Monthly Archives: December 2011

Trine 2 Review

Indie games rather unfairly get a pretty bad rap when it comes to graphics. I’m sure you must have heard at least some of the common arguments; pixel art being too hipster, 3D being better than 2D, colours beyond grey and brown being blasphemous and all that junk. Well, if you’re ever in need of something to shut those ill-informed naysayers up real fast, then you better pick up a copy of Trine 2!

It would be no exudation to say that it (or at the very least its PC version) blows just about every one of its colleagues, be they fellow Indis or AAA blockbusters, completely out of the water when it comes to pure unadulterated eye candy. Words can barely describe how utterly gorgeous each and every frame of Trine 2’s deliciously radiant visage truly is.

And good god, it simply never lets up even for a moment! Regardless of whether any given location is the scene for a climactic boss fight that’ll last several minutes or just some incidental landmark you’ll breeze right past, expect every facet to be enveloped with stunningly crisp lighting and more luscious set dressing than your eyes know what to do with. You could almost say it’s resplendent (Ok, time to put the Thesaurus down) to a fault. After a while you may actually begin to get desensitised to this onslaught of radical hues and tints, which can lead to a rather unhealthy reality shock the moment you take even a passing glance at just about any other game in recent memory.

It’s easy to get a good screenshot of Trine 2 when every second of it looks like THIS.

On the gameplay side of things however, Trine 2 is somewhat more grounded in the modern day rather than a vision of the (hopefully) near future. It boils down to the age old axim: your dude is on the far left of a 2D level, but your objective is on the far right of said level. Between the two are dozens of spike pits, larva pools, bladed pendulums and other such cheery environmental hazards waiting to boot your ass all the way to the game over screen. Inconvenient right?

The only way to get your little crusade moving is to utilise the unique abilities of 3 intrepid heroes, Zoya the thief, Pontius the Knight and Amadeus the wizard, who you must continually switch between (à la 90’s classic Lost Vikings) in order to solve a variate of physics based conundrums as well as occasionally beat the living daylights out of nondescript fantasy creatures that stand in your way. For the most part the puzzles are relatively straightforward affairs with multiple solutions for both single and co-operative play that strike a near perfect balance between being difficult enough to provide some measure of challenge, while still not making you want to curse up a storm out of frustration.

That’s not to say the game holds your hand; all it does is give you the tools to do the job, it’s up to YOU to figure out how they actually work. Under normal circumstances the game will never explicitly point out elemental techniques such as skewering Amadeus’s summonable crates onto spiked walls in order to make improvised platforms or how to use the momentum from Zoya’s grappling hook to ascend certain structures; you’re expected to figure that stuff out on your own. Whether such a experimentation heavy learning curve turns out to be gratifying or just annoying is unfortunately going to vary from person to person, but the game does at least provide a dynamic hint system that kicks in if it figures out you’re struggling a little.

Stacking the Wizard’s magical steampunk crates is still the go-to solution for most puzzles.

Pretty much all of the game’s replay value, and I’d argue much of the actual substance too, comes from hunting down the 1300+ Experience Potions that litter every nook and cranny of each area. Nooks and crannies that often require some pretty creative and/or ludicrous solutions to get within more than a stone’s throw of. My play-though took a healthy 7 or so hours, 2 of which where probably spent collecting roughly ⅔ of the little blighters. It’s hardly an essential part of the experience I guess, but Lord knows the Narrative sure ain’t what’s driving you forward!

If you’re looking for an Indi game to champion as a bastion of eloquent storytelling and rich narrative, then this game is a definite no-no on all accounts. The entity of the game’s heroic tale consists of short bursts of cringe worthily drab exposition that punctuate the beginning and end of each level, backed up by the odd instances of amateurish voice acting somewhere in-between. It’s about as harsh a contrast as you could possibly paint when compared to the games masterful visuals, and seems like a real wasted opportunity that could’ve turned this game from something special to something amazing.

If the preceding paragraphs sounded a little familiar, it’s perhaps because it’s almost the EXACT same description one could give of the original Trine! Sans-significant graphical upgrade, almost nothing about the core experience has really changed at all. They have added a few new puzzle mechanics such as fluid dynamics, pipe rearranging and the now somewhat ubiquitous “portals” all of which are mealy variations on shockingly common puzzle game tropes, and as such will do little to combat the overwhelming sense of déjà vu for returning Trine fans.

But in all, it’s really hard to try and hold Trine 2’s iterative nature against it too much. Its forerunner brought a unique and well received formula to the table, and while Trine 2 doesn’t exactly innovate on that formula, it undoubtedly brings in enough new content to make it more than worth a look whether you’ve seen it all before or not. At the absolute least, the £12 price of entry is more than worth paying just to see one of the most alluring titles of the year, if not in the entirety of gaming to date!

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Starhawk Beta Impressions

Enemies coming in form all sides. Snipers, machine gunners, tanks. You name it, they’re on my ass. In almost any other shooter that’d been made in the last 5 or so years (including Starhawk’s 2007 predecessor Warhawk) I’d be dead. Instantly. No question about it. But in Starhawk? I’d call down from the sky a miniature fortress covered in ammo pickups and turret hard-points and then I’d damn well hold the line.

That’s the power Starhawk’s Build n’ Battle system gives you. Within seconds you and your teammates can turn any old desolate little hovel into a buzzing military citadel complete with all the amenities a good soldier needs to get the job done. All you need is a flat patch of land and enough of the Sci-Fi MacGuffin “Rift energy” to instantly create whatever you need, wherever you need it. Could you do with a solid wall between yourself and the adversarial dune buggy speeding towards you? Build it. Think a sniper tower overlooking your enemy team’s flag would be cool? Build it. Want an entire secondary base on some neigh-inaccessible floating platform no one’s even set foot on yet? Build three.

The amount of Rift energy you get passively over time is minimal at best, while the boost you get from droppin’ fools is pretty significant. So the only way you’re gonna be able to fund your massive doom fortress is to partake in the time honoured video game tradition of shootin’ other dudes dead. Oh, and what a joy such an activity is! As someone who is sick and tired of CoD style twitch multiplayer, playing Starhawk has in many ways been an extremely refreshing experience. It hearkens back to the days where the average time period between spawning and dieing could be measured in minutes instead of millionths of a second. The weapons could perhaps be a little more satisfying for sure, but that’s a relatively minor issue when they’re fired atop a giant transforming jet fighter robot or from a vantage point a mile high by way of personal jetpacks.

At present, infantry have access to machine guns, sniper rifles, mines, repair tools, rocket launchers and gigantic shotguns; with the promise of pistol and flamethrower like weapons hitting in future updates.

At the moment the beta only allows for a traditional game of Capture the Flag on one of two maps, Space and Acid Sea. Both have more than enough of the complex terrain that made Warhawk’s maps so engaging, but still have enough open spaces that let you make best use of the Build ‘n Battle system in interesting ways. Although I’m not too sure what else the finished title will offer, the mode selection screen clearly has grayed out options for Team Deathmatch, Vanilla deathmatch, and my personal favorite from the Warhawk glory days, Zones.

Sadly not everything about Starhawk is quite such a throwback. Most of the varied colour palette utilised Warhawk has been abandoned in favor of the well explored but endlessly fascinating shades that exist between brown and grey. On top of that there’s plenty of…. “Progressive” modern gameplay mechanics that’ve worked their way in. Most predictably regenerating health now replaces the venerable health gauge, so those of you who’ve gotten used to near instantaneously shrugging off bullet wounds (or worse, have never known any better!) needn’t have to start memorising medipak spawn points just yet.

In fact, don’t bother trying to memorize any spawn points. If you want something to spawn in Starhawk then you damn well MAKE IT spawn where and when you need it. Pretty much all the key weapon pickups can only be found on specific Build ‘n Battle structures, meaning it’s in everyone best interest to keep the military machine humming, lest they find themselves with only the default armaments when duty calls. Furthermore, vehicle factories will only keep churning out new products if someone actually gets off their ass and spends extra Rift energy on them once in a while. If you find this concept a little confusing, then just go ask a PC gamer. I hear they’ve been doing similar sorts of nonsense in their Genuine Time Tactical whatchamacallits for years.

The ability to airdrop onto your opponent makes even respawning fun!

No, I’m serious, read up on that stuff. You’d be shocked at how bad it turns out console gamers are at resource management. Many a time I’ve seen players flood the home fort with vehicle factories just so they can get a quick ride, even if there’s already an identical and perfectly serviceable such structure mere feet away. Not only does that sort of behaviour totally ruin the fengu-shi that I spend most of any given match working on, it also eats into the team’s shared building allowance extremely quickly.  Currently in the beta there’s no real way to tackle this sort of malarkey other than running around un-building redundant facilities like a mother tidying up after a naughty child.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s just an innocent mistake; the build menu doesn’t give any indication as to what your team’s already built, and in the heat of battle it’s easy to forget that there’s already 3 or more expensive jetpack factories right next to you. Hopefully it’s something they’ll correct before launch with some kind of “Bro, you already got like 5 of those things!” indicator, or at the very least start giving players some way to curb those who get a little too carried away with the buildin’ rather than the battlein’. But you know, figuring stuff like that out is what beta tests are for! As it stands, Starhawk is shaping up to be a truly stellar multiplayer experience, one that I’m sure will be further refined over the coming months leading up to release.

But In the meantime, I could certainly do with some more practice! Rather ironically I’m still not entirely clear on what purpose titular “Hawks” actually serve in combat. Yes they fly incredibly fast and look super badass by virtue of being gigantic death robots, but their effectiveness against anything other than OTHER hawks feels minimal at best. Perhaps it’s just part of the game that hasn’t clicked with me yet? If that’s the case then, no worries, I’ll figure it out eventually. And you know why? Because I’m going to keep playing long after this article’s done. I’m probably even gonna keep playing when the full review’s finished sometime next year. You see, It’s been very VERY long time since I’ve manged to find a multiplayer shooter anywhere near as engaging or unique as Starhawk, so forgive me if I can’t help but indulge!

Yakuza 4 Review

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the residents of the Kamurocho district. Every year like clockwork the place gets throw into some sort of absurdly convoluted political crisis that’s always followed by a sudden unexplained surge of street violence and missing bicycles. Hell, it’s even gotten to the point where some of the brainless NPCs are beginning to find this annual spectacle oddly familiar.  Funnily enough it’s a sentiment shared by a lot of us in the real world too, considering how (almost) all the Yakuza games look and feel pretty goddamn similar to the point of absurdity.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that even if you’re already a fan of the series, you might actually struggle to tell them apart at all, and Yakuza 4 is sadly no exception. You’re still exploring the same city, going to the same places, fighting dudes in the street, playing lots of minigames and smashing bicycles over peoples heads. The only major differentiator is the same thing that draws back the fans time and time again: a deeply compelling narrative.

Like its predecessors it spins an epic tale of murder, betrayal, intrigue, betrayal and……..uh……more betrayal in the seedy world of Japan’s enigmatic yakuza crime families. I’d love to be more specific than that, but it’s kinda difficult when every character possess complex intertwining personal narratives so vast that I couldn’t even begin to summarise them here. Seriously, this is some major Metal Gear Solid grade nonsense we’re talkin’ about.

 Although I can’t speak the language I can still appreciate the raw emotion that the superb Japanese voice actors put into their performances. Just be weary that, even to the untrained ear, it’s very obvious that a fair bit of artistic licence has been taken with the subtitles.

Even to the untrained ear, it’s very obvious that a fair bit of (much appreciated!) artistic licence has been taken with the subtitles

In true Japanese video game tradition, most of the story is delivered through the exotic medium of exceptionally long cut scenes, many of which consist of relatively mundane conversations on such riveting topics as: complicated Yakuza traditions, government legislation and tasty watermelons (yes really). While this style of storytelling adds unprecedentedly deep levels of characterisation to the mix, for some people it’s also going to take the phrase “mind-numbingly boring” to a whole new level.

But with that in mind it’s probably still the most accessible Yakuza game yet, in part thanks to the game constantly updating a condensed character bio/plot synopsis screen after literally every minor and major story event. This little innovation finally allows players an easy way to keep track of Yakuza’s mind boggling narrative without having to start from scratch every time they look away from the screen for more than a few seconds.

But more importantly, for the first time in the series you can play from the perspective of 3 brand new characters instead of just the seemingly immortal Kazuma Kiryu. These 3 protagonists are a complete blank slate storyline wise, meaning there’s little to no obligation to have played the previous games if you still want to grasp the overall story, although you’ll miss out on a few shout-outs here and there if you don’t. However, while having multiple playable characters has worked wonders from a storyline angle, it’s not really been integrated too well on the gameplay side of things.

 The “reminisce” mode that lets you re-watch old cutscenes is useful if you blinked and ended up missing something important the first time around (or are trying to get screenshots for a review without making a bazillion saves).

The ability to re-watch old cutscenes is useful if you ended up missing something important the first time around (or are trying to get screenshots for a review without making a bazillion saves)

Each character’s experience points and inventory are completely isolated from one another, and your control over each dude shifts at pre-determined story milestones. So when the inevitable changeover happens, you’re going to lose access to any money, abilities or collectibles that you’ve picked up so far. I suppose that makes sense in context, but that doesn’t stop it from being somewhat infuriating when you’re sent back to square one for the fourth time about 35 hours into the game.

Yakuza 4’s not all just story though; eventually you’re going to have to get your hands dirty with some good old fashioned street justice. Combat is very simple: two attack buttons for building combos, one for grabs, one for blocking, one for taunts, fairly standard stuff really. However once you’ve landed enough hits to built up your HEAT gauge, that’s when the real fun begins. By expending the HEAT you can unleash some incredibly brutal special moves which vary from “slightly ridiculous” to “Street Fighter 4 Ultra Combos” in terms of extravagance. There’s quite a few to unlock through either leveling up or doing crazy side quests, however some of the moves have absurdly specific requirements to activate so you’re unlikely to see them all unless you go pretty far out of your way to do so.

 You’ll spend most of the actual gameplay time fighting with your fists or with whatever junk you can find lying around on the street. But you also have the option of keeping a small armory of traditional weapons provided you’re willing to cash it takes to construct and maintain them.

Bicycles, the ultimate improvised weapon!

Graphically Yakuza 4 is a bit of a mixed bag, main characters look fantastic but minor NPCs can look extremely rough round the edges. Individual static props don’t look quite so hot either, but there’s so damn many of them that I can’t help but still be impressed at the gameworld as a whole. Sure it might not be the biggest sandbox by any standards, but it’s unrivalled in terms of sheer density. Wherever you look, your senses are being constantly bombarded with the lights and sounds of Kamurocho’s meticulously crafted storefronts or the innumerable pedestrians just wandering about their daily business. It’s about as lifelike a city as I’ve ever seen in a video game by a long shot, and the sense of immersion it provides just gives the already captivating story all the more impact.

However you do have to keep your wits about you when exploring; some of the pedestrians are actually aggressive street punks who are more than happy to engage in a bout of fisticuffs if you get too close. They’re are basically Yakuza’s equivalent of RPG style random battles, but just not nearly annoying as that sounds. Once you have a good idea what all the trouble makers look like, it’s easy enough to avoid combat if you’re getting a little fed up with it. Oh, and the odds are you WILL get fed up with it.

 Most fights are short brawls that take place in an enclosed area, but on rare occasions you’ll get these one-off continuous battles set in a much lager environment. I really wish there had been more of these, but I've been saying that since the original Yakuza.

On rare occasions you’ll get to fight long continuous battles set in a lager open environments. I really wish there were more of these, but I’ve been saying that since the original Yakuza

Each character plays differently has their own exclusive moves sets, but in the end it makes very little difference to how most battles are going to play out. Pro Tip: mash the two attack buttons over and over until you have enough HEAT, then just do the most convenient HEAT move available, rinse and repeat until you win. Unfortunately most of the games huge number of side quests are resolved in a similar way, the only difference being that you have to wade through few pages of un-voiced dialogue before you get to start cracking skulls. I suppose the shear spectacle of the combat is probably enough to keep it interesting for a good while, but considering the main storyline probably clocks in at well over 15 hours, the lack of variety is going to hit you pretty hard sooner or later.

That is, if you can stop yourself from turning your PS3 into scrap first. Some aspects of the combat system are exceptionally frustrating for totally absurd reasons: frequent stun-locks, AI that cheats like crazy, awkward contextual commands, everything about it is just downright clunky and dated. These sort of issues were barely justifiable in the first game way back in 2005, but 5 years later the fact that they’re still there is an absolute disgrace.

 It can often feel like luck rather than skill is governing the outcome of a battle when the AI can instantly counter your every move at a whim.

It can often feel like luck rather than skill is governing the outcome of a battle when the AI can instantly counter your every move at a whim

Sadly combat isn’t the only aspect of Yakuza that’s failed to evolve over the years. I’ve got no doubt that the consistent usage of the Kamurocho District as a setting is a key part of the Yakuza franchise’s appeal, and in Yakuza 4 it’s as visually striking a as ever. But that’s still no excuse for the truly laughable lack of new locations since the orginal PS2 outing. The few that they have added are extremely spartan, with little reason for you to ever to give them a second look unless a side quest demands it.

But at least there’s a small collection well-crafted minigames to help alleviate some of the pent up frustration and boredom. And by a “small collection” I mean: Shogi, Mahjong, Koi-koi, Baccarat, Chasing, Blackjack, Roulette, Pachinko, Pool, Hostesses flirting, Cee-lo, Mixed Martial arts coaching, Ho-han, Massages parlors (?), Oicho Kabu, Table tennis, Hostess training, Toba, UFO Catchers, Karaoke, Batting cages, Bowling, Golf, Fishing, Darts, and even a side scrolling shooter. Yeah. If you let them draw you in, you could easily end up spending more time with all those than you do with the actual story missions.

For better or worse that’s just how Yakuza rolls, and Yakuza 4 is essentially just MORE Yakuza pure and simple. It’s more of what makes the series so interesting and unique, but in turn it’s also more of what makes it really fricking annoying. I’d say the good parts defiantly still outweigh the bad parts, and that this is easily the best Yakuza game yet, however that doesn’t stop some of the more archaic mechanics requiring saintly levels of patience to endure. But so long as you can get past that, then you’re in for an interactive gangster movie epic like no other. Well ok, maybe like a few others….

The Good

  • Dense engrossing storyline.
  • Huge number of minigames and side quests.
  • Very long.
  • City feels lifelike.
  • Brutal special attacks.

The Bad

  • Very few new locations.
  • Combat feels clunky and dated.
  • Isolation between the playable characters until late game.

Recommended similar games
Shenmue 1 (Dreamcast) & 2 (dreamcast/xbox)
Way of the samurai 1, 2 (PSP/PS2) & 3(PS3/Xbox360)
Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble (PSP)
GodHand (PS2)

Portal 2 Review

I often wonder what a proper sequel should represent, should it be very similar to the original but with slight improvements? Or perhaps be radically different but with familiar themes? Even if I could somehow decide in my head which side of that argument was the “right” one, I’d still have probably booted up Portal 2 without the slightest clue of what to expect, or more importantly what I WANTED it to be.

I think the biggest problem is that the original Portal was a pretty weird game and, as is the issue with many games that get elevated to godlike status, many people often forget why. While I would never even think to suggest that it wasn’t a masterpiece of innovative game mechanics and postmodern storytelling, it was also in no way what people generally describe as a “AAA” game. It was very short, it was limited in scope, all the environments where quite small, the graphics weren’t much to talk about, the only promotional material was a seriously out of date trailer, it was a “bonus” game bundled with a bunch of far more anticipated games and by Valve’s own admission it was a small scale “experiment” more than anything else.

I’m not sure what it is that they learnt from their “experiment” but they seem to have spent over 3 years trying to turn it into a usable Hypothesis, and usually a development time of that length results in a title of staggering mediocrity. Thankfully when Valve’s involved it tends to work the other way around, with the amount of time spent on a given project being directly proportional to the number of GOTY awards it should pocket. That maxim certainly seems to hold true in this case, as while Portal 2 is a fairly significant departure from its namesake, it’s also somehow exactly the same in all the ways it should be.

Proof that blockbuster games don’t necessarily have to contain any gun- toting marines (space or otherwise) AND can actually be intellectually challenging, although sadly I doubt it will set much of a precedent in either respect

Within the first few minutes of Portal 2, I was gazing out at a huge industrial landscape whilst riding around in a motorised metal container styled as a crummy 70s motel room that was being controlled by a wisecracking robotic eyeball called Wheatley who has an amusing west country accent. I think my closest equivalent experience in the original Portal was when I first entered into GLaDOS’s extremely barren control room and thought to myself “Wow! This room is ever so slightly larger than the previous couple of rooms!” Technically it’s about as far removed an experience as you could get, but even so, it all still felt familiar even before I saw my first colour coded hyperspace gateway. I don’t know if it was just Wheatly’s perfectly written witty banter or any number of other factors, but whatever it was I knew what I was in for: Portal elevated to it’s logical extreme. This wasn’t an experiment anymore.

I can’t really say much about the Narrative without spoiling it, but sufficed to say it’s still retains part of its predecessors minimalist style. You’re still playing as Chell the total mute, and you’re still not directly given any key information about the game world. This forces you to piece together the nature of your situation by observing the inconspicuous hints doted around every environment and by listening closely Wheatly and GLaDOS’s exquisite expositions, the later being interspersed with some hilarious verbal beat-downs that have only got more cruel since the previous outing.

I’m sure there will be plenty of purists out there who will object to the much reduced subtleties of the dialogue and to how far it pushes the comedy element this time around. They’ll probably even cite that it violates the [insert pretentious over-analysis of Portal here] that they claim made the original game so good in the first place. It’s perfectly fine if they want to be like that, but meanwhile the rest of us can laugh our asses at a fantastically written script that manages to be goofy and comical despite the dystopian setting, but still somehow contains the deeply serious undertones that keep the narrative together.

A lot of the best comedy material is very easy to miss, often requiring you to postpone critical events for as long as possible or in some cases deliberately see to your own end. On all occasions: Totally worth it.

However what’s really changed about the story since the original isn’t so much the performance itself but more the method of its execution; the game makes very heavy usage of fully animated scripted events rather than just relying entirely on voice overs that play as you solve puzzles. These events vary from elaborate roller coaster rides through the production lines of GLaDOS’s (still adorable) turrets, to easily missable peeps at the almost organic inner mechanisms of the Aperture test chambers. Most importantly though, they rarely if ever take movement control out of the players hands which – excluding one rather out of place pre-rendered FMV – allows the story to blend beautifully into the gameplay in a way that I would hope that game designers have been pursuing since the dawn of gaming.

This is probably one of the few reviews where I can get away with spending very little time with describing the core gameplay, mainly because it’s extremely derivative of it’s predecessor. Basically you have a gun that can create two interconnecting portals on certain surfaces, if something goes inside one it will come out the other at the same speed it entered, which is still just as impressive and seemingly impossible today as it was 3 years ago. There’s no combat, no inventory and no branching paths, just a series of potentially lethal puzzles.

Thankfully the game itself spends even less time explaining the basics than I just did, as it more or less assumes that you played the first Portal to completion right form the get go. Oh, and if you haven’t done that then I would suggest there’s something VERY important you should be doing right now, and it involves something that’s £7 on Steam right now. That said, it doesn’t dwell much on the new mechanics either, as you’re expected to learn the ins and outs of the game purely though experimentation. Such a methodology can occasionally get frustrating when certain abstract solutions just don’t come together in your head for a while. But that feeling of accomplishment you get when you just solved a ridiculously complex puzzle without so much as a hint makes the pain more than worthwhile. Moments like that are a testament to how well designed the puzzles really are; none are so hard they’re impossible for (jokes aside) the average gamer to figure out provided they’re given enough time. Equally so, almost none of them are so easy that you won’t feel satisfied upon their completion, be you a returning portal master or otherwise.

As with all Valve games there’s a highly informative developer commentary mode available once you finish the game. It’s definitely a must try for fans or amateur game designers looking for some behind the scenes know how

Don’t think for a moment that it’s just a rearranging of old ideas either; there’s still the traditional cubes, buttons and gravity tricks to utilise in your solutions, but they’ve now been combined with several innovative new mechanics that require more lateral thinking than ever before. Particularly impressive are the paintable gels that can be used to affect your movement speed and jump height or allow you to place portals on otherwise disallowed surfaces. They also demonstrate some really impressive liquid effects which until now I would have never thought Valve’s Source engine would be capable of. I mean let’s be honest here, while it may have once been the graphical benchmark for gaming tech, the Source engine hasn’t exactly aged very well. So with all that in mind, Portal 2 looks……..good. Not mind blowing, not amazing, but good.

As you would probably hope by now, almost all the recycled stuff form Half-Life 2 has been replaced with original assets, a LOT of original assets. You see, one of the very few major complaints (more or less the only one actually) I had about the original Portal was that the environments were incredibly plain and boring most of the time. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who flagged that as an issue because every square inch of Portal 2 seems to be filled with junk, creating an extremely cluttered backdrop that oozes character from every direction and strongly encourages unnecessary exploration at every opportunity.

However the visual elements that really deserve praise don’t come from raw graphical prowess, but instead the quality of animation. Every time something moves, and there’s ALWAYS something moving, it’s in beautifully smooth motions that are spookily lifelike; which is pretty impressive when almost all the characters are soulless machines. Your robotic companion Wheatley for example, who is nothing more than a few plates of metal and some LEDs, manages to convey more personality in a single blink of his eye than you’d normally see in the entire screen time of an average video game character. I’d say the only way you’re likely to see equal or better mastery in the field of bringing inanimate objects to life is by watching a Pixar movie, which sadly tend to lack gruesome deathtraps or rouge AI’s threatening to physically and mentally torture you for the next 60 years.

There are however some alarmingly frequent number of truly ghastly textures and low poly objects that would have looked out of place in the original Portal, never mind in a fully fledged 2011 console title. The worst instance of this comes mere moments after starting the game where you’re required to open a door for Wheatley. This door, the second object in the entire game that you’re DEMANDED to see up close, lacks a physical handle. Instead it features an absurdly low resolution texture which from a distance looks a little bit like a handle if you don’t think about it too much.

Oh dear, I seem to have open a portal to a an early PS1 game. At least, that’s the only reason I can think off for this butt ugly pipe to be here

My confusion over how there could be such a thing in a game of otherwise flawless polish was only compounded when I examined an entirely unimportant and irrelevant row of desks later on in the game. I quickly discovered that all of them featured several fully modelled handles that probably contained more polygons each than the entirety of the aforementioned door. Trying to figure out how, or indeed why, some of these assets ever got signed off on by Valve’s creative directors will likely be a mystery I will take with me to the grave. Perhaps it was just their way of making sure journalists had at least one major thing to complain about, because other than that I’m totally stumped on what other negativity I can bring to this review without rather nit-picky.

Of course if my journalistic integrity metaphorically FORCED me at gun point to get nit-picky about Portal 2, then my first thought would likely be that on rare occasions during the “Test Shaft 09” puzzles it was slightly too difficult to determine where the exit to the next area was supposed to be. If (metaphorically) my journalistic integrity then said heads would roll if I didn’t come up with a more fundamental complaint, I would rather reservedly splutter that perhaps the gameplay can get a little formulaic after a while. Basically you enter a room, characters will talk for a bit, you solve the puzzle, characters will talk a bit more, you laugh, then you enter the next room etc.

However a complaint such as that would be like saying that the weekend sucks because it happens every week. That’s not to say Portal 2 is massively predictable or anything; every twist and turn that happened in between (and sometimes during) all the puzzling caught me totally off guard in a way that video games rarely do, and on may occasions I was genuinely shocked at how smoothly I had transitions from one situation to the next with no noticeable seams.

Portal 2’s dynamic background music turns the environment itself into one giant instrument, albeit one full of deadly lasers.

Now all that is well and good, but I’m sure you’ve probably heard the crazy horror stories about how it only takes 4 hours to wrap up the entire game or something to that effect. Theoretically speaking, if you know how to solve every single puzzle in in the fastest way possible, use a bunch of time saving glitches, don’t wait around to hear all the cool dialogue and generally don’t “play” the game in any meaningful way, then yes it IS possible to finish Portal 2’s story campaign in 4 hours. For those of us who aren’t heavily into the speed-running scene it’s more likely to take closer to 8-10 hours, and that’s not even including the totally separate multiplayer co-op mode which has a length mostly determined by how much each player enjoys sending the other to an untimely death instead of solving conundrums.

Even so, there was still one major issue that was troubling me once the credits started rolling, and it was the same one that had vexed me before I’d even started playing the game: what should a proper sequel be like? Portal 2 hadn’t helped me figure that one out at all, because the more I played it the harder it became to think of it as a sequel to anything. With the exception of the occasional dodgy graphics, it sets the bar so ludicrously high in just about every aspect that it makes the original Portal look like an early proof of concept demo. Valve might well have taken far too long by conventional standards to put this game together, but they’ve once again proven that, if you’ll excuse my language, they own this shit. What I’m trying to say is that Portal 2 is pretty great. You should really go play it. Seriously. Like, right now.

Good

  • Witty dialogue
  • Near perfectly paced difficulty.
  • Pixar level animation.
  • Not too long or too short.
  • Devious puzzles.

Bad

  • Bizarre instances of shoddy graphics.
  • We’ve probably got at least another 3 years until Portal 3.

Recommended similar games
Prey (PC/Xbox360)
Portal (PC+Mac/PS3/Xbox360)
Half Life 2 (PC+Mac/PS3/Xbox360/Xbox)
The Ball (PC)

Comic Jumper Review

I’m sure at some point or other, most of us have ignored a less than satisfactory story. I mean for stuff like Just Cause or Killzone it’s all about blowin’ dudes away right? In those sorts of games, narrative is just filler that gives the gameplay an excuse for existing. It’s a dynamic most of us just accept without question, it’s just how some games are. But can the reverse also be true? What if the gameplay was just an excuse for a story? And can that story be so utterly hilarious that you could find it within yourself to forgive even the most cardinal of game design sins? If you want to find out, you should definitely play Twisted Pixel’s Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley.

The very first stage of Comic Jumper features 5 different gameplay styles, twin stick shooting, platforming, old school beat-em-up, on-the-rails shooting and quick time events. Every subsequent stage in the game features some of these same segments presented in almost exactly the same way. Ok so that’s no bad thing right? All those things can be fun if done well! But that’s the problem; comic jumper doesn’t do any of them well at all. In every shooting segment you use the same weedy gun, platforming is Ghosts ’n Goblins annoying, the beat-em-up sections only have one combo and the quick time events are just plain boring. Perhaps you might just find one or two of these things enjoyable the first time round, but you’ll be pulling you’re hair out in equal parts of boredom and frustration once they’ve been drilled into your mind after the first few stages.

 This is what a vast majority of the gameplay looks like. It seems way less cool once you’ve played this exact same run ‘n gun segment a few dozen times.

This is what a vast majority of the gameplay looks like. It seems way less cool once you’ve played this exact same run ‘n gun segment a few dozen times.

Of course if it’s such an awful game, why is it worth even writing about? Well that’s simple, it’s just plain funny. But let’s just brush that train of thought back under the rug for a sec so I can tell you what this game’s actually about first. You see, In Comic Jumper’s world, comic books aren’t drawn by artists. They’re “acted” like some sort of improvised TV series, with each issue having cartoon villains and heroes hired on as freelance actors. Still with me? Yeah don’t try and apply any logic to any of this stuff, if fact just forget logic entirely, it’ll be easier for all of us.

You play as Captain Smiley, the lead hero in the comic book “The Adventures of Captain Smiley”. Unfortunately it’s a comic that’s not doing so well; store owners tear it up in disgust, people have no qualms about using it as substitute toilet paper and all the school kids think Smiley’s a loser. With the comic’s popularity at rock bottom, all Smiley’s co-stars quit and there’s not enough money left to publish another issue. Just when it looks like he’s going to have to cancel his own franchise, Twisted Pixel step in and give Smiley the ability to guest star in other people’s comics to help make ends meet. Yes that’s right, the developers put themselves in their own game, playing the role of………. the developers of Comic Jumper (again, abandon all logic ye who enter here). Not only that but they threw in some totally crazy live action footage to represent themselves. No, snap out of it! You haven’t time warped back to the mid-90s, this is just a very weird game okay?

 Seeing Comic Jumper’s screen clearing “Bomb” attack, which features live action footage of the Twisted Pixel staff taking turns to punch the screen followed by a headbutt from their CCO Josh Bear, is one of the most beautifully surreal experiences of my life.

Comic Jumper’s screen clearing “Bomb” attack, features live action footage of the Twisted Pixel staff taking turns to punch the screen followed by a headbutt from their CCO Josh Bear. Beautiful.

So what’s so funny about all that (apart from everything)? Well most of the big laughs come from the dialog, which is good because there’s rarely a moment in Comic Jumper where someone’s NOT talking. Everything from trying to jump while not on a mission or just examining your in game achievements is enough justification for a few quips from Smiley, his potty-mouthed sidekick Star or one of the many colourful characters you meet along the way. A lot of the really good stuff is actually one-time-only events that occur in the mission hub, encouraging you to constantly re-explore the small environment after every mission just to find new jokes.

The humour itself is extremely self-aware, with subjects varying between the absurdities of video game logic, the ridiculous tropes of whatever comic book genre you’re currently in, Smiley’s ineptitude as a hero or even Comic Jumpers own shortcomings as a game. That last one always confuses me a little, I’m not sure how Twisted Pixel managed to identify that elements of their game laughably poor yet not feel the need to do anything about it. But I suppose if anything, that just makes it even more hilarious.

 Actual quote: “Hearts? Bats? It’s like the writer of this comic didn’t even know anything about manga and just drew in whatever they felt like!”

Actual quote: “Hearts? Bats? It’s like the writer of this comic didn’t even know anything about manga and just drew in whatever they felt like!

The presentation slips occasionally, thanks to some rather rigid character movement during cutscenes and a few issues with overused assets, but that’s really just splitting hairs. Comic Jumper’s only real non-gameplay related flaw (what a weird thing to say in a game review…) is that it’s all over too soon. This is an indi title after all, so it’s hardly surprising it only gets to briskly cover 4 different comic genres (modern, silver age, fantasy and manga) and can’t afford to dwell on any one subject for too long. That brings me to the sad thing about a game that champions everything else over gameplay: once you’ve finish it, then that’s it. You’ve listened to all the jokes and watched all the cutscenes; essentially this game no replay value of any kind.

I don’t know if top quality humour can justify half-baked gameplay and I don’t know if I could ever call Comic Jumper a “good game”. All I do know is that when I put my controller down after finishing it, I still had a great big smile on my face, as if I was still recoiling from the world’s greatest and most well told joke. Comic Jumper is a game that will likely make you happy, and when it comes down to it that’s all we really want, so does it matter how it gets you there.

The Good

  • Huge amount of hilarious dialog.
  • Great cast of characters.
  • High Quality voice acting.
  • Enough unlockable extras to put most other titles to shame.

The Bad

  • Very limited gameplay.
  • No replay value.
  • Only 4 comic genres to chose from.

Recommended similar games
‘Splosion Man (XBLA)
Gunstar Heroes (Genesis/SNES + slightly too many to list here)
Contra (Arcade/NES + too many to list here)
Earthworm Jim (Genesis + WAY too many to list here)

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Review

BlazBlue (pronounced “Blaze Blue”……yeah I know, just roll with it) is a franchise born of tragedy. When legendary fighting game developer Arc System Works lost the development rights of their much loved Guilty Gear series to Sega, they took the best option left to them. They set out to make a new franchise, one that would take all the elements that made Guilty Gear so popular but push it up to the next level. Thus BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger was born, and despite a growing public disinterest in the dying genre of 2D fighters, turned out to be a hit. Now that the hard part was out of the way, all Arc had to do was show they could continue improving the BlazBlue formula to meet ever rising expectations. Something they certainly achieved with the second main entry in the series, Continuum Shift.

Pictured: A catgirl with giant claws preparing to slice through a cyborg suspended in the air while a samurai cat flies across the screen with a giant katana in his mouth. Yes, this game rocks

I suppose if you take it down to the basics it works like any other fighting game: there’s one fighter on each side of the screen that wants to pummel the other until they stop getting up, you play as one of them. Press attack buttons to make stuff happen, press direction buttons in the right order followed by an attack button to make cool stuff happen, press direction buttons in the right order followed by an attack button while you super gauge is partially filled to make REALLY cool stuff happen. There’s a bunch of crazy mechanics on top of that like instant blocking, rapid cancels, counter assaults, guard crushes, break bursts etc, but to be honest a lot of that only matters if you plan on getting seriously competitive. In the end you can pretty much play through most of the game without having even the slightest clue how any of those things work.

All you really need to know to begin with is that you have 4 attack buttons, weak, medium, strong and drive, and it’s that drive button that really makes the game exiting. Each character has their own unique mechanics tied to it like summoning insects, freezing opponents in ice, magnetic fields, throwing grappling hooks and all that. What this all means is that no two characters play alike, something that helps offset the relatively small size of the roster. Not that I’d say the roster size is a flaw or anything,  it’s just a byproduct of the franchise not having over a decade to build up mountains of dudes like Street Fighter or Tekken have. Although it has expanded slightly over Calamity Trigger by adding 2 new story mode characters, the franchise’s first unlockable character and some DLC packs that let you play as popular supporting characters in some modes.

The characters all fall into rather rigid anime stereotypes, but well developed backstories stop them from feeling too generic

It seems that rather than just throwing loads of new characters in for the sake of it, the interim year since Calamity Trigger’s release was spent giving the original cast lots of new moves as well tweaking their playstyle. But as with any fighting game, character balance is….still a bit of an issue. There’ve been a lot of good balance corrections since Calamity Trigger for sure, but most of them will go totally over the heads of casual players who are unlikely to notice much difference. Don’t get me wrong though, Continuum Shift is probably one of the most casual friendly fighting games out there. Almost all the moves are pretty simple to pull off by fighting game standards and drive attacks are often as simple as pressing the drive button, so if you don’t have much experience you can still make cool looking things happen without too much practice. Even then the game offers a new “beginner mode” control scheme that massively simplifies all the attacks and combos.

In terms of actual gameplay modes you have a nice range of options: You got your standard Arcade mode where you just fight guys until no ones left. A Training mode where you can practice on an AI dummy. Score attack mode which is more or less an arcade mode but with ultra hard bosses towards the end and an online leaderboard. It’s defiantly a pain to finish it completely but it lets you unlock powered up “unlimited” versions of whichever character you were playing as when you do. Then there’s Challenge mode and Tutorial mode, very nice additions indeed. They aim to teach you all the mechanics and combos in the game for each individual character, starting off with the basics and gradually working up to advanced techniques used in competitive level play. Legion mode on the other hand is a hand-me-down from Calamity Trigger portable for the PSP. Essentially you have to conqueror every node on a grid by challenging each node’s team of characters. If you win the challenge you get to add someone from the defeated team to your own, but if you lose you lose anyone defeated on your team permanently.  Even on the low difficulty Legion mode can get pretty hard, so its more or less just for those who want to really test themselves. Of course there’s also the obligatory online multiplayer mode too. But bare in mind most of the people still playing a fighting game online after the first week or so are usually in it to win, don’t expect any mercy.


This move is called “Musou Senshouzan” aka the “ice car”. At casual level play it’s cheap as hell and very easy to pull off. Prepare to see it a lot.

And then finally, the real shining star of Continuum Shift, Story mode. Okay, for most fighting games “story” just means short kinda crappy animations at the beginning and end of arcade mode along with a paragraph in the instruction manual that reads “Once upon a time, a bad person set up a fighting tournament”. However Calamity Trigger did a good job of breaking the mould by adding a lot of well written banter, multiple story paths and character development between fights and without having to rely on the worn out “tournament” setting. Continuum Shift takes that and throws it into overdrive, the resulting amount of narrative is truly astounding by any standard. The actual battles in Story mode often only last a few seconds so a lot of the time it’s really easy to forget there’s any fights at at all. Seriously, the ratio of story to actual gameplay is astronomically one sided, even the (hilarious) gag endings probably have more dialog than most other fighting games put together.


The “help me professor Kokonoe” gag sketches make deliberate game overs more than worthwhile. The level of self-awareness in some of the jokes really caught me off guard the first time round.

And it’s not all mindless drivel or anything like that either. For the most part both the dialog and narration flows smoothly from one thing to the next, slowly building up the history and motivations for each character. The BlazBlue world itself is also pretty compelling thanks to vast amounts of lore, most of which bears little relevance to the plot but instead helps expand the universe into one more comparable to an RPG than a straight up fighting game. And a visually striking universe it is at that, Arc System Works certainly didn’t use 2D as an excuse to half ass the graphics; instead they pushed the visual ascetics to the absolute extreme. The special effects really are glorious and the backgrounds are a master class on how good blending 2D and 3D can actually look when done properly. But most importantly Continuum Shift sports some very classy voice acting across the board, especially from the main villain Hazama whose psychotic mannerisms really are a first-rate performance.

I’ll be the first to admit though, it’s all a bit of a mess. A lot of BlazBlue’s story elements revolve around divergent alternate realities, time travel, supernatural plot McGuffins and a few other headache inducing sci-fi tropes all accompanied by copious amounts of incomprehensible jargon. But at least with Continuum Shift you get some nice bits of exposition to help to unravel some of the more obscure aspects, something that was more or less left up to your imagination in Calamity Trigger. However characters will sometimes fall back into their old habits by spouting a bunch of important sounding mumbo-jumbo that everyone but the player seems to understand. I don’t know if it’s bad writing or we’re just not meant to know what it all means until the next game, either way it’s a bit of a let-down if you’re just starting to get immersed in the whole thing.

Arc System Works once again worked their guitar shredding rock ’n’ roll magic with Continuum Shift’s background music

There’s also one pretty fundamental problem with the story that stands out more than anything. You see, characters seem to like using the words “Azure Grimoire” and “BlazBlue” interchangeably, to the extent that in some scenes the dialog box will say one thing and the voice over will say the other. Now, I’ve played both BlazBlue games a lot, and I still have no freaking idea if they’re meant to mean the same thing or not! They really need to add some sort of BlazBlue dictionary in the next game to help keep track of all this stuff, or at the very least help people who didn’t play through Calamity Trigger get up to speed (FYI: if you’re one of those people, you’re gonna have a really rough time catching up).

I’m sure there’ll be those who complain having such a large story mode in the first place is a problem in itself and that it only serves to undermine the core “fighting game” concept. While I suppose there’s an element of truth in that, Continuum Shift isn’t just a Guilty Gear clone nor is it a swan song for the 2D fighter. If anything it represents the next evolutionary step in the genre. It’s fighter that’s intuitive and helpful enough for beginners to enjoy but still deep enough for competitive play and place where narrative is treated as a feature rather than an excuse for endless combat. Sure, it’s still got quite a few kinks to work out, but it’s going where few fighters have ever gone before and for that I’d happily recommend everyone to at least give it a try, especially if they’ve found fighting games to be a bit daunting in the past.

The Good

  • Solid fighting system.
  • Narrative large enough to be its own stand alone novel.
  • Drive system makes every character have a unique playstyle.
  • Extremely accessible (for a fighting game) to newcomers .

The Bad

  • Either the writers or translators still can’t decide what the titular “BlazBlue” actually is.
  • Purists might be annoyed at the plot overshadowing the “game” bit.
  • Story very jargon heavy, needs an in-game dictionary of some kind.
  • Character balance needs some work.

Recommended similar games
Any fighting game by Arc System Works
Melty Blood
Marvel vs Capcom 2
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review

Ever been scared by video game? And I don’t mean the generic Hollywood style “jump scare” kinda thing here; I’m talkin’ REAL terror. The terror of what could lurk around every corner, the terror of knowing your avatar is never safe wherever they hide, terror so deep that you contemplate never playing the game ever again. If yes, then on to question 2: Did you just carry on playing anyway? If so, then you should NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PLAY Amnesia: The Dark Descent; otherwise you can say goodbye to sleeping with the light off for at least a week or two.

The first object you find in Amnesia is a letter from yourself, to yourself. It tells you that your name is Daniel, that you have amnesia because you CHOSE to forget your horrible past, and that your objective is to descend to the deepest depths of castle Brennenburg and kill Baron Alexander for some undisclosed reason. Oh yes, and one other thing: There’s an unstoppable, unknowable, shapeless, malevolent eldritch Lovecraftian entity chasing after you. If it catches you, it’ll destroy you. You’re weapon of choice? Running. Lots of running.

Much of the narrative progression from then on focuses far more on revealing how Daniel got into this horrible mess rather than your current quest to murder Alexander. But as there’s no NPCs around that don’t want to eviscerate your very soul, most of the plot has to be fed to you through Daniel’s frequent hallucinations of past events as well as the ever indispensable diary pages scattered around each location. All this exposition is extremely well written, but is somewhat let down by Daniel’s rather uninspiring voice. Sadly it often comes across a lot more like a parent reading a bedtime story than a normal everyman trapped in an unending nightmare of unrelenting terror. It’s not a game-breaker or anything, it’s just disappointing when every other aspect of the game has been so well realised.

 Loading screens give you brief snippets of a mini-novel that transcribes the events leading up to Daniel's hellish adventure. There’s quite a few and they’re in a kinda random order, so piecing them all together takes a bit of dedication (or you could just cheat by snooping around the games text files).

Loading screens give you brief snippets of a mini-novel that transcribes the events leading up to Daniel’s hellish adventure.

Still, it’s a rather embarrassing oversight when you consider this isn’t Frictional Games first attempt to crack the psychological horror formula, as for the last few years they’ve been busy peddling their “Penumbra” franchise with mixed success. While those games were pretty scary for similar reasons as Amnesia, they were let down by some slightly lacklustre graphics, which is to be expected frankly. There’s a good reason most small independent studios don’t generally make these sort of “first person perspective with realistic graphics” type games; they can never live up to the absurdly high expectations that all the big name console releases have forced upon us. But instead of learning from their mistakes and opting for a more stylised approach in their next game, they just went ahead and tried it again with Amnesia……and totally pulled it off. Judging from visuals alone you’d not be blamed for thinking it’s some sort of high profile console game and not a crazy independent title you bought on a whim while browsing Steam.

But of course, what indi game would be complete without a quirky mechanic that’d make a publisher throw a hissy fit? The graphics might be distinctly mainstream but Amnesia still proudly upholds the time honoured indi tradition of making a big deal about simulated physics. In this case, just like the Penumbra games, you interact with objects by making push and pull gestures with the mouse. That is to say, to open a draw you’d have to click it to “grab” the handle then pull the mouse towards you, or to rotate a crank you’d have to “grab” and then move your mouse around in a circular motion. It’s easy to write it off as a simple gimmick with no real purpose, but how many horror games let you slowly open a door just a crack so you can peak at what’s on the other side, then slam it shut when you realise whatever’s there probably doesn’t like you very much? It’s all part of Amnesia’s finely crafted atmosphere that’s designed to make you feel far more human and vulnerable than you’ve probably ever felt in a video game.

 You’ll quickly become accustomed to closing doors behind you, not out of politeness but so you gain a few extra seconds warning should one of the hell-spawn pick up your trail. It’s also a good idea to leave open any cupboards you come across, just in case you need to make a quick dash to a “secure” hiding place.

You’ll quickly become accustomed to closing doors behind you. Not out of politeness or anything, more so you gain a few extra seconds warning should one of the hell-spawn pick up your trail.

While most modern horror games get in your head through grotesque imagery, Amnesia’s main entrance into your fear centres is through your ears rather than your eyes. Right from the start you’re bombarded with sounds of distant footsteps, eerie moans and blood curdling screams. And don’t even think about trying to play with the sound off! As scary as they are, those sounds are also essential for your survival. Lacking any sort of HUD or gadgets, the only way you can tell if something just around the corner is about to chew your face off is to listen out for the right audio cues. From a gameplay perspective it’s rather a haphazard method of threat detection as the game delights in throwing numerous false positives at you at every turn. Without trial and error there’s no way to know if that noise you just heard was just some ambiance meant to creep you out, or a warning that Cthulhu is standing right behind you and wants to scoop out your brains with his giant claws. It keeps you on edge and everything but it also means avoiding an untimely death can be as much about luck as it is skill. But as frustrating as that can be, it’s also an integral part of the Amnesia experience.

You see, it’s not the physical monsters you’re going to fear the most, it’s the ones you don’t see. The ones you slowly begin to conjure up in your mind long before you even encounter something that can hurt you. It’s all about an irrational fear of the unknown, of what MIGHT lurk round the corner, rather than a very rational fear of a slack jawed zombie tearing chucks out of your face. That’s not to say Amnesia doesn’t have its fair share of violence and gore, but its more there for the purpose of mental suggestion rather than shock value. That’s the case for both the player AND Daniel by the way; turns out he finds this stuff pretty freaky too.

 There’s a monster in this picture. You can’t see him because he’s invisible. What, that doesn't sound scary? Oh god, you have no idea.

There’s a monster in this picture. You can’t see him because he’s invisible. What, that doesn’t sound scary? Oh god, you have no idea

Keeping Daniel sane is in fact a major part of the game, spend too long in dimly lit areas or witness too many unsettling events and he’ll begin to flip out. While the sanity system isn’t as crazy as the one in Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, letting it get too low will distort your vision and extenuate some of the already disturbing ambient sounds. The only items you have available to stem the tide of Daniel’s psychosis is some oil for a handheld lantern and a few tinderboxes for lighting candles, both of which are in very finite supply. However, trying to keep Daniel both sane and alive this way is a very dangerous economy. Even though it sends him crazy, the darkness is the only place monsters can’t see you very well, so get too carried away with bathing yourself in light and you’ve got nowhere left to hide when the time comes. This dynamic makes you torn between making the game a little less scary, but at the same time making you more of a target for the shambling horrors. That is, unless you go into the options and turn off the insanity effects……ya big wuss.

The sanity system does fall apart a little bit once you realise standing in the light doesn’t actually recover any sanity, it just nullifies the effects and stops Daniel freaking out anymore than he already has. To actually recover sanity you have to reach progress checkpoints or complete puzzles. However what passes for puzzles in Amnesia is rather laughable, it often feels like they’re just excuses to show off the physics engine rather than present any sort of cerebral challenge. But somehow they still manage to be difficult, not in the traditional sense but more in a “how the hell was I meant to know that” kind of way.

So you know what I’m talking about, here’s the first “puzzle” in Amnesia: The door to the next level is behind a bookcase, but to move the bookcase you need to find and pull a switch. But you’re not told there’s a switch or that the way forward is behind the bookcase. You’re just expected to know without any indication that that small wooden thing in the corner that looks an awful lot like a clothes peg is meant to be a switch, and it happens to be one you need to pull in order to progress. The checkpoints can be a bit of a hassle too, a lot of them tend to cause new monsters or scripted events to spawn that will almost instantly negate a good chuck of the recovered sanity anyway.

But that’s fine right? All Survival horror protagonists these days come equipped with an armoury of weapons complete with copious amounts of ammo! Who needs to worry about recovering sanity when you can just blow the zombies away with a shotgun? Erm, no. Amnesia brings you crashing back down to earth pretty fast by giving you a grand total of zero ways to fight back; if something spots you, it really is run or die. You can try using the physics engine to throw stuff at the monsters if you want, but I can tell you right now that’s not going to work out well for you. Hell, that’s if you can even bring yourself to look in the general direction of the damm things. Amnesia might be all about the horrors of the unseen but that doesn’t stop the monsters appearance from being truly horrific at any distance, the game even starts hacking away at Daniel’s (and your own) sanity as well as giving away your location if you glimpse them for more than a few seconds.

 As well as being realistically well equipped for a zombie attack (i.e. not at all) Daniel lacks the fortitude usually given to game protagonists and can’t take more than a few hits before he’s downed; if you get cornered then it’s game over. Also, getting this screenshot is one of the scariest things I've ever had to do in a video game. Hope you enjoy it! Now I'm going to go lie down for a bit......

 Getting this screenshot is one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do in a video game. Hope you enjoy it! Now I’m going to go lie down for a bit…..

Your only real means of defence is to try and hide like some sort of medieval Solid Snake. Huddling up inside inconspicuous cupboards is the most effective method, but in a pinch the best you can do is take advantage of the monster’s poor eyesight and the camouflage bonus given by crouching. Yes that’s right, your best method for hiding from the monsters is to cower away in a dark corner with your back turned and just pray to god they don’t notice you. Let’s be honest now, this is exactly what most of us would do if confronted by a monster in real life. If you don’t start eyeing up the Esc key at this point in the game, then you’re certainly made of harder stuff than I. It’s also a perfect example of how all the games mechanics (both good and bad) come together to hit your fear senses on the most primal level. The first person perspective, HUD-less interface, realistic object manipulation, lack of ways to fight back, sanity system, noise based threat location and absence of the usual super human endurance are all designed to force one idea into your head: You are Daniel; his pain is your pain.

So as long as you don’t let its few minor flaws get to you, then Amnesia can become one of the most immersive experiences you can have with a video game. But be warned: it’s also an experience for sensory masochists only, don’t enter unless you’re sure you can take the punishment Amnesia dishes out……or just don’t ever sleep again I guess, it’s you’re call.

The Good

  • Utterly terrifying.
  • Near perfect atmosphere.
  • Immersive control scheme.

The Bad

  • Simple puzzles that are somehow still difficult to figure out.
  • Sanity too difficult to recover.
  • Avoiding monsters based 50% on luck.
  • Daniel’s voice actor.

Recommended similar games
Penumbra: Black Plague/Overture/Requiem (PC)
System Shock 2 (PC)
Condemned: Criminal Origins (PC/Xbox360)
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (GameCube)

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Alien Breed 3: Descent Review

Team17. Not exactly a house hold name anymore huh? At best, my generation fondly remembers them for the late 90s portion of the Worms franchise and little else. However if your gaming chronology goes back a little further than that, you may also remember their classic Alien Breed franchise and other subsequent successes on the Amiga. But since then they’ve long fallen out of the gaming limelight, and if this game is anything to go by it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.

Narrative wise, Alien Breed 3 bares very little relation to the Amiga classic, instead it concludes the story set out in the franchise reboot Alien Breed: Impact (AKA Alien Breed: Evolution) and Alien Breed 2: Assault. That is of course, if you can consider this game to have a story at all. Why do I say that? Well the Alien Breed games have your typical “Space Hulk” type setting, i.e. you’re stuck more or less alone on a giant space ship full of endless waves of alien monsters. All the usual tried and tested tropes are present: deep space explorers who decide to investigate mysterious ghost ship, face-huggers , alien queen boss, rouge AIs, pistol/ shotgun/ flamethrower/ laser and BFG weapon pickups, collectable crew logs to expand the story, space “credits” for buying upgrades etc.

 As with most sci-fi games, there’s a fair bit of background fluff for the lore junkies, but only if you’re willing to dig around the personal logs and weapon descriptions. Don’t get too exited though, a number of them are rather shoddily written.

As with most sci-fi games, there’s a fair bit of background fluff for the lore junkies if you’re willing to dig around the personal logs and weapon descriptions.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that as such, but it’s not unfair to expect a game to put its own spin on it, so what exactly does Decent bring to the formula? Well…nothing. It truly is as by-the-numbers as possible, the only impressive thing about it is that they somehow managed to stretch such a thin narrative over 3 games. Of course a rather generic sci-fi ending more or less ensures they can stretch it out for yet another game if they so choose.

Most of the…..uh…..”story” happens via intermission cut-scenes that take the form of narrated comic books. The first thing that’s going to hit you once the introduction boots up is how sub-par the voice acting is. Never have I heard characters sound so utterly uninterested in their own dialog; I can only assume the voice actors were just bored out of their minds after reading the game’s script. What’s worse, despite only having 3 characters (one of whom is only in the first stage) only the main villain gets the honour of being voiced outside these comic book segments, and even then his dialog continually loops the same generic phrases (and cringe worthy laughter track) over and over without any rhyme or reason. In fact I think the entire sound element of the game was likely put on the back burner as there’s almost no music, most of the weapons sound unsatisfyingly tame and all the aliens sound like they use stock sound effects I’ve heard a million times before.

 Personally I’m a big fan of comic book style cut scenes, however the dodgy voice acting makes these ones feel cheap rather than stylised. On a side note, see that gun the protagonist is holding? That’s not the one you have in game. Yeah.........that’s the level of polish you can expect from Alien Breed 3.

See that gun the protagonist is holding in this comic book panel? That’s not the one you have in game. Yeah………that’s the level of polish you can expect from Alien Breed 3.

The game itself plays out as your standard top down shooter, aim with the mouse, move your dude with WASD and click to shoot. See a red dot on your radar? Start strafing, aim in its general direction and click. Is it still there? Click again. Repeat until it’s gone. That’s more or less the meat of the game. There’s a few different types of aliens to blow away of course, but all that really changes how much of a priority killing them is and how far away you want them to be when you do it. The difficulty curve is fairly average apart from a few harsh spikes towards the end, mainly thanks to the pitiful amount of health regain you get from medipacks even if you have the relevant upgrade.

You have a few generic sub items to help you along your way such as frag/stun grenades and armour powerups, most of which I ended up having to sell just to buy more medipacks. It’s not that moneys hard to find or anything, you can barely walk across the room without finding a lump of cash or two, but that all the upgrades and items are just so absurdly expensive; there’s literally not enough money in the game to even buy half of them. Although I guess that’s rather irrelevant as most of the upgrades are completely useless thanks to each weapon only being able to have one active at time. I question the logic of anyone who feels that their one-hit-kill laser weapon requires a damage upgrade or that the already lightning fast machine gun needs to chew up your limited ammo even faster instead of just doing more damage per bullet.

 In possibly this games only unique twist, hardpoints can be used to mount the turret item if you need the extra fire power. However in the entire game I only found one turret and the cost to buy them at the store is prohibitively huge for something that has such limited use.

Turret hardpoints are a nice idea, but in the entire game I only found ONE actual turret to plant one on and the cost to buy them at the store is prohibitively huge.

It takes roughly 6 hours to finish the main campaign on the normal difficulty setting and that’s without touching any of the co-op or survival mode extras, which I suppose is pretty good for a cheap game. Of course that would require you to actually WANT to play the game for 6 hours, something that I can attest that I never want to do again now that this review is finished. But before I continue on this negative train of thought, I want to give credit where credit is due. I take no hesitation in saying the graphics in this game truly are exceptional, especially for something that only costs £6.99. Even small things like the way light reflects off the different metals or the neat electrical effects on the link gun make this game a poster boy for what relatively small teams can really do with Unreal Engine 3, quelling any myths that’s this sort of thing is only really possible in big AAA console releases (but also supporting the idea that most UE3 games do look rather similar).

It’s also clear that the designers went to enormous effort to create a compelling environment. Every section of the game is filled to the brim with enough GNDN to make even the more jaded sci-fi fans nod their head in approval. Even the deceptively linear layout of the game’s stages shows a level of design proficiency far beyond what the other aspects of the game would suggest. It truly is a shame that they also seemed to think it was a good idea to obscure these wonderful assets with explosions.

 Like any well designed game environment, the same assets are reused frequently but arranged in such a way that every room still feels different. These wonderful visuas and level designs truly are wasted on such a mediocre game.

Like any well designed game environment, the same assets are reused frequently but arranged in such a way that every room still feels different.

Oh god…..the explosions. There is one thing you can be almost 100% sure of every time you enter a room/corridor or interact with an object in Alien Breed 3: that at least a dozen objects will be either A) Continually exploding B) About to continually explode or C) On fire AND continually exploding. Often the objects exploding are totally undamaged by their frequent spontaneous combustion and in some cases are things that should, by all accounts, be incapable of combustion in the first place; such as metal grating or miscellaneous rubble. On paper this might sound kinda cool, but trust me it gets old very fast. It doesn’t help that every explosion tends to cause the screen to shake around even if said explosion wasn’t even on screen, resulting in most of the game feeling like it takes place during an earthquake.

 Looks really nice doesn’t it? Now start shaking your monitor and pretend those explosions are looping every few seconds. Congratulations you are now playing Alien Breed 3.

Looks really nice doesn’t it? Now start shaking your monitor and pretend those explosions are looping every few seconds. Congratulations you are now playing Alien Breed 3.

Sounds frustrating right? It gets worse. The only thing you do in Alien Breed 3, other than shoot aliens, is interact with MacGuffins. A seemingly endless chain of MacGuffins at that. Often they’re placed well within a few feet of one another and at no point is it ever clear on what any of them have to do with actually progressing in the damn game.

In particular I recall a truly bewildering sequence in which I was required to interact with what felt like ten or so seemingly random objects in a single room before I could head to the next area. Much to my surprises this all culminated in a bridge rising out of a nearby pool of water, and slightly less surprisingly it also resulted in a number of nearby objects suddenly exploding for no reason I could divine. Even now I have little idea of what any of it was about; I just kept interacting with whatever object the navigation marker was pointing me towards. The main character DID give a quick quip about how some elevators were draining the bridge systems power or something, but the text dialog box quickly scrolled off the screen before I had a chance to even read past the first line.

 Interacting with an object often causes gameplay to pause and the camera to reposition itself to get the best possible view of the inevitable explosions. Such sequences are unskippable so get used to seeing them repeatedly if you keep dying in the same sections.

Interacting with ANY object often causes gameplay to pause and the camera to reposition itself to get the best possible view of the inevitable explosions. Such sequences are unskippable. YAY.

But Alien Breed 3s biggest issue by far is that these “Space Hulk” type games generally live or die depending on if they can correctly build a sense of tension or fear in the player. However this game seems to take place in an atmospheric void, and by that I don’t mean outer space. For that we can thank the ludicrous explosions for managing to annihilate all suspension of disbelief right from the start, which is something that’s rather a big deal in a science fiction title.

It’s also kinda hard to be surprised by an alien ambush when one happens in almost every room and when the “you’re going to have to defend this spot later” standoffs are clearly marked with a turret hardpoint in the centre of the room. I think the only time I was genuinely caught off guard with anything in this game was on the few occasions I interacted with an object and it DID NOT cause the whole game world to inexplicably explode.

The only emotion I feel this game can ever really instil in anyone is boredom, as no amount of graphical prowess can ever hide extremely poor pacing and a distinct lack of any well implemented gameplay mechanics. Honestly I can’t recommend this game to anyone, even if you love the standard “Space Hulk” setting or have found memoires of the original title (best to keep them that way). It doesn’t come close to being the worst I’ve ever played or anything like that, it’s just that every moment I spent playing it I was constantly reminded of the numerous other games with a similar setting that were way better in every way. Yes it’s only £6.99 and yes it’s nice to look at, but it’s still just not worth your time or money.


The Good

  • Very good graphics and level design for a low budge title.

The Bad

  • No atmosphere.
  • Mechanics that have all been better used in other games.
  • At least one of the designers was manically obsessed with explosions.

Recommended similar games
System Shock 2 (PC)
Dead Space (PC/PS3/Xbox360)
Shadowgrounds (PC-Steam)
Doom 3 (PC-Steam, Xbox)

5 Pioneering games that time forgot part 5

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600)

Without it we might not have had: A never ending plague of awful games and the 1983 video game crash.

What did it pioneer? Bad movie tie-ins.

Not really much for me to explain on this one; even if you’re not much of a gamer you already know the score. Video games based on “family friendly” movies are just plain bad news whatever way you look at it. It’s a soul crushing fact of life that we all have to deal with on a daily basis. Occasionally we’ll get a lucky break and “Animated Animal and Friends III: the Video Game!” will stay exclusive to the DS and Wii where it’ll be out of sight to most of us, but more often than not it’ll come out on just about everything from the PS3 to the Commodore 64, thus ensuring absolutely no escape from its loathsome visage. Either way it’s almost guaranteed to sell a metric shit-tone of copies, and purely due to an association with an over-hyped movie combined with the unrelenting nagging power of children who think talking animals are the BEST THING EVER.

It might seem humdrum now, but back in 1982 Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 ticked all those check boxes before they even existed; a console game of extremely dubious quality that managed to sell really well by riding the success of a popular movie. So yeah, it basically set a cast iron president that hundreds of games have followed to the letter ever since. Hey, I never said these games all pioneered something GOOD.

What was it? Mind-bending

Hmm… how to define Raiders of the Lost Ark? Okay, I’m sure at some point nearly every gamer has experienced this: Your playing an adventure style game like Zelda or Tomb Raider or something along those lines and suddenly you get stuck at a particularly perplexing puzzle. In equal parts frustration and desperation you start trying every combination of item, tool, ability and button press that you can think of until you’ve done just about everything possible in that given environment. Eventually, just as you’re about to give up on the game entirely, you stumble upon the correct solution. A solution so abstract and illogical that you can only conclude it was developed by someone with a very tenuous grip on reality OR was included in the game purely to sell strategy guides to burnt out gamers.

Okay, you remembered that experience yet? Right, now imagine an entire game based around it. Congratulations! You just imagined Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m not really sure I can define its madness anymore specifically with words alone, so instead I’ll show you a nice little video guide from ‘82 that should help you understand what I’m on about.

Bet that puts that whole “water temple thing” into perspective.

Why was it forgotten? It’s hella old and got overshadowed by the “achievements” of it’s protégé.

I think it’s more than fair to say that a lot of the people reading this article were probably quite young in 1982, if indeed they were born at all. I think it’s also fair to say that anyone of any age would have found Raiders of the Lost Ark totally bewildering in every imaginable way, so it’s not really that surprising it failed to make much of an impression on gamers as a whole. Mind you it was hard for any Atari 2600 game to stand out back then as the video game industry was on the verge of collapse due to a gigantic influx of low quality titles that flooding the market. It’s a situation that eventually resulted in a sort of dark age known as the “video game crash of 1983” where most major publishers went bankrupt and video gaming industry just ceased to exist in the west for a number of years.

Raiders of the Lost Ark’s significant contribution to the crash was dramatically overshadowed by the game it made possible, Atari’s E.T (also for the 2600) a game so catastrophically awful that it’s often credited with instigating the crash in the first place, thus becoming a major subject of popular culture. But while E.T may well have been the herald of that particular apocalypse, all it was doing was following the template Raiders of the Lost Ark had proven to be profitable. That said, if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that Raiders actually had a much more direct influence on E.T than that.

Just like today, getting a licence to do a movie tie-in was extremely expensive even in the 80s, so to design Raiders of the Lost Ark Atari had to choose someone they could trust to pull it off on the cheap. For that they looked to a man named Howard Scott Warshaw, designer of the genuinely well received Yar’s Revenge which is often considered the best game of the Atari 2600 era. After Howard’s subsequent “Success” with Raiders he was then select by Atari to do another movie-tie in project, one that had cost Atari over $45 million (adjusted for inflation) to licence.

The deadline was tight: only six weeks, and Howard would be working on the whole thing on his own. But no one was worried, Raiders of the Lost Ark had proved it didn’t matter how bad your game was as long as you slapped a movie name on it. In fact Atari were so confident about Howard’s E.T. game that, under the assumption people would want to buy it multiple times, they actually built more cartridges of it than there were Atari 2600 consoles in the entire world. I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this…….

For all that it made possible I think Raiders should be remembered. Mainly so we can teach future generations to hate it with a fiery passion, but remembered all the same.

Where are the developers now? Thankfully for us, not making games anymore.

After being a major contributing factor in the collapse of an entire industry, it’s unsurprising Howard didn’t really do much game designing from then on. However he did manage to do a very wide range of other stuff including (but not limited to) writing a guide book about an obscure Philippine gambling game, a self-help book on how to do well in collage and directing a documentary about the BDSM scene in San Fransisco. Truly a Renaissance man if ever there was one, as this little amusing quote I found while researching for this article (i.e. reading wikipedia) illustrates:

People worry I might be sensitive about the ET debacle, but the fact is I’m always happy to discuss it. After all, it was the fastest game ever done, it was a million seller, and of the thousands of 2600 games, how many others are still a topic? Another thing I like to think about is having done ET (consistently rated among the worst games of all time) and Yars’ Revenge (consistently rated as one of the best) I figure I have the unique distinction of having the greatest range of any game designer in history.”

And so ends our little journey into the obscure. I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these overlooked progenitors even if you knew about them already! However these 5 games only represent a small proportion of what’s out there. So now I pose a question to you: What other influential games do you think have been unfairly forgotten by the masses at large? Please comment and spread the word, I’d love to hear about them!

5 Pioneering games that time forgot part 4

Herzog Zwei (Mega Drive-Genesis)

Without it we might not have had: Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Warcraft (and by extension, Starcraft and World of Warcraft!)

What did it pioneer? The Real Time Strategy genre.

I’ve often found Real Time Strategy (RTS) games to be the marmite of gaming. For most people the tedious micromanaging of units and the constant balancing of resources is the very definition of boredom, but to others it represents a gateway to a deep rewarding experience that just keeps on giving. So it’s unsurprising that RTS games have always been a quintessential PC based genre, itself a rather “marmite” platform to play games on these days due to similar connotations. But despite the PC’s (unwarranted) reputation as a “dead format” RTSs are still a pretty big deal, you just need to look at the furore surrounding the release of StarCraft 2 or the upcoming Shogun 2: Total War for evidence of that.

The RTSs continuing popularity is mostly due to its multiplayer components arguably still providing the ultimate contest of wits and skill that can be found in a video game. In a good high end match, each player’s mind is constantly bombarded with a staggering level of statistics and variables that change by the second, all of which require analyses and response in the fastest time possible in order to grasp victory. For better or worse this sort of gameplay often brings out an intensely competitive side of anyone who lets it drawn them in, and if you’ve ever met someone who takes RTSs seriously then you know how deep that rabbit hole can go. At a moment’s notice they can recited so much statistical jargon and specialised lingo that pulls a game apart down to such a base level you would think they built the damn thing themselves.

If you want to see the logical extreme of such behaviour you need only look towards South Korea where RTSs have become somewhat of a national sport, one that can be taken as seriously as a high profile football match would be in the UK. They even have cyber “athletes” who train 24/7 just so they can mine that precious gold/vespene gas a few milliseconds faster than their opponent. Seriously, these guys make fighting game enthusiasts who count animation frames come across as “casuals” with relative ease.

But RTS isn’t just for the ultra-competitive gaming gladiators, without it we wouldn’t have those tower defence games that slowly eat away hundreds of hours of casual player’s lives every day. And if you take a slightly more abstract view, just about any game that requires intensive resource management such as Farmville owe their success to the RTS school of game design.

However the reason I want to talk about it in this article is because the actual chronology of the RTS game as concept is very unique. Most of the time genres develop slowly overtime, with many iterative video games giving us insight into its gradual evolution. RTS on the other hand just kinda popped out of nowhere with Herzog Zwei in 1989 and no one was quite sure what to do with it.

I should say that there are strategy games that predate Herzog Zwei that were indeed “real time” but they’re very far removed from what we would now actually define as an “RTS” mainly due to their very minimal emphasis on resource management and ticks (the pace at which gameplay moves) so long that they were rendered more or less turn based. Herzong Zwei on the other hand is where the RTS as we know it truly began, and for that monumental achievement it is criminally under appreciated.

What was it? A vision of the future

The original Herzog (German for Duke) for the MSX 2 PC was billed by the developers TechnoSoft as a “Real-time Combat Simulator”. The basic idea was that the game world was a narrow linear path with the player’s base and one end at the enemy’s at the other. By using a singular resource that replenished overtime at a constant rate, either side could create several different sorts of units such as tanks or foot soldiers, and If any of those units managed to reach the opposite side of the field then they would deal a certain amount of damage to that side’s base .

You couldn’t actually control any of these units directly, they would simply travel in a straight line towards the enemy base and attack any defences along the way without any input from the player. But unlike most modern strategy games the player actually had a personal avatar, a giant robot called the Land-Armour. Using the Land-Armour you could pick up and reposition units as well as getting personally involved in the combat if you so choose. In effect the whole thing was like a Defence of the Ancients style game that was made long before anything even remotely similar existed. Certainly an intrepid game for sure, and you could definitely see the seeds of what would later become RTS developing in the background. But it unfortunately lacked any real semblance of tactics and there was little to nothing in the way of resource management to be found.

However Herzog Zwei (Zwei being German for 2) took those seedling concepts and fast forwarded their evolution by several years. Suddenly “pop” we had a recognisable near fully fledged RTS on our hands. The battlefields were now wide open environments full of different kinds of terrain, units now had to be given specific orders and your rate of resource gain now revolved around capturing and defending outposts. You could still wade into combat on your own using the Land-Armour if you wanted to, but this time around your health and ammo was severely limited so you were unlikely to make much of a dent in enemy forces on your own. No, to win this game you had to use tactics and ingenuity to build a balanced and sustainable army, something that most console gamers hadn’t been asked to do before.

The level of micromanagement was staggering even compared to modern standards as every unit had to be given individual orders (something that also consumed resources to do) and have their ammo and health supplies constantly monitored. So with up to 50 units of 8 different types on each side it could very quickly get overwhelming even for the most adept of gamers. What’s more, you still couldn’t directly control your units, so all actions had to be performed by interacting with them via Land-Armour rather than the point and click style interface you’d find in a normal RTS. If you’re not sure why that would be a bit awkward, just imagine trying to play an arcade shooter and Command & Conquer at the same time on the same screen. Yeah.

It was as if TechnoSoft had travelled into the future, saw an RTS, returned to their own time, though “Yeah we could probably make one of those” and then fashioned the closest facsimile they could manage with late 80s technology and expertise but somehow ended up building something even more complicated that what they’d originally seen.

Why was it forgotten? Gamers weren’t ready for it and neither was the AI.

Herzong Zwei’s biggest issue was the same thing that made it a pioneer; there wasn’t really anything like it. So if RTS didn’t yet exist as an accepted mainstream genre, then what framework was left for people to judge it by? Well TechnoSoft’s only real claim to fame was their relatively popular Thunder Force series of arcade style shooters and the Mega Drive had quite a few of those already, so naturally people just assumed it was meant to be one of those. Although the cover art probably had a hand in that too.

Of course If you looked at it from the perspective of an arcade shooter it was a pretty shoddy game; your weapons were pea shooters and you died in mere seconds against a more than a handful of opponents. Not only that but would have come across as incredibly complicated for a game where people were just expecting to hold down the fire button while occasional taping the D-pad. <rant> Which just goes to show how stupid it is to judge a game based on how well it conforms to established genres, it means anything original just gets shafted! </rant>

But even those who embraced the tactics and resource managed would have quickly found Herzog Zwei to be lacking. Sure, the game had complex mechanics but the A.I. was so dumb that the developers had to give it a significantly higher number of starting units on each map to try and even the odds a little. In the end you only needed to use minimal amounts of the tactical opportunities Herzog Zwei presented in order to win, that is unless you somehow managed to find a second player who wanted to join in.

So in the end it got dismissed by a vast majority of gamers, none of whom could have possibly known what would eventually become of the style of gameplay that Herzong Zwei pioneered. That said, it has seen somewhat of a revival in recent years as people are finally starting to wise up to how incredibly ahead of the game TechnoSoft had been, but sadly it all came far far too late to save them.

Where are the developers now? Nowhere to be found.

After Herzog Zwei failed to catch on, TechnoSoft just went back to their far simpler Thunder Force games for several years which saw moderate success but little mainstream fame. Eventually it that all came to an abrupt end in 2001 when they got merged with Pachinko developer Twenty One’s R&D division, essentially ending their long but uneventful streak in game development permanently. There were some hints on their (supposedly) official website that they’d be making a comeback in 2006 with a new Thunder Force game, but they haven’t been heard from since and In 2008 when it turned out the Thunder Force IP was now owned by SEGA anyway. But hey, screw Thunder Force! I’m Not sure who owns the Herzog licence these days, but they gotta know that their sitting on a truly legendary IP that’s long overdue a comeback. Herzong Drei anybody?