Thursday, December 01, 2011


I'm thoroughly entranced by RAGE right now. It's undeniably an id game, but it has a modern day, wide-open feel. It's a glass cage, corridors wrapped in tantalising scenery that's begging to be explored. It's all so near and yet, so horribly far away.

The level of detail in the world I've seen so far is astonishing. What would probably have been featureless, blobby structures in some games are packed with incidental details, like walkways and doors and stairs - I want to explore!

I wouldn't have believed, after the crushing disappointment that was Doom 3, that I could be excited about another id game, but RAGE has made me think again. The fact that Doom 3 was a straight up remake in shiny new tech, launched into a post-Half Life world shocked and horrified me. Why hadn't they learned the lessons Valve had taught us? Why hadn't they progressed in their design and structure, to go along with their technical prowess?

It means nothing now - I've forgiven Doom 3 for (some of) its flaws. Although the id fanboy in me, the one that used to spend school lunchtimes playing the original Doom on the library PC, is long gone, I felt a little stir of him after the first hour of RAGE. It's utterly without the pretensions of the modern open world games it resembles. There's no time for character building, or wandering the world - three minutes after waking from a 106 year crryogenic sleep, you're sent off to kill some mutants, with not so much as a "How are you feeling?", or a "Here's what you've missed...". It's really quite refreshing.

The look of the game is so vastly different from id's usual dank, dark interiors (although there are some of those). The world of RAGE is quite beautiful, with a very painterly sky, and the character models and animations are amongst the best I've seen. I'm used to the bland, stultified and samey looks of MMO characters and Elder Scrolls NPCs - I'd happily have a couple of beers with kindly looking Halek Hagar if he'd give me the drugs that make him smile like that. The worried expression on Dan Hagar's face as he tells of his fears that his settlement will be overrun is actually believable, and two old guys in Wellspring - Mick, the mechanic, and old Richard, who's wife is dying - are quite scary in their reality.

It's been a pleasant surprise, this, and although I already feel that it'll only be a good game, rather than a great one, it's all but erased the memories of Doom 3's failings.

RAGE on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In space, no-one can hear you being a c**t

Having completed the first two Mass Effect games, I can admit to being satisfied with the story so far. It's all a tad serious - there can never be enough camp in space operas - but well intentioned and I look forward to seeing the series close out next year.

My first Shepherd (male) was intended to be a downright space arsehole, and I deliberately chose the Renegade option whenever it was available. I didn't realise, at first, that playing good or bad didn't really alter things to much, apart from shop bonii and new dialogue options. It seemed to be just a matter of personal choice whether you played hero or arsehole.

In space, no one can hear you being a cunt, and no one really cares.

I'm not aware that being renegade Shepherd particularly changed the way the plot unfolded for me, and I was actually surprised when my Mass Effect 2 character import informed me that I had actually chosen the Paragon path by choosing to save the council at the denouement of the first game (although since I'm now playing for a second time with a decidedly angelic female Shepherd, we'll see what happens). I know that my conversation choices more commonly shifted to the less controversial as the storyline progressed, but I'm not sure if that's to do with my own personality, or if my Shepherd actually relaxed as time went on. I'd wanted him to be uptight and offensive to begin with, choosing a cruel visage when creating him, but he definitely mellowed. That said, it felt particularly out of character for me when he greet Garrus with open arms and a shit eating grin in ME2.

While male Shepherd was a ruthless spacer, the kind of guy who does what needs to be done and makes the sacrifices others can't handle to achieve the objective - none of the Normandy crew made it out of the Collector base alive, although only one of the squad died - female Shepherd is to be a career soldier, saved from the wreck of her colony and raised in the service. No nonsense, straight as a die and with little imagination; we'll see how long she lasts.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mass Effect

I'm quietly please with Mass Effect as a piece of science fiction. I'm not the most well read when it comes to proper scifi - I've always preferred my books to be fantasy and my movies to be scifi, which is probably a symptom of having grown up with both The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars - but even with that, I can enjoy a good space opera when I see it.

There's whiffs of what I recognise as Babylon 5 and Iain M. Banks, and there's that overwhelming theme of identity and destiny that pervades so many scifi tales, and it's nice to see that the humans are the new guys in town, far away from Star Trek's galactic lynchpins.

Reading the ingame lore, it's obvious that there's a lot of depth to the Mass Effect universe and, coming to it late, I'm not as bothered as I might have been that there wasn't more effort to shoehorn a little bit extra in. There's Mass Effect 2 to look forward to, and a third in development. There have been plans made, I can tell.

That said, while it is definitively a good game, it's not a great game. The mechanics of the gameplay were jarring at times and, on more than a few occasions, made me try to bite my monitor in half. The decision to make almost every explorable planet in the galaxy consist of nothing but mountains infuriates me, especially when the only vehicle available seems to have a buckfast-fueled ADHD-suffering teenager in control of each individual wheel. And some of them have their Y-axis inverted.

I can see the idea behind the Mako, and I applaud it. It makes me think of a Big Trak mixed with the lunar rover, but I want a vehicle I can keep going in a straight line. This isn't it.

The combat is a bit... laboured is probably the wrong word. Stretched isn't right either. Schizophrenic is almost there. Mass Effect really wants to be an action game, but there's something wrong with the speed of combat. The type of game Mass Effect wants to be has more fluid controls and a faster player character; the type of game it's descended from has slower hostile NPC movement and far more control over the overall action. There's an awkward meeting in the middle that leaves combat feeling a little bit off-kilter.

The meat of the game is the story, and the action merely the sauce that aids consumption. I look forward to the sequel, and can only hope it at least matches the impact of the original.

Monday, April 04, 2011


I've had an itch to play Final Fantasy VII again for a while, especially after reading the Final Fantasy letters series of articles.

A lot of gamers of A Certain Age will get excited and misty-eyed any time FFVII pops up in conversation, just don't get too close in case they're a fanboy - that wont be materia in their pocket. It's part of the 90's zeitgeist of the post-16-bit era and regardless whether you'd been exposed to JRPGs on the SNES, this was something completely different. It's an insane game, with a story covering series tropes of fatherhood and friendship, with some oh-so-Japanese romance consisting of intense sincerity and possibly some handholding. The main theme of environmental decay and ecological terrorism is still relevant today, probably more so and it's all tied into a game that lets you play cross-dressing games, participate in breeding programs involving giant, multi-hued ostriches and gamble in a casino. It's mental.

I've still got my original CDs (ooh, CDs! How quaint) and the game is sitting there, all installed and shit, waiting for me to play it, but it can't find a "Windows 95 compliant MIDI device".

I have no idea how to fix this, and neither does the internet: the only solution seems to be to buy a soundcard. Buy a soundcard? I thought those days were long gone...