Header

Monthly Archives: January 2009

First Impressions: Alone in the Dark

I believe the initial barrier to any game is its control scheme. Wii Sports is a positive example of this where the controls are intuitive and accessible. Even if you don’t play tennis down the park you know the motions involved and a few experimental swings will see you competing on screen.

A bad example is Alone in the Dark. Leafing through the manual there are no less than five separate pages bullet pointing what each button does in each context. Drop into an adventure game, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Resident Evil, anything, and within the first few minutes most people will have figured out the main controls and be up and running, but even after more than two hours with Alone in the Dark there is no fluidity about anything.

The game opens with the high rise building you find yourself in being destroyed by an unknown demoic power. Rifts open up along the walls, swallowing people whole and turning them into possessed monsters. Your first task is to simply get the hell out of there.

In the first fifteen minutes you’ll experience platforming, abseiling, combat and some simple puzzles, but all are disjointed and never flow. Your character moves sluggishly, combat involves waving the right-stick around more in hope than expectation and equipping objects is an awkward affair. Even the brief driving section I have just encountered serves no respite as it feels as though you are steering a brick around on a bed of mushy peas.

The most frustrating thing for me, though, is the way that it will constantly switch you from first- to third-person. Given the camera angles of the game I feel far more comfortable exploring through the eyes of the protagonist, but after almost every cutscene or load I am dumped to a point somewhere floating behind his head simply because the controls are so convoluted you can hardly achieve anything in first-person.

However, I am going to percevere with it. I never like to give up on games so early and there are many things that attracted me to the game in the first place. The importance that fire plays in the game and the puzzles and interactions that will work around it; the ability to later on roam around central park; the general horror story and how it plays out. My only worry is that if I cannot best the controls then I may not reach these points.

Moving in with Rashberry

During my time at Rare I believe I’ve called six seperate offices my own, and am on the verge of claiming a seventh. During the development cycle, teams will grow and grow until the point of completition and then rapidly shrink as other projects plunder the resources that all of a sudden have a distinctly lighter workload post-launch. The Viva Pinata team are in that phase now, having launched before the Christmas rush we’re now of a size where we can consolidate ourselves in the top layer of one of our barns. On the up-side, I now get a penthouse view. On the downside, I have an awful lot of stuff.

When I was moving house twelve months ago, I made the mistake of bringing all my retro consoles and games into work to keep them safe during the transition. Since then they have made themselves very comfortable under my desk, embedding themselves to the point where I simply looked at them as part of the furniture rather than something I should return home.

What makes this scenario worse is that I’m now going to be sharing an office with our Team Lead, Rashberry. If there was anyone on our team who could rival them amount of bits and pieces I possess it is Rashberry. His collection tastefully takes in not only the usual gaming related paraphanallia but also a large selection of Lego Technic and Lego Train. Quite how how we are to compress all our belongings into a single office is not entirely obvious, although the thought of blending my assorted Halo tat with Lego does bring a smile to my face.

Wish me luck, I’m off to get a trolley.

On our way to Wembley

The script writers at The Lane are being paid overtime this season. Somehow the mighty Tottenham find themselves embroiled in a relegation fight on one front, whilst on another have booked their place in a major final at Wembley for the second time in two seasons.

Another excuse to trot this picture out.

Last night’s performance against Burnley was downright shocking. With all due respect, we were turned over by a Championship level club and only saved ourselves in the last three minutes. However, that for the moment should be put aside as the sniff of silverware is once again in the air. Only four clubs at most a year can do that so it’s something for Spurs fans to hold their heads high over. It doesn’t matter how we have reached the final, what will be remembered is the performance on the day.

In almost equally dire form we managed to turn over Chelsea and so I do have hope and belief that no matter what is going on in the league we can do it on the day in the cup. To make that happen, a few players need to roll their sleeves up and for god’s sake put some service into the frontmen.

Quite which Spurs side will turn out, though, is anyone’s guess. The season has seen three different types of teams turn out: the batch that played cluelessly under Ramos; the rejuvenated and inspired XI that Harry first presented; or the side we currently see that seem to have a hangover from the initial jubilation that met Redknapp’s arrival. Here’s hoping for a fourth version where a stern talking to, a boot up the backside and the balance that is so often spoken about actually appears and turn our season around.

Come on you Spurs!

Review: Mirror’s Edge

If the future depicted in Mirror’s Edge is to be believed, it is also a world of bold but limited colour. Tall buildings gleam white in the sun, interrupted only by flashes of red, green and blue. It’s as if a the mayor of the city, despairing at his wife’s inability to choose between apple white and snow white for their new kitchen, took some very drastic action to simplify matters.

If the future depicted in Mirror’s Edge is to be believed yet further, it is also a world of high security, where information is everything and highly sought after. Throughout, you guide Faith, a “runner” and purveyor of such information, across the rooftops in a bid to stay one step ahead of the authorities as she clears her sister’s name. Scaling scaffolding, jumping fences or sliding under pipes, she’s an agile lady who also isn’t afraid to get into a scrap if cornered.

Whether the contrasting visuals appeal to you or not is all down to personal taste, but their importance in the world cannot be downplayed. Running across the rooftops, the only signposts you’ll ever encounter are these flecks of colour. Not only do they help create a striking environment but an intuitive one, highlighting your next objective and allowing even new levels to be confidently tackled at a satisfying pace. It’s an unobtrusive way to guide the player and fits in well with the rest of the clean aesthetic; there is no HUD, no clutter, no reason to remove you from the experience.

The speed and freedom that can be achieved in Mirror’s Edge prove its greatest strengths, backed up by the first-person perspective and accessible controls. The former gives you a sense of connection with Faith and her movements, never taking you away from what she is going through, whilst the latter gives easy access to all of Faith’s skills. Wallruns, vaults, flips, jumps and slides, that if strung together across the cluttered skyline can provoke an empowering experience.

Most of the more open areas offer more than one way to navigate them, giving the opportunity to express yourself and experiment. Even the linear sections are welcome, acting like a three-dimensional puzzle that you must crack to progress.

Of course, there will be times when things go badly and a mistimed jump can send you hurtling to the pavement below. On these occasions you are set back to a the nearest checkpoint are persuaded to learn from your mistake. The frequency of this varies greatly throughout the game but whilst they can come in bursts the load times are never long enough to become annoying.

Unfortunately the weak point does come when those who wish to stop your free-running ways arrive on the scene. “Blues” armed with guns will burst out of doorways and although many can be avoided some must be knocked out or killed to progress. It can prove horribly scripted and combat on a whole is a painful, tiresome affair that breaks the game’s flow.

A lone enemy may not prove much of an obstacle, with their intelligence such that you can run straight at them and floor them with a flurry of blows, but rounding the corner to find a small squad always made my heart drop. You are advised to isolate each in turn but on certain rooftops that is easier said than done and on more than one occasion a play session ended because of the sheer frustration that it caused.

There is the option to disarm Blues and turn their weapon on their sqaudmates but the timing for this is ridiculous. A man could be doubled over and wheezing from a blow to the crotch but there is no option then. Instead it seems that the optimum time to remove is weapon is when he’s swinging it at your face. Having said that, and getting into character, I never felt as though Faith was the type to use guns and so insisted on battling through solely using unarmed combat.

Time-trials do become available as you progress, presenting areas where it is simply Faith and the environment, but they are balanced out against being forced to play through the main-story to unlock them.

Mirror’s Edge is ultimately a game of highs and lows: the joys of free-running across a gorgeously, stylistic city, and the lows of yet another bullet induced death. In many ways there are parallels with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, as in both cases you had a very pure and enjoyable platform-adventure and yet it seems that bad guys were added to either pad the game or because the designers just couldn’t imagine a game without them. In both situations, I feel their inclusion was to the detriment of the games themselves.

7/10

Birthday Honours

As with The Queen, I feel it my duty to recognise those that have impressed me over the last twelve months and so I welcome you to the second annual BIGsheep Birthday Honours.

For services to music: Rock Band 2

I used to think the solo guitar experience was exhilarating, making you feel like an instant rock star. However, as I have already stated this week there were few experiences last year better than playing in your own plastic band. This iteration on the series builds on its already strong core, whilst the drums and the copious amount of downloadable songs have been a revolution to me, revitalised my interest in this genre.

For services to the Capital Wasteland: Fallout 3

If there was one game in 2008 that I had to force myself to put down as I was in danger of forsaking all others, that game would be Fallout 3. Some may have found the desolate wasteland they were wandering through a chore, I regarded it as a mammoth game of hide and seek. Over each ridge or round the next canyon turn you never knew what you were going to find, from crashed UFOs to museums dedicated to fizzy drinks. The sheer scale of the game was inspiring.

For services against the undead: Left 4 Dead

Despite my original muted response towards Left 4 Dead, the zombie apocalypse has grown on me. It is a game where no story is needed, your goals are obvious and tight teamwork is rewarded. This simplicity is its strength with new players able to delve right in and get just as much from it as grizzled veterans.

For services to engineering: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Not only does it feature one Trophy Thomas, but also the ultimate Lego set. Once you reach a certain point in the game a light bulb flicks on inside your head and all sorts of crazy ideas begin churning out. To add to my trebuchet, Thundertank, Thunderbird 2 and Seaking, I’ve seen ferris wheels, walking robots, space shuttles and a myriad more creations that make you realise what a flexible toolset you have at your disposal.

For services to puzzlement: Professor Layton and the Curious Village

A delightful DS game that takes a different slant on point-and-click adventuring, combining some devious logic puzzles with a colourful brand of animation. The whole game oozes charm, from a village that is populated with those obsessed with testing your brain to Professor Layton’s nemesis who would prefer you out the way so he can presumably have all the puzzles to himself.

Honourable mentions

Whilst they may be my Top 5 games of the year, I do think a few others deserve the nod.

The continued presence of Halo and Rainbow Six: Vegas should be appreciated. Excluding those with zombies, no shooter has come close to dislodging these pair as firm favourites.

In terms of controlling green clad pixies, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for me was second only to Link to the Past in terms of enjoyment. A great debut on the DS for Link.

Mirror’s Edge would be held in far higher esteem if only the combat wasn’t so frustrating. For me this has great parallels with Sands of Time; if only enemies were completely removed from both games then I would champion them to anyone who would listen.

Although there seems a backlash for Fable II, I still really loved it for what it was. There may be no sandbox world on the scale of Oblivion but I liked what it did for it did it really well.

Birthday cards

And so this week I grow a tiny bit older. On the plus side, I am deluged with presents, parades are held in my honour and cake is brought forth. On the downside, the “parade” just consists of Ali and two rabbits and it is I who has to supply the cake. Still, the presents are very shiny.

 

The Birthday Honours are coming but to start the celebrations off I thought I would share with you some of my very favourite Pinata Vision Cards. Carefully constructed with my own fair hands these are the set I sent to Bungie themselves and now I feel it is time to share them with the rest of the gardening world.

 

 

 

 

Happy scanning.

An-i-mal!

Over the Christmas holiday my Guitar Hero: World Tour drum set was given one hell of a beating. Our neighbour kindly went away for a whole fortnight, opening the way for spontaneous drum solos, Foo Fighter marathons and several epic, late night sessions. Simply put, that kit combined with Rock Band and three friends is up there at the pinnacle of gaming experiences.

Once again, though, the power of video games have resounded deep within me. Ali may have sensed I was getting ideas above my station when I invested in a proper drum “throne” – after all, how can anyone look professional when wailing on a plastic, Fisher Price-esque drum kit if they’re sitting on a kitchen chair – but not content with allowing myself these windows of gaming to express my inner Animal, I am now booked in for my first drumming lesson. Sunday sees my first step on the way to tackling Expert mode.

It’s all very exciting and a visit has already been paid to the music department to sit in awe at our own drum kit. Did you know the proper ones don’t have coloured rings around the drums?

Unfortunately there is already a precedent for this with me. Two years ago I bought an electric guitar after becoming hooked on the first Guitar Hero. Having previous had an acoustic guitar at uni which I’d enjoyed strumming off and on, I thought this was a great place to reinvigorate my musical side. Sadly it was never to be. After the initial hopes and eagerness faded, it went into storage for almost a year as we tried to move house and when it reappeared I was just never enthused enough to pick it up again seriously. So this time certain parties had to be assured that lessons would be at least taken before any purchase took place.

If all goes well a drum kit will hopefully be possible by Easter, with the garage is now being cautiously eyed as a potential home. So if anyone has got any spare egg boxes to help with the sound proofing, our neighbours would appreciate the donation.

1UP Yours: RIP

From the whole plethora of gaming sites available on the internet, there are only two that I choose to trust and read regularly. One of those is Eurogamer, for its British based coverage, the other is 1UP, primarily for their focused podcasting. As of last night, however, it seems that 1UP has been dismantled from the inside out.

1UP Yours: RIP

The official word is that UGO Entertainment have acquired the 1UP Network. What is happening away of the official word is that a large number of my favourite journalists are being laid off. Through blog posts and Twitter feeds it appears that the very personalities that made 1UP what it was are being asked to clear their desks.

Part of what made 1UP an essential site to me was that you got more than the written word. Through the podcasts and video features you got to know the people behind the written word, understand who they were and their own personal tastes. Not only were these features entertaining but it allowed me to put more context behind certain articles compared to picking them up blind.

What I will miss most will be the podcasting. Just as any fool can setup a site, most can talk garbage into a mic for 30 minutes and call it a podcast. Very few people capture an informed and focused show consistently, even from the “big” sites. You just have to look at the IGN output for a great case in point: it may be amusing but it is so unmanaged that after time it can just become tedious. 1UP’s brand of broadcasting was something I genuinely looked forward to listening to every Monday morning, so much so it actually became part of my working routine. The quality of 1UP Yours especially was so reliable, striking the right mix between news, discussion and entertainment, that I will mourn its passing.

To everyone from 1UP that has been handed their P45, I wish you well and hope to read your work again soon. To everyone left at 1UP, chin up. As a uni friend once said: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Wii come bearing gifts

It turns out I was a very good boy last year. Whilst I was away Father Christmas managed to squeeze a lovely selection of board and video games down the chimney for me. Not only that, also some running shoes to help me work off my slothful pastime. However, there was one present that racked me with guilt as soon as I pulled it from its wrapping. Tearing away the paper of one specific gift revealed the white DVD box of a Wii game.

I haven’t played my Wii since Easter. Ali has been seen using it occasionally with the balance board, but at such times I leave the room. It merely being turned on in my presence usually brings forth a rant based on my disappointment of the machine. The only reason it still lives in my house is because I can’t bring myself to sell a console, just in case there is a game that will all make it worth while around the corner.

Sadly this generous gift was not it. I resolved to try for a week to want to the play it, even just to plug the Wii in, but on every occasion I found myself with some free time I did not find any will to do so. Each time I hovered near Nintendo’s toy my mind would flit to Mirror’s Edge, Left 4 Dead and Rock Band 2 and on would go the Xbox. I felt genuinely terrible about this as it was the platform’s fault and not that of this specific game. Someone had put some thought into this present and here it was going to waste.

So, at the weekend, I told them and asked if they had the receipt so I could exchange it. In doing so I hoped that they would at least appreciate my honesty and the fact that this way I wasn’t pretending to like their gift whilst it actually caught dust in my TV cabinet. Hopefully they see it like changing an ill-fitting jumper or a garish shirt.

Did I do the right thing? Ultimately, I like to think I did but the guilt still lingers.