of being hacked apart.  Head shots don't matter, some of the enemies don't have heads anyway.
The weapons are largely weaponized mining tools.  Beyond the first weapon (something like a pistol), all weapons must be bought.  There are seven weapons, you can carry four (there is an in-game safe to store extra items in).  All weapons can be upgraded many times.
In addition to that, there is a telekinesis-style ability used mostly to solve puzzles, and a directionally-aimed ability to slow down an enemy or hazardous machine.

Where's the HUD?

There isn't one.  There's a life bar on Isaac's back.  Ammo counters are on the weapons themselves, and other data (text files, videos, inventory) are shown as holographic projections.  In theory, this should make the game more immersive.  But, since it was third-person instead of first-, the effort was more idiosyncratic than progressive in expression.

Expansions / DLC

A series of six comic books were developed as a prequel, as was an animated film.  The site No Known Survivors is an alternate-reality style opportunity to further explore the Dead Space universe.  A prequel expansion game, Dead Space: Extraction, was made for Wii and PS3, but not ported to PC.  Lame.

Final Thoughts

Dead Space 2 was released in January.  No word on a third game yet.

And here I almost forgot to mention plus-games.  If you've beaten the game and want to play through agagin on the same difficulty, you get a huge advantage.  In addition to keeping your inventory and pimped-out shit from the first playthrough, you get a ton of goodies.  Plus-games are fun, but very easy/short by comparison.
Anyway, this game was fun.  Not the longest game, but if you like any movies or games in the sci-fi horror category, this game's got it going on.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chex Quest Review

Game: Chex Quest
Year (s):  1996
Company:  dev.  Digital Cafe
            pub.  Digital Cafe
Engine: id Tech 1
Type:  First-Person Shooter
What I Paid: the price of a box of Chex cereal


This article turned out to be more research than recollection.  All I remembered about this game was fighting snot-enemies with an electric spork.  Turns out, there isn't much more to it.  The player assumes the role of the Chex Warrior, dispatched by the Federation of Cereals to battle the Flemoids and save a colony.  The release of Chex Quest boosted sales by over 200%, and won two advertising awards.

It's a Doom Clone

Sounds effects from Doom were modified and reused.  The first five levels of The Ultimate Doom are used in the main game, albeit with different textures/enemies/etc.  All other Ultimate Doom maps are present, but not in the story.  They must be accessed via a "map warp parameter".  These are buggy (completely invisible actual Doom enemies), and have unaltered Doom music and dead-bunny endings.


There are only two weapons: the Zorcher, and the Electric Spork.  The game is intended for all audiences, so violence, gore, and hell imagery are gone.  Concordingly, the Zorcher doesn't kill enemies, it warps them to another dimension.

Expansions / DLC

Two official sequels were developed, both of which were free downloads (not in cereal boxes).  Astoundingly, Chex Quest 3 came out in 2008.  Chex Quest 4 and other fan-created expansions abound.

Final Thoughts

An id server started hosting Chex Quest multiplayer in 2008.  Why would such a crappy game have such a cult following?  I mean, it's- hey!  The armor is a piece of Chex!  OMG LOLZ