Just a brief post to tell everyone that the PC beta for Call of Duty 5: WaW has started. You have to register with CallofDuty.com who will email you a beta key and then download a ~866Mb client. I have only played it for about a couple of hours so far but I am quite impressed. The engine feels very CoD4-like but the maps and game-play are very different to reflect the World War 2 setting. Lots of new options and weapons so plenty to check out, including the fantasitcally sadistic inclusion of a pack of dogs as the 7-kill perk. Not sure whether or not it is quite up to Call of Duty 4 grade or not yet though….
I came across a cool trailer for the upcoming Call of Duty release scheduled to be unleashed in mid November. The video has certainly whet my appetite but I find myself a little cynical about this release. Given the resounding success of Call of Duty 4 (I can’t believe it has been out so long already) and my general apathy towards World War 2 shooters, bred by continual disappointments from previous releases, I feel like a kid who just unwrapped a game at Christmas from a distant relative and is on his way to his PC excited but quietly hoping it doesn’t suck. Given the (so far) direct correlation between odd and even numbered Call of Duty games being forgettable and awesome respectively, lets hope CoD:5 breaks this trend.
Even if it ends up ultimately disappointing, the trailer is awesome – I am an absolute sucker for cinematic games and trailers.
Yes, it is another post about Stalker: Clear Sky but I have been (and continue to be) so impressed with the quality of the dynamic lighting that I want to share some screen shots I have taken whilst playing. Real time lighting and graphical effects really add a whole new level of immersion to this game, days are bright with sun rays bursting through the trees and nights are so dark that it genuinely influences the player’s tactics.
In the first two images, you can see the shadows cast by the tower creeping along the ground as the sun sets in the distance, followed shortly afterwards by night descending.
Shortly after that, it becomes so dark that navigation without the assistance of your PDA and torch / NVGs becomes difficult. This still, ink black night really enhances the atmosphere of the game leaving the player feeling, at times, quite alone and isolated.
The in-game ‘night’ lasts between an hour to two hours of real time and when the sun rises the entire landscape is literally transformed. In the screen shots below, you can see art work on the wall of the Duty base near Agroprom with the shadows of the trees slowly moving across as the sun rises higher (all updated in real time by the engine).
Although the basic environmental lighting is simply stunning, the range of weather the game simulates is also fantastic, from cold wet downpours to fantastic thunderstorms (which no single screen shot could do justice to.)
I also want to share some screen shots of some of the graphical effects when you come across various types of anomalies. In the tunnels underneath Agroprom, the player has to carefully traverse a winding tunnel filled with jets of flame. In the second screenshot, the player is affected by a burst from the Brain Scorcher outside Yantar.
I am the first one to point out that graphics are not the be all and end all when it comes to gaming, however when a game relies so heavily on the atmosphere it creates as part of it’s story telling machinery it would be unfair not to give them due scritiny (particularly when they are this beautiful.) More screenshots can be found on my Xfire page and more will be added as I play the game.
Yahtzee, the comic genius / professional troll, weighs in on Stalker: Clear Sky in his newest video. Not usually known for praise, it was interesting to see what he made of Stalker: Clear Sky and it turns out his feels about the game mirror what I wrote a few days ago. For those of you unaware of Mr Y’s work, he is the chap behind the hilarious and satirical ‘Zero Punctuation’ video reviews over at escapistmagazine.com and I highly recommend checking them out!
In other related news I am still playing Clear Sky whenever I get the chance and despite being a few more hours into the game (and having lost my shiny rifles to a bunch of bandits *mutter mutter*) I am still really enjoying the game. When I finish it I will write a proper follow up.
Today I got my grubby mits on a copy of Stalker: Clear Sky and showing an uncharacteristic amount of self restraint, didn’t rush home to play it immediately. When I did fire it up I was initially left with mixed feelings. However, I have now played about three hours on the hardest difficulty setting and thus far quite enjoyed the experience.
Clear Sky is a prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl, set in a larger Zone around the NPP. There is a fair amount of new content and a lot of the original terrain has been rejigged which adds greatly to the excitement. You wake up as an anonymous loner who has *just* survived a massive blow out which cooked the other members of your party. The similarity to the original title ends there though, and players are immediately put to work as a member of the Clear Sky faction – a group of scientists who are studying the Zone. The game starts quickly, throwing the player into the nearby swamp and introducing them to a lot of the ‘strategy’ concepts early on.
Do not get too excited about the strategy side of things – I was of the mistaken impression that it would involve a game play cross between the original Stalker and a Battlefield style with resources and areas of influence. Unfortunately it is a lot more basic than that and really just expands the completely superfluous Stalker ranking system of the original game. To those of you wondering what I am talking about.. you have made my point for me. The feature was completely superfluous and merely tracked the player’s progress through the game based on how many people they had killed. Fast forward 18 months and Clear Sky expands this concept by formalising the factions in the PDA and providing nifty bars showing faction influence, disposition to the player and ‘resources.’ Any hope of any deep strategy is wiped out here as the stats can so far simply be interpreted by: powerful faction – lots of pointless side quests, otherwise ignore. The side quests are the biggest disappointment thus far for me as they seems to be generated from the template : “Go 5 to 10 mins out of your way and kill something” which gets very old very quickly. Scripted side quests are however interesting and having met a deserting Russian Army driver who promptly tried to double cross me I am cautiously optimistic about the rest of the game. Let this be a warning to you – don’t trust people you meet hiding under a bridge. :p
Despite the use of the original locations, models and textures Clear Sky is a very different game. The story is just as engaging as the original, if not more so, as it makes full use of the fact it is a prequel to interweave some of the key characters from Shadow of Chernobyl into the plot. Who knows, maybe even Strelok will make an appearance later? The engine has been greatly upgraded and now includes a lot of beautiful weather and lighting effects coupled with a day night transition system which turn a game already dripping in atmosphere into something almost surreal in places. The atmosphere is largely thanks to the authenticity of having a development team from the Ukraine. The moody, functional architecture from a post Soviet era comes accross naturally and is sufficiently alien to many Western players to really add intrigue to this already very different world. Greatly improved textures and sounds coupled with the graphical enhancements and interesting developments to the AI really make the game stand out for me, and although it will never have the same level of graphical polish as something like Call of Duty 4, there have been moments already which have left me in awe. Sadly players who played the original will be frustrated that some of glitches still present in Clear Sky. Randomly disappearing NPCs, occasional clipping bugs, annoying side quest spawning (and timing) all remain, although many bugs have been fixed.
Bugs not-with-standing, I have only played this game for a very short duration and even by my overly critical standards the game is, so far, highly enjoyable and definitely worth buying. I will write more when I have had a chance to get deeper into the Zone.
Portal has been a resounding success for Valve. It has shown how a small game with a simple concept can be a lot of fun, but not many people realise that the actual concept is not new. In fact, there was a degree project by a Jeep Barnett at DigiPen called Narbacular Drop in which the concept of jumping through dynamic portals to bypass obstacles was first developed. This was back in 2004, the game went on to win a variety of awards at the time and still has a fan following.
So… why didn’t Valve get sued by the original creators? Simple, they employed them. Valve were so impressed by Jeep Barnett and his project that they employed his and some of the original team. Later on, they became the team leaders of the Portal project, developing the idea they came up and crafting it from the fairly crude “Princess no-knees” to the highly polished product most of us played last year.
A bit of trivia for those interested.
Just a quick post to spread the word about Steam’s weekend Bioshock offer. This could not have come at a better time for me, I have just built a brand new awesome gaming rig (details later) and just finished the Bioshock demo! So, at ~$32 it is a bargain, if you like first person action games with a lot of atmosphere (no pun intended) I highly recommend you take advantage of this offer.
Update, just took a look and it almost a 8Gb download, users on capped monthly bandwidths beware.
I was surprised to hear of a LAN gaming center in Trocadero, but a few of my friends had been extolling it’s virtues for a little while so I decided to give it a try. It is run by Gamerbase and houses 80+ extremely high end Dell systems with 24″ Monitors and looks absolutely stunning. I went there on Friday and had such a great time I went again yesterday. The only downside is it tends to be a bit quiet when they are not running tournaments so bring a group of friends down with you! Pictured below is the 18+ section where I do my gaming.
Location : HMV in Picadilly Circus, London. (?)
Price : £10 for 3 (or 4 if you are a student) hours
PC Specs : Very High – Core 2 Quads, 8800 GTXs and 24″ monitors
Games : A huge variety including single as well as multiplayer games. Full list.
Overall : 9/10 - Great fun, but bring your own group.
VALVe released Half life 2 to a salavating world back in 2004. Gamers jumped on the game and its new engine called Source, a fork from GoldSrc which powered the original Half Life and was itself based on the original Quake. Unusually, I am going to get to the point very early in a post – I thought Half Life 2 was great. It was slick, beautifully polished and combined action, horror and character development with VALVe’s unique humour.
I do not wish to say much more about the original game, instead I want to talk about the episodic spin offs that were ment to continue the story line. Half Life 2 left us on a bit of a cliff hanger which was both exciting and disappointing. Luckily, VALVe made good their promises of a continuation which would be “worth the wait.” This was the rather obviously named Half Life 2: Episode 1 which I reviewed on my old site. Again, cutting to the point – I loved the first episode with the usual spectacular visuals and wonderfully choreographed character development we have come to expect. Apart from a little bit of “backwards and forwards”-ing and the fact the game was brutally short (I completed it in a 4 hour sitting on hard) it was an orgy of explosive action mixed with a deep undercurrent of forboding.
What the hell happened next?! Episode two has been out since late 2007 and despite promising a lot of new and exciting features such as massively destructable structures and ‘non-linear’ gameplay, I am yet to play it. Today again I watched the preview videos and felt excited by what was on offer, so why is it I have yet to play or am undecided on whether I want to play episode two? It is 2008 now, four years since the original game was released. Whilst technologically the engine (and therefore the games) have improved in many aspects, it still borrows from the tired wardrobe of the original games. We have the same MP7 and combine rifles, still we have the same equipment and still we have almost the same textures. VALVe seem to have missed the point of episodic gaming:
1) More installments with a greater, developing story line
2) Reduced cost of each installment
3) Reduced time between releases (6 to 9 months at most)
4) Something new and exciting in each new installment.
Whilst they have succeeded in point one and two, they are by no means successful at points 3 and 4. Episode two (and likely the final installment when it is released) feel a bit like a poor theatre company who are stuck with the same actors and same (now) limp faded props and dresses from show to show – trying to recreate a medieval scene one week and a futuristic dystopia the next – all from the same props!
I don’t like ranting like this about a company who has given me so many hours of enjoyment, but by the same token I (and everyone else) had the right to expect more. How hard would it have been to replace the MP7 with a G36 carried by shock Combine forces just outside the city to add little bit of spice? Adding new aliens and expanding story lines are welcome additions, but if the player has the same old tool set, it detracts from the larger changes. Had this game been released a year earlier it would have been a different story, but now I have little enthusiasm for it.
I will try and play it at some point, if I am wrong I will happily put it in writing
It has an official release date (hopefully concrete), but not a huge amount is definatively known about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky – the official prequel to the amazing STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. I have not written about either of these games before, which is surprising given the amount of time I spent playing both single and multiplayer STALKER.
Shadow of Chernobyl was a masterpiece of visceral entertainment, made all the more authentic by it’s Ukrainian development team. Their efforts in representing the lost Soviet city of Prypet, which stands largely intact to this day, along with the areas surrounding the Chernobyl NPP like the Red Forrest are astonishing and deserving of praise. The only real drawback to the game was the overall lack of polish, particularly with the mission scripting which could be a bit hit and miss.
The lack of any online cheat protection and clearly designed multiplayer modes really disadvantaged the online experience. I have played many hours on some of the large maps enjoying the mixture between fast paced battles in Agropom as well as some of the other maps where slow methodical stalking was the best strategy. But in the end I stopped playing do to the imbalanced nature of the action.
It was with great excitement that read a number of months ago about the planned prequel that has been in development, practically since the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. For those of you not keenly following the game release sites, the name of this prequel is Clear Sky and it is set in a time before the (fictional) second disaster at Chernobyl. What was it that a wise man once said? To have one containment breach is a tragedy, to have second seems like carelessness?
Rather than unravelling the master quest by searching for the identity of this mysterious Strelok character, instead, you play a free agent in “The Zone” tasked with assassinating Strelok. He really appears to be persona non grata doesn’t he? This is only a small part of the game with the player becoming inextricably embroiled in a multi faction conflict in the zone. What worries me a little is the number of factions rumoured to be in game : NINE! Bandits, Duty, Freedom, Clear Sky, Mercenaries, Internal Troops (Military), Scientists, and Lone Stalkers and the player can choose to align themselves with any of them (although presumably only one at a time). Whilst having multiple factions is a good thing, it promotes diversity and gives a potentially huge degree of replay-ability, with so many factions it is very difficult to make them sufficiently unique and appealing. Especially with the degree of overlap in their motivations and objectives as judged by Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl.
The X-ray engine has received an upgrade to version 1.5 which will include Direct X 10 support as well a variety of particle, textural and AI upgrades. I found a video a few days ago showing the weather system in action. It looks very impressive, from oil black nights to realistic weather effects and shadows. I am very much looking forward to this, and to exploring the expanded / tweaked zone, so what awaits you Stalker, in the zone that changed?
UPDATE: According to wikipedia, the E3 demo was leaked to a variety of torrent sites today. I can only hope this does not impact on the work being done getting the final build ready for the August release date.