Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Stan Lee is still making Cameos

Personally, the prospect of The Amazing Spider-man is excites me. I have longed for a well designed, open, expansive New York City to swing around in since I was a child. And Beenox, developer of this latest Spidey outing, appear to have produced just that. Obviously, I reserve an element of judgement for the day I actually play the game, but the marketing team at Activision have certainly done enough to warrant a pre-order from me. If you disagree, then think again! In the UK, Game has just announced that their exclusive pre-order bonus will be a playable Stan Lee mission. That's right, don't worry that he can barely walk nowadays, he won't have to with a web of his own. Amazon has also revealed that if you pre-order from them, you will gain access to 'The Rhino Challenge' a game mode where you play as Rhino, with the objective of destroying as much of New York City as you can. Can I have both? Probably not. But hopefully Beenox will consider releasing both of these as alternative DLC down the line. And finally, as if those two weren't enough, buying from other independent retailers will give you the 'Oscorp Search & Destroy Pack'. Two retro-style minigames which Spider-man will play on his Smartphone (Yeah, even Spidey has one).

Note: In the U.S the Stan Lee bonus will be unlocked through pre-order with Amazon, and the Rhino pack will be available through GameStop.

Happy Birthday Wolfenstein!

Today, Bethesda software celebrates the 20th anniversary of Wolfenstein 3D by releasing it free-to-play on browsers. A landmark in gaming, Wolfenstein virtually gave birth to the FPS genre on PC, so it's nice to see it get the celebration it deserves. And kudos to Bethesda for using that celebration as a way to breathe life into a revolutionary classic that many 90's children (such as myself) never got to enjoy. The game will also be available for free on the App store for a short time, so you can kill Boss-Hitler on the move! Find the browser version here. And Your Welcome!

Channel 4 takes care of Derek - My thoughts.

Today news broke via Ricky Gervais' Twitter account that Derek, Gervais' most recent TV comedy drama, has been commissioned by channel 4 for a full first season. Reports from channel 4 suggest the series will air in early 2013.

For me, this is great news. I saw the pilot as both funny and touching. The lovably ignorant Karl Pilkington - playing the care home janitor - shined in the pilot and, oddly, was often the voice of reason amongst the other quirky characters like Derek. Gervais, I feel, explores a more emotive style than ever in his writing and yet still managed to generate the kind of humour everyone has come to expect from his work.

It's, of course, difficult to talk at length about Derek having only seen the pilot. What I will say though, is that it presented a number of important opportunities for the development of the full season. I saw the opportunity for a real connection with the family of characters and, importantly, I felt like it had the same potential for truly classic moments as The Office.

There were occasional moments in Derek where dialogue appeared a little forced. For example, at times Gervais' would noticeably set up Pilkington for one of his infamous rants and this, to me, felt somewhat uncharacteristic for Derek. Having said that, it is difficult to fully understand the complexities of a character having seen only one-hour's worth of the show.

Derek appears to me as Gervais' at the top of his game, and so this news brings excitement and anticipation for the coming season. But then I always was a sucker for anything Karl Pilkington related.

Funny, I took Homer for a Demon Hunter kind of guy.

There aren't many things The Simpsons have failed to cover in their twenty-something years on Television. But Diablo is certainly one of them. Many got excited on Friday when Blizzard Community Manager @Bashiok (Twitter) posted this image of the dysfunctional yellow family:

But sadly, as of now this wonderful incarnation is purely fan art. Although I know I'm not alone in saying that I'd love to see this become a reality. Having said that, come may 15th, anyone in-tune enough with the gaming world to enjoy this reference will probably be too busy playing their brand new copy of Diablo III to even see it. Ooh. Sweet, sweet irony.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Orion: Dino Beatdown (PC)

This was a game design Beatdown of epic proportions. At first glance, Dino Beatdown (DB) looked a blast. Dinosaurs and jetpacks? Yes please. 5 player coop with friends? Awesome. But as I delved further into this Spiral Games title - which set me back about £6 on steam - I began to see what a writhing bug-fest it was.

How badly I wanted this game to be good. Maybe if it was even functional! The prospect, something which looks to fuse elements of Unreal Tournament and Halo is fascinating. Many of the promotional images, boasting chaotic scenes jam-packed full of prehistoric beasts and futuristic tech, give you a fair view of what's to come, but by no means paint the whole picture. Hordes of angry Velociraptors coming at you from every side will sprint and pounce around the vast landscapes, often making your trusty Jetpack (Assault class) the only way out. A sense of urgency is certainly present in Dino Beatdown, but any immersiveness gained from this is often ruled out by the myriad of bugs and glitches lining the walls (literally) of every level/environment.

As of release, there are three basic classes to choose from. Assault, with which you get the jetpack, the basic pistol, and some trusty grenades. The support (medic) class gives you the healing ability and allows you to shoot bright blue rays of health magic back into your companions and, as you progress, back into objects too. The healing elements of this class were clearly inspired by the medic class in Team Fortress 2. Another cool thing about this class is that, unlike the other two, you don't just start with the basic pistol, you also get a Shotgun as standard - a great help when those Raptors get too close for comfort. Finally, the Recon class gives you the 'cloak' ability which allows your character to go invisible for a period of time. This is handy, but isn't integrated particularly well and as a result I found it was no where near as fun or helpful as the Jetpack or Healing abilities respectively.

The basic idea is that you have four outposts, A, B, C and D. All of which have a generator which is linked to this outpost and must be functional for the player to upgrade weapons, character abilities or replenish ammo. The player is tasked with keeping this generator functional whilst simultaneously fending off waves of angry dinosaurs - a task made easier and more enjoyable with friends. I felt that this teamwork based, objective-heavy structure is the right idea for this kind of game, presuming you play in coop, but was almost too unbalanced in the case of Dino Beatdown in order to be  enjoyable absolutely.

Another big failure with this indie title was consistency, or lack of it. It was difficult to create or develop any kind of strategy, and the in game interface seemed to act almost erratically at times. Weapons damage didn't appear particularly consistent, and even at times when it was, the unrealistic movements of the enemies made the shooting experience irritating - which, if you were wondering, is bad for an FPS.

There is also a poor range of enemies - only 3 types to be exact (Raptors, T-Rexs and Rhams). With a world so open and vast, this lack of diversity and, in turn, atmosphere that the game generates diminishes a lot of potential replay value. But that is after all the key word and the running theme of Orion: Dino Beatdown; Potential. Potential that is unfortunately never completely fulfilled.

Both the reward system and the difficulty system in DB leave you feeling disappointed and confused. The aforementioned lack of diversity among Dino's makes it an impossible task to give the player a rising sense of difficulty. The number and species of dinosaur that spawn in each wave is seemingly random. I often found myself having more difficulty with the first wave than the last. This stagnates the natural progression of your character and felt to me like carelessness from the devs in not mapping out a more rewarding wave-to-wave difficulty structure. On the subject of rewards, this is another area of DB that ranges from weak to virtually nonexistent. There is really only one reward in the game, and that's cash - used to buy weapons, upgrades etc. My beef with this was that a cash/points reward for each kill is inherently short term. There does not appear to be any overarching goal, no rationale for this scenario you've stumbled into. This lack of long-term incentive is a surefire way to lose the vested interest of players. Something which certainly happened in my experience with Dino Beatdown.

Now, for the bugs. Oh joy. They ranged anywhere from the game completely crashing, to vehicles getting stuck in the stupidest of places. There were clipping issues, server issues, interface issues. You name it, Dino Beatdown had it. In an industry where first impressions can mean so much, having so many bugs will immediately put people off what could be an epic cooperative battle.

There is a lot said about how "bugs aren't a big deal".."bugs can just be patched", and while this true to an extent, I think we as gamers (and paying gamers at that) deserve more from a game as of release. Its all well and good rectifying bugs after the fact but if your game is as broken as Dino Beatdown was from release, it's abit of a travesty that anyone should have to pay for it! This is what beta testing is for after all, and I kind of got the sense that the first few days of this game's release were like one big - money making - beta test.
It seems unlikely, impossible even, but when you soldier on through Dino Beatdown (and believe me I soldiered) there is certainly something there. It comes back to the question of potential, if the devs could just clean up the bugs and rethink some aspects of their game design, they could have real gem on their hands. It is, to me, a fascinating concept but players just haven't - as of yet - been allowed to see that. The idea is certainly fun, but the execution is by no means refreshing.

Once my friend and I had worked around any glitches/bugs we could and got somewhat accustomed to the ambiguous and erratic gameplay, there was a lot of fun to have.
Overall Dino Beatdown implements some of the bells and whistles of this genre nicely, but fails to deliver when it comes to some basic game design principles. This is is a concept I would love to see in the hands of a more experienced developer, say, Valve perhaps. I hate to see this concept almost go to waste like it has here because, for the love of god, DINOSAURS + JETPACKS.