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I Am Alive! Which is a bit surprising since the game in question has been in and out of development hell several times, has changed development teams and was in fact first mooted in 2008. But here it is, and it's surprisingly good, at least until you get the end, but more on that later.
I Am Alive has been released as a PSN/360 downloadable title, although it was originally planned as a retail disc release. The game takes place in the near future, after an unspecified disaster has killed most of the inhabitants of one or more cities. The game doesn't say what caused the disaster, or how big an area it's affected - but it's implied it's continent wide, if not global. You play as Adam, a man who has recently recovered from the injuries he sustained during the disaster. You head off to your home town of Haverton with the intention of finding your wife and daughter.
Gameplay entails running, climbing and occasionally shooting your way around Haverton undertaking a variety of mini quests. The game isn't open world like Grand Theft Auto, but there is a central hub area where you do have some degree of freedom to roam around. There are no Silent Hill style monsters to fight against - instead, your enemy is the environment. Aside from having to clamber around abandoned buildings, you also have to deal with the dust that was thrown up by the disaster. The dust just serves to obscure your view initially but as you get lower down into the streets you find that hanging around in dust filled areas can be seriously hazardous to your health.
Climbing is a bit strange at first, since the game gives you a stamina bar that is depleted when you climb or when you're low in the dust. Your stamina only goes back up again when you're on a ledge or if you use an item to restore it. Granted, the game's more of a challenge if you don't use the items but it's nevertheless odd to have to pause to knock back a can of fruit salad mid climb to avoid falling off. That aside, the controls work fairly well.
Another hazard - apart from falling off a building - is being murdered by one of the city's fellow survivors. Not all the people in the city you encounter are lunatics, but quite a lot of them are. Bullets are pretty sparse so you can't run around blasting people as you see fit. Instead, you can use your gun as a deterrent, or slash people with a machete at short range. Oddly - and this is one of my gripes with the game - you can't just slash away at people. You have to wait till they're standing close and then press a button to initiate a button mashing mini-game. Alternately, you can get people to back off and then kick them into a hole - although all the while you're doing this anyone you're not pointing your gun at will get closer. Combat is a pretty tense affair in this game.
Some people have complained that I Am Alive's graphics aren't all that great and while they might not be quite as good as the likes of Gears of War, the advantage to them being slightly lower quality is that you can see a great distance in the game without the frame-rate dropping. And some of the views in the game are breathtaking - you get to view the devastation from the tops of skyscrapers, through broken windows and more.
Story-wise, I Am Alive is a little odd. The game has you supposedly looking for your wife but you end up getting distracted and running errands to help an unrelated little girl and her family. That's no so unusual if the main character's a hero, right? Except that when I was playing I shot an old woman in the face for no other reason than she was trying to defend her property. I also ignored all the other people asking for help - though I plan to do their side quests on a second playthrough. So the game is forcing me to adopt a certain morality. But I can forgive that.
What's less forgivable is that the game just ends. Instead of their being any proper resolution as to what happens to your wife and child, the game just finishes. That's not to say the game won't occupy you for a while, and it is only twelve quid or so. But I suspect what happened is that the game's development was halted halfway through and the company that took over decided to just publish what they had.
I Am Alive is an entertaining and surprisingly original game and for twelve quid it's well worth picking up. Just be warned that you're not going to get a satisfactory conclusion at the end of it. Roll on 'I Am Still Alive' perhaps?
(also posted on freeola)
... oh, no, wait, it doesn't. That's because Euro Shopper Energy drink makes no grand claims such as 'it gives you wings!'. The important bit of the can is the part that reads '35p' because at that price it's a heck of a lot cheaper than Red Bull. Plus, it means that shops can't sell the drink for way over the RRP. I've seen Red Bull being sold for up to £1.50 in places!
Euroshopper's Energy Drink is also virtually indistinguishable from Red Bull, and tastes great. That's not to say all energy drinks taste as good - I've had some energy drinks that tasted really foul. It's good for a quick sugar/energy boost, though I can't say I've felt hugely revitalized after drinking it. If you drink a few in a row you might see some effect but I wouldn't recommend it since the can contains three times the amount of caffeine as a can of coke/pepsi!
One thing the can doesn't mention is whether it's vegetarian or not - since Taurine, one of the ingredients of the drink, can be made from bull's intestines. No, really. I emailed Euro Shopper and was advised that, thankfully, the Taurine is artificial and it's therefore veggie friendly. At 35p you can't go wrong, and it's great with vodka too.
Downsides? The only one I can think of is that kids can afford to buy this stuff and might end up going a little hyper at home.
It's Massive! It's Effective! It's... pretty clear I've got no idea how to start this review. Nevertheless, Mass Effect 3 is upon us, after being pushed back a good six months to the disappointment of many fans. But was it worth the wait? Yes, if you don't count the ending.. but more on that later. Mass Effect 3 takes place in a universe populated by a variety of alien species and, somewhat surprisingly, doesn't rip off Star Wars or Star Trek. While both Mass Effect 1 and 2 had their own storylines, the trilogy's overarching plot involves 'The Reapers', a race of gigantic sentient machines who apparently purge the galaxy of life every 30,000 years or so. And wouldn't you know it, 30,000 years is almost up. It's up to you, as space hero or heroine Commander Shephard - the game lets you determine your character's sex - to save the day.
Although you're not really in a position to do much as the game starts, however, since you've had your ship and crew taken away from you because you piloted an asteroid into a gigantic Mass Relay space-doohickey in order to stop the Reapers arriving even earlier. What, you don't remember that? Even though you played both Mass Effect 1 and 2? That's because said events happened in Arrival, a piece of chargeable downloadable content for Mass Effect 2. It's a bit odd - and cheeky - to have the game reference a piece of content you have to fork out for. And BioWare, the creators of Mass Effect, have outdone themselves as well, since there's another piece of downloadable content available for the game on day one. It's not all that great, though, so you can happily live without it.
In fact, you don't need to have played ME1 or ME2 to enjoy Mass Effect 3, since the game has a 'codex' system which fills you in on some of the game's characters. Though it does increase the emotional impact of some of the deaths in the game. Yes, deaths. Mass Effect 3 is very apocalyptic in tone since, within the game's first few minutes you discover the Reapers have begun their assault upon not only Earth but the galaxy as a whole. And so you hop on your ship in an attempt to gather the galaxy's species together in order to see the Reapers off. What this really entails is roaming around, mostly on foot, shooting anything that moves. And punching anything that doesn't. There are also a few moral choices to make as well, though the shooting generally comes first.
You're not alone, however, and you have five or six other squad-mates who can assist you, up to two of them able to accompany you at the same time. Your character can be a tech-expert, a super psychic bad-ass or a soldier type and the non-player characters have similar predilictions so it's a good idea to put a squad together that includes someone from all three camps. You can't just run in guns blazing - unless you've got the game set on the easiest difficulty level - instead you generally duck behind cover, fire a few shots and proceed. It's a little like Gears of War - and is also viewed from a third person perspective - except without the obvious steroid use.
While the game has you in command of a space-ship, there's surprisingly no ship to ship combat outside of the game's admittedly impressive cutscenes. But your ship does let you go on a variety of side-missions to help bolster the war effort. The game's main missions are, however, a tad linear in that they have to be tackled in one specific order. Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, let you complete the main missions in whatever order you liked. However Mass Effect 3 does pit you against a far wider variety of enemies than either of the previous games did which is a bonus. And the game's graphics are a little bit better than they were in ME1 and 2 as well - although be warned that the PS3 version of the game doesn't run quite as smoothly as the PC or 360 versions do, which is a bit frustrating at times.
Mass Effect 3 is essentially a shoot-em-up with RPG elements and as such it's a hell of a lot of fun to play. Aside from looking and sounding good - even though this game has a new music composer - it's one of the most emotionally engaging games I've played in ages. You really can see the galaxy going to hell as the Reapers start laying waste to everything. The last hour or so of the game, however, does disappoint a little. Fans of the Mass Effect series have been up in arms about the ending and if you just happened to watch the ending on Youtube or something, you might wonder what their problem was? I'll tell you.
The moral decisions you made in Mass Effect 1 and 2 weren't always clear cut - you rarely got to be good or evil - and your actions carried over to the next game. Similarly, Mass Effect 3 will import your previously saved game and change the game a little accordingly. However, when it comes to the game's ending, none of the decisions you made mean a damn. The ending itself isn't terrible, but you're basically offered three decisions, none of which are very appealing and your decisions in previous games have next to no effect on them. Given that Bioware has been reminding people to keep their old saved games, it seems like a bit of a cop out.
That said, Mass Effect 3 is still a good game and is one of the most epic RPGs out there and thankfully doesn't involve trolls, dwarves, elves or Jedi. If you're a sci-fi or RPG fan or are just looking for a game that'll keep you playing for a long time, then Mass Effect 3 is worth checking out. Is it worth buying? Probably not since no matter what you do the ending options don't change and it's currently only available at full price - it's worth definitely worth renting though. And you should perhaps consider a purchase when it's inevitably dropped to £19.99 in a couple of months time.
(review also posted on Freeola - I've given this three stars though it really deserves three and a half)
Resident Evil Revelations for the 3DS is here! And from that title we can assume that it's A) Resident Evil and B) contains revelations. Right? Sort of. It is a Resident Evil game, but it doesn't really shed any light on events in the Resident Evil series. Thought that might be a good thing since it means you can jump into this game without having played any of the previous games in the series. It's also a heck of a lot better than Resident Evil: Mercenaries - a game which Nintendo saw to charge full price for despite it being just the bonus mode from Resident Evil 4.
Revelations mostly takes place aboard an abandoned ocean liner, and is the third Resident Evil game to do so, Resident Evil Gaiden and Resident Evil Dead Aim both having featured similar locations. You do occasionally get to explore other locales, although the main characters don't really leave the ship. Confused? You might well be, since Revelations uses an episodic gaming approach. What this means is that the game is divided into several chapters, a bit like a TV mini series. These chapters quite often start with you playing as peripheral characters then given you control of Jill Valentine and Parker Whatshisface, the game's main characters, usually resolving the cliffhanger from the previous episode. This approach worked surprisingly well in Siren: Blood Curse and it works well here too, although the 'previously on Resident Evil Revelations' bit at the beginning of each episode - thankfully skippable - could do with being a bit shorter. I know what happened - I was playing it yesterday!
Resident Evil has more in common with the first three Resident Evil games that it does with recent outings such as Resident Evil 4 and 5. Fortunately that doesn't mean that it's back to the bad old days of traipsing around collecting parts of a key to open a door or having to wander halfway across the level because you can't fit anything else in your inventory. What it does mean is that whereas Resident Evil 4 and 5 had you roaming around relatively open areas, Resident Evil's levels are largely corridor based. And there are still plenty of monsters to kill - there aren't any zombies this time around, and instead you're fighting off some strange fish based mutants that look like something out of H.P. Lovecraft's nightmares.
Combat in Resident Evil Revelations is, however, something of a hit and miss affair. While Revelations does let you move backwards while shooting, this is so slow that the monsters catch up to you pretty quickly. So combat quite often involves standing still and shooting, running away, turning around, and shooting some more. At least that's the way it works if you've got a long enough corridor to do that. If you run into a door, combat becomes even more stilted. Doors shut behind you automatically, so you can't open a door, go through and shoot through the open doorway. But as soon as you open the door you'll more often than not find the enemy standing right there. And since the game automatically shut the door you just came though, you'll probably take a couple of good hits just trying to get over to a place where you can fire back. The game does have a dodge feature but it's so random that combat as a whole seems to be really hit and miss.
Resident Evil: Revelations does manage to be reasonably scary - it's a gloomier affair than Resident Evil 3 and 4, and the story's pretty good. Although you can probably spot who the bad guy is going to be a mile off. The controls are also okay, considering there's only joystick - you can buy an add-on circle pad, but you don't necessarily need to. The graphics are great as well - they look easily as good as the likes of Code Veronica on the Playstation, and the 3D effect is put to good use. It's a great game for showing off the 3DS's graphics, and Metal Gear Solid looks to be just as good. Raid mode will also let you play alongside another player - the gameplay in that mode's similar to the Mercenaries game that Nintendo charged full price for. Yes, I know I've mentioned it twice, but I can't get over the cheek of Nintendo/Capcom for doing that.
Resident Evil: Revelations is a reasonably entertaining stand-alone title and it did pull me in enough to see me through to the end. However, unless you're planning on tackling the co-op mode then there's not much point coming back to it. And you're likely to turn your 3DS off quite a few times due to the frustration factor of the game's shooting system. I know I did. Resident Evil Revelations is a good way to show what the 3DS can do, but it's one to rent rather than buy.
(review also posted on Freeola)
Nintendo's 3DS may have got off to a shaky start - not least because it was stupidly overpriced - but now there's a few decent games out for it I finally decided to get one. And I can honestly say I'm not disappointed. Although I'm not amazingly overjoyed either - the 3DS is good, but there's still room for improvement. Which will probably come a year or two from now when Nintendo release the 3DS lite.
But first things first. The 3DS's biggest selling point is that it offers 3D graphics without glasses. What this really means is that you view the screen head on, there's a sort of 3D effect going on. I say 'sort of' because you're still looking at a 2D screen, and it's not the same 'coming out of the screen' effect you get when you're watching Avatar with 3D glasses at the cinema. It's still kind of cool, though it's mildly worrying that Nintendo advise you to take a break every half hour or so if you're using this feature. There have been reports of people's eyes hurting. Personally, I turned the 3D feature off and decided to stick with the graphics running in 2D mode.
Speaking of graphics, the 3Ds's graphics are actually pretty damn good - they're better than the PSP's, though not as good as the PS Vita's. I played Resident Evil Revelations and Sonic Generations and both looked great. Metal Gear Solid 3, which is soon to hit the 3DS, also looks fantastic. DS games also look good - some people have said they appear worse on a 3DS console than they do on a DS, though I haven't noticed this. If you just want to play DS games, though, you're better off with a DS XL which has a much bigger screen than the 3DS.
Another nifty feature is the fact that the 3DS sports three cameras, two of them front facing, so you can actually take 3D pictures. There are some games that make use of an 'augmented reality' feature where you have characters appearing over a video overlay of the real world, but these are far and few between. Like the DS Lite etc the 3DS has two screens, one top one which is three and half inches in size and a lower touch screen which is a bit smaller. It also sports a mini joystick as well as a directional pad. Oddly, there's no second joystick, although you can buy an add-on circle pad which gives you such a feature. No games require this add on pad as yet, but it makes you wonder if someone at Nintendo figured out they should have put an extra one on in the first place.
The console also sports Wi-Fi and a built in browser. And you can build and exchange your own 'mii' characters, a feature first seen on the Wii. Though given that a third of the characters on Nintendo's Mii system seem to be either Adolf Hitler or some dong-faced character, I'm not sure if that's entirely a good feature to have. If you want to download DSIWare games or GBA games you can, though you're limited to the titles available on the DSI Store. I'm sure the 3DS should be capable of playing a few of the Wii based WiiWare games, but those aren't downloadable as yet.
So that's the good - what about the bad? Well, there's the battery life, which is pretty poor. With the 3D effect on and brightness at full blast you'll get about four hours max. With the 3D effect off you get about six hours, more if you're just playing DS games, but it's a far cry from the fifteen or so hours the DS Lite offers. Nyko and a few other companies have put out extended battery packs but it's still a pain. And the platform still need a few more 'A' titles. I don't think the 3DS is going to fail but it's still needs a few more good games to sell it.
So if you're just interested in playing DS games, you're best off picking up a cheap DS Lite for now. But if any of the 3DS games that are out now or that are coming soon - I'm personally waiting for Layton VS Ace Attorney - appeal to you, then it's worth picking one up. But the 3DS isn't going to set the world on fire just yet.
(also posted on Freeola)
The Saints are back! And this time.. they've gone a bit soft. Which is an odd way to start a Grand Theft Auto clone, but it's exactly what happens in Saints Row: The Third, or Saints Row 3. The game begins with The Boss - the character that you play - still firmly on top. He/she recovered from being blown up at the end of the first game and spent the bulk of the second gaming building up the Third Street Saints gang. Now, The Saints have become celebrities, more resembling a corporate conglomerate than a street gang. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when another group of gangs, known as 'The Syndicate' decide that the Saints have got too big for their boots and try to take The Boss out.
The Boss survives, but finds him/herself stranded in the city of Steelport, home of the Syndicate. It's up to you, as the boss, to take the fight to The Syndicate. You don't have to build your gang from the ground up, since The Saints are only a city away. But you do have to recruit some local talent to help you take on The Syndicate. This entails blowing up a variety of bad guys, stealing cars and getting up to all sorts of other shenanigans. If you've played Saints Row 2, you'll know what to expect. And if you've not, then imagine Grand Theft Auto if it was designed by a lunatic. This is a game where you can fire people out of a huge cannon, hurl yourself into traffic to earn points, leap through a car windshield to take it over and so forth.
One of the best things about Saints Row 3 - and 2 - is that your character really is largely amoral. I never felt my sympathy for GTA 4's Nico Bellic because he was always whining about how hard life was, yet he was participating in bank raids and carting heroin around at the drop of a hat. The Boss, on the other hand, is just a badass. Your badass, in fact, since you can customize your character to your heart's content. Although the character customization system, for example, has been toned down a little, so you can't choose as many character clothing options as you could in Saints Row 2. Nor can you replay the cutscenes to see how your different characters look during these scenes as you could in Saints Row 2.
In fact, that pretty much sums up Saints Row 3 - it's fun, but not as good as Saints Row 2. The way Saints Row 2's missions worked was that you'd have to participate in some whacky activity -such as faking injuries in traffic - to get enough 'respect' to play the main missions. The missions were divided by gang, so you could tackle each opposing gang's missions at any time. Saints Row 3 forces you to play the missions in a specific order, which takes a lot of the freedom out of the game. And while you no longer have to earn respect to play these missions, the game now forces you play the whacky activities as part of the main storyline, often for the vaguest reasons.
The graphics are fairly good - although they're not a massive improvement over Saints Row 2's. There's also plenty of gunplay in Saints Row 3 - and you even get to use some insane weapons such as air strikes and homing missiles. Although while Saints Row 3 may be madder in this respect, the game tries to ramp up the difficulty by throwing hordes of bad guys at you at once - whereas Saints Row 2's missions were more complex and generally more fun.
That's not to say Saints Row 3 is a terrible game - it's not. It's fun, especially if you can rope in a friend to play the game's co-op mode with you. And if you've played the second game then it does continue the story nicely. But if you've not played Saints Row 2 then you're better off with that game. Saints Row 3 just feels rushed - it's crazier in some respects than Saints Row 2 but in other respects it's not as deep or as entertaining. It's fun, but it could have been far better.
(review also posted on Freeola)
Skyrim is the fifth game in the 'Elder Scrolls' fantasy RPG series. Elder what? Apparently it has something to with some mythical prophecies that were written down many years ago. But you know what? It doesn't matter. Because Skyrim is a game that lets you shout people off a cliff. No, I'm not making this up. If that isn't enough to make you want to buy the game, then what on earth's wrong with you?
Still here? Fine. I'll continue. The truth is that the Elder Scrolls themselves don't figure into the game - instead, Skyrim's storyline revolves around dragons. Yes, the fire-breathing maiden-eating kind, who have mysteriously returned to life after being dead and gone for years. And if that wasn't enough, the land of Skyrim - a land of snow and ice - is also the subject of a political struggle between those who want independence from the occupying Empire and those who are relatively happy to have them around.
You're cast as the Dragonborn, a character who apparently has the ability to take the fight to the dragons. If you want to, that is. Your character doesn't really have a history as such, and the game's all the better for it since you can put your own mark on the Dragonborn. You can also do whatever the heck you want to without even tackling the main quest.
Once you've completed the brief opening section - which sees you awaiting execution for offences unknown - you can wander off and explore the entire land. This itself is well worth doing since the game's landscape looks absolutely superb. You'll also have to do some exploring since while the game's main cities are marked out for you, you can't actually fast travel to them until you've found them normally at least once.
I would recommend playing the game's main quest up to the 'Greybeards' quest since that's when you aforementioned ability to shout people off cliffs. As the Dragonborn, you learn a number of powerful shouts, which work a little like spells. Although you can still make your character a magic user, warrior, thief or whatever - the shouts are independent of this.
In fact, the game takes a rather interesting approach to levelling up. The system isn't as simplified as it is in Fable 3, but you don't actually have to choose classes. Instead, each skill improves the more you use it. So if you use a sword a lot, then your ability in that area will improve. Or if you firey destruction magic a lot, you'll get better that that. Improve your skills enough and you level up, which will give you points to spend on certain perks, a la Fallout 3. Given that you can also dual wield in Skyrim, it's entirely possible to attack your foes with a sword and fireballs. Sneaking is also an option, naturally.
So what exactly will you be slaughtering in Skyrim? There are a huge range of creatures to murder including bears, other people, skeletons, mummy style creatures, goblin-things, scuttling monstrosities, dragons and many more. Yes, you get to kill dragons - they're not that easy to kill, but you do get better at it as the game goes on. Some of these foes are lurking above ground, others are hiding out in dungeons. You can go into a dungeon just because you want to, or you can be sent down there in search of various items.
Skyrim's dungeons are a bit odd in that some of them are quite linear. Not all of them, mind, but half the fun of playing Oblivion was roaming around dungeons exploring. It's quite hard to get lost in Skyrim's dungeons. That said, Skyrim thankfully doesn't have Oblivion's weird monster levelling up system where enemies level up with you all the time. It's entirely possible to be outclassed in Skyrim.
There's also plenty to do above ground too. Skyrim's inhabitants go around their daily business, which seems to involve hitting the same piece of metal on an anvil for hours on end. The AI actually seems to be have toned down a little since the last game, although that's no means a bad thing since it means you're not listening to characters have endless conversations about mudcrabs. Their voices are also different so again you're not running into two characters with the same voice talking to each other.
You can even get married to one should you so desire. In fact, you can even marry the NPC who turns you into a werewolf. Yes, there are werewolves in this game, and also vampires. The latter thankfully don't sparkle, though the werewolf abilities aren't all that great - being a werewolf won't automatically let you take out a dragon easily. Someone on YouTube has however proven it's possible to punch one to death if you're hard enough.
And then there are the quests. There are loads of stand alone quests in the game, and there are also the organisations. I don't say guilds because the game is set 200 years after Oblivion and the magic and fighters guilds are all but gone. But you can join Winterholm College of Magic, or the Companions and The Dark Brotherhood is in there too. There's even a Bard University to join, and you can expect various pieces of DLC to add more quests. You can play the game for ages without bothering with the main campaign.
So that's the good. What about the bad and the ugly? Well, the graphics are pretty cool, hardly ugly, although they're not a huge leap up from Oblivion's graphics. The animation has improved a lot, though. However, the PS3 version has a problem whereby once your game save gets big enough the frame rate starts dropping. There are other small bugs, but no reported crashes. Fallout 3 and New Vegas, on the other hand, crashed a fair bit. It's worth waiting to see if the new patches fixe the chugging bug - the patch that has been released improves this a bit but doesn't fix it. If, on the other hand you're a PC or 360 owner than Skyrim is a must buy. It's a hugely enjoyable game, with a great storyline and is easily one of the best RPGs to date. Great stuff. Just be sure to bring your snowshoes.
(review also posted on Freeola)
Ever wonder why Star Trek's Captain Kirk kept going on all those dangerous missions? Sure, it might have been exciting, but surely it must have raised a red flag at Starfleet HQ. I mean, the role of a ship's captain is to stay in command, not to repeatedly put himself in imminent danger. This is a point that was picked up on by Fable 3's creator, Peter Molyneaux. He promised that when you became King in Fable 3, you'd have the choice of running around being a bad-ass hero a per usual, or getting other people do your work for you while you oversaw the running of of the kingdom. Sounds like a pretty cool choice to give the player, right?
Unfortunately, like most things that Peter Molyneaux has said as regards the Fable series, this turned out to be a load of old cobbers. Fable 3 gives you no such choice. It's easily the worst game in the Fable series, both in terms of how it plays and how deadly dull the plot is. The game casts you as the son or daughter - your choice - of Fable 2's hero. Your brother, Logan, became the king then the hero died, and he's been running the kingdom into the ground. The final straw comes when your character voices their concern and, in retaliation, Logan forces you to choose between having your best friend executed or having three members of the rebellion killed in his place. It's an interesting choice to make, but it's one of the few only ' grey' choices in the game.
So off you go, with your grizzled mentor and long-time butler in tow, to wrest control of the kingdom from Logan. Why? Because you're a hero, apparently. How do you know? Because the long-forgotten Guild Seal tells you so! This wouldn't be so bad if Logan really was an evil sod, but it's revealed later that he was doing things for a good reason, yet you have to boot him out because of the whole 'hero' thing. This feels pretty weird - most games have you become a hero due to circumstances, an obscure prophecy or some other nonsense. Instead, Fable 3 tells you that being a hero is a matter of genetics.
Anyway, off you go, ready to solve the world's problems. This is accomplished by recruiting various other parties to assist you. By parties, I mean people who sit till they're needed - you're nearly always on your on in Fable 3. Apart from your faithful dog, that is, but he can't really hold a sword. And how do you recruit others? You complete quests - pretty much like every other RPG in fact. There's no diplomacy to be found here - getting someone's help is as simple a matter as retrieving a magical artifact or hacking up a bunch of monsters. Speaking of monsters, Fable 3's monsters are a pretty unspiring lot - you've got Hobbes (goblins), Bone Men (skeletons), Balverines (werewolves), Sand Furies (spooky ninjas) and that's about it. Fable 2 featured a wider variety of monsters, which makes the lack of other monsters doubly disappointing.
Also disappointing is the lack of variety in the game's locations. Albion, the world where the game takes, place, is going through an industrial revolution, and so game's main city looks a little bit Steampunk. But the rest of the game's locations are fairly samey - underground caves, abandoned temples, and so forth. The cities are inhabited by a variety of similar looking people, who will either clap or boo at you depending upon how good or evil you are. Interaction with them is limited to pointing, farting, posing and so forth. According to Fable 3, all you need to do to get someone to marry you is to dance with them for an hour flat, deliver a parcel for them and then give them a wedding ring. Although given how hard it is to tell the characters apart, there's really not much point, since you can only marry one of the unique characters in the game. The rest are out of bounds.
Fable 3 is ridiculously easy, especially if you play at normal difficulty level. It's almost impossible to lose all your health and when you do you just get knocked down and get right back up again. The game's story is also pretty poor, with no real twists or turns. Even when you get to become King, the game doesn't get any deeper. All that happens if you're given a bunch of boring moral choices which are so black and white as to be insulting. Most of Fable 3's choices are black and white - eg, you get given the choice of whether you want to build a school or brothel.
Even the one or two that aren't are insultingly divided into good and evil options. Here's a prime example - at one point, you beat a mercenary chief who's been terrorising a village and killing it's inhabitants. You can let him go with his life or kill him. The latter would seem like the better option since it'd stop him murdering and terrorising another village elsewhere but no, the game considers that evil! Similarly, you're later given the choice of whether to remove the drink limit on alcohol or ban alcohol altogether. This would seem to be a grey issue at best - but no, banning alcohol is an evil choice and removing the limit is a good choice. Not that being good or evil really affects anything other than the way the people react to you - in Fable 1 and 2 you could see your physical appearance change gradually based on the choices you make. In Fable 3, you look pretty much the same all the way through the game.
Fable 3 is a game that feels both rushed and dumbed down. It sits uncomfortably between the RPG and action game genres. It's not a good RPG, and it's certainly not a good action game either. The combat system is extremely unwieldy - you have infinite pistol shots and spell points, but your character will aim at pretty much anything but the enemy you wanted to hit. Only the sword is any real use. The game's only redeeming quality is that the voice-overs are fairly good, although Lionhead should have spent more money on developing the game and less on hiring celebrities to do the voices. The graphics are nothing to write home about either. It's time to let the Fable series die, because Fable 3 offers nothing new and doesn't stand up to any of the competition. If you're an RPG fan, then you're best off saving your money for Skyrim, and leaving Fable 3 on the shelf.
(review also posted on freeola)
'When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.' So said Peter, one of the main characters in George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Although in the case of Dead Island, the zombie apocalypse appears to be restricted to one small tropical island, albeit one that's become a thriving holiday destination. And wouldn't you know it, you happen to be on the island when all hell breaks loose. By 'you' I mean which ever character you choose to play as, although in fact the game plays largely the same way no matter who you choose. Whether you're playing as a tattooed arse-kicking bloke or a karate chopping female secret agent, the game begins in exactly the same way. Which is mildly disappointing since Resident Evil 2 did a decent job of showing you the same story from a number of different perspectives - here you're doing the same thing, just with a different character model.
As the game starts, you wake in a hotel room and have to make your way outside without being brutally murdered. Dead Island is a 3D action game with RPG elements, the latter being your character's ability to improve their skills. I'd call it a shoot-em-up but that wouldn't be entirely true since you don't get your hands on any guns until much later in the game. This might be of some concern to you since zombies are generally only killed by headshots. However, while the zombies in Dead Island do go down quicker if you whack them in the head, do enough damage and they'll die. You have to make sure, though - since until their handily displayed life bars are empty, they can get up and do you some damage.
In fact, it could be argued that the zombies are the real stars of this game. The game does slowly introduce other types of enemies such as the running infected and a slow but very strong type of super zombie, but the shambing undead are your real foes. They're particularly scary since they're relatively quiet and, despite being quite slow, they can corner you. You can feeling quite smug after having slaughtered two of the weak but fast infected, only to find that several regular zombies have sneaked up behind you. Dead Island excels at making you jump out of your skin.
Another thing that makes Dead Island scary and fun to play is the fact that you can't just go around fighting every zombie you come across. While Dead Island's play area isn't as large as Grand Theft Auto or Saint Row 2's world, you still have the freedom to roam around. So in the first area you can visit the hotel you started in, a lighthouse, a life guard station, a number of pools and bars and also some holiday cottages. It turns out that your character is one of the few people on the island who can't be turned by a zombie bite, so you end up being a general dogsbody and roaming around completing quests. There are plenty of side quests to do as well, although some of these can be a bit samey sometimes. But either way, you need to traverse the island and since the dead are everywhere, that can be a trial in itself.
Fortunately, the game does let you get into vehicles and drive them around - but there aren't too many of them about. On the first map, there are about four in total. This is a pretty clever design move since it means if you wreck your car, you can find yourself having to fight your way through the living dead to get to your destination. And yes, that means there's plenty of gore in Dead Island. Things get progressively gorier the more you level up, since some of the higher levels give you skills like 'head stomp' which is pretty messy. So when you knock a zombie over, you can get right in and finish it off with a few well placed kicks to the head.
Sounds fun? It is - but Dead Island isn't without its flaws. The game lets you use some items as weapons but is oddly inconsistent as to which ones you can actually pick up. The same thing applies to the game's physics - you can knock offer some items, but other items will just stay put. I demolished a few flower pots in the hotel only to find the pots broke, but the plant stayed hovering in the air. Also, the game will remind you that you're leaving the play area if you stray too far either by heading into the sea or just by trying to go to an area of the game you haven't got to yet, which kind of takes you out of the game. And as I've mentioned, some of the quests are quite samey. Perhaps they're more fun when you try tackling them in the game's co-op mode but I'd have liked to see a little more variety in the side missions. The graphics are good, but they're not spectacular, though this probably allowed the makers to have several zombies on screen at once.
However, while these gripes do detract from Dead Island somewhat, the fact remains that it's one hell of a game. If you've got even the slightest interest in zombies, it's a must buy. And even if you're not a zombie fan and just a gamer it's still worth picking up. It's scary as hell, a real blast play and unless you're dead from the feet up you should check it out.
(review also posted on Freeola.com)
Officialdom - what's it worth? Are so called 'licensed' or 'official' products any better than their non-licensed counterparts? Take the horrendously tacky Power Rangers toys. Overpriced and understocked, they sold by the bucketload. And suddenly unlicensed copies with names like 'Super Ranger' and selling at a fraction of the price of the 'proper' toys popped up on market stalls everywhere. And surely kids wouldn't notice the difference. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. Your average kid has the kind of detail-enhancing super powerful vision that would put a Terminator to shame, and can tell unlicensed from licensed product in a milli-second. And anything less than a licensed product will be rejected. Plus there's an extra hazard. As anyone who's seen a single consumer programme will know, unofficial toys are lethal to small children. That copied Power Ranger toy may look harmless enough but removing the head will inevitably reveal a six foot barbed rusty iron spike which could cause untold damage to Little Johnny. Anne Robinson says so, so it must be true.
But in the PC industry, things are slightly different. While out and out piracy is illegal, there's a fair number of unlicensed level CDs around, usually filled with levels pulled straight off the internet. Some companies aren't too happy about this, and take action against the publishers. Some don't. But the fact is that three quarters of the levels on these CDs are completely crap. In Quake's case, there have been a few of these CDs put out, and most of them have been, true to form, utter cack - with a couple of exceptions. Shrak from Quantum Axcess was way above average, which while being unofficial contained levels designed by someone who'd spent more than five minutes fiddling around with a level editor. And also worth of attention was Scourge of Armagon, the first of two Id approved add-on packs. Now the second official mission pack, Dissolution of Eternity has been released. So how does it measure up?
Well, it's good. Extremely good in fact. Created by Rogue, the team behind shooty-rpg type game Strife, it includes new monsters, new levels, power-ups and new weapons. The somewhat tenuous plot is that Quake, the evil entity whose minions you've been slaying of late, has been sending his drooling footsoldiers back through time in order to upset the temporal balance - in other words knacker everything up good and proper.
This is where you come in, once again. You have to maim, murder and blast your way through sixteen baddie filled levels to put paid to Quake's plans. But things aren't going to be easy; Dissolution's levels are harder than those of previous Quake outings. There's more baddies and much less ammo to go around, so kill sparingly or you could end up trying to club a fifty foot long dragon around the kneecaps with a garden gnome sized axe.
And aside from the aforementioned dragon, you'll have to deal with lots of other unpleasant creatures. On top of the baddies from the original Quake, you're up against nine new nasties. Well, seven new nasties, since a couple of them are modified versions of existing monsters. There's a phantom swordsman, who's invisible except for his sword, and flipping hard to take out. Then there are the electric eels, and some distinctly unfriendly statues. And I'm not talking about the kind that will happily sit still and accumulate a huge amount of pigeon poo. These statues stand incredibly still, and refuse to move no matter how much you hit them. Until that is, you trip a switch somewhere and find them charging towards you at a great speed. Help! There's the Lava Demons, who are mini versions of the first end of level boss in Quake. There are also Mummies, and the incredibly strong Guardians. These vicious gits not only take a hell of a lot of damage before popping their clogs, but generate weaker minions to help them kick your arse.
Finally, there's the four-armed floating Overlord and his servants, the wraths. These are the nastier cousins of Hexen's Dark Bishops. Except that they hurl homing energy balls. Talk about unfair. Do you get any super-accurate homing weapons? No. But these sods fire a projectile that can track you through the corridors of a labyrinth, follow you along the London Underground, leap into a taxi and chase you half the way across the world. Well, perhaps that's exaggerating a bit, but they're flipping accurate. If you don't take the Wraths out quickly, you'll find yourself on the receiving end of one of these. There's still a lack of any real intelligence on the monsters part though. And with the firepower that the baddies are toting, their stupidity could well be a good thing.
You do have some things in your favour, though. There are a few new power-ups and weapons to help you against the unfeasible vast hordes. You can pick up an anti-grav belt which will allow you to jump great distances, and a power shield which absorbs some of the damage the bad guys helpfully deal out to you. There are four new weapons, the lava nail gun, the multiple rocket launcher, the multiple grenade launcher and a plasma launcher. These are actually modifications of the existing weapons - to be able to use them you just have to pick up the specially modified ammo lying around the levels.
There are new deathmatch options and power-ups, too. There's a couple of new deathmatch modes; Tag, and Capture the Flag. In CTF , instead of blowing each other to bits, each player or team of players is given a base, where a flag stands. The opposing team must take the flag and make it back to their own base. It certainly makes things more interesting.. while you're creaming some poor space marine, one of his comrades could have nipped back to base and nicked your flag. A welcome addition to deathmatch play. You also get a vengeance sphere and a grappling hook, the latter of which can be used in Capture the Flag only. It's handy for climbing up to high places and lobbing rockets at people as they go past. Not that I'd ever stoop so low.
Dissolution also improves greatly on Id's original level design. The levels in Quake were okay for Deathmatch play, but in single player mode they weren't much cop. They were usually fairly uninspiring - fairly open with a couple of locked doors here and there, but nothing to write home about. And then there was the fact that they all looked like the inside of some dingy castle. Why? Dissolution's levels are different. While they can be used for Deathmatch play, they also provide a challenge in single player mode. Filled with twisty corridors, traps and obstacles, they're damn well designed.
Take the elemental levels for example. You have to battle your way through four different areas, all along the theme of earth, fire, water or air. You face different hazards in each area, such as wind-tunnels and teleports in the air region, and Lava Demons in the fire area. Plus the levels aren't just anonymous medieval areas. You get to visit a castle, a darkened cave, and even a pyramid. Yep, a pyramid - there are egyptian levels in Dissolution filled with mummies and sphinxes. Plus the levels have more decoration than Quake's levels had. Candles, pentagons and bookshelves can be found on various levels, giving the impression you're not just exploring an empty level. Plus there are traps, including swinging pendulums and buzzsaw blades. Additions like these make the game a joy to play. Not to mention quite violent. There don't appear to be any hidden levels, which is a shame, but the un-hidden levels contain enough secrets to keep you coming back for more.
Dissolution is the game that Quake should have been - bosses who can be defeated by sheer firepower, well designed levels, atmospheric music and more baddies than you can shake a pointy stick at. If you're a Quake fan this should be on your blood-soaked shopping list. Groovy.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)
You really have to wonder sometimes, if there isn't some strange unearthly and quite possibly malign force conspiring against computer game heroes. I mean, just look at some of the cases in point.. Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, SWIV 3D.. all games in which you, and you alone end up facing off hordes of relentless gun-toting baddies. Presumably it's due to defence cut-backs that whenever there's a universe threatening situation, a single spaceship is sent into clear up the mess. Either that, or the lead character's commanding officer has a pretty weird sense of humour.
And if by some chance HQ does decide to send in a massive army, or a garrison of space-marines, you can bet that in the intro, they'll all have been slaughtered in a hideous way. Fortunately, your character happened to be nipping to the loo / gathering wood / off-planet (delete as applicable) at the time, so luckily you get the privilege of facing certain violent death. Tyrian from Epic Megagames was probably the worst example of this. As you're blasting your way through the levels, you receive communiqués from various commanders, all telling you where you need to go next. But never telling you where all the other fighter squadrons went, or why you're not getting any back-up. Typical.
So you won't be surprised that in the Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon you're still on your own, after all your comrades were slaughtered in the run up to the first game. Not a friendly drop-ship in sight. Which is a bit of a shame, since you're in for a rough ride. Designed by the folks at Hipnotic and published by Activision, Scourge of Armagon is the first of two officially approved add on packs for Quake, adding thirteen new levels, two new monsters, one boss, and three new weapons to the game. Though it's not clear whether gaining Id's approval hinged more on the merit of the levels or on the amount of money Activision were prepared to cough up. Possibly a combination of the two.
The levels are split into three episodes, though unlike the original Quake, you can only go from one episode to the next in a specific order. But rest assured, you do get all your weapons taken off you once you've completed an episode, and you have to start the next one with the standard shotgun. But by way of compensation, you do get the three new weapons to play with. The first is a variation on the grenade launcher, throwing proximity grenades which stick to the wall or floor, and are triggered whenever anyone goes past.. these aren't much use in one player mode, though you can use them to set up traps in deathmatch mode. Next there's a laser blaster, a bit like the one carried by the enforcers, which fires ricocheting laser blasts. Finally, there's a hammer, supposedly belonging to Thor (since when did Quake become a part of Norse mythology), which fires electricity that can take out multiple targets in one go.
You also get three new pick-up items. There's the horn of conjuring; pick this up and a monster will appear and attack your enemies. Not bad if you're in an open area, but most conjured monsters seem to have a tendency to get lost in corridors.. it can get frustrating trying to get a shambler to follow you to an area where there are monsters to be fought. There's also a shield which splits any damage you take between you and the monster that attacked you, and a wetsuit which lets you fire electric weapons under the water.
The baddies from the original Quake are still there , but you now have to deal with the two new baddies. There's a scorpion with nailguns for hands, and a gremlin. While the scorpion can be dispatched with a couple of rockets, the gremlins have a nasty habit of nicking your weapons and using them against you. It knackers up your strategy when you find yourself on the receiving of your lightning gun. You can get them back by killing the gremlin that nicked them, but that's not much help when you're getting your arse kicked.
But what are the levels themselves like? Pretty good by all accounts; they're better than those in the original Quake, and they're more oriented towards single player mode. On one level, certain doors are closed, till you find a way to switch off the water pumps, whereupon you can explore further. And there are far more traps in Scourge than in Quake; rockfalls, trapped floors and spiked walls are amongst the hazards you'll face. Each level has a distinct graphical feel, and they're all pretty challenging. If you can make it through to the end, you go head to head with Armagon, the end boss, who unlike Quake's bosses can be taken down using brute force. What on earth possessed Id to create end bosses that couldn't be dented by normal weapons, and could only be taken down by the flipping of switches, or use of a teleporter? After all, carnage and violence worked pretty well for the rest of the game. As things stand, Scourge is a decent enough add on for Quake, and a worthy continuation to the Quake saga.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)
War - what's it good for? History teaches that it gets lots of people killed, which is probably why a few science fiction books and films feature the premise of all wars or conflicts being settled cleanly by having selected representatives from either side duke it out in a controlled battlefield. The slightly corny Robot Jox was one such flick in which one American and one Russian climbed into giant robots and battled it out for supremacy, the winner securing victory for their country in whatever dispute was ongoing.
Battle Isle: The Andosia War features a similar premise in that rather than in engage in a global conflict, the warring sides have decided to fight it out on a series of separate islands, the winner being the one who defeats the enemy across all of the islands. Which is a promising idea in theory though I suspect that the losing side would complain bitterly about the result, perhaps accusing the other side of "cheating," which in turn would lead to unrestrained hostilities and total global warfare, defeating the original purpose. Maybe. Still, there wouldn't be much longetivity in a game which ended with a flash after the first two levels, so that's presumably why Blue Byte didn't take that route.
Getting into Battle Isle: The Andosia War may take a little while if you're used to playing real time strategy games. But once you do get into it, the turn based combat therein is fairly engaging. The same, unfortunately, can't be said of the resource building. In real-time strategy games, you build your buildings on the battlefield and at the same time as moving your units about. Yet the building and unit-commanding parts of Andosia War are separate, so jumping between the two sections is rather jarring. There are a fair number of perfectly good battle games that don't include resource building, Myth and Shogun to name a couple, and Andosia War would probably be a better game had the base building aspect been left out.
The battle turns themselves should keep you busy, the game providing as it does a fair mix of units to use against your foes, although as with quite a few real-time strategy games, both sides have very similar units. The game's graphics have come in leaps and bounds since Battle Isle 2, and with the battle animations turned on, you're automatically zoomed in on the action when combat between two units occurs. Given that each unit can only usually get off a few shots before their 'action points' run out, you never witness any heated firefights - still, it's a nice touch.
A little less appealing is the fact that the 3D camera is unwieldy and hard to control - you can sometimes find yourself looking in completely the wrong direction, so it's probably best to leave the default unit view on. In terms of gameplay, there haven't been any massive changes since the last game. Though I do actually have my doubts as to whether any vehicle manufacturer would create an attack vehicle which was vulnerable from any particular angle. Still, I'm not aware of said feature cropping up in too many other games so the creators of Androsia War are to be commended for trying something new there.
One of the problem with the original game was the computer's thinking time. On some turns, the computer finished its turn early, on other turns it required a whole seven minutes or so to finish, which does seem excessive. Computers are capable of thinking very quickly; I know this for a fact, having my arse kicked by computer opponents on many puzzle and real time strategy games. It could be that the time spent is down to the computer actually moving their pieces one by one, in which case, it'd be simpler just to move the vehicles that were in the line of sight of any player vehicles and instantly teleport the rest. If this isn't causing the hold-up, I don't know what is.
Fans of the previous Battle Isle games are likely to find themselves very much at home, although if you are such a fan, you may discover that what you're playing feels like a rather tarted up version of Battle Isle 3 - a Battle Isle 3 Gold if you will. Perhaps it's just that there's nowhere new for the Battle Isle series to go. Nevertheless, I did enjoy playing The Andosia War. If you've never played any of the Battle Isle games then this is as good a place to start as any. But if you've played Battle Isle 3 to death already, then you're best off playing a demo of The Andosia War first and trying before you buy.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)
There's been a lot of fuss made over hunting, especially over in the UK, where fox hunting has attracted a lot of bad press. I can't see why everyone's getting so uptight over it myself - I mean, it's perfectly fair in my mind. Fox hunting is a good way of disposing of vermin who give nothing to humans or the animal kingdom, and just cause trouble. Furthermore, they have every chance of escaping if they run fast enough - it's sporting, it's jolly good fun, and I think people should actually get their priorities right before they start having a go at it. After all, it's entirely my right, if I so desire, to gather a few friends together, along with an M16, a good few boxes of ammo, and a pack of specially trained hunting foxes, and track down and slaughter a few upper-class huntsmen. Yes, I said huntsmen - I mean, they're happy to hunt down foxes with dogs and horses, so it's only fair that the general public, at least the more homicidally inclined ones, should be able to hunt them down.
I wonder just how many people, fox hunters in particular, would actually hunt animals if they knew they stood a very good chance of getting their arses ripped off by their 'prey'. Send them to America and let them fight bears, perhaps. Carnivores, the new, and only, dinosaur hunting game from Wizard Works gives you a chance to hunt creatures who can do you a considerable amount of damage, virtually at least. The game is set not in the past, but in the future, on a newly discovered planet, inhabited by dinosaurs, dinosaurs and more dinosaurs. This scenario not only gives Wizard Works the excuse to include in their game dinosaurs who may well have lived during different eras, but also neatly side-steps the possible repercussions of blowing up a lizard that may well one day evolve into a future president - the kind of important issues that many hunting game fans probably couldn't care less about. You get to blow the brains out of all manner of dinosaurs, about seven different species in total, some of which are hostile and will fight back, while others, the herbivorous dinosaurs, will run like giant scaly chickens as you chase them frantically attempting to separate them from their essential parts.
But if this sounds like a cue for a frantically paced shoot-em-up, then you're so wrong you could well be the person at Dreamworks who decided to publish the incredibly dire, bug-filled, slow, and completely appalling, Trespasser, a game which is a world away from Carnivores in term of playability and entertainment value (or lack of them). Carnivores is primarily a hunting game, albeit a rather good one, in which you have to stalk the dinosaurs carefully, trying not to spook them, or alert to their presence, then grievously injure them with a choice of three weapons - shotgun, crossbow, or sniper rifle. No, there isn't a rocket launcher, but if you're looking for that kind of wholesale carnage then you're better off playing Half Life 2. Stalking the dinos is harder than you might think - they're capable of hearing, smelling, or seeing you coming and if they do, they will either run away, outrunning you in most cases, or attack you. Either way, remaining unseen and unsensed is the key to a successful hunt. And if you don't feel like slaughtering some dinosaurs, you could always have a go with the game's unarmed observer mode, which lets you just wander around observing the dinos undetected and just watch the creatures. On second thoughts, that's boring - virtual dino-carnage is much more fun.
One of Carnivores' plus points is that the dinosaurs in Carnivores actually roam free across each of the individual island levels that make up the game. This may well be a gaming first, and even if it isn't, Carnivores is still the first game that features this - Trespasser's dinosaurs were supposed to be free roaming but in actual fact their locations were largely pre-determined. In Carnivores, you can encounter any breed of dinosaur anywhere on an island. This means also that you can be surprised by carnivores who may wander into your location or maybe hear you firing the shotgun, or smell you, and then track you down. On several occasions my character was attacked - and killed, since you can only take one hit from a dinosaur - by a carnivore that I had no idea was following me.
This feeling that you can be attacked at any moment adds immensely to the game - things can get very tense as you sneak around a tree, trying to stalk a dinosaur, knowing that something else may be stalking you. That said, you aren't thrown in at the deep end. The first couple of islands are for novice hunters and are inhabited by largely unagressive herbivores and only one type of carnivore - the Allosaur - which, while being quite dangerous, is nevertheless nowhere as lethal or as proficient at tracking you down as the Velociraptors on the later levels. Another important thing to remember when you're hunting is that while you may be hunting a herbivore, there will nevertheless be several carnivores on the island, all wandering about as they will - forget this at your peril. When your character has been downed by a dinosaur, and you're watching him get munched by a dinosaur from a third-person perspective, don't say I didn't warn you.
There are a total of six dinosaur filled islands, all with their own distinctive scenery. Some islands are rocky, some are more jungle-ish, some come complete with abandoned pyramid, and some, like the final 'Great Lake' level, available only to expert hunters who have slaughtered enough dinos to prove themselves. Actually, you don't have to slaughter the dinosaurs; you can use tranquilliser darts on most of dinosaurs, which leaves them lying on the ground, sleeping, their chests rising and falling - a particularly nice touch. This is just one of the many reasons Carnivores is a better game than Jurassic Park: Trespasser. Tranquillising dinosaurs gives you more points, although this does mean that the dinosaurs aren't airlifted out and stuck in your trophy room, in which you can see all the dinosaurs you've blown away.
Before entering each island, you have to pick the dinosaur type you want to hunt and the weapon you want to take with you - the shotgun, Crossbow, or in later levels, the sniper rifle. You can also take with you up to three other optional items: a radar map, to show the location of the dinosaurs you're hunting, although not the ones you aren't hunting, a scent masking agent to make you less smellable to dinos, and also a camouflage suit to make you less visible to both carnivores and herbivores. These are handy, but if you use them then your hunt points are reduced, and the game is better, and harder, without them. You're then placed on the island, at a random location, with your weapon of choice, and a call which can be used to call the dinosaur species you're after - although you can still get points for killing other dinos even if they're not your chosen hunt target.
While choosing your weapon and accessories may be important, it's not the real meat of the game (pun very much intended). The game really starts when you get you get out into the field, hunting dinos and/or getting your face kicked in by angry carnivores - and the odd annoyed herbivore. In this respect, Carnivores is one of the more atmospheric games I've played for a while, and the fear factor induced by knowing that there may be a predator stalking you means that you can end up on edge. On the first couple of levels you have less carnivores to worry about, with an average of three allosaurs on each level to deal with. However, I could swear this number goes up if you choose to hunt Allosaurs - and they're not as good as hunting you down as the velociraptors are. Nevertheless, as you wander across the landscapes, shotgun in hand, it's hard not to feel slightly spooked by the knowledge that the carnivores can roam free and could surprise you at any moment.
But at least if you do get surprised by the dinosaurs you can blow their brains out . Can't you? It's not as simple as that - the dinosaurs tend to duck and weave around a bit when they're stalking you. They only approach head on when they're sure they can take you down. When you've got a velociraptor running at you at high speed you may only have the chance to get one or two shots in, and if you miss then you're in big trouble. On top of this, the dinosaurs can only be taken down by hitting them in certain areas, such as the head, upper torso, or back, depending which kind of dinosaur you're dealing with. One shot in those areas will kill them, but shots to any other areas will just bounce off. To make things even harder, you can't reload your weapon at all so you're stuck with the ammo you start the level off with, usually enough for six or so shots. And if you've used up those shots taking out a herbivore and you've got two velociraptors closing in, you may be in for a bad giblets day.
Given the above facts, Carnivores may not sound like much of a shoot-em-up, and, as I said at the beginning of the review, it isn't. Quake fans who are looking for a bit of frantic blasting, beating insurmountable odds, are better off playing Half Life. Carnivore is a hunting game, and a rather good one at that. Hunting herbivores is entertaining - stalking them, hoping they don't hear you, perhaps climbing up to a high hill so you can take them out with a single shot as they round the corner in response to your call. While that may be enough for some people, the kind of people who buy games like Deer Hunter, Carnivores really comes into its own when you're hunting carnivores, or are hunting in an area that is inhabited by intelligent carnivores (try putting 'dinosaur density' and 'aggressiveness' to max on the options menu, and then seeing how many dinosaurs you can bag before you get bagged yourself. Oh, and there's a T-Rex too. Yes, Carnivores has a T-Rex, several of them in fact, two or more, although they only appear once you've reached 'experienced' level. They are a real nightmare to hunt and will take you out if you don't kill them first. You can't outrun them, and your average T-Rex hunt results in many a virtual brown trousers moment. I defy anyone not to be scared when you try to hunt a Rex, think he hasn't detected you, only to see him lower his head, sniff at the ground, and roar, having picked up your scent. At which point, you frantically try to line up a shot to hit him in his one vulnerable spot, his eye, but alas, it's too late, he's got you. Very scary indeed.
But, Carnivores isn't all wine and roses, or in this games case, beer and viscera. The game does have a few faults. The fact that you have to shoot the dinosaurs in certain areas to take them down is slightly disappointing - it means that you can't wound dinos, making your job easier or harder depending upon whether the dinosaur in question would get enraged and attack you more ferociously or merely run like a big chicken. And there's also a couple of strange bugs in the game. The T-Rexes can't get up steep hills - which would be fine if they actually backed off and gave up the hunt, or waited around the base of the hill - instead, they rotate madly on the spot, like a spinning top, for no apparent reason. Also, while you can go underwater, as can some of the dinosaurs, you can't surface for air - the only way to get air is to walk out of the water, which makes it hard to take shortcuts through wide lakes, something that would be handy when hunting the dinos. Plus, the dinosaurs don't hunt or interact with each other, or, for that matter, make any growling or calling noises except in response to your own calls - there is the odd audible T-Rex call to be heard in the background, although you get this even when there are no T-Rexes around. Interaction between the dinosaurs would really add a lot to the game.
Having said that, Carnivores is still a pretty good game, even taking into account its flaws. It's very spooky and atmospheric, more so than other hunting games since your prey may actually fight back. On top of that the graphics aren't too bad, despite the game's age. Even if you usually turn your nose up at hunting games, which I do, Carnivores is still worth picking up. Playable and scary, and easily the best dinosaur game around, Carnivores is well worth hunting down.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)
Time travel has long featured in dozens and even hundreds of movies, books and TV programmes - but it does throw up quite a few related problems, the biggest of which is paradoxes. I've not got a clue what the dictionary definition of a paradox is, and I can't be bothered to go and look it up, but a temporal paradox is something like this.. supposing someone invented a time machine, and went back in time and killed themselves as a small child. I don't know why they'd actually do it - perhaps the person in question was feeling particularly depressed. So they kill themselves before they invent the time machine. Which means they can't invent the time machine, they never get to go back in time and kill themselves. Think about it - it's extremely confusing indeed. And it also answers one of the other time-travel related problems - the question 'Why, if time-travel is ever invented, hasn't anyone ever come back from the future to visit us?' The answer is that as soon as they actually got down to thinking about the possible consequences of time-travel, their brains started to hurt and they had to be rushed to the nearest hospital, clutching their heads. Simple, really.
But all that temporal angst doesn't stop the Timestrikers, the evil time-hopping baddies in Chasm: The Rift, a 3D shoot-em-up from Megamedia and GT Interactive. The Timestrikers take great pleasure in rampaging through different periods in history, murdering and stealing at random and generally causing trouble. You play a well-hard commando type who is told by his Sean Connery-a-like commander to sort out the Timestrikers once and for all. And so, pausing only to pick up a shotgun from the armoury , you head off to your first target, a power plant where the Timestrikers have been causing trouble, and... hang on a minute. You know you're bound to run into trouble, you're barracked at a military installation, and yet the only weapon you get to start off with is a single shotgun? There's something not quite right there.. surely the military could spare a rocket launcher or machine gun, rather than forcing you to scavenge weapons as you go through the game. There must be some major military cutbacks in the future.
Still, the basic shotgun does come with unlimited ammo, so you won't have to worry about going up against seven foot monsters with a piddling little axe, as in Quake, and you can rifle the bodies of dead baddies for extra ammo. Rest assured, you will need all the spare ammo you can get - the baddies in Chasm aren't going to let you waltz in and kill them without kicking up a fuss. There are sixteen single player levels in all, each grouped into four time periods - Present Day, Egyptian, Medieval, and Future, and each time period has its own scenery and baddies. The Present Day levels have you fighting your way through military bases, battling against rocket launcher toting soldiers and missile firing maniacs. The Egyptian levels on the other hand, pit you against Zombies, Lionmen and club wielding mutants, the Medieval levels pitch you into battle with mad Jesters, Skeletons and Vikings, while the final time period has you blowing away assorted aliens. In the future, everyone can hear you die horribly.
Chasm's main plus point is the way in which you can dispose of the baddies. If you aim correctly, you can blow off their heads and arms, leaving them nearly defenceless. In the first time period, there's a bloke who carries a rocket launcher on his left arm and takes great pleasure in trying to take your head off with it. But if you're careful, a shotgun blast to his left arm will blow his arm off leaving him without his favoured weapon, and he'll then be forced to punch you instead. Blow off his other arm and he'll then try headbutting you to death. Or you can just fire a rocket at him whenever you see him, but it's disturbingly entertaining to see your enemies ambling around without any arms.
It's sometimes necessary to use this technique, since one of the baddies, the Zombie, can only be taken out by blowing his head off. At the end of each time period, you'll have to defeat a big bad guy, but for some reason, these can't be destroyed by just pumping ammo into them - instead, you have to flick some button or other to get rid of them. This 'feature' is just as annoying in Chasm as it was in Quake - you've made it through the levels by blowing away the bad guys yet you stupidly have to resort to cerebral means to dispose of the bosses. The baddies themselves are made up of polygons rather than sprites, as Quake's bad-guys are, and they're decently animated too - it almost seems a shame to kill them. Almost.
The weapons in Chasm are the now standard Shotgun and Super shotgun, a Laser Crossbow, a Chaingun, a Rocket Launcher, a Landmine, a BFG style gun, and a Bladegun. The latter throws circular saw blades that are supposed to 'make fast work or monsters limbs', though in actual fact it's not much good for limb-chopping. As you progress through the game, you'll come across different weapons - you only get the super BFG gun late in the game. Completing a level is usually just a matter of making your way to the exit, flicking a few switches along the way - there's none of the puzzle-solving hub-exploring action that made Hexen II such a good game. And that's definitely not a good thing, since there are only sixteen levels, and most won't take you more than twenty minutes to finish, compared to today's shooters. Even compared to the shooters of time, they're still very poor. Because as far as level design goes, Chasm's levels are bit too flat, and are boxy and uninteresting.
So what's the verdict? Well, while blowing the limbs off baddies might keep you occupied for a little while, Chasm just doesn't have enough going for it to make it worth buying, so Chasm just doesn't cut it.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, when the Amiga still thrived, there was a software house known as Cinemaware. Cinemaware produced, amongst other things, a game called It Came From The Desert. This title was based loosely upon the black and white B movie 'Them' and, like the film in question, revolved around a horde of radioactive giant ants which had taken upon themselves to attack the local populace. You had to see the ants off and ensure the world was safe again for good old apple-pie eating Americans. And despite the fact that it was little more than a basic adventure game with a variety of mini shoot-the-ant type games mixed in, it was rather addictive. So it was with some measure of excitement that I greeted Microids' new release Empire of the Ants. After all, with a title like that it surely had to be set in some future world, perhaps after a nuclear holocaust, where Giant Ants ruled the world and man had to struggle to survive against the antennaed peril. And was it? Er, no.
Because there's nary a giant ant to be seen in Empire of the Ants. In actual fact, Empire of the Ants is a rather playable if slightly flawed strategy game set not in a post-apocalyptic landscape populated with super-sized ants but in the 'real' world, featuring normal sized ants going about their everyday business. You play an up and coming ant commander has been given the task of overseeing the welfare and expansion of a colony of russet ants. Through the game you have to build up your ant forces to the level where they can take on whatever foe awaits them outside the nest, or whatever objective has been set for that level.
You have two views of the miniature world of your ants - the first is the anthill view where you can dig out new tunnels and set up new rooms for your ants to use. And the second is the astral projection/disembodied spirit type view that most strategy fans will be familiar with, where you float eerily above the battlefield directing your troops. Now, the more astute of you might at this point be thinking.. 'Hang on.. an ant game with an anthill and above ground view? Didn't Maxis do that a few years back?' And you'd be right - Empire of the Ants does bear more than a passing resemblance to Maxis's Sim Ant. But whereas Sim Ant was a simulation of life in and above an anthill Empire of the Ants is more of a RTS strategy game with ants in it - which is where it falls down a bit, but more on that later.
As you'd expect, your ants need to food to survive so your first priority when starting one of the twenty or so single player levels is to track down a food source. These food sources can be found by taking control of a group of your warrior ants and getting them to scout around till they find a small apple icon, usually in the midst of some unappetitizing fungi. Clicking on this icon activates that food source and signals your worker ants to come out of the nest and start taking the food back into the anthill, and the same procedure applies to the building materials that your ants need to build and maintain rooms. You don't actually have any direct control over where your workers go - they'll automatically busy themselves, fetching food or resources, maintaining the nest, carrying ant eggs around the nest. Instead, by using the priority window you can tell what kind of tasks you want your ants to get up to - ranking some jobs higher than others or telling them to ignore certain tasks. This is mostly a boon to the game - it means you don't have to spend the game micromanaging your ants and telling them individually to go out and get food. But there is a minor downside to this in that it means you have to use your warrior ants to explore the landscape looking for more food (unexplored land being shrouded in black) when they could be defending the nest. Oddly you also can't send out an individual warrior ant to explore - they can only be selected and controlled in groups which is slightly mystifying.
Maintenance of your work force is important - if you run out of food, which your ants use up at a regular rate, they'll start expiring. So while you can order your ant queen to produce more eggs, which in turn hatch into different ant types, you have to make sure you have enough food to sustain them beforehand. It's also up to you to make sure you have enough warriors around to defend your workforce as there are plenty of predators around who take great pleasure in munching on any ants they come across. On the first level you only have to deal with a preying mantis - the aim of the level being to gather enough resources and food to defeat it - but as the game progresses things get tougher.
Not only do you have to deal with roving predators but there are also enemy ants (the object of many levels being to defeat them) who will happily lay into your ants as well. And while the roving predators stay around, the enemy ants have enough general gumption to actually get into your hive and start laying into your Queen. Lose your Queen, without a princess ant to colonise elsewhere , and the game is over. The enemy AI is fairly average so you don't have to worry about attacks coming in from several directions above ground, and there's only one way in and out of each ant hill (there are usually two or more empty anthill spaces you can occupy on each level) if you keep a good contingent of warriors around you should be able to keep your anthill safe. But then you have to somehow protect your workers from foes while they work - you can press the 'D' key to signal danger and have your workers and ants rush back to the safety of the anthill but they have to come out again to get food some time. Even if you build a mushroom within the anthill, it's still more efficent to nip out and get food, and knowing that your ants may starve adds a certain edge to each game.
I mentioned earlier that Empire of the Ants falls down in one respect, and that's the number of the units the game features. But I'm not referring to a lack of units, rather the fact that there are too many alternate ant units in the game. For the first couple of levels in the game, you may find yourself enjoying things, controlling your own ant colony and leading them to victory, especially if you're the kind of person who pores over nature programs and the like. However, from then on, you may find yourself becoming suspicious that what you're playing is little more than a bog standard strategy game with ants chucked in. This feeling creeps in as you find yourself presented with more and more units, such as ants that spit acid and even giant tank style ants. It may indeed be true that there are real-life ants that look like these units in the game, but I seriously doubt they all occur within a single ant species. And then you're likely to start looking at Empire of the Ants a not an ant game but as a strategy game and realise that it's rather standard fare indeed. Indeed, it offers the usual mix of units, resource collecting, 2D terrain, search and destroy or defend missions, and while it's set at a far smaller scale than most other games its appeal is a little bit limited.
As a whole Empire of the Ants is a bit of a curiosity. It does have a certain appeal initially but as mentioned above it becomes rather boring after a while. Granted, it's got ants in it which are the second best creatures ever (second only to bats and far better than dolphins or pandas), but serious ant fans, those who played Sim Ant are likely to be find themselves disappointed when the game starts throwing new ant units in. There's no denying the game does look good, looking pretty much as you'd expect someone's back garden to look, but that isn't enough for Empire of the Ants to become king of the strategy (ant)hill. It's also a bit behind in the multiplayer stakes in that there's no included matchmaking system so finding a multiplayer game is going to be a bit hard - there is a skirmish mode, but you still don't get the sinister satisifaction of trouncing a real person. It's a bit like Star Wars Monopoly - on first appearances it's Star Wars but then you realise it's just boring old Monopoly. If you are looking for a playable, original strategy game then you're best off looking elsewhere. And if you want ants, well, just buy an Ant Farm.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)