Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hydrophobia Review

Game:  Hydrophobia AKA Hydrophobia : Prophecy
Year (s):  2011
Company:  dev.  Dark Energy Digital
            pub.  Dark Energy Digital
Engine:  HydroEngine
Type:  Third-Person Shooter (loosely), Platformer
What I Paid:  a few bucks
Game Time:  just over 7 hours, first time, on default

Obligatory Trailer:

Game Type

I label this as a third-person shooter because you have a gun and there are enemies to shoot.  However, there's only a few dozen bad guys; you'll be spending most of the short game climbing, jumping, and swimming around.  There are some puzzles, but the game holds your hand and tells you what to do, so I wouldn't call it a puzzle game.


Very little plot.  Some time in the future, overpopulation is a problem.  You are a girl on a giant boat/city.  A few dozen terrorists set off bombs and start shooting people (their answer for overpopulation is murder).  Areas on the ship are in various states of fire and flood, and you are trying to escape. 

The ending is completely inconclusive.

Water Everywhere!

The big sell of this title is the water physics.  They did a great job of accurately portraying how water floods in to an area, sloshes around, and interacts with objects.  That being said, the graphics are average, and, ignoring physics, I think BioShock had graphically superior water.   

In roughly the last ten minutes of the game, your character gains a "hydro-kinetic" ability.  This allows you to make a water tentacle, which is functionally a crappy gravity gun. 


In addition to the above mentioned jumping and swimming, the game offers one gun.  There are five types of ammo, but you'll only regularly use the initial type.  You have a device that can open doors from afar and infiltrate camera systems (then, it can open doors in the camera's viewing area). 

There are some electrical hazards to overcome, and fires to put out by flooding.  I read that the more damage you do to the environment (explosive barrels and such), the more flooding.  So, navigating rooms can be different depending on how you play.  I honestly did not notice this factor in-game, but it sounds cool.

After completing the campaign, the Challenge Room is unlocked.  I was hoping this would be puzzle-based, but it's just arena combat.  Five rounds of bad guys, with increasing difficulty.  I didn't care enough to bother with the Challenge Room. 

Final Thoughts

The dynamic fluid physics are well done, and I liked some of the puzzle aspects.  However, the puzzles were tediously simple, combat was rare and simple, and there was basically no plot.  The hydro-kinetic thing was underutilized, and some of the key bindings were clunky.  The developers had some neat ideas but just didn't flesh them out.  So we're left with just another gimmicky 7-12 hour game.  Not recommended. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wolfenstein 3D Review

Game:  Wolfenstein 3D
Year (s):  1992
Company:  dev.  id Software
            pub.  Apogee Software
Engine:  Wolfenstein 3D Engine.  Prior to id Tech 1, even.
Type:  First-Person Shooter
What I Paid: just a few bucks
Game Time:  8 hours, first time, on difficulty 2 of 4

Obligatory Trailer:


You are BJ Blazkowicz, American soldier, fighting Nazis.  The ending of the sixth episode is pretty awesome.  It goes like this: Congratulations!  You are truly a great hero!  You meet the president!  You are cheered in the streets!  People name their babies after you!  You marry a movie star!  Yes!  You are so cool!

Difficulty and Gametime

I played on an easier setting because I'm so used to the WADS system now.  I customized the controls as much as I could, but the setup wasn't ideal.  zDoom isn't an option for this one.

I blazed through the game for a number of reasons.  One, I've played a lot of shooters.  When this came out, nobody had.  There would have been a learning curve.  Two, I didn't find very many secrets, look for all the treasure, or learn the levels well enough to beat par time.  When this was new, it was a great game and players would have played through it several times.  Three, I think the game is, whether by intent or not, pretty casual.  Playing through an episode (nine levels, plus a secret level if you find it) took about an hour.  It was, therefore, easier to put down and pick back up later.

Man, I Feel Old

I remember playing the shareware version of this (the first episode) back in the day.  Back when games ran on floppies, and had shareware versions.  Back before the ESRB, when games did not have to be rated (id voluntarily rated this "PC 13 Profound Carnage.  It has since been revised to M in the US). 

This isn't THE first shooter, but damn near.  This is the game that popularized the genre.  It should be played for historical value, if nothing else.

Arcade Influence

Back Then, there were arcades in every town.  Places where kids used quarters to play games (there were no smart phones or tablets to play freely).  Like arcade games, you have lives in Wolfenstein.  If you die and have lives left, you restart the level with the knife, the pistol, full health, and a small amount of ammo.  Another similarity is the high score list.  Now that I think about it, pretty much every game kept score in the day... Mario, Sonic... anyway.   Killing enemies, finding secrets, picking up items (especially treasure), and beating a level quicker than par time all increase your score.

A secret level was modeled after the first level of Pac Man.  The ghosts from that game are the only enemies, and cannot be killed by your weapons.

Combat and Gameplay

There are four weapons.  The three firearms all use the same ammo.  There are five types of enemies, but most episodes only have four types, plus a boss at the end.  Kill stuff, find keys, pick up ammo and health items to stay alive.  Take the elevator to the next level.

One complaint I have is the relatively difficult time I had navigating some of the levels.  Mazes are incorporated in to several levels, and I would have been totally lost if I didn't hug a wall the whole way.  There's not a great variety of textures, and no changes in elevation, so the corridors and rooms largely look the same.

Development and Apogee
In 1991, id was under contract to develop 12 games for release through the periodical SoftDisk.  They were so excited about Wolfenstein that they subcontracted the last game out to Apogee, who developed a game for them for SoftDisk.  It was a big flop of a game.

Apogee published Wolfenstein 3DDoom, however, was not published by them.  Apogee (later known as 3D Realms) competed with id by releasing Blake Stone the same week as Doom (it was quite similar to Wolfenstein, and failed to compete) and later, Duke Nukem 3D and other titles.

Doom Legacy

At the end of each level, Doom continued to display percentage kills, secrets, and par time.  Two midi tracks from Wolfenstein are used in DoomDoom 2 features two secret levels modeled after levels one and ten of Wolfenstein's first episode.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels

Spear of Destiny, a prequel, came out shortly after WolfensteinReturn to Castle Wolfenstein came out in 2001 and utilized id Tech 3.  In 2003 the multiplayer-only Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory game came out.  In 2009 Raven Software released Wolfenstein, built on id Tech 4.  Quakecon 2008 previewed a game largely for mobile devices (released soon after) titled Woflenstein RPG.

Final Thoughts

Map design is rudimentary.  Gameplay is simple to the point of laughable compared to modern shooters.  You want to interact with you environment?  Open a door.
I somewhat remembered the shareware, so playing this through was refreshing.  If you didn't play shooters back then, I don't think you'll appreciate this.  Except for truly being a great hero!  And marrying a movie star!  Yes!  You are so cool!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Goblins in Magic

Goblins have been around forever, and have always been a pretty solid build for a fast, cheap deck.  Last night I wondered, have there been any sets without goblins?  I'm tired of them being the obligatory (often) crappy red weenies in sets.

In my search (which did not include Portal/Starter sets, Duel Decks, Chronicles, etc) turned out about as I expected.  Antiquities almost made the list with only Goblin Artisans.  The six sets with no goblins are: Arabian Nights, Legends, Homelands, Odyssey, Torment, and Judgment.  They were, then, just another creature, until The Dark pushed them as one of the first tribal creatures with cards Goblin Shrine and Goblin Caves.  Kobolds beat Goblins for the claim for the first tribal theme, but kobolds didn't stick around.  Fallen Empires continued the idea with Goblin Grenade, albeit Elves, Orcs, Saprolings, et al had cards to make a tribal deck.  Since then, for the most part, goblins haven't gone away.  One could argue that Zombie Master and other "lord" cards have always made valid tribal decks, but I'd argue that a fourth edition zombie deck with four Zombie Masters wasn't as effective or, more to the point of the article, as thematic as a straight-up The Dark/Fallen Empires goblin deck.

The Odyssey block had few standard creature types.  No goblins, elves, or merfolk.  Instead, there were Nantuko, Cephalid, and Birds, which have seen infrequent use since.  This is more interesting when taking into consideration that the Onslaught block, which came out right after the Odyssey block, was all about standard creature-type tribal decks.  Onslaught made it possible to build Soldier, Cleric, Zombie, and other decks that could finally be on the same tribal level as goblins.

Just some thoughts, and some trivia.

EDIT: The full spoiler for Innistrad is up: NO GOBLINS!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Painkiller Review

Game:  Painkiller (Black Edition)
Year (s):  2004
Company:  dev.  People Can Fly
            pub.  DreamCatcher Interactive
Engine:  PAIN Engine with Havok 2.0 physics
Type:  First-Person Shooter
What I Paid:  10-12 bucks for the whole franchise
Game Time:  16 hours, first time, on Nightmare difficulty (one more than default)  
                     I did not finish this, but got roughly half-way through.

Obligatory Trailer:


The game starts with you and your wife dying in a car crash.  You didn't make it to heaven.  You're told to defeat the four generals of Lucifer's army in order to be forgiven and see your wife again.

Cutscenes between episodes add a little more to the plot.  More than Doom had, but not as much as Doom 3.


When there aren't any enemies around, the background sound is what you'd expect in a haunted house (or a Rob Zombie song).  When there are enemies around, a power chord, pinch-harmonic riff plays.  Amusing.

PAIN Engine

Looks fine graphically.  It had, to me, a "console look."  No water effects to note; otherwise competitive at the time.

Not a solid engine, though.  Will talk more about that in a bit.

Old School

This game, surprisingly out around the same time as Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, sticks to the roots of the genre.  Doom and Quake are particularly noted inspirations.  Weapons do not reload.

Enemies typically attack en masse, but it's never as hectic (or, by merit, as gratifying) as Serious Sam.  I might kill fifty guys in a row, but they're spread out to a more reasonable pace than Sam. 


There are only a few health items per level, so I was often close to death.  Enemies drop souls that restore one health point, but disappear after a few seconds.  Playing the game on Nightmare (like me) or Trauma difficulties does not allow cheats, so if you're in a jam, you might be screwed.


Every level has a challenge.  If you complete it, you get a tarot card powerup that you can use on any level for a price.  Gold is collected by destroying objects, many of which explode.

Expansions / DLC

Battle Out of Hell expands on Painkiller, adding ten more levels (I did not get to them).  Additional Painkiller titles have been released since.

The Good

Bosses are enormous.  Like, King Kong.  Godzilla.  So, that's neat.

Level scenery is diverse.  Enemies are also quite varied, as any enemy only occupies a few levels.  The nearly constant new monsters keeps one from getting too accustomed to/bored with particular beasties.

The Bad

Menu navigation is a tad cumbersome.

Painkiller has some inherent flaws that have, unfortunately, never been fixed.  It was made solely for single-core processors.  If you have dual-core or more, you'll have to CTRL-ALT-DELETE every time you launch the game to set the processor affinity to only one core (this usually works, but not always).  If you don't do this, the frames-per-second rate makes the game unplayable.  It's a pain in the ass to do this every time I want to play the game.

Painkiller also has a known problem of corrupted save files.  I got to a point where every time I saved (including auto-saves), loaded, or died, the game would minimize.  I'd have to debug once or twice and restore the program to continue. 

Loading from an earlier save didn't work, as that had also become corrupt.  I didn't want to delete my data and start over, so I just stopped playing.

Final Thoughts

Painkiller was the Cyberathlete Professional League 2005 World Tour game.  Unreal Tournament 2004's Epic was changing publishers at the time.  Doom 3 was a fan favorite, but didn't get the honors. 

This game, from what I played, was fun.  Diversity, giant bosses, unique challenges for each level, and old-school gameplay were appealing.  Unfortunately, it was glitchy to the point of unplayable. 

If this game had ever been patched, I would recommend it for people that enjoyed Doom, Quake, etc.  Since it hasn't, I can't recommend it for any price.  No point in buying a game that you can't play through.