Rotating Header Image


Review – Portal 2 (PC)

Probably one of the most anticipated games released this year, it was proceeded by a gimmicky and ultimately disappointing Augmented Reality Gaming blitz, loads of hype, actual television commercials, and generally, a large bit to live up to.  People love Portal 1, and they should, it’s an amazing game that did a lot to make us rethink what an FPS game was supposed to be.  Specifically the idea that you must run around shooting and killing things.  It also gave us the amazing Portal Gun.  i remember first hearing about Portal many years ago in a magazine and an explanation of how the Portal Gun would work and it seemed really really intriguing.

Portal 1 also had a great narrative to go along with it.  There is only one real character, the demented yet sympathetic GladOS.  She starts off encouraging but as time goes along she becomes a bit meaner but she still keeps up her robotic test obsessed demeanor for most of the game while still trying to kill you… in the name of SCIENCE!  It’s a great concept, the game itself is a test, even after the twist, you still kind of get the feeling that it’s all part of the same test.  In fact even after the game is over, you get the sense that the whole thing was all part of some planned out plot.

Portal 2, picks up essentially where Portal 1 left off.  In fact, the plot of Portal 2 pretty much doesn’t work unless you play through Portal 1.  At the end of Portal one you get dragged back for more testing, Portal 2 starts off with you locked away in your small Aperture Science apartment.  Some time passes due to a malfunction of the equipment, likely caused by the lack of a central controller due tot he actions taken by the player in Portal 1.  After being “rescued” by the drone Wheatley, you start off, once again, navigating test chambers.

One of my favorite aspects of this entire game is the ruins of Aperture Science.  Early in the game, you revisit almost every area from Portal 1 in a revamped depressed state.  In fact you start off early in the very same glass chamber from the first game.  Fairly quickly you end up in the same regions from the end of the first game as well.  This whole experience is greatly enhanced by familiarity with the first game as it’s very recognizable and you see it and know “GladOS is there…”  Or was there.  You don’t really know until you make it back inside.  It gives a great sense of suspense and creepiness knowing that this is where you were before, last time it was all a test, tests and test  and tests, is it still a test?

Of course the game wouldn’t be very much fun if it were just “Portal 1 with more trees”, so after some more plot twists, the player will embark on a whole new adventure through the history of Aperture Science.

This too is handled pretty interestingly.  You escape from the ruined modern era Aperture, and find your way to the ruins of the very early Aperture.  Guided by the recorded voice of Cave Johnson, founder of Aperture you must traverse some very rough early test chambers.  This also introduces another Aperture product, the Propulsion and repulsion gels.  One type of gel will cause the player, or other objects, to travel at great speeds, like some sort of super grease.  The other will cause the player to be pushed off, useful for jumping higher or bouncing from one location to another.

There are also some new devices to content with called Hard Light Bridges.  These can be positioned using the Portals and are essentially clear platforms of light that you use to travel over chasms, stop objects, or protect yourself from Turrets.

Other new devices, in addition to the plasma balls used previously to power equipment there are now also lasers which can be directed using prism style mirror cubes.

All of these new tools are pretty unique and interesting and make for some interesting new twists on the old Portal Gun puzzles.  The puzzles are of course the main driver of the gameplay.  The interesting story and plot going on in the background i just an excellent bonus that helps solidify the game as a whole.  I’m doing my best to avoid any real spoilers here but sufficed to say, the game climaxes out pretty well and you’ll have to use most of the tricks you’ve learned in the end to escape destruction and ‘save the day”, or at least save yourself.

To top things off, the game includes a multiplayer Coop mode.  The player and one other companion can play a 2 player mode where each controls a robot instead of the human Chel.  These courses are pretty cleverly designed to require both players and it is quite a bit of fun.  The real issue seems to be finding people to play with as there isn’t much replay incentive on the multi player Coop.

The game really does live up to it’s hype.  I do have two main complaints.  Firstly, there is a serious lack of Turrets in this game.,  Granted, for the most part, the turrets are kind of annoying to deal with sometimes but they do add some difficulty to what is otherwise a “think for a bit and go” style of gameplay.  Things shooting at you help keep you on your toes and force you to think more quickly.  The lack of turrets is more or less explained by the plot but it’s kind of disappointing, especially when Old Aperture could easily have had “Old Turrets not affected by the plot gimmick.

Secondly is the pricing.  The original asking price for portal 2 was $50 bucks, it’s now down to $30.  I hate complaining about pricing since I know I am spoiled to death by sales and cheap indie games but $50 is WAY too much.  $30 is more reasonable.  Generally speaking, the game takes 10-15 hours to complete, max.  The original is about a 5 hour game, just for a comparison.  $30 is more reasonable though it still seems a little steep.

So here’s the deal, Portal 2, is pretty much everything it’s expected to be.  It looks great, the story is fun, the puzzles are interesting, etc etc.  It’s essentially, Portal 1, plus a lot more, in a sense, and it continues to carry over the fun of Portal 1.  The real problem, like Portal 1, is there isn’t much incentive to replay it at all.  Kind of a disappointment there.  Even the multiplayer, by design, isn’t really replayable, once you’ve figured everything out.  This is the only real drawback I found with the entire game, other than the related secondary problem of game length vs price.  there has been promises of some DLC or map editors or something to help extend the value from Valve but as far as I can tell they have not even added anything new to buy to the Portal 2 store, which brings them in bonus money.

Portal 2 is available via Steam.

Review – Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)

So who hasn’t played Grand Theft Auto III?  Ok, probably a lot of people.  It was a game that really redefined the idea of what a game could be back when it was first released ten years ago in 2001.  I like to brag that I came up with the idea first personally, though it’s probably a real stretch.  A bit of some history.

I played quite a bit of the first Grand Theft Auto with it’s more open ended top down game play.  The older games were less story driven than the later 3D titles, you generally just had to collect a certain amount of money before proceeding to the next city.  There were a lot of similar elements, the cities were named Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas, names which were later reused in the subsequent PS2 titles and based loosely on the real life cities of New Your, Miami, and Los Angeles.  You would drive around getting missions from phone booths, steal cars, shoot random pedestrians.  It even had the radio stations which were pretty decent though pretty much unknown music.

I also for a short while in 1999 played a decent amount of the title Midtown Madness.  This is a title that never seemed to get a lot of attention though it’s notable for being the first real sandboxy style racing game.  In addition tot he standard tracks, there was a free roam mode which let you explore the relatively large city of Chicago.  Ok, mostly it was just “The Loop” area and Interstate 90 was altered to create an outside barrier to the city.  You could still pick out where the game took place by looking at a map of Chicago.  It was pretty neat.

One thing I remember most about playing Midtown Madness was that it reminded me a bit of GTA’s free drive experience only more three dimensional.  I always thought it would be pretty awesome if you could actually get out of the car in Midtown Madness and run around the city.  They could even have missions where you were like a cop or a hitman.  Maybe you could have an apartment where you keep your junk and possibly even an online aspect.  It would be totally awesome.

Then Grand Theft Auto III happened 2 years later.

And so I bought a Playstation 2.  Three titles drove this purchase, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy X, and Grand Theft Auto III.  Here’s a bonus fun fact, I bought my PS3 in December/January near the end of 2001, I had those three games alone for it until roughly a year later when I added three more titles, Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X-2, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

I have played a LOT of GTA3.  Probably more than any other game I have ever owned.  I once figured up based on how many in game days I had on my save file and how many save attempts I had made and how long an in game hour took to calculate I had played around 300 hours of the game, and this was back in like 2001 or 2002 soon after the game had been released.  I’ve explored every nook and cranny of Liberty City countless times.  At one point I could locate every one of the 100 packages without a guide.  I’ve completed the game to 100% completion without being arrested or killed or failing a mission (the game keeps track) and without once doing a “save and reload because I had “messed up”.

It really is an amazing game.  It gets a lot of flack for the violence and crime aspect but even that is only as bad as a person makes it.  Yeah, you can go around shooting pedestrians and hookers and make it a complete gore fest.  Or you can play the story and get an interesting mobster plot.  Yeah, there is some violence but not any more than your average R rated action film.  Hell the whole series is really just a series of movie parodies strung cleverly into a crazy plot.  The problem only comes up when you get players who can’t manage to get anywhere in the story that just run around randomly shooting things.  The first game is even pretty tame, especially next to Vice City which takes it’s Scarface homage pretty seriously.

From a gameplay standpoint it was pretty revolutionary.  For years, games were about doing what was required, the way it was required.  Sure, you had your warp zones and some games like Castlevania or Metroid would let you roam a bit but never before was there a game so encouraging of doing… whatever.  It wasn’t just the freedom to wander around the city that made it work either.  The city itself was a massive living creature.  You could just stand on the sidewalk and thugs or businessmen or old ladies would just wander around.  Cars drive around, sports cars, taxis, cops, delivery vans.  People would get in the taxis they would argue with each other, they’d talk to you as you walked by, it was like being in a real city.  The whole game just reeked of atmosphere and you didn’t have to interact with it to trigger activity.

This was coupled with exceptional cinematic fully voiced cut scenes to drive the plot.  Sure, many of the plot points were lifted from movies like The Godfather but it worked so well as a whole.  There was mystery and betrayal and vengeance and even subtle nods within the plot to earlier events.  This wasn’t just random events happening.  Characters interacted with each other, they referenced other events, it was cohesive.  Even things that you don’t even really realize like the Asian Guy with you at the start of the game in the jail car.  The Columbians kidnap him and thus you end up free and the game starts, but later, you effectively end up taking out the Columbians in your quest for Vengeance.

These minor points just help the whole things feel so much more cohesive.  It creates a great universe that works with itself, which is part of the whole reason the game works so well.

There was also the openness of the missions themselves.  Sure, many more or less required one path to completion but many of them were very open to the player’s preference.  Say you’ve been asked to kill some mob guy.  If you’re the gung ho type you can charge in and assault his guard and the character with pistols and machine guns blazing.  Want the more subtle route, just find yourself a sniper rifle and pick him off from a distance.  Maybe you’re the kamikaze type and want to just plow through his posse in a speedy sports car and hope none of them are carrying shotguns or rocket.  You were very often just given a general objective and a map marker and the gaps are something the player gets to fill in.  Even if you were terrible the game also didn’t really have any lives.  There was no real penalty to dying, you would just wake up at the hospital or police station minus guns and some money.  No lives, no continues, just a simple “Try harder, PS, also you’ll have to find a pistol”

So here we are, it’s been ten whole years since GTA3.  A game that spawned many sequels and spin offs, Vice City, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories, Vice City Stories, GTA4, Chinatown Wars, The lost and the Damned, The Ballade of Gay Tony, hell I’m probably forgetting some.  Then there are knockoff series with the same gangster sandbox concept, Saint’s Row, True Crime, Mafia, Just Cause, Simpsons Hit & Run, The Getaway, there are a lot of them.  It’s a game that inspired many and crated a whole genre of gaming.  Not many games can claim this title.  It also holds up pretty well to time, even with it’s sequels, playing through it again can lead to new methods and a whole new experience.

Review – Doc Clock and the Toasted Sandwich of Time (PC)

Stickmen Studios | Oct 15, 2010

Doc Clock is an interesting Platform based Puzzle game.  Ok, it’s way more platform game than puzzle game.  All of the puzzle part involves assembling various parts you find along the way into different vehicles.

The basic plot involves Doc Clock and his robot backpack companion.  You start out in Doc Clock’s lab and after accidentally turning your cat into a plant, you set out to build a time machine so you can travel back in time 5 minutes to save your cat.  By mistake, you travel many many years into the future and the time machine parts become scattered throughout the area.  As you trek along, you discover more and more parts for the time machine in each level.  You also find a variety of parts to augment the time machine into something more versatile.  There are wheels of several sizes, propellers to help you fly for increasingly longer periods of time, umbrellas to help you float instead of just falling and springs to help give you a quick jump.  There are also junk parts like refrigerators that can be used as battering rams if needed.

This vehicle aspect is fairly neat though unfortunately not nearly as dynamic as it sounds.  Most levels involve slapping wheels on the basic time machine, the umbrella on top and positioning the propellers to give the best control while airborne.  This is a bit of a complaint, though on the other hand, if it had been more complex you’d end up stopping constantly to reconfigure the vehicle, which would slow the game’s pace down to a slow boring trudge.  So in the end I suppose it’s a decent balance.  Also, though you collect a large assortment of propellers over the course of the game, you only really ever need 2-3 of the more powerful one’s in your inventory at any given time.

The world wouldn’t be much fun without some sort of confrontation.  In the future, robots have destroyed all life and human kind and have taken over the planet.  Unfortunately they are also all idiots, which is part of the game’s plot to some level, though it also means they really aren’t much of a threat.  Robots are killed by simply ramming into them.  Most of them simply stand around chatting to each other, occasionally there are robots that throw rocks at you.

The game is also full of some reasonable though cheesy humor.  A lot of this is delivered through insults from the Backpack robot or in the previously mentioned dialogues between enemy robots.  There is a some vague plot implications going on involving the dystopian future being Doc Clock’s fault.

In general, it’s a fairly simple game, though it’s pretty fun as a basic platform game.  It’s real problem is it’s lack of any true difficulty.  Many of the levels are easily passed by assembling a basic flying car and blasting through the level jumping when need be.  There is a bit of trickiness added to the later levels when the lava shows up but it’s still nothing too complex.  It’s fun, but a little easy.

Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time can be found on Steam here.

Review – Trine (PC)

Frozenbyte | July 2, 2009

Trine is a game that takes several separate concepts and pushes them together into one game.  You have the core platform action game, where you jump around and battle monsters.  There’s some puzzle aspects where you need to open gates and trigger buttons.  There’s a bit of RPG element involved with the party of characters, story and level system.  Finally it’s all distilled and simplified to the point where it’s fairly simple to play making it just a little but of a casual game.  Often titles with such a complex mashup end up being an over ambitious mess but Trine manages to pull things together very well.

The plot revolves around three distinct characters that you must swap between throughout the game to progress along.  The initial levels play each character individually before the meet as a clever tutorial for how each one works.  There is the Knight, who is strong and best suited for combat.  He also has the ability to toss heavy objects and is equipped with a shield needed to deflect objects.  There is the Thief, who uses her bow for ranged attacks and is equipped with a grapple hook used to climb past certain obstacles.  Finally there is the Wizard, who can conjure objects on an as needed basis, useful for climbing past tall objects or crushing enemies.  Each class has a distinct use, the Knight works best for basic combat but can’t easily pass most puzzles.  The Wizard is great for puzzles but is terrible at combat, the Thief lands in between, though she’s not great for either task.

  This makes it essential that everyone is kept alive.  It’s possible, for example, for your Wizard to die while the other two carry on.  This may mean you’ll have to find new methods of circumventing certain obstacles.  Where the Wizard could easily conjure a block to hit a switch, not having him may require navigating a more difficult path in order to manually trigger the switch.  As an example.  Fortunately, the checkpoints will revive fallen comrades so you will rarely be completely without them.

Unfortunately there isn’t always an easy way to solve a puzzle without particular party members.  Chances are it will end up being easier to just kill the remaining characters off and retry from the previous checkpoint.  Speaking of the puzzles, they are don’t tend to be very complex.  Most of them involve dropping blocks on buttons or stacking blocks to climb over a wall.  It’s not a terrible downside but don’t go in expecting something super complex or Earth shattering.

The presentation and overall feel tends to make up for it.  The enemies are fairly repetitious but the environments are very well made and varying.  There is also a very well done voice track for the characters and the narration between stages.  Also, despite some of the repetitiveness of the enemies, they tend to come in bursts that last just long enough that you don’t quite get tired of battling them while not being TOO easily defeated.

In short, Trine is a very well done game.  It’s got a lot of strong points in style, presentation, and story.  The game play itself is well done though it could use more monsters to fight besides the endless skeletons.  Still, the few flaws aren’t enough to keep this game from coming recommended.

Review – Transformers the Game (PC)

I’ve been a bit behind here on my Transformers themed gaming here.  I have yet to really get into any of the latest 3D incarnations of Transformers video games until recently.  i figure the best thing to do would be to start at the beginning.  Unfortunately, Transformers (Armada) isn’t available on the PC so I’m going for the game based on the first movie game.  Keep in mind also, while I played the PC version, I’m pretty sure it’s essentially the same as the console versions for PS2, Xbox360, and PS3.  It’s probably marginally different than the DS version however.

This is a game with a bit of extremes going for it.  I’ll start with the good extremes because, generally good = boring.  The graphics are pretty swank.  Everything looks really nice, there’s a ton of great particle effects and every character looks pretty much the way they should.  As a bonus, the numerous cut scenes, as corny as they may be, are well animated and fluid as well.  The action and Transformation gimmick is used fairly effectively as well, though more so for land based vehicles (more on this in a bit).  My only complaint with the transformation gimmick is the “button” for how to do it is not in the controls options, which mean I had to putz with things until I figured it out (it’s mouse wheel up).

Speaking of controls, let’s move on the the extreme of bad.  The controls are mostly decent, except for the flying sequences.  Controlling Megatron wasn’t so bad but Blackout and Starscream have extreme issues with the up and down precision.  It’s possible this was just my machine or something but it makes flying anywhere almost impossible.  Thankfully it’s never ever necessary.  Even the mission  where you have to shoot down 20 jets can be done by standing on the ground shooting rockets at them as they very slowly fly by.

Assuming you can lock on to them.  The next major gripe I have with this game is the incessant military/police.  You see, due to the nature of the film, creating things to fight and DO on missions was a bit tricky.  Each side has like half a dozen main characters to choose from for creating storylines and missions.  This leaves the pool of things to shoot at extremely small.  This is “fixed” through two methods.  Each faction gets a whole mess of Drones that show up in mass from time to time.  Also there is an almost constant stream of military or police forces.  This means you’ll constantly be chased by police cars and constantly being assaulted by Ospreys and Blackout style helicopters.  The human attackers generally do little damage and mostly serve as an annoying nuisance than anything.

The drones help give a more formidable set of opponents but they aren’t without their issues either.  They come in a variety of sizes and flavors however both the Decepticons and Autobots use the exact same drones.  Also, each type has some gimmick to defeat it, two of which are extremely annoying.  The two largest types require you to throw some sort of vehicle at them to remove their defenses.  There isn’t any way around this and finding a vehicle can often be tricky.  Once you find a vehicle getting it to connect just right among the mess of police/military and everything else going on can be tricky as well.  To make things more tedious you will have to hit them 3-4 times each.  If you try to straight attack or get to close they will fling you halfway across the battle area.

Which brings up another bit of annoyance, almost every encounter has a completely arbitrary “Action Zone”.  Leaving this circle for more than about 20 seconds means instant mission failure.

The hero characters all show up of course.  Through the course of the Decepticon missions you fight Bumblebee, Jazz, Ironhide and Optimus each to their destruction, which makes a nice twist on the plot of the film.  Ironhide however is probably the most annoying boss battle ever as it involves a lot of drones, a lot of “kill stuff then fight the boss”, all while doing a lot of “stay away from the boss between rounds or he’ll fling you across the map”.  I could understand this more if you fought Ironhide as say, barricade or Scorponok but you fight as Blackout, whom is considerably larger than everyone.

The Autobots of course showdown against the Decepticons with one major twist. Shockwave shows up as a boss. He’s even a triple changer transforming from a stationary gun turret, to robot to a helicopter similar to Blackout. This is somewhat odd for several reasons. First is that no other major characters were added. Sure we have the “drones” but they are all clearly called drones implying they are nobodies. Secondly, shockwave has never gotten a movie based toy. Even the drones are all based on toy designs, Swindle, LIST DRONE TOYS. Thirdly, Shockwave is rumored to be a major player in the third Transformers film. Will his design have any relation to the one presented here. Technically the game isn’t really cannon in anyway, but it is something to question.

There is one character conspicuously absent from the game. Ratchet is not a playable character nor do you ever fight him. He makes a few short appearances in some of the CG cinematics but he doesn’t ever appear in game. Bonecrusher shows up in an NPC role during one of Starscreams missions and Brawl is fought during the Autobot quest though you never get to play as either of them. This is actually somewhat disappointing as I was hoping to play as Bonecrusher. His articulated claw could have added some interesting dynamics to the gameplay. Also Brawl is extremely small compared to his movie counterpart.

Brawl was the tank, referred to as Devastator in the first movie. He’s correctly called Brawl in the game but in the movie he was several stories tall and it took a great deal of effort by almost everyone to take him down. In the game he’s the same size as Ironhide, who turns into a larger pick up truck.

The missions themselves are decent though fairly standard for an action style game.  The Decepticon missions are probably the better set if only because the Decepticons are more varied than the Autobots and the Decepticon missions come off as less hypocritical. By Hypocritical I mean, the Autobots get penalized for “Destruction” while at the same time you have missions like “Drive around as Jazz blowing up gas stations to distract the police”.

Overall, this is an OK game, though not spectacular.  The real issues ironically come from the more “Game” like elements.

NOTE: It’s almost inconsequential but I just wanted to note that while playing this game I took screen shots of my OWN all the way through of lots of great stuff using a program to do so only to find out the program had not saved ANY of them.  So I’ve had to resort to picking up a bunch of random shots from around the web.