I came across a great video showing the Portal 2 in-game level editor which is being released soon as part of the Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC. Whilst I was intending on embedding it in this post, it seems the video has been mysteriously pulled from YouTube. For now the following image will have to suffice – I’ll update this post when I find a working video link.
Having seen a demonstration of what can be done, I’m extremely impressed by the clean interface that couples simple geometry manipulation with WYSIWYG design. In the past I have made levels using a number of tools including Deathmatch Maker, QuARK (for the original Quake) to the first version of Hammer for the original Half Life engine. But irrespective of the tool used the basic principles for map creation were the same, as was typically the (rather steep) learning curve. The beauty of this Test Chamber Editor is the player doesn’t have to understand the theory behind binary space partitioning nor worry about leaks or striking the right lighting balance. They simply choose from prefabs of the small number of elements that make up Portal test cambers and see where their imagination takes them. Without trying the editor myself I can’t say much more; but from the video, it looks like a lot of fun.
A rather cheeky 2D rip off (yes, I think that’s justified given the identical art assets) of Minecraft called ‘Crafted’ has popped up on the iOS app store. I’m tempted to give, what appears to be the crossbreed between Minecraft and Terrania, a go, but I don’t really want to reward what amounts to intellectual property theft in my opinion.
Payday: The Heist is the result of mixing three cups of Left 4 dead with a whisked quantity of Modern Warfare and glazing the resultant cake with generous portions of awesome. Payday: TH takes the four player cooperative approach so brilliantly executed by L4D and adds wads of cash and rather irate Police officers. Sure, there are still guns and enemies that assault you in unrelenting waves but apart from that the presentation and style of the game are very different and exceedingly compelling.
There are six missions (of which I’ve only tried two so far) which are designed to never truly play the same way twice. Each is concerned with some sort of get-rich-quick style encounter the title of the game alludes to and the reward for in-game achievement is currency. This forms the experience and progression system unlocking new and better equipment progressively for the three distinct player types, each of which feel different and nicely mutually complementary.
The only minor negative point is the story – not much is explained and any inter-character banter feels largely there to cynically dispense with the story as quickly as possibly and make way for the action. In this game however, that’s absolutely fine by me.
The price and the quality of the experience and overall finish mean no second thought should be required here, I heartily recommend Payday: The Heist.
I finally took the time to complete Metro 2033 (it was only sitting on my shelf for around a year..) and I loved every minute of it. A lot of new games feel quite similar these days but being produced by a Ukrainian developer has really imparted a unique feel to this title. The visuals are spectacular and the gameplay has some unique and interesting elements.
Despite the developer 4AGames having a bust up with the GSC chaps (the developer behind the STALKER series) over originality of technology and IP, Metro 2033 is a very different game from STALKER. Ok, sure it is set in a post-apocalyptic world irradiated by the folly of man, but therein the similarities stop. Metro is a linear and highly polished romp through the tunnels and factions of a destroyed Moscow with a psychological gameplay element thrown in. These give Metro an almost FEAR style angle and my main criticism is that these were not developed further.
That said, the game is a competent, challenging and engrossing eight to ten hour gas masked adventure through some truly memorable areas which I have no hesitation in highly recommending.
My thanks to Nick for the snappy title
Steam have a rather timely offer given my last post on STALKER 2, buy both STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) and Call of Pripyat (CoP) for £6.24 !! Interestingly the offer doesn’t include Clear Sky but that is another story
This is a real bargain and a perfect opportunity to experience these fantastic games, so go and grab your copies.
Remember, to get the most out of Shadow of Chernobyl get the STALKER Complete fan made spruce up mods.
STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works. … (calmly reclining) and I’m mildly excited about this. Not a huge amount is known about the follow-up to the first trilogy of STALKER games yet, the original press release was somewhat short on details. However, we do know that the same studio (GSC) are already working on it and it might use the Crysis engine.
I found the original trilogy to be somewhat of a flawed gem – breathtakingly exciting, compellingly authentic and very engrossing; but sadly each title lacked a certain ‘something’ that ended up detracting from the experience. Luckily a number of talented community members have released various spruce up mods which (especially in the case of Shadow of Chernobyl) really make the games feel MUCH more complete and enjoyable, greatly enhancing what is already a phenomial gaming experience.
If you’ve not played a STALKER game before I can’t recommend enough grabbing a copy of Shadow of Chernobyl (£9.99 currently on Steam) along with the STALKER Complete 2009 fan made spruce up mod and Call of Pripyat (currently £19.99 on Steam or £14.99 if you own either Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) or Clear Sky). Somewhere between these great titles is pure gaming gold, I really hope GSC find it for STALKER 2. Roll on 2012!
So, as I wrote before, I have now finished Farcry 2 on my second attempt. The first time I picked up this game I got bored in about five hours, but to be honest, that was my fault. You see, I was expecting a standard Farcry 1-esque run of the mill fairly open world shooter with clear objectives and some HUD monkey telling me what to do and where to go. What I wasn’t expecting, was this:
Completely open space and complete freedom to explore the world. There is little or no hand holding from a very early stage in the game which both empowers (and certainly in my case) confuses in equal measure at the start. To players not used to going (or unwilling to go) out and have their own adventure, this game quickly can become boring. But those who do get frustrated and stop playing will miss an incredible, but slightly flawed, experience.
The world in Farcry 2 is large and breathtakingly stunning. Ubisoft have done a fantastic job of creating an engine that not only paints the harsh African landscape in its rightful splendor, but also requires no annoying and immersion sucking inter-area load pauses. In fact, this is so well done that it wasn’t until I had played for a few hours did I realise I hadn’t yet seen a load screen. The landscape is also ever-changing, with wild animals roaming, patrols roaring up roads between checkpoints and a beautiful day-night cycle. As such, they few areas of the world the player revisists repeatedly always look and feel different.
The environments range organically from wide open sun bleached deserts to dense thick jungle and vast open water areas. My only minor criticism is that, while the world feels huge, it is possible to drive from one side to the other in around twenty minutes. Despite this, the number of times I stopped simply to look around and take in the scenery really stunned me.
Although there are no RPG character creation elements to Farcry 2, it is such an open game that it allows the player to play in a wide variety of ways. For example, I started off as a bit of a rookie taking potshots with rusty, inadequate weapons. But as I started unlocking equipment, I learned the joy of picking off patrols from afar with my sniper rifle and closing in for the kill with an Uzi. Then there was the unmitigated joy of destroying arms convoys with IEDs and picking off survivors with my green dot scoped M4. I also went through a phase of only attacking at night, creeping upto guards armed only with my machete, possibly using an IED planted on a nearby arms crate as a diversion. Finally, I enjoyed using guided rockets and mortars to soften up enemy strongholds before assaulting with a light machine gun.
Although playing at night did encourage the use of stealth, I was disappointed that the night never seemed to be quite dark enough. It was no where near the ink black darkness of STALKER, a series that really sets the benchmark in this regard.
This is only the tip of the iceberg but one further element I do want to mention is the inclusion of buddies in the game. Buddies are NPCs who (depending on your history with them) will provide side missions that either help or extend main faction quests. But their main lure is as backups – if the player falls from enemy fire and a buddy is available, they can turn up and drag the player out of harms way allowing the wounded player to patch up and either go back for their vehicle and equipment or simply run to safety.
This really raises the bar for NPC characters as far as I am concerned, as does the fact that, occasionally they will genuinely need the help of the player to stay alive. I painstakingly kept each buddy alive throughout the game, although I was pleased and slightly irritated by them towards the end (although I don’t wish to spoil anything for those who have not played the game through yet.)
On the subject of the end of the game however, I felt that, overall the ending was rather poor. Actually there is more to it than that- the story and story telling aspects of this game were poorly presented and, frankly, uninteresting. The player is given one goal when they start Farcry 2 : “Kill the Jackal”. Apart from a few minor references and appearances by this character, he is (just) barely mentioned by the main characters during the story quests. None of the quests even seem to have anything to do with him. Most missions inevitably boiled down to the simple formula of ‘GOTO A, Do Buddy Side Quest, GOTO B, Kill X / Destroy Y’. While this echos what I said about the openness of the experience and gives the player a great deal of freedom to pursue their objectives in a number of different ways, it still gets rather lacklustre after a few times.
Unfortunately, there is no getting around it, the storyline is weak. The player rebounds from one faction to another doing quests which, whilst eventually upping the ante of the conflict, really don’t serve to engage the player in the world or develop the story. What is even more disappointing is that there is no option to pick a side in the conflict or remain neutral.
Frankly, if you are the type of player that just ignores side quests and just goes like a Bull in a China shop towards the main objective - don’t. At least not in this game, otherwise the whole experience will be over very quickly and the story will have been even less satisfying.
This was the first game that made me break my promise to myself of never buying anything laden with SecuROM. In my defense, I didn’t know at the time Farcry 2 came with such an annoying free extra as it is only stated in very small writing at the bottom of the back of the DVD case. That said, as of a recent patch activation and disc checking were removed although I will still have to remember to deactivate my machine when I come to uninstall it or reinstall Windows. As a result, I consider this point rather moot as it serves as an example of how, if a game has to use SecuROM, it can be done without inconveniencing the honest customer base. (Although I really am not a fan of DRM in any shape or form in my games.)
Overall the game is an amazing experience. The story, although poor, acts like a tour guide taking the player around all the noteworthy places in the world. Pyromaniacs will also have a field day as the game has some of the most pretty and satisfying explosions and fire effects of any game I have played before. The so described ‘realistic fire’ of the Dunia engine really is impressive and can be used to great tactical advantage. Sadly, it does feel as though Ubisoft created Farcry 2 as a tech demo to highlight the capabilities of their Dunia engine and simply slapped on a story afterwards rather than the other way around. That said, the beautifully modelled African wilderness resulting from this is so fun to play that I think I can just about forgive them.
All the screenshots I have taken whilst playing Farcry 2 can be found on my Xfire FC2 screenshots page. Although a word of warning – they are in chronological order with the newest (i.e. the end of the game) first so be wary for spoilers.
We have oh so many reasons to worship at the gilded feet of ATi and Nvidia at the moment – their continual graphics development has lead to some extremely immerse and consuming games of late, with the promise of still more to come as the Silicon wars heat up. Although many have heralded the start of ‘real life’ or (‘VR’ in the 1990s) quality computer graphics as just being ‘around the corner’ in practice we are nowhere near. (Ask anyone who does Ray Tracing about their render times).
Despite significant leaps of late, GPU hardware presently lacks the horsepower to pull this feat off and as a result, game engines utilise trickeries which enhance the final rendered images on our screens. HDR/ Bloom to simulate ranges of lighting, AA / bump/parallax mapping to give flat textures the impression of having three dimensions, film grain and post processing (to name just a few) are all examples of ways in which we are catapulted into the darkest realms of the minds of game developers.
And you know what – it works. It works because the vast majority of games are not based on real life and there is a good reason for this – they would probably be slow paced and/or boring. It is much easier to transport a player into a gritty or glossy world and tell a story where the developer has complete control over the experience – and it is fun. Although please don’t get me started on recoil-less rifles, enemies who can take so much fire to put down you would expect them to look like apple cores, ‘unlimited’ ammo vehicles and some of the other ‘realistic’ travesties that have occurred in recent games.
I would write more on this topic, but I should veer back onto the point. Short films inspired by games are not new, however upto now they were normally poorly voiced over clip shows rendered in the originating game engine. However this is different- I discovered recently; well actually it was back in February so sue me 8) , Escape from City 17.
I can already see the 60 Watt bulbs illuminating above your heads, but for those of you on energy saving varieties, City 17 is the fictional setting of Half Life 2. The fan movie really serves as an advert from ‘The Purchase Brothers’ and it is fantastically put together considering their tiny budget. It blends the oppressive Orwellian City 17 with real life environments seamlessly resulting in a fantastic short video which I highly recommend.
At the rate Valve are working, Half Life 3 Episode 2 may look just like this… probably not worth ordering a bunch of 4870s or 295 GTXs in anticipation though.
The COD 4.2 full trailer has been released and boy does it look good! I can’t wait to get my hands on this (although the preorder price of £45 is crazy!!!), for now – let me direct you with all haste to the Infinity Ward COD 4 MW 2 webste
26/05/09 Update: now hosted on youtube as well, so enjoy the embedded goodness
Infinity Ward have released another awesome (but short) trailer giving us salivating fans a brief glimpse of their newest offering. Put mildly, it looks very impressive and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished article. Lots of people complained that CoD4: Modern Warfare was too short and very scripted – I disagree.
Well that is to say that I actually do agree, but disagree that these points detracted from the game. It seems that most FPS games coming out at the moment are set in an ‘open world’ with ‘sandbox’ missions and ‘complete freedom’. Unfortunately, that does not immediately equal a recipe for success, ignoring for a moment that if everyone does the same thing things get boring, look at FarCry 2! There is a lot to be said for a well paced linear (yes I feel a bit dirty saying it) action game that tells a story well. COD4 does that and boy does it do it well. I actually liked the scripted enemy spawn mechanic because it prevented the player from lingering at a safe distance picking off enemies and forced them into the midst of the foray. This coupled with the open level designs the break neck gameplay mechanics and Veteran mode (oh yes baby ) made me really enjoy COD4.
However I conceed the point about the length of the game – I completed it on Veteran in under 15 hours which is a bit too short really. This was more than made up for by the multiplayer (over 140 hours and counting) but sometimes it is nice to engage with a story. I don’t feel COD4 offered much in the way of single player replay factor.
Anyway, even if Infinity Ward kept the same graphics and same dynamics and just gave us another 15-20 hours of well thought out story driven gameplay I will be happy. Hopefully they will do much better than though…
Take a look at the trailer, lets hope this is ingame or engine rendered at least. Not long to go now !!