A quick recommendation for a simple but addictive and extremely playable highscore game. Antibody is an arena shooter where the player controls some kind of bug in the middle of circular area which has to shoot up a whole bunch of other bugs which appear out of nowhere in waves. Control is ludicrously simple: the mouse rotates the player and left button fires whilst right button makes the player’s bug briefly shoot forward to get out of the way of projectiles or marauding beasties (although this needs to reset itself so can’t be used indefinitely). The enemies come in a range of sizes and with a range of attack styles and the action never lets up. There’s also a nice touch when your bug gets hit where, instead of just blowing up, it goes red and remains controllable just before asploding allowing you to direct it into the enemies that done you wrong.
Posts Tagged ‘windows games’
It won’t come as any surprise to readers here that I tend to play most games at a distance of several years from everyone else. Having an out of date PC until last year “helped” in that regard and replacing it has opened me up to the joys (and problems) of modern gaming. So, keeping to a theme, this article is going to be about Half Life 2, originally released in 2004.
I have my issues with the Half Life series. The original game, whilst undoubtably great fun, is largely the reason FPS titles moved away from the exploration and level-based gameplay that Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake had used and towards a more linear, continuous and (*sigh*) narrative-based structure. In short, Half Life is responsible for the modern phenomenon of the game as interactive movie, where the player’s role becomes travelling along what is basically a well-disguised rail in order to see more and more of a usually poorly-written B-Movie class narrative.
At first, Half Life 2 depressingly conforms to this structure. We open in an atmospheric, apparently open environment where it quickly becomes clear there is little game to play, for now at least, nor real exploring to be done in the matter of open-world games. There is a lot of tiresome moving around and setting-up of the narrative. What is striking, though, is how good everything looks. For a game that’s nearly ten years old, HL2 still looks absolutely stunning, helped no doubt by a variable set of graphic settings that were clearly supposed to help its longevity by taking advantage of pretty-much everything that graphics cards could do back then.
Eventually the game starts and our mute hero, Gordon Freeman, gets his famous crowbar and we can actually start playing rather than merely interacting.
And things get better pretty quickly. Yes, it’s linear, and sometimes comically so with planks and ramps showing the route the player is supposed to take in a manner that undermines the realist atmosphere the game clearly wants to create. And yet it still manages to have secret areas, hidden weapons caches and even, later on, whole buildings which can be optionally explored to grab more ammo, health or charge for Gordon’s suit.
It also manages to mix genres nicely. A shooting gallery for much of the time, HL2 also occasionally presents the player with simple puzzles, often physics-based to take advantage of the then-new Havoc engine the game runs in. What really stuck me about these is the fact the game doesn’t offer hints as to what the player needs to do in most instances, preferring to let the player work things out for themselves. For this reason, although none of the puzzles I’ve encountered are especially brain-twisting, there’s a sense of achievement felt when they’re solved which many newer games, with their hand-holding approach to pacify a market of spoiled gamers who don’t want to try against their games, completely lack.
Credit also ought to go to the game’s art. The visuals, as I’ve said, are stunning on a technical level but the atmosphere created is exceptional. HL2 invokes a world in decay, specifically the feel of the moribund Leninist regimes in Eastern Europe circa 1989. Everywhere buildings are crumbling, paint is peeling, cars are rusting or burnt-out; the only signs of efficiency and proper maintenance are the tools of the ruling Combine dictatorship with its gunship helicopters, sleek black armoured cars and masked combat troops; it’s Stalker combined with THX 1138. Music is used particularly well, being occasional and therefore effective and memorable rather than pure background. A perfect example of the atmosphere the game is capable of creating is the infamous stage ‘We Don’t Go To Ravenholm’ which is still, for many gamers, a benchmark in terms of the sense of fear a videogame can create. The story, as far as I’ve seen anyway, is pretty basic: human resistance fights alien overlords guff. But the art that accompanies Half Life 2 is not about the story so much as the environment and the feel.
There’s also a real sense of danger in HL2. Although this game was published three years after Halo gave the world the recharging energy bar, it sticks to the old school system of health that stays down until you replenish it (although there are some nasty headcrabs which poison Gordon meaning his health drops to 1 and then grows slowly back up to its pre-attack level as the suit administers antidote). Although health packs are a regular find in HL2, it’s still possible for the player to find themselves in a dangerous environment with a small amount of health remaining and no idea where the next health pack will be. This is something videogames have abandoned in favour of the “hide and recharge” mechanic, an obvious sop again to spoiled gamers who don’t want to have to try too hard.
Throw in varied levels, different vehicles, lots of different enemies requiring different tactics and the fucking brilliant gravity gun and it won’t be a surprise to learn that I really like Half Life 2. It has its faults – the linearity of much of the game, the semi-regular interruptions of the gameplay so that characters can chatter the game’s B-movie plot at you. This might be a game that shows how the industry was moving towards interactive movies where plot and atmosphere takes presendence over gameplay and moaning kids don’t have to worry about having to work to beat a stage or think to beat a puzzle but at the end of the day it is still, at heart, a videogame. For that we should be thankful.
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good Crimbo and spent too much of it playing videogames to the annoyance of your nearest and dearest who wanted you to play Trivial Pursuit instead.
Over said period, I done discovered the following games so I’ll give you my early(ish) thoughts on them:
Just Cause 2
I was really excited about this as it looked like GTA: Made-Up Dictatorship and GTA: San Andreas is one of my favouritist favourite games ever. And… well, it’s mostly good but some bad. The player takes control of a hispanic man working for the US government with a couple of James Bond-ish spy devices (some kind of backpack with an endless supply of parachutes and a funky grappling claw) and as many guns and explosives as he can get his hands on who, after the usual slightly-annoying opening mission, is given a whole country (albeit a small island in the Pacific region) to explore and subvert (although his official mission is finding a rogue US agent or something) by shooting up soldiers and blowing things up. Fighting the dictator and his extensive army is great fun, there are loads of vehicles (cars, aircraft, boats) to steal and comandeer, and the grappling hook (which launches, attaches to something and yanks the player towards it at speed) takes much of the tedium out of, say, climbing mountains. The only problem is that whilst in many ways this feels like the GTA titles it’s all a bit samey. The GTA games are like real worlds in that each location feels unique whereas here all the bases, towns and cities feel generic and the rest is mountains, fields, forests and desert. Still fun, but could have been better.
Left 4 Dead 2
A mate bought me this for Crimbo because he wanted someone to play with online. Unusually, this is pretty-much designed for online multiplayer with no real single-player campaign (you can play it this way but the computer has to stand-in for the other players). This is enjoyably old-fashioned at its heart having precious little story, no in-game cutscenes, and gameplay that feels like Gauntlet with the stylings of a modern FPS. The only thing is it’s quite intense and you feel the need to unwind after playing it; play it for hours at a time and you might start seeing RUNNING ZOMBIES out of the corner of your eye.
Crusader Kings II
Years and years ago I used to play a DOS game called Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe. It had very primitive graphics, if there was sound then it was beeper-based, but it was fascinating and absorbing if you’re a massive history nerd like me. It took place in Europe in the Middle Ages and the player would take control of a ruler, anything from the Emperor at Constantinople to the head of a small Barony. After that they would be able to raise armies, build castles, declare war and try to both expand their territory whilst defending what they already controlled from rival rulers and rebellions. Along with this the religious politics of the era played a substantial role with crusades etc. Crusader Kings II has similar gameplay but with far more detail and beautiful, atmoshperic graphics and sound and, interestingly, the dynasty you control (you play the heirs of your character if he dies) can lose control of, say, the Kingdom of Denmark and be left with a small-ish fiefdom from which you can plot to return to the throne using your own small court of henchmen. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I love it, and the alternative history it allows you to spin, already.
For anyone who doesn’t know (and that’s the majority of you, to be fair) I have a brand new PC with proper gaming capability and all. This means that, at long last, I can play some of those exciting post-2003 games everyone’s been talking excitedly to me about over the past near-decade whilst I ignore them and play Egghead 5 or something (which is very good, by the way).
Anyhoo, along with obvious games of the moment like Skyrim and stuff I’ve needed to catch-up on like Portal I’ve also been dipping my toes into modern indie gaming a little more with the help of the latest in the excellent Humble Indie Bundle series. Naturally, I thought it would be a nice idea to give a quick review of each game on it here in the order that I first played them.
So, we start with Shatter.
Generally called Breakout clones, this genre really owes its popularity to the arcade hit Arkanoid. The gameplay is deviously simple: the player controls a bat and has to bounce a ball (or, on some occasions, balls) around single-screen stages, hitting all the blocks until the screen is cleared and the player can proceed. Unlike most games in this genre, the playing area can be verticle, horizontal and even rounded on some stages so “up” and “down” the screen is relative. It also has a “story” mode separated into unlockable worlds with bosses to overcome. Shatter is very much a hi-tech, glowy, 21st century take on this genre and thus should have everything going for it. There is, however, a quite major problem.
On tackling the game’s story mode the first couple of levels introduce the player to a few game concepts. You might find this laughable given that this game is a Breakout clone but it does, in fact, have a few tricks of its own. We’re shown the “suck” button which, when held down, attracts things (including the ball) towards the bat. This might seem ridiculous were it not for the fact that destroyed bricks release dozens of “shards”, floaty, glowing blue things worth points. Pressing “suck” drags them towards your bat as well as the ball. Nice, a clever risk-reward mechanism.
Then, shortly after this, we’re introduced to “blow”. It has exactly the opposite effect. Meaning that along with the shards, your bat can blow the ball away. A little experimentation revealed that with the minimum of skill, this means that the bat will barely even need to touch the ball on many levels and the ball can be easily blown around the “upper” three quarters of the play area. This might have worked a little if the shards (which are also, of course, blown away) escaped out of the “top” of the play area, thus meaning points are lost. But, alas, they just gather in a big blue mass at the “top” until, when the ball is safely heading towards the “top” of the screen, they can safely be sucked into the bat just before the ball is blown back again or (occasionally) deflected.
I played the whole of the first world and part of the second and this mechanism seems to be there all the time meaning the game completely lacks the rush to deflect a speedy ball that makes Breakout games such a challenge and instead becomes a far simpler mixture of Breakout and Air Football. Add multiple balls that can be released at will and numerous power-ups (as well as that why-the-fuck-are-people-still-using-it “Continue” mechanism that makes sense in coin-op conversions but looks daft elsewhere) and this is a game with a lot of features but not a lot of challenge.
Shatter looks and sounds gorgeous, as so many indie titles do these days, but it’s a poor excuse for a Breakout-style game seemingly geared towards those modern “gamers” who care more about flashing lights and giving their fingers something to do than honing any kind of real skill. For those of us who actually like to be challenged and, occasionally, exasperated with a game that makes us work to proceed, to be honest you’re better-off digging-out Batty or Arkanoid instead.
One of the best damn Spectrum games of the last year or so is Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a superb, tricky, platformer which combines old-school and new-school ideas (8-bit gameplay married to randomly-generated levels). I was therefore both surprised and delighted to discover that it has been ported to Windows-based PCs by the superb retro-style coder Locomalito. I say “ported” but this is really a remix of the original game with numerous new features (which I won’t go into – it’s better you discover them yourself, although if you look at the picture on the right you might notice a chap who looks a bit like Sid Spanners) as well as 16-bit style graphics and sound and a two-player mode making the whole thing into a sort-of coin-op game from 1987 that never existed. Oh, and it’s freeware.
More information and download here.
So we’ve had a look at Populous II from the “mind” of Peter Molyneux and which I decided is a god-game which actually, in some ways, subverts its deep strategic intentions to be an entertaining and quite fast-moving clickabout which is fun even though it’s largely about flattening land. So what of the other game?
Well, Black & White came out in 2001 and is also from the “mind” of Peter Molyneux. It’s quite obvious when you start playing the game and have a flick through the fairly-hefty manual that B&W (as I’m going to insist on calling it from now on because it’s quicker) is the spiritual successor to Populous and its sequels even if it isn’t officially part of the same series. This is, once again, a god-game and, yet again, the player is up against rival gods using both followers and godly-powers to claim victory in a succession of landscapes.
There are, however, striking differences in gameplay. The main one of these is the addition of the creature, a hugh animal which becomes, in a way, your representative on the earth and wanders around under simple artificial intelligence “experimenting” with eating stuff and chucking followers around or whatever. The player, who is represented in-game by a floating hand, can slap or stroke the creature to “re-inforce” good or bad behaviour; what this means is entirely up to the player. This means the creature can, theoretically, be trained into doing tasks for the player like running about gathering-up food from farms for the granary or, if you’re a meanie, kicking the poor followers about and keeping them in line.
Indeed, the possibility of being a “good” or “bad” god was the driving force and selling-point with B&W, “find out who you really are” as the game’s tagline has it. Godly powers include everything from being able to grab fish from the sea and chuck them into the village food-store, to throwing followers around, to hurling fireballs and lightening. All of these things understandably make an impression on the mere mortals wandering around on the ground and increase belief in the player’s god. At a temple, worshippers dance around creating mana which is needed for the godly powers. The player can determine how many of his or her followers are worshiping at any time and is responsible for making sure they’re well fed and rested. The followers themselves build villages with buildings although the player-god can micro manage by creating scaffolds and dictating what should be constructed. Each village has a radius of influence which the player-god can act within meaning that, say, if a player village grows enough that its influence reaches an enemy village the player can start hurling fireballs or people around in it; this increases belief in the player god in the village: get enough and the village is yours.
Unlike Populous II, B&W has the very modern feature of some kind of narrative - largely explained by a “good” and “bad” character who accompany the player throughout the game and who are actually quite good fun – involving evil gods being horrible and kidnapping the creature and the like. This is the first thing that I feel goes against the game: I like the way Populous II is just a series of challenges getting slowly but surely more difficult whereas B&W has relatively few stages that take a long, long time to complete. The second thing that goes against the game for me is how this is achieved: impressing rival villages is actually rather dull and building up your own, interesting at first, becomes tedious and more like work than fun. I actually spent about an hour playing this where I was doing nothing more than picking up rocks and fences and stuff and throwing them at an enemy village to build-up belief.
None of this actually means that B&W is a bad game. There’s plenty to do and, unlike Populous II, there really is wide strategic depth in there but unlike the older game, after early enthusiasm it starts to feel more like a way to spend a few hours rather than something that’s actively a lot of fun. Reviewers at the time felt the same way: early excitement and praise for the visuals (which are, by the way, superb even 10 years later) and high scores gave way to disappointment as the much-vaunted creatures (which is, incidentally, one of the game’s most interesting features) were revealed to be difficult to keep tabs on and were actually captured or crippled in some way for several of the game’s levels, and the interaction with the villagers which seemed to promise so much variety was revealed to be mostly picking them up and throwing them or assigning them various tasks. Molyneux has, with B&W, created a very nice, very interesting idea for a game that isn’t quite as fun or as intriguing as it sounds on paper.
If you liked the Populous series then B&W (which you can doubtless pick-up for peanuts these days) is worth a look, although I found it became more work than play after a while, even if it does look stunning. There’s a sequel, Black & White 2, which came out a few years later and which I haven’t played but which may well fix some of the gameplay problems in the original. Maybe I’ll find out and let you know some day.
Well, this is odd. Not that long ago I wrote a post about two games I had recently discovered and grown to love: one of these was the superb iThing game Forget-Me-Not and the other was the 27 year old ZX Spectrum platform/action game Frank N Stein. Apart from having eerily (are you sure this is the appropriate word to use? – Imaginary Ed) similarly-structured names these are both excellent pick-up-and-play titles. And, weirdly, I’m going to tell you about them both again or rather about updates to both of them. That’s right, both.
First we have the excellent, if not entirely surprising, news (which reached me via Stu Campbell) that Forget-Me-Not has been ported to Windows and Mac-OS based machines for free. It’s probably my favourite game of the year so far and if you even slightly like videogames you have absolutely no excuse to not download a copy and learn to love it as much as I do.
The second, rather more interesting, news is that Frank N Stein creator Colin Stewart has been busy slaving over a hot Spectrum (or, more likely, emulator but let’s not destroy the romantic image) and has produced a brand new version of his 1984 game. That’s right, 27 years after it was originally published to cries of “It has lots of little additions (like ice patches) that make it better” and “Overall, a good game” from CRASH magazine we have a brand new update of this classic platfomer with new features and extra levels. Stewart isn’t publishing the game until the 14th of September – exactly 27 years since its original release, but he sent a review copy to the Retro Brothers who have an exclusive review of the new version here.
Happy New Year. Yes, I’ve been taking a wee break from writing this blog; Christmas makes it allowed! Anyway, since it’s a brand new year I thought it’d be appropriate to say a few words about some of my favourite games from the last year complete with appropriate linkys in the header. These are, as ever, in no particular order.
A freeware side-scrolling shooter drawing obvious inspiration from both the Gradius and Darius series, this lovingly put-together game could easily have been published commercially 15-odd years ago for the Playstation or somesuch. Excellent graphics, brilliant music, branching levels, loads of features. The only real problems are that the in-game music has a bad habit of ending about a minute before the level actually does and that for hardened gamers its perhaps a touch too easy. Nonetheless well worth it for zero pounds/dollars/euros.
The best 8-bit platformer in years that isn’t actually for 8-bit machines. This freeware game takes inspiration both from European history and ’80s European gaming but manages to create something quite unique. The mixture of object-collecting and puzzle-solving works well and the old-fashioned “chunky” graphics ooze class in a “1987″ kind of way.
Just as Strange Adventures in Infinite Space managed to create a space-faring strategy game that could be played in ten minutes, so this little freeware title managed the same with the (in)famous “roguelike” genre – explore dungeons, kill monsters, grab treasure. All without the dozens of control keys and hours of time lost. Unlockables help prolongue appeal. I’ve no idea why the “rogue” character looks like Hitler, though.
Yes, it originally came out in 1995 for Psion Palmtops (anyone? No, me neither) but this conversion to Horace’s home platform, the ZX Spectrum, which Bob Smith dropped onto an amazed retrogaming community in 2010, is easily the best release for Celebrity Mastermind star Sir Clive’s 1982 rubber-keyed beast of last year. Despite bearing superficial similarities to Manic Miner this game, with its inertia-based movement, offers a different challenge. Superb stuff. Even if Horace is white for some reason.
The only commercial (if indie) title in this list. I was bought this as a birthday present and it’s taken up far too much of my time. Despite the relatively crude graphics (which are arguably a plus since they mean that even older PCs can run it) this has proved a huge hit thanks to its true sandbox gameplay. Minecraft is, essentially, a game which dumps the player in a functioning world and lets them treat it like a lego set. A lego set with monsters which come out at night. Build giant underground lairs, mansions on clifftops, preposterously-tall towers. Then swear when a creeper blows bits of them up.
I’m going to start this piece about Looking Glass Studio’s 2000 release Thief II: The Metal Age by pointing out that, actually, there’s not that much difference with the original Thief; indeed it uses a tweaked version of the same engine. Essentially, this game is “further adventures of Garrett” with a few new features (including invisibility potions and even a remote camera) but, in general, similar gameplay to the original title.
But I think it’s worth discussing why Thief II works so well. Whilst I doubt they were direct influences, it’s possible to trace this game’s spiritual lineage back to games like the original Saboteur! through Guild of Thieves, Inside Outing and even Bonanza Bros. The idea of the player having to sneak around a hostile environment avoiding danger if possible rather than confronting it head-on and ransacking buildings for treasure had already been tried in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras but it wasn’t until the post-Doom 3D FPS engines that it really worked and Thief was the first game that showed us what could be achieved. For starters, the player was able to explore the environment from a first-person perspective meaning that they could hunt for hidden switches and caches of gold as they would in the real world rather than typing “LOOK UNDER BED” or pushing a chair aside in an isometric environment (early first-person titles like 1987′s Driller had this freedom to explore to some extent but the necessary slowness of the gameplay made any real sneaking and guard-dodging antics impossible). The other main innovation was the use of light and dark: a player that could hide in the shadows (visibility being show with the useful onscreen “light gem”) and elude the watchful eyes of the guards this way rather than just moving when their backs are turned as in Bonanza Bros and Saboteur!. Using the shadows is a big part of the Thief games and demonstrates how much these titles were distancing themselves from the FPS games that were being churned out at the same times. FPS titles are shooter games, action games; the Thief series has much more in common with the original Zork, they’re about sneaking, exploring and grabbing treasure with the fighting being more of a secondary aspect to gameplay. For that reason playing them is a very different experience. When you hear guards you don’t run towards them, you try and stay away, hide in the shadows, or find a way of sneaking up behind them without being noticed and knocking them out (and then you have to hide the unconscious body); when you enter a room you don’t just dash through it, you search every nook and cranny looking for a hidden pile of coins or gemstone; rather than worrying about ammo the player instead worries about being seen. In this respect Thief II is actually a more “pure” realisation of the idea behind the Thief series than the first game since it sticks more to the looting and sneaking aspect whilst the original Thief tended to veer off into missions that involved the player finding their way around mazes and fighting monsters, something that there was already plenty of in other titles.
Thief II, as with the original, takes place in a weird game world that mixes aspect of medieval Europe with steampunk. Reinforcing the idea of this game as an extension to the original Thief, the first level isn’t an easy training mission but actually quite complex involving helping a young man rescue his beloved who works under guard in a mansion. It’s a classic example of how the Thief games work: the player is given a mission with a series of objectives but the level itself is full of treasure to be found and grabbed and the player can choose to do this if they so wish. Level two extends on this further by giving the player a ransacking mission involving stealing from various businesses who lease rooms in a large (and well-guarded) property in town. But, of course, it’s not as easy as breaking in and picking some locks – turns out the doors have mechanical locks that can’t be picked and need to be opened another way…
As usual there’s a plot woven through all of this and, cleverly, much of this is revealed by listening to the conversations of other characters as you sneak around which not only adds an atmospheric element of eavesdropping but makes sure that the storytelling doesn’t get in the way of gameplay. Once again the Hammers, a villainous cult from the first game, are involved along with a new group called the Machinists. Oh, and although I had to wait until the second level to hear it, the excellent made-up curse-word “taffer” appears again.
Although Thief II is basically more of an extension to the first game than anything else it’s arguably closer to the what the original game promised. Whilst Thief was supposed to be based around sneaking and stealing the developers couldn’t resist sending Garrett to forgotten tombs to fight zombies as well. Thief II seems more focussed on breaking into buildings, hiding in the dark, grabbing loot and dodging guards and it looks like there are rather less levels along the lines of “Down in the Bonehoard” with its infuriating maze-like tunnels and gas-breathing monsters.
Last time I was in town, I noticed that the whole Thief trilogy (the third game, Thief: Deadly Shadows, was written by a different team and used a completely different engine but continues the story of Garrett and has similar gameplay to the first two games) is now available in a compilation and, if you’ve never got around to playing any of this excellent, atmospheric and innovative series, you really ought to pick up a copy. To pass the Thief series by would be the act of, well, a taffer.
I’ll try and get the Thief II ponderings written-up in the next couple of days. In the meantime I’ll point you all in the direction of a new indie game. L’Abbaye des Morts (which was brought to my attention by Gnome) is a new platform game in the style of the classic ZX Spectrum titles of the ’80s, notably the likes of Jet Set Willy. Interestingly, though, this one takes as its inspiration the Cathar sect of medieval Europe and therefore combines two of my favourite things – retrogaming and history. For those who don’t know, the Cathars were a highly nonconformist Christian sect in what is now South-West France in the middle ages who flourished in the area and were largely tolerated and protected by the local Catholic nobility. However, a Crusade was declared against them and their protectors beginning in the early 13th century and leading to excommunication for much of the local nobility, war, persecution, mass-executions at the hands of the inquisition and, eventually, the sect effectively being made extinct. It’s an interesting, but inevitably depressing, story and if you want to know more I recommend reading Stephen O’Shea’s The Perfect Heresy.
In this game the player takes control of a Cathar, Jean Raymond, who begins the game being pursued by Crusaders and who takes sanctuary in an old church leading to him discovering an ancient evil…
The game can be downloaded from this site here. On my Windows XP machine, I found that the game tried to run in a window in Windows in Low-Res when it started which makes it unplayable; however, pressing “f” will adjust the game to fullscreen mode, solving this problem. Happy platforming!
EDIT: A new version of the game (1.1) has been written which fixes the display problem.