Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on Steam's Linux Open Beta

I'm a huge fan of the Open Source movement. Most of the software I use is Open Source or at least freeware. Open Source software is great. It's free, usually well supported, and does the same thing as it's paid equivalent (sometimes doing it better). One of the few Open Source things I haven't really dabbled in is Linux. The massive Open Source operating system which has been gaining popularity lately with the advent of Windows 8. I have a small partition on my hard drive set aside for Ubuntu that I've messed around with, but there's one major hurdle that would prevent me from migrating completely to a Linux based system. The games. I'm a PC gamer. I like Windows only because it has a massive library of games and software. Linux has a large selection of games available for purchase on their Ubuntu Software Center (or whatever the equivalents for other distros are, I've only messed around with Ubuntu), but Linux doesn't really have any credentials as a gaming system. Steam may be able to break down this wall. The open beta for Steam Linux was released today to the public. Along with this, thirty-nine games have been given Linux support for the beta users. Looking over the list, I'm quite surprised at how many really good games are available. I'm sure (and know) most of these were available for Linux before, but it's nice to see that there's a concise list on a big name digital distribution platform. If the list continues to grow after the beta ends, Linux may become a viable gaming platform. And from the little I've read on the Steam Linux dev's blog, some games run better on Linux than on Windows. I haven't tried it out yet, but I do want to point out a couple of the games on the list that I've played and find to be quite good.

Team Fortress 2:
Genre: Class Based First Person Shooter
A given for any platform Steam is on. TF2 has been around for five years for a good reason. The game is simple and fun. It's also free which is always a good thing. With numerous game types and literally tons of user made content, it's hard to get tired of.

Aquaria
Genre: 2D Side Scrolling Metroidvania
It's been Linux compatible for a while now, but nice to see the Steam version give compatibility for it. You play as a fish girl (not really a mermaid in the traditional sense) searching for the answers of what happened to her family. With a huge world to explore and beautiful art combined with good controls and a fair difficulty level, it makes for a great experience.

Penumbra Series and Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Genre: Survival Horror
Admittedly, I haven't played these games. But I do know that they are excellent horror games that actually do the horror thing right and have fairly decent stories to boot. They may not appeal to everyone, but they're good if you like scary stuff.

Eversion
Genre: Platformer
A freeware platformer with a paid HD release (the one on Steam). It's a nice little platformer following in the steps of Mario with the added twist fo switching between "worlds" to solve puzzles. I'd recommend the game to anyone who hasn't had the game spoiled to them yet. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go play it. It's on Windows and apparently works through Wine for everybody else (according to the devs).

Dungeons of Dredmore
Genre: RPG Rougelike
I've talked about this game before. In short it's a graphical Rougelike for beginners with options for making it a more hardcore experience for those of us experienced with other Rougelikes. It's fun and has a satirical sense of humor, poking fun at games like Oblivion and Dwarf Fotress or television shows like Dr. Who and Star Trek.

Space Pirates and Zombies
Genre: Adventure/2D Space Sim/Strategy
You play as the leader of a band of space . . . people. It doesn't matter. You are given a simple goal, get to the center of the galaxy in search of fortune. On the way you have to survive the trip using you ever growing fleet of ships and constantly improving technology. The galaxy is randomly generated each playthrough so every adventure is different. You'll encounter pirates, zombies, cops, and angry locals along the way. it's tough for me to describe, but it's tons of fun.

Serious Sam 3: BFE
Genre: First Person Shooter
Probably the best FPS in recent history. Serious Sam is a modern FPS made in the style of FPS's made in the nineties like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. The influences show and it works incredibly well. I plan on making a full review of this eventually, but for now I'll recommend the game based on the incredible graphics, awesome sound and music, and the sheer scale of the battles. The second boss in the game is an alien battleship that you have to fight while it beams hordes of smaller enemies down to join the fight. It also has one of the best ending sequences I've ever played through, from the last level all the way to the credits.

Trine 2
Genre: Platformer
I haven't played this one, but I played the first. And if that's anything to go by, the second one should be just as good. I've heard good things about it too.

Killing Floor
Genre: Multiplayer Co-op First Person Shooter
It's what you would get if Left 4 Dead was made in the Unreal Engine, given a focus on realistic weapons, a greater emphasis on Co-op, and was made by the British. The devs like to have fun with their community too, featuring holiday events and maps that change the default zombies into gingerbread men and such other silliness. The game doesn't fool around with dialogue or story elements. It throws you right into the action, having you fight off waves of zombies while covering your allies. Not a whole lot of variation, but it's still great co-op fun and even better with friends.

EDIT: Forgot to leave a link to the list.
http://store.steampowered.com/browse/linux/

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thoughts on PlanetSide 2

I haven't written anything lately. Mostly because I've been busy with real life stuff. Also because I haven't played or beaten anything recently. I may start to write about games that I've previously beaten to fill the gaps. To continue, I've been playing a lot of PlanetSide 2 recently. It might not be fair to pick on a game that doesn't feel completely fixed yet, but I'll give my impressions on it anyways.

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What I Like:

The Art Style:
The game looks beautiful. Very much like the Halo series, with high tech structures built into a natural landscape filled with alien fauna. The armor designs are nice too. Each faction has a distinct feel to them just from a glance. The Terran Republic has a very uniform, but streamlined style with a functional feel to everything. Almost like it was made for war, but also would look good in a parade. The New Conglomerate's armor looks very much like a rebel faction's equipment would look. Very boxy and heavy looking. It looks thrown together and made for the very simple task of stopping bullets. The Vanu has a curved alien design to them that fits in with their alien worshiping culture. It all looks very reptilian, but still highly advanced. The weapon designs could be better. They all looks pretty much the same when you're looking down the sights.

The Scale:
I know everybody says this, but the scale of the game is very impressive. There's three huge continents with many (but admittedly, mostly the same) bases and biodomes to capture and defend. Looking at a battle from the top of a ridge involving at least a hundred other players instantly puts Call of Duty and Halo multiplayer to shame. It's almost impossible to describe a battle. You need to be part of one to understand how it feels to be dropped into battle by a plane driven by another person, reclaim a base in a matter of minutes, then proceed to jump on the nearest APC convoy to get to the next base where you will fight for what seems like hours to claim victory.

The Community:
Kind of an important thing in an MMO. I like the community because they tend to leave each other alone and just play the game. Communication seems to be mostly text based and isn't really used for tactics. One look at another player seems to be enough to understand what they might want from you. It also helps that I play support roles, and people like Medics and Engineers.

The Player Level System:
Sony Online Entertainment might not be the best, but they nailed the Free to Play system pretty well. The only things that can be bought with real money are the weapons, cosmetic stuff, and a way to reduce the amount of grinding. You still have to play the game to get things like weapon attachments, abilities, and special equipment. The base weapons aren't all that bad either, I've been playing for about twenty hours now and still use my base assault rifle.

The Core Mechanics:
The game is very simple. Fight to regain territory by reclaiming control points. It's basically Halo mixed with Battlefield. You have the health system from Halo: CE with a regenerating shield and a non-regenerating health meter. You might think that you could just hide every couple seconds to recover you shield, but this thinking is immediately destroyed when you take a rocket to the face and die instantly. I like this system. It  puts a focus on team gameplay rather than a Rambo approach to firefights. Traveling in a group is suddenly a lot more enjoyable when you know that a couple stray bullets can end you current life and the medic walking behind you can revive you while the MAX and heavy provide covering fire. The control point system is pretty straightforward. Kill the occupying forces while you take the various points. Take enough points and the area and all of its spawn and equipment points are yours. The difficulty is really based on how many players there are in the game and how good they are. Since most of the bases are more or less the same, you learn the tactics for each fairly quickly.

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What I Don't Like:

The Variety:
There is currently only one gamemode. While this is fine, I feel that SOE could easily impelent more game modes into the huge world they created. Imagine a massive game of Capture the Flag or a random event that spawns an insanely powerful AI controlled boss monster that awards a massive EXP bonus to the faction that defeats it. There's really nothing wrong with capturing bases, but there could be more to do than just that given the scale of the game.

The Flying Controls:
Oh God they messed up with this. Why would you bind "roll" to the mouse? Why is "turn" bound to A and D? To get an idea of how awkward this is, step outside your faction's warpgate and watch a first time pilot try to take off in a dropship. He will probably lift a foot off the ground, flip 180 degrees onto it's back, get tangled with a nearby gunship, and spin off, burning, into the nearby grunt sitting on his ATV watching the show. I'm sure you can rebind them, but it's kind of a shock when you get into an aircraft for the first time and the damn thing doesn't control how you'd expect it to.

The Orbital Drops:
Yes, the concept of being deployed from orbit into the middle of battle is pretty damn cool, but could we at least choose where to drop? More often than not you'll end up being deploy right in th middle of a firefight or on the top of a normally inaccessable cliff or building. Both tend to end the same way for me, getting immediately shot and getting to choose where I want to deploy anyways. Can't we just do that from the start?

The Grinding and Prices:
I know this is a Free to Play game, but do guns really have to cost so much? I wasn't able to buy the cheapest (100 cert) gun until about ten hours in (I had to put some points into medical abilities first). This means to get the better (600-1000 cert) weapons in a reasonable amount of time, you have to either be really good at the game, do some grinding as a support class, or find a nice long drawn out battle to fight in. For a scale of how much is needed to grind: 1 cert = 250 EXP, 1 kill = ~100 EXP = ~1/3 cert, 1 base capture = 500 EXP = 2 certs, 1 large facility capture = 1000 EXP = 4 certs. I think some price changes are needed.

The Technical Aspects of the Game:
There's no avoiding this. The game runs horribly on midrange PCs. It's way too CPU and memory intensive. My PC has crashed several times during the first week of the game. It seems to have been slightly fixed since then and now only crashes the game, rather than my entire computer. The horrible bandwidth bottlenecks also seem to make almost everyone lag like crazy during battle. I should consider myself luck to even be playing the game since my GPU isn't technically supported according to Sony's support site. There are reports of people that simply can't run the game since the game flat out tells them it doesn't want to work with their card. It really makes little sense when the game looks about as good as Serious Sam 3, but runs way worse than the relatively stable and smooth frame rate I get with SS3. Overall, the game feels very poorly coded and Sony needs to remove the bottlenecks and restrictions, and actually make an attempt at optimizing the game for its intended platform.

---------

Conclusion:
I really do like this game. Despite the horrible lag, glitchy graphics, occasional crashes, and making my PC's internal temps run into the 70 degree range while running the game on medium. The game still needs work, but is still a solid title. I would definitely recommend the game to anyone with a mid to high range PC so long as it has a decent graphics card.

Post Note: I wrote this before I saw this article by Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It's nice to know that the devs  are willing to add more to the game.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thoughts on Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a sandbox game made by Square Enix and United Front. It follows undercover cop Wei Shen and his dealings with the Triad gangs of Hong Kong. It's probably one of the better games I've played in recent history. Following in the footsteps of other Square Enix sandbox games, the game feels very much like an action movie, with less of a focus on the story and featuring stellar gameplay to make up for it.


What I Like:

The Melee Combat:
It's simple, but challenging. One button for attacks, one button for counters, and one for grapple attacks. It also has a lock on feature that was designed with the mindset that you would be fighting multiple enemies at once. All of this combined forms a system that not only flows great, but looks good too. A perfect fight looks like a scene out of a martial arts movie. If I had to complain about anything, it would be that it gets hard to target certain people in large fights. No I don't want to throw my knife at the small fry on the other side of the room, I want to hit the big ass grappler right in front of me.

The Graphics:
They're great. Especially on the PC where you get a free high resolution texture pack for free. Everything looks good and I noticed no drop in frame rate or any other graphical glitches. Even when it was raining and shit was blowing up all around me. Now that I think about it there was the minor glitch of things in the distance not being rendered correctly.

The Driving Combat:
While my opinions on driving and ranged combat are rather mixed, I loved the missions where you got a gun and a vehicle. The two combine seamlessly into a simple system with control over anything. It's also fun to drive down the street and smash into things using the dedicated ramming button. The ability to fight with a car makes car chases much better than in any other sandbox game I've played.

The City:
One of the main factors of a good sandbox game is the place it's set in. The city in Sleeping Dogs definatly helps the game. It's not too big, but still full of interesting stuff. It looks good too. At night every sign is lit up, giving the city a bit more character and color.


What I Didn't Like:

The Driving:
Sandbox games have never really had good driving controls, in my opinion. Sleeping Dogs is slightly better, but not by much. All the vehicles have a nice heavy feeling to them, but for some cars, it doesn't work as well. Some cars feel too heavy and as a result, turn like a cow. The bikes are mostly nice. Except the crotchrocket. Fuck that bike. Can't turn or brake for shit.

The Ranged Combat:
I don't really hate it, but it's just mediocre. Duck under cover and shoot the bad mans or convenient explodey barrels. Nothing really wrong, but aiming is a bitch when using a controller.

The PC Controls:
The game is meant to be played with a controller. I used one and got through the game fine. Despite the awful controller aiming for gunplay.

The Story:
Not too strong with a weak ending. It was enjoyable enough, but never really engaged me. I didn't really care about the characters all that much either.

The Experience System:
Not the entire system, but mostly the Police EXP. Sandbox games are good at letting you cause lots of destrucion easily. Unfortunately the game punishes you for running over fences and almost every other thing on the street. It's not fun to drive carefully during a car chase.


Sleeping Dogs is a good game and I would recommend it to anyone who asked. Like any game, it has it's issues, but makes up for them with the stellar gameplay. Combat is solid and most of the missions are fun. Could have used multiplayer, but good nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Update and Stuff

First of all, sorry for the slowdown in updates. I review games as I beat them and Sleeping Dogs is kind of a long game. Then again, I only play a mission or three a day. I'm getting there, just wait.

In other news, today I saw this in my Facebook news feed.


I had to do a double take. While Street Fighter Alpha 2 might not be considered to be the best Street Fighter, it's still Street Fighter. That means my favorite Polish gaming team and the recently mediocre Capcom have been talking. Does this mean we might be getting proper Capcom releases of older games in the future? Maybe. I really hope so. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Have a Tumblr Now

Let's face it. Blogger is kind of a quiet place. Not too much traffic and it's hard to get followers without connections or a lot of waiting. After about five minutes of research I found that Tumblr has the highest traffic out of all the various blog sites. I went ahead and made an account and found that It's much less flexible that Blogger. But it allows me to possibly create a larger audience and get my work out into more of the web. I will still be using this Blogger site as my main blog (mostly since I like the customization options here more) and will use Tumblr as a mirror for most of my reviews. Bigger stuff will be hosted here.

If you would like to follow my Tumblr, it's here.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter with the buttons on the side if you want updates. (Unless you know me IRL. Then you know where to find updates.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Game Review - Doom 3: BFG Edition Part 2

First thing to point out: I don't hate the game "Doom 3." I just think that the concept of the "BFG Edition" is terrible and kind of a betrayal on the part of Bethesda and id Software. More so now that they have pulled the original Doom 3 from Steam's shelves and now expect us to forget about the original and all of the mods for the game (some of which are still being made, like the Thief 3 total conversion many people will now not have access to if tey want to use a legitimate copy of Doom 3 Classic). How to solve this: someone needs to start a petition to include Doom 3 Classic into BFG Edition. Maybe I will. Onto the review.

Doom 3 is an Action Horror game from 2004. It was made partly to show off the new engine id Software had made, id Tech 4, to compete with Valve's Source engine. id Tech 4's major selling point was its impressive lighting system that allowed for much better shadows and GUI surfaces than Source, which offered impressive physics. It should be obvious who won this little engine war. People liked throwing ragdolls and barrels around much more than stumbling around in the darkness looking for the next control panel to click.


What I Liked

The Story:
It sounds kind of funny saying I liked the story to Doom game, but the reason I liked it was because there is very little story in the game to get in the way of shooting demons in the head. There are cutscenes, which cannot be skipped in BFG edition for some terrible reason, despite being skippable in the original. The audio logs and informational videos remain as a way of adding atmosphere and background story, all of which are still optional. You can go through the game without making use of most of them. The story itself doesn't stray far from the original formula. Demons are on Mars. You are a Space Marine. Go kill them. Sure there's some stuff with a scientist and other marine running around Mars trying to catch another scientist, but it felt like background stuff, and that was okay with me.

The Art Direction:
The game uses a realistic, industrial sci-fi style for most it's settings and look very much like what 3D Doom game should look like. I like the weapon design as well, it fits with the setting I described. The assault rifle's ammo counter is a nice touch even if it is obviously taken from Halo: CE, The shotgun has a nice flat profile, and the pistol's wooden handle is a nice touch and throwback to the wood stock on the orginal shotguns. The monster designs are good as well. They stay mostly  faithful to the original designs. The zombies have a decent amount of variation, mostly focused on the head, whether they have one or not. The other enemies, especially the Imps. The Imps still throw with the right hand and look mostly like they used to.

The GUI:
I like both the general UI and the in-game computer terminals. The general UI is nice and unobtrusive, confined to a couple numbers and bars on the bottom of the screen. The in-game GUI for the terminals and PDA are a nice little concept that works wonderfully with the PC's mouse and keyboard controls. Both help to increase the immersion that is so important in a horror game. The stakes feel a bit higher when you have to hit a button on a screen while zombies shuffle around behind you in the dark, rather than just hitting the X Button while when the prompt comes up while running down a hall. Something that is now lost with the advent of development for a game console, rather than for the PC first with an adaptation for consoles after.

The Atmosphere:
The game has wonderful atmosphere. The shadows and ambient sounds make the game feel like a horror game. Other small things like the non-regenerating health help to increase the tension. And contrary to some other people's thinking, the armor mounted flashlight is perfectly fine.

What I Didn't Like

The Graphics:

I know it's cheap to pick on the graphics from a game made in 2004, but part of BFG Edition's advertising is that the game features high resolution textures and improved lighting. After playing both Classic and BFG, I can say that nothing was improved. The textures remain low res (most apparent on the ship in the opening cutscene which features a line of large pixels as it pulls into the dock and lets you off). Everything looks muddy and pixelated when you get close to anything. The models are the same too, all the heads have a weird seam down the middle that I can't look away from. Most of the moving entities have a certain amount of polygons that has been unseen since the first Xbox. The lighing isn't that much better, but it better than the irritating darkness in the original. Of course the increased lighting does help to show off the shortcomings of the outdated models and textures since the original darkness made it harder to see the small flaws. The removal of Graphical options is stupid and just screams of shoddy console port. It's unaceptable in the year of 2012 to not have a PC game without graphical options beyond resolution and brightness. Not to mention the OpenGL problems that still haven't been patched. I hope we can expect more Triple-A work from previous PC developers Bethesda and id in the future.

The Weapons and Combat:
Doom 3 is an FPS like its older brothers. The difference is that the first two games were fast paced games that had a focus on getting through each level as fast as you could and shooting as many demons as you could on the way. The weapons in the game were all based around this (except the pistol, nobody likes the pistol though). The shotguns were made for circle strafing and running down corridors at top speed taking one shot ata time at each enemy you passed. They were powerful and sounded just as strong. Now take the Doom 3 shotgun. It's a weapon made for a Survival Horror setting. It sounds weak, has almost no range, and has a much worse rate of fire than it should have. From the combat, I can't tell if the game wants to be a Horror game or an Action game. The weakest monsters all need at least two shots to the head to kill and the weapons feel incredibly weak as a result. I can give the enemy health a little leniency since the game does have a non-regenerating health  system, but the weapons still feel weak due to the poor sound efects they make. The assault rifle in particular sounds incredibly weak and seems to do very little damage.

The Lack of a Map:
Why? Especially since everything is dark and looks the same.

The Level Design:
Very dark, cramped, and everything looks mostly the same. The dark I can deal with. The cramped corridors get annoying when you're trying to duck back into cover and get stuck on the level's geometry. Circle strafing isn't really an option either since there's no room to do so. The dark, cramped corridors all looks very similar as well, which sucks since the game forces you to backtrack at some points, and as I mentioned, there's no map to help with navigation.

The Length:
I know I shouldn't complain about this, but the main campaign feels a bit too long. Combined with the weak combat and irritating level design, the game starts to drag after a bit. I think if the game had a bunch of shorter episodes set in different environments I might have enjoyed it a bit more, you know, like the other games in the series, but done in the Action Horror style.

The BFG Removals:
Modding manager removed. Graphics setting removed. A couple small cutscenes removed. Problems with OpenGL that prevents the game from being played on certain computers without a certain command line added to the game's executable. A flow breaking checkpoint system. In other words a lot of small things that prevent the game from getting past the stereotype of being a shoddy console port.




Overall, I really do like the game. It has it's problems, most of them amplified by the BFG edition, but it's still a decent Action Horror game that holds up surprisingly well eight years after it's release. I'd recommend the game to someone they asked if it's any good, then I'd offer to lend them my copy of the original game and tell them how to mod the game so they can save thirty dollars.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Game Review - Doom 3: BFG Edition Part 1





When I first heard of this, I planned on getting it when it came out since I never got the original. I thought it was going to be Doom 3, the game that even today looks amazing on the PC, put into a more recent engine along with a couple other updates. Then I forgot about it until recently when it came out on Steam. Without checking around to see what I might expect, I bought it. After installing it I prepared to sit down and enjoy the Action-Horror game Doom 3 for the first time. Here's my first impression of Doom 3: BFG edition.





Oh.
Uninstall. Reinstall. Restart Computer.
Nope.
Check the Steam forums.
Russian guy swearing at Bethesda and id for region locking bullshit that shouldn't exist anymore. Several other people with the same problem. No solution.
Check around more on other sites.
Learn that the game is nothing more than a console port and quick cash in on the Doom franchise. Minimal graphics options. Resolution locked at 1280x720. FOV locked at 60. No mod support. Etc.

This is unacceptable for AAA developers and publishers in the year of 2012. You do not take a PC game, put it a nicer engine, port it to seven year old hardware, and try to port it back to much better hardware. I expect mush more from developers that got their starts on the PC platform.

I did get the game to run, but it took several days of waiting for a patch that still hasn't been made and browsing the Steam forums.  It's almost amazing how horribly Bethesda and id fucked up this time around. I'll give my thoughts on the actual game when I finish it. Just avoid the BFG edition and get the original instead. It's from 2004 and runs on any modern PC with a decent GPU. And it's a more effective horror game since your flashlight isn't stuck to your armor.