Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Posted on: July 3rd, 2011 by

I don’t know if I’m unusual here, by playing lots of different games and flitting between them, but when people find out I play games and who have any interest in the subject, a question I’m often asked is “What is your favourite game?” or “What do you play?”

I find it pretty hard to answer, and usually either say “Half-Life” or respond with what I’ve been mostly playing that week. They, in turn find it extremely easy to answer, as they tend to stick to one game and play it constantly.

Equally, people whose first and last gaming experience is World of Warcraft have been astonished to learn that I don’t have an army of max-level super raid awesome characters after hearing that I’m a gamer that has played it on and off since launch.

Neither of those profiles fit my gaming style, but match the majority of game-playing people I talk to outside. So I guess this is the market the operators of game using the free-to-play with microtransactions model are gunning for. Get them hooked by giving away the game, then have them spend money to improve their game experience. Even though I’ve reduced the amount of new games I’m buying, if I stuck to a single game (the horror) I could easily fund a subscription-based game, or more pertinently buy out every item in a single game’s item store. (except maybe the Sims)

So while people’s money is indeed finite, getting them to try another game at no cost, having them like it enough to switch to it exclusively and then transfer what they would have spent on subs/items to add-ons for the new game is a pretty good business plan.

“Pay for playtime”, where you pre-pay for X amount of in-game time, is like having a big countdown timer on the screen, and to a degree subscriptions are like that, except that the timer appears hanging in the air in front of you when you’re not playing the game.

“Pay to win”, where you buy bonus items to give yourself an in-game advantage, I’m undecided on. Everyone says they hate the idea, and certainly I would if it was as clear-cut as that title suggests:

– Giving people items for cash that others have spent a lot of time getting does devalue the achievement, but they had fun getting there right? Games are fun aren’t they, not some menial, repetitive task you perform for trivial rewards? Maybe cash for those sort of items is a wake-up call to some.

– Some items only being available for cash is more irksome to me, actually irrespective of whether or not they are “better”. As a collector I want to have them all – but in some games this can mean shelling out a sizeable sum.

– The acceptability of how Premium (or better) your “premium” items are seems to me tied to how much people are paying, partly for the items, but especially for the vanilla product.
In a completely free game, I’d say almost all bets are off – you should be able to buy level-ups, stat-boosting items and content as much as you want – because you’re the one funding the game’s development. The only time I’d call foul was for (say) single-use activated power-ups which allowed you to win duels – Need For Speed World for example has these, but crucially you can obtain them in-game.
In a full-price game (subscription or otherwise) extras or pre-order bonuses are a lot more controversial and if they exist at all shouldn’t really be game-changing. Unless it is generally or tacitly agreed that the regular-price-paying customers are getting some sort of discount then is it not unreasonable for them to expect full access to everything the game has to offer as sold on day one?


In all I think the hybrid models are a good idea, reinvigorating flagging games. The best models seem to be the ones which are completely free to play without draconian level caps, but have time-saving items for sale and an optional subscription which as well as giving you automatic bonus content also pays you a monthly allowance of the bonus item currency. People can try for free, pay for a few bits if they are liking it or switch to a sub if they’re spending more in the store than it would cost to subscribe. They can take payment holidays, don’t feel forced to play (supposed to be fun, remember?) – pretty much get what they want and only what they want to pay for.

Posted on: October 3rd, 2010 by


The game is a German “Medieval Life Simulation RPG” which has probably made you stop reading already. The sequel to Europa 1400 it has you start a career opening various shops in a growing small town while trying to start a family and gain political clout in the local council.


You directly control up to three of your clan choosing a broad trade for each early in their lives, allowing access to construct specific buildings relevant to that trade, which can then be upgraded. While they can work in those buildings, it’s usually indentured serfs which do most of the graft, as meanwhile you have to start a family and optionally gain seats in the council. The classes are craftsman, patron, scholar and rogue and characters upgrade as they gain XP and buy new titles. You can micromanage everything the shops do, what they make and where they sell it for the best prices, sending their carts out manually, or leave the body of that to the AI with nice granularity in the options it can control. There is enough to do without the micro-micro, but it’s there if you want it.

Starting a family is how your dynasty lives on, so is essential. Each game “day” is a simulated four years in the world, so your characters age and die fairly quickly. The other dynasties in the game will try to eliminate you, either politically, economically or just by plain and simple attacking you and your buildings.

These will be logged as crimes you can bring them to bear for, but there will basically always be someone attacking or robbing your stuff. Of course you can do the same to them, rob them and attack their property – even waylay them on the way to bear witness in a trial for your misdemeanours, thus causing the charges to be dropped.

Positions in the council grant new priveledges and immunities, and each “day” in the council house has a trial in the morning and elections in the afternoon. You can be called upon to appear in court, or if you get elected magistrate, preside over cases yourself laying down judgement and sentencing – cannily to the detriment of your rivals.

Sights and Sounds

JoWooD, despite only being publishers, have in my eyes have developed a bit of a reputation for pretty-looking but slightly bugged games. This is no different. Graphical glitches and dodgy animations abound – nothing game-breaking and more often amusing than annoying – but prevalent. Also the spoken dialogue will randomly switch to German, but thankfully the text remains in English.

Stuff that sucks

The AI, while good enough at managing a single shop, doesn’t do everything you would want. It just sends carts out to buy/sell stuff at the best prices, but doesn’t take into account that you may own other shops, so will sell the gold from your own mine at the market even if you have a goldsmith that needs it. It also does nothing for the rogue buildings or your residence – you still have to plunder, spy and do your diplomacy manually.

There are options to escort your carts safely with thugs you hire at you residence, but this can only be done with any success if you’re directly controlling all cart movement, so effectively forces you to either micromanage or leave their safety to chance. It’s a bit picky about placement, and the best places (near the town hall) get taken very early in the game.

While the town grows in stature, it doesn’t really expand much, so your later shops don’t see much traffic. More problematically, the guards find your more rural buildings hard to navigate to, so are frequently unable to assist when they are attacked.


It’s been a fun sink of 37 hours so far, and I’ve only played a single small map in one (though admittedly the most open-ended) of the game modes. I guess it’s ultimately pointless, but then that raises debate about whether all games are pointless, even games with achievements have less tangible reward than the electrons which power them or the photons with which we see them.

I’ve enjoyed playing it, despite its bugs and frustrations, and that’s what matters to me. There are enough combinations of ways to do things to keep it interesting and enough new ways to play that I’ll be playing it a fair bit more. The as-yet-untried-by-me expansion adds a campaign mode and sea-based buildings.

Score : 7/10

Posted on: August 10th, 2010 by


Poor Naughty Bear didn’t get invited to the Teddy Bear’s picnic, what should he do? Kill and maim every last one of those elitist fluffy mothers, of course. Shades of Conker’s Bad Fur Day with the some of the mechanics of Ghost Master/Haunting Starring Polterguy/Spy vs Spy and the violence of Manhunt you must murder or scare to death groups of teddy bears. But hey, they started it.


A third-person action game, the goal is mostly the death of the other teddies, but rather than an all-out assault this is best achieved with a little misdirection. Sabotage their barbecues and fuseboxes then lie in wait for them to come to fix them, pouncing on them while distracted to execute them in grisly fashion. Lay bear traps and land mines or hide in a cupboard to jump out and scare them so much they commit suicide. Do all this and other wanton acts of destruction in front of the other bears and watch as their panic escalates and spirals them into insanity. They call in The Fuzz (unless you booby-trap their phones) and other, harder bears, such as ninjas, zombears and RO-BO bears in later levels – though each have great weapons you can nick off their corpses.

Sights and Sounds

Nice-enough looking, although the environments are a little cramped and the camera can be a little random. The bleating wails of scared teddies quickly erases any reticence you may have had about exterminating them.

Stuff that sucks

They like to recycle. There are only seven levels proper – each one has four or so replay modes with different objectives – but even the second one mostly reuses the buildings and interiors from the first. It is pretty replayable, but the lack of variation in the levels and the low number of them hints at short-term fun. DLC is promised on the box-front.


Hugely entertaining idea and great fun, which may like Dead Rising seem a brilliant idea at first, but later grow old – however I haven’t had this happen to me yet, there are certainly no game-breaking annoyances. However the campaign is rather short and it remains to be seen what DLC emerges.

Score : 6/10

It also has a multiplayer mode, with some interesting gametypes – here’s a video of them, which also gives a flavour of the singleplayer game:


Posted on: December 12th, 2009 by


Project Gotham Racing is the successor to Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast, which was one of the first games to introduce showing off to get more points, long before Ned for Speed went “underground”. This new version is shiny and stylish and features bikes racing alongside cars in various weather conditions on street and racetrack locations.


The showing-off element is more pronounced than the previous release, but there is still something for everyone. Lots of game modes including crashing into cones (but much easier than Crazy Taxi) and overtaking 2CVs mean there’s always something to do.

Riding bikes is a lot more fun that I thought it would be, while it’s quite easy to fall off – particularly with aggressive car drivers around – the penalty isn’t that great and your acceleration makes up for it. I had to use the third-person view for bikes though, as I was getting severe neck-ache.

Since you can test drive or split-screen race any vehicle without unlocking them, it’s a fun one to take to friend’s houses. Multiplayer over the internet I’ve avoided as it’s rarely a fun experience with driving games.

Sights and Sounds

Nice title music from the Prodigy, plus some surprising variation in the other tunes, from some distinctive classical titles to hideous genero-rock. Good car sounds, particularly on the quirky vehicles that make odd noises.

Graphically all rather nice, with very detailed in-car views, windscreen wipers and everything if that’s your thing (I favour the clean view of the camera stuck on the front bumper).

There is an okay selection of cars, but nowhere near as many as the other major titles – the same is true of the tracks, but the different weather conditions add quite a bit of variation. A lot of the tracks and cars will be very familiar, but fortunately seem very consistent with their appearances in other games.

Stuff that sucks

It’s not as “pure” as Forza, and the races which revolve around showboating can get a little tedious, but it’s easy enough to find something else to do. Superbikes, in the snow on a grand-prix track – it can get pretty silly – even sillier is the fact that the above-mentioned combination is not actually that challenging.


A fun driving title, not so realistic, but a good blast. A decent halfway point between the more serious and more frivolous racing games.

Score : 8/10

Posted on: December 12th, 2009 by

Dog smoking a pipe, annoying youth, sword-toting hero, feisty fire girl, wistful yet ardent princess. Yep: check.


It’s a JRPG with cell-shaded anime-style characters and a real-time battle system. It is the tenth game in a rough series, but only the second major one to be released in Europe in sequence on its original format, the first being Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube in 2003. Lucky US citizens have had PS and PS2 releases either side of that. Tales of Symphonia remains quite highly regarded and even second-hand copies still command prices equal or higher than those on release.

Comparisons with Final Fantasy

One of our newsfeeds recently compared it to Final Fantasy VII, but while it has similarities it is far from a clone of it.

In towns you move around a pre-rendered background and interact with things in a way very similar to FF. In dungeons you similarly have roaming enemies and a map (which didn’t appear in FF until X) – but it differs in that the enemies are visible and avoidable. The overland sections look similar to FFVII in that you are as big as the towns, but again the roaming monsters are visible akin to FFXII. None of these things are exclusive to the Final Fantasy series though and I could list many more obvious parallels to other games which use those systems for travel.

Unlike FF the cut-scenes are rendered using the game engine, so it fits on a single DVD. It also has optional skits, where the characters talk to each in comic-book frames, in an improvement over Tales of Symphonia these are now voiced and the faces fully animated. Most in-game dialogue is in pop-up text windows and only voiced in the major scenes.

Battle System

The battle system however is unlike most other games – in that it has three modes of operation. In Manual it’s effectively real-time action-based where you directly control the characters, mash attack buttons and try to pull off combos. Semi-auto is kind of the same, but targeting is done for you, which is better for long-range characters. Auto does everything for you including attacking according to the tactics you set (conserve mana, all out, etc). Because you have a party of up to four characters, they can be set independently, so you could control the healer while the swordsman is on Auto. There are some skills which can only be used in a particular mode, usually Semi-auto.

The Auto mode is improved from Tales of Symphonia, where you felt like you weren’t doing anything at all, but it does still feel a little disconnected and takes a bit of tinkering with the tactics before you start to get used to influencing the battle more directly. You can switch between modes at will and keep yourself busy.

I like the Auto mode, it works pretty well for the random encounters. The game is too fast to specify turn-based commands and benefits from it. You don’t get bored inputting commands for each character when you know the first attack is going to kill everything, nor do you spend ages beating weak monsters on the way to somewhere interesting – battles against wandering monsters typically only last between 5 and 30 seconds.

Stuff that sucks

Stuff isn’t terribly well-explained. I had to load and re-do the combat tutorial as I didn’t realise I was meant to be performing the actions while the instructions were still on the screen. I have no idea how the weapon skills are transferred to the characters – it says it is possible, and I have “learned” them, but they don’t appear in their skills lists.

As is typical in the genre, it takes a while to get going. Not quite the 35 hours before the game gets started typical of the FF games, but in five hours play I’ve only encountered one “boss” fight.


Buy it if you like this sort of thing. It’s a good example of the genre and the hybrid battle system is a good compromise between chin-stroking strategy and button-mashing, although if you’re a zealous proponent of one of those, you’ll find it a little light.

It’s worth noting there’s an enhanced PS3 version planned for the Autumn (in Japan) with extra playable characters, towns, dungeons, bosses and other content. No word on a western release date.

Score : 9/10

Posted on: May 5th, 2009 by

This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Posted on: March 12th, 2009 by

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Fallout 3 (PC)
5 out of 5 stars

The setting: a post-apocalyptic version of the US that got stuck in the 50s culturally, but advanced massively in technology – I haven’t played the first two, but I just love that off-kilter setting. The SPECIAL system that defines your underlying stats (Strength etc) is familiar territory, while it’s slightly more complex than the standard AD&D ability scores, I’ve seen (for example) the Luck attribute appear in quite a few JRPGs.

Ok, it’s mostly Oblivion with guns, but with a few significant differences – the biggest being the VATS combat system. This is an optional mode where you can freeze the action and auto-aim at a specific part of a monster, as many times as your Action Points allow. It goes all slo-mo cinematic and your proximity, line of sight, skills (and Luck) take over, with you hitting like it’s a turn-based combat game – then it jumps back to real-time so you can dodge any retaliation while your APs regenerate. Non-VATS is just like a normal FPS, and the main reason the PC release shades the console ones, but it would be perfectly playable using only VATS. Since I didn’t play the earlier incarnations, I’m gonna continue comparing it to Oblivion.

Other good changes are fully remappable keys (there’s a line at the top of the readme about how to map the mouse, perhaps clumsier than it should be, but it’s there), a nice range of toys to shoot at stuff, a much-simplified crafting interface and more variety in costumery.

Bad changes would be that each weapon needs very specific ammo, the weapons break very easily and you need identically-described weapons to repair existing ones, so inventory space gets used up pretty quickly.

Another change is that all skills have to be bought at level-up, so while the enemies get tougher, you should theoretically be getting tougher yourself (rather than only leveling when you improved key class-stats) but you can no longer learn things like stealth simply by creeping around a lot.

What’s not changed are instant-travel nodes on the map, the clumsy way the map, inventory and skills are on separate tabs within the same menu and you constantly need to switch between them, the same rather basic compass, characters and monsters seeming to pop out of nowhere and giving you a heart-attack, and the monster NPCs having AI like the red ghost in Pac Man.

Still it’s a excellent game, the VATS system never seems to get old as you think it might and the setting is amazing.

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
4 out of 5 stars

It seems like forever since I saw the first examples of this game’s artwork. It’s anime-style, all cell-shaded with a watercolour-on-pencil effect and very fine indeed.  The style extends beyond the comic-book-like panes of the chapter-select menu, the artful stills and animated cut-scenes and into the 3-D part of the game itself.

The actual game between the many cut-scenes is turn-based combat on individual battlefields. You start in map view, and decide which character to move, at which point you gain control of them in 3-D third-person. As you move, your Action Points decrease and any enemies which spot you are free to shoot at you, then you can select aim, target an enemy and fire upon them. It briefly switches to a cinematic attack view as you fire, the enemy gets to retaliate, and then you end your turn. Oddly you have to do alll this quite quickly as you can continue to take damage if you just stand there. Then you can choose another (or the same) character and repeat until you run out of Command Points and it’s the enemies turn to do effectively the same thing – but of course without the dangerous moments of indecision you face as a human player.

That’s pretty much it, it’s pure strategy with no exploration in-between, but you do get a big number of characters to choose from later on. It’s like any of the [JRPG-series-name] Tactics version with the third-person live-action-move mode added on, so if you’re looking for an update to those games, with some wonderful stylised graphics, your search is over.

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Dead Space (PC)
Electronic Arts
1 out of 5 stars

Can’t remap the controls to my preference. This wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but I find it annoying and unnecessary for a PC game to dictate to you what the mouse buttons must do. No amount of remapping would improve the unresponsiveness of the controls, though.

The view is a rather nasty drunken-over-the-shoulder one and your character is drawn so large it’s really hard to look around. Being honest, I didn’t actually play long enough to judge how scary the monsters and stuff are, because if I struggle to follow some people down a corridor and open a door, I don’t need stuff jumping out on me.

Graphically it looks quite nice, but they ruined it with sluggish controls and your stupid big immersion-breaking head covering up where you want to look.