Tag Archives: fps

Reports from the sofa

I’ve been unwell on and off since around December.  Repeated colds which would come and go, and much more frustratingly, a cough which would come and go, and which at one stage was very bad indeed.  Eventually, my GP diagnosed it as whooping cough (yes, I know), and some antibiotics sorted it out.  It flared up again a few weeks ago, but only lasted a couple of days, and I’ve been pretty okay since.  Reports suggest it can take a few months to really get back to full health, we’ll see how it goes.

The reason this is important (in terms of this blog post) is that during the worst bouts of coughing, where I was basically coughing every 30 seconds, having something to absolutely focus on was the only way of either controlling it or ignoring it sufficiently to not go insane.  The two things which allowed me to achieve this were watching movies and playing computer games.

In March, I have spent a lot of time playing computer games.  This then, is a summary, a report from the sofa.

MasseffectlogoMass Effect

This wasn’t the first Mass Effect game I ever played.  I played the 2nd first, because I picked it up cheap when I first got the Xbox.  However, after loving it, I bought this as well.  This play-through, which started in February and ended in March was probably my third or fourth complete run through the game.  BioWare did two things with Mass Effect.  They delivered an amazing, interesting story supported by accessible game-play, and they learned from the experience when they went on to make the second game.  I’ve got all the DLC (downloadable content or add-ons) for the game, and the full play-through took 42 hours.  Decisions you take in the first game impact the second and third in the series (if you import your character), and so I was careful to make all the decisions in the way I wanted them to play out in the next two games.  I romanced Ashley, despite hating her bigoted opinions, because I’d never picked that option before.  I was planning to romance her through the 3rd game as well (staying true to her in the 2nd, by not romancing anyone) – but it didn’t work out that way.

I loved this play through as much as I did the first time.  I find as long as I leave enough time between play-throughs to make the dialogue fresh and interesting again, the game is as enjoyable as ever.

ME2LogoMass Effect 2

The 2nd game in the series fixes the most annoying feature of the first one, which is the equipment/loot system.  In the first game, you spend a lot of time sorting out gear for you and your party.  In the second, the whole system is streamlined and handled at a much higher level.  That alone would ensure I loved Mass Effect 2 more than 1, but it’s not the only thing BioWare made better.  Dialogue is more interesting, choices are more interesting, the missions are more varied and the general world in which you play is fleshed out in greater detail.  The one thing I preferred in the first game over the second was the layout of the Citadel.  In the first game it’s a sprawling location you can roam around as well as use fast travel stations, but in the second, it’s locked down more tightly and feels a lot smaller.  Considering the supposed size of the Citadel in-game, that can be disappointing at times.

Thanks again to owning all the DLC and being addicted to side missions, this time it took 48 hours to complete the game, finishing around the 9th March.  It should have only taken around 46 hours, but thanks to being an idiot, I had to take the collector base 3 times to get the ending I wanted.  Mass Effect 2 is the near perfect gaming experience for me, a blend of story, humour and action, with real in-game consequences of taking particular actions.

Mass Effect 3 LogoMass Effect 3

Up until this March, I’d only played Mass Effect 3 once.  I was pretty vocal about how much I hated the end (read here, massive spoilers), and the other issues in the game.  I’d never played any of the DLC other than the Prothean one released on day 1.  Since then, BioWare have released lots more DLC, including a free pack which updates the end.  BioWare promise it doesn’t change the end, it just clarifies what’s going on.  I was dubious, but I wanted to play the new DLC, and give them a chance.

Well, I still think there are issues, but I’ll give it to BioWare, they significantly improved the end for me.  There are three choices at the end, and on the first play-through there was really only one that gave what felt like the ‘right’ end.  Now, all three (four if you include the ‘no choice choice’) give far more satisfying ends and are described in a way which resolves many of my primary concerns.  I won’t spoil them here, but essentially, all the endings make sense now, and all of them result in some kind of victory, the only question is what are you prepared to give up to get that victory.  I’m still a bit sad that I had to be let down by the ending the first time, to get the better explanation the second time, and the new endings were tainted a bit by my memory of the originals.  However, you have to hand it to them, they realised they’d made a mistake, and they fixed it as well as they could without fundamentally changing anything.

Overall, the new DLC’s were excellent (Leviathan, Omega, Citadel), and I enjoyed this play-through much more than my first.  The game is quite happy to poke fun at itself, especially in the Citadel DLC, and that humour really shows how much the writers love the game, the characters and the fans.

Overall, the play-through was 57 hours (which is just over half of what I spent playing Skyrim).  For a third-person shooter that’s not a bad amount of time!  This time around I even played some of the co-op on-line content and really quite enjoyed it.

Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 have to go down as one of the most legendary gaming experiences ever, surely.

dishonoured logoDishonoured

I don’t know how many hours I played Dishonoured for.  I’ve already traded it back in (bought for £15, traded back for £7), so I can’t load the save game and see what the played time was.  However, HowLongToBeat says it’s around 15 to 28 hours depending on how much stuff you want to complete.  I’m a fairly slow player, cautious and sneaky in games like this, so I’ll guess at around 22 hours.  Dishonoured is an excellent sneak-em-up set in a mysterious steampunky world and populated with some truly horrible people.  You can play the game in your own style, using a combination of violence or stealth to complete your missions, and despite essentially being an assassin you can choose to leave as many or few people alive as you like along the way.  The ending apparently varies depending on how many folk you dispatch, but while being fun, I didn’t feel the need to replay in a different style.  Conversation is interested, but the choices are limited and while there are side missions, they’re few in number and actually feel more like edges of the plot than truly side elements.

Actual game-play was really fun and the game easily kept me interested and engaged, despite playing it almost straight after the Mass Effect trilogy.  I completed the game with only about 5 kills, and some of those were accidental, honest.

Dungeon Siege III LogoDungeon Siege III

I’ve had this for ages, but had only played for around 2 hours.  After Dishonoured I was looking for something to really absorb me, and restarted from scratch.  I was pretty hopeful early on, but the game slowly became more and more repetitive, and essentially, a button-mashing 3rd person combat game.  It’s nothing like the original two games, which included full sized parties, and was based around a pause-and-go, click combat system.  Number 3 limits your party to two, the combat is real-time and requires control of your character and a limited number of skills with power bars and the like.  If you like button-mashing combat, then it may be for you but after 8 hours I gave up.  The story isn’t interesting enough to keep me trying to beat enemies that wipe me out in seconds with no obvious route to success.

Army of TWO TDC LogoArmy of TWO: TDC

We finally traded in the PS3 and all the associated gubbins, along with a few games, and as part of the trade-in deal put a pre-order down on Army of TWO: TDC after playing the demo.  I was looking for a FPS which was fun and relaxing, and Army of TWO fits the bill.  I knew it would be short, and I knew I wouldn’t play it more than once, but it was still enjoyable and satisfying.  Essentially, picked this up on Thursday, finished it, and traded it back in on Saturday afternoon (~£24 trade in).  I guess it was around 14 hours over those three days to go all the way through the story with a couple of stop-starts when I had to redo most of a complete chapter.  Fun, and essentially free, but not the kind of lengthy campaign I really enjoy in single player games.

Far Cry 2 LogoFar Cry 2

While I was trading in Army of TWO I looked around for something to play that could keep me busy for a while, and picked up Far Cry 2.  I know #3 is out, but I thought I’d give #2 a go initially, since it was in GAME’s 2 for £10 range (I picked up Bulletstorm at the same time).  I’ve played for around 3-4 hours, go through the tutorial and tried a few missions.  So far it’s fun.  I’m struggling a bit with the lack of feedback in terms of how stealthy you’re being (if at all), and the ‘no cover’ system is a little frustrating.  Otherwise, I think if I get into the game’s mindset I could find myself playing this for a good few hours.  However – I took a break to check out Bulletstorm and, well, read on …

Bulletstorm LogoBulletstorm

Well well well.  I played the demo when this first came out and while I thought it was interesting, I was clearly not in the mood for an irreverent, puerile first person shooter.  Apparently, this week, I’m absolutely in the mood for it.  Bulletstorm has some very high quality voice actors (from Mass Effect, in fact), some hilarious dialogue, a lot of swearing, some very annoying enemies, and some interesting weapons.  Technically, it’s a very solid first person shooter, with the feel of Gears of War without the cover-mechanism.  However, where the game really shines is the method of rewarding points (so you can buy weapon upgrades, ammo, etc.)  Each basic kill earns some points, but more complex kills earn more points, and the first time you perform a particular kill you get extra bonus points.  For example, shooting a bad guy nets you 10 points, but kicking that bad guy backwards and then shooting them, earns you 25 points.  Kicking the bad guy off the edge of a platform (earning you the Vertigo kill) is worth 50 points.  Add in blowing things up, an energy whip which can pull bad guys around, a combination of weapons and enemies, and the action is both frantic and humorous.

Yes, it’s silly, yes it’s slightly offensive, and yes, it’s utterly manic, but I’ve not had this much fun playing a true FPS ever.  The story is no worse than many first person shooters, while being better than some, and having some very high quality voice actors really helps.  Knowing that the actress for voice of the female character is the same as the one which played Female Shephard in Mass Effect gives the line “I will kill your dicks” even more added value.

I couldn’t stop playing yesterday and at times I was crying with laughter.  In one fight, where I dispatched about 20 enemies with a single shot to an explosive barrel, I was waiting for the combat to end, wondering why it wasn’t, but there were no new enemies.  Eventually, about 8 seconds after the explosion, I saw a lone falling enemy, through a window, who floated past us into the ocean giving me my first Fish Food reward.  Truly awesome gaming.  I can see me playing this a lot.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Picked this up cheaply on Saturday, and played an hour or so before friends turned up for Warhammer.  Enjoyed the first one on the PS3, and playing this was on the XBox.  Pretty similar experience, although it feels significantly more difficult.  I can’t remember now if I played the first one on easy or not, but playing this was on normal was pretty tough going for me.

However, it was nice to see myself improving steadily on the missions and eventually beating them.

I was Left4Dead

About 10 years ago I used to play Team Fortress online.  Not a huge amount, but I’d join the odd random game and run around building mounted guns as an engineer or sniping from the rooftops.  I was pretty bad, but the structure of the game meant I could at least help out a little bit.  I didn’t use TeamSpeak or whatever the equivalent was at the time and I didn’t know any of the other players.  But it was fun, mostly.  A few folk from work ran a shared server for a little while for another multiplayer FPS, can’t even remember which one1, and that was more fun, we knew all the players, and it was a blast, but inevitably there’s going to be someone who’s better than everyone else in a complete person vs. person game, and over time dying all the time (as I did) got frustrating.

That sinking feeling as someone bounced into the room and jumped around like a grasshopper while shooting you to death was all too familiar.  Eventually I realised I was a mediocre FPS player and I probably shouldn’t drag down the other folk by getting in their way.

What followed was several years of playing MMO’s, which provide that shared online experience but don’t require the twitchy gameplay of the shooters at the time.  Taking part in 20, 30, 70 and even 120 person raids in EverQuest was pretty impressive.

When I got the PS3, I dabbled a little with some online play but not really knowing any other PS3 owners who had the same games I did meant I didn’t really get much of a feel for it.  And I never owned a headset, so still no voice.

Now that I’ve got the Xbox 360 I feel a little more compelled to give online gaming a try – specifically Left4Dead 2.  Some of the folk who read uk.games.video.misc were kind enough to invite me to a game last night – which was the first time I’d used the Xbox headset in anger.  I’m still a mediocre FPS player, so I was pleased to give the co-op campaign a go at first.  It’s a lot easier to help 3 other players against a hoard of mindless undead than it is to outwit 3 other real people in PvP style gameplay.

Other than some technical issues, the co-op campaign was good fun, it’s much more satisfying helping someone up off the ground when you know somewhere there’s a real person shouting ‘hey, I’m down, I’m down!’ rather than just the game AI.  We then tried an 8 player vs. game (4 survivors vs. infected + 4 specialist infected).  We got slaughtered over and over no matter which side we were on.  As survivors the enemy infected just nailed us, and as infected it took us too long to work out how to control the different types and use their special attacks.  We were getting better towards the end …

Anyway, I don’t think I hindered the guys too much in the campaign, I did die at the end, only one of our 4-man team made it to the boat alive – but that’s just like in the movies isn’t it?

Me?  I was left for dead.

  1. Aha, Andy reminded me it was Unreal Tournament []

Gamer

I had mixed hopes for Gamer.  On the one hand, movies about computer games tend on the whole not to be very good, on the other hand it had a pretty good pedigree and some of the clips from the trailer looked promising.  The premise is simple, through the use of nano technology the human brain can be modified so that a person can be controlled remotely.  Some people will pay for the ability to control people, and those who are controlled can get paid.  The Sims made real.  Alongside that, criminals on death row are offered the chance to be controlled in live first-person-shooter style games, with the promise of surviving 30 games giving them their freedom.  The technology was developed and is sold by Ken Castle (played by Michael C. Hall) who is now a multi-billionaire.

Our grisly combat-savy hero (Gerard Butler) has survived 27 or so battles controlled by a young male gamer.  As he nears his 30th match, things take a turn south.

One could be forgiven for thinking this was a remake / reworking of The Running Man.  Certainly there are many similarities, prisoners given a chance at freedom for the entertainment of the masses, those in charge of the game being corrupt or manipulating the outcome and media interest in the whole thing.  In fact, there are plenty of comparisons to be made to the recent Death Race movie as well.  Given the plot in general isn’t that original, the movie really needed to bring something else to the table.

The pop culture references are entertaining, with the look of the Society game clearly modelled on many current real-world MMO’s, and there are a few pokes and prods at the mindsets of a certain type of game player.  The dialogue is okay, it’s no where near as cheesy as I feared, and the pace clips along pretty well.  The characters are interesting, but not very deep, and there’s a definite sense of having seen much of this film before elsewhere (the anti-establishment hackers in Johnny Mnemonic for example).  The action scenes are brutal (you’ll recognise the writers/directors from Crank and Crank 2) but give you a good sense of being inside a first-person-shooter.

The first two thirds of the movie are the strongest, sadly once our hero inevitably comes up against the bad guy, all sense of danger is lost and the story becomes almost a parody of itself.

Gamer was mostly enjoyable, and I’m glad I saw it, but I think it was a huge missed opportunity.  It could have been a classic, a solid action sci-fi movie with something serious to say about where culture is heading with on-line gaming.  But I don’t think the writers/directors quite had the balls to pull it off.  Maybe the screenplay was better and it lost something on the way to the screen, but the movie misses the mark too often.  Which is a shame, because it deserved to be and had the root of something much bigger than it turned into.

Borderlands – mini-review

I still don’t buy many games for the PS3, but after finishing up the ones we had in the house I was looking for something fun and engaging.  I saw the following quote for Borderlands and thought I’d give it a shot (no pun intended),

87 bazillion guns

I’d also read a couple of comments about it being much like Fallout 3 but with more emphasis on the first person shooter element, and since I really loved Fallout 3 I was sold.  After the obligatory patch and system update, I was up and running.  I own a PS3, so my comments reflect that platform, although the game is available on most major gaming platforms.

The Setting

The first thing that struck me about the game setting is that it’s not only similar to Fallout 3, it could be Fallout 3.  The game takes place on Pandora, an apparently post-apocalyptic world full of bandits, small outposts of humanity and strange creatures.  There’s clearly plenty of advanced technology around including robots, satellites, big satellite uplinks, transport systems, etc., but the world has basically gone to shit and is overrun by gun wielding bandits of all shapes and sizes.  The human settlements have a distinctly movie-wild-west feel and although there aren’t any cowboy hats in view you get the feeling this is the Wild West by any other name.

The world is broken up into zones or distinct maps of various sizes.  Most of them are large, open areas but there are a few underground cavernous locations and one or two extensive indoor/industrial locations.  As you progress in power the story naturally progresses you through these different places.  I felt some of them were underused with only a few quests while others were heavily packed with content.   Some major locations contain quest centres (and so, friendly NPC’s) and you return to those often to pick up new quest or hand-in completed quests, while the other areas have mostly unfriendly NPC’s and are there for you to quest in.

The artwork is pretty impressive (although somewhat repetitive), and the game has a pretty big sense of scale.  Despite the size of some locations however, they still manage to feel very claustrophobic when required which is nice.

The Characters

Since it’s a roleplaying game (with FPS elements), there are a number of classes you can choose from.  There are four main characters, each representing a single class.

  • Soldier: A mercenary style character who favours combat rifles and shotguns.
  • Siren: The only female character, a wielder of elemental powers and sub-machine guns.
  • Hunter: A scrawny individual who likes sniper rifles.
  • Berserker: A huge brick of a man, preferring exploding devices and hitting things with his fists.

Each of the characters has a little bit of back-story, and the game intro presents them to you to give you an idea what they’re about.  The characters vary based on the skills they can spend points in when they level up along with a single unique skill each of them gets.  Soldiers have a deployable auto-gun, the Siren can turn invisible, the Hunter can summon a flying pet and the Berserker can go into a rage.  The additional skills support the class in various ways.  For example, Soldiers can improve their deployed gun, can give themselves ammo regeneration, increase their resistance to bullets, etc.  I completed the game with Soldier and have messed around briefly with the others.  On the assumption that the game boils down to ‘shooting everything you can find before it kills you’, the choice of class really only affects how you kill stuff and where you spend your money.

In the multi-player game, the class choices can support each other (for example, Soldiers can heal other characters with gunfire if they spend points in the right skill).

The Game-play

Borderlands boils down to ‘complete quests to gain levels and better gear and follow the main quest to complete the story’.  Not much different to Fallout 3 in that respect, although Borderlands makes it even easier to find side quests because they pop up in central locations and a little friendly robot shouts at you when there are new quests available.

Completing quests can involve killing enemies, locating objects or people and even buying equipment.  You are rewarded with experience points (so that you can level) and cash (so you can buy new equipment).  When you gain a new level you earn a skill point which you can use to customise your character.  It’s not possible to purchase all the skills so you’re going to end up specialised in some areas.

Equipment can be bought from some locations, found on dead enemies and looted from chests.  New equipment takes the following forms,

  • Guns – there probably are 87 bazillion guns, but if you’re being cynical it’s because most of them are randomly generated and vary only in minor ways.  There are 8 classes of gun (combat rifle, repeater (automatic pistol), revolver, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, sub-machine gun, alien weapons) and your character improves in their skill for each as they kill things with them.  Guns have varying amounts of damage, recoil, elemental damage (e.g. fire or acid), clip size, zoom, etc., etc.  Those attributes are generally randomly generated to result in the huge range of choice.  A lot of game time can be spent trying to find the ‘best’ gun in each of the categories you care about.
  • Grenades and grenade mods – grenades are carried around like ammunition, and you can equip a single grenade mod.  Grenade mods change how your grenades work and how much damage they do.  For example, turning them into proximity mines, bouncing bombs or even devices which transfer health from your enemies to you.
  • Class mods – a device which improves the effectiveness of your class skills (one equipped at a time at most).
  • Shields – again, your character can equip a single shield which provides defences against incoming damage, increases health, and other benefits.
  • Other – there are some other items in the game which I won’t go into, the above four are the ones you spend most time working out what to do with.

The quests are generally enjoyable and the mechanics usually engaging.  However, they do get repetitive.  It’s great killing 8 bandits, until you realise that just about any quest you complete needs you to kill 15-20 bandits and get into their camp to find something.  I guess it’s the nature of the FPS element, which brings me to …

The main difference between this RPG and others, is that combat is purely based on FPS tactics.  You have a gun, a cross-hair and the bad guys are shooting at you.  So you will need your regular FPS skill-set.  However, because it’s an RPG you can scale the game to your own skill level.  If you’re struggling, you can hang around an area killing stuff and getting a level or two and then retry a quest with your new found power.  I like that aspect, and when I found the quests getting too hard, I put in a bit of work and levelled and found the level at which I was more comfortable.

The Storyline

Borderlands has you chasing down a secret, hidden, mysterious vault (Fallout 3 much?) on Pandora.  You’re dumped from a bus outside a little settlement (so little it only has one person in it), which you immediately have to rescue from bandits.  Along the way you meet a robot (Claptrap) who shows you around, and are visited by a mysterious voice in your head (your guardian angel) who tells you to trust the robot.  From there, it’s all about the quests.  You start earning the trust of the locals while also trying to find out more about the vault.  As you progress through the storyline you learn small bits about the aliens who inhabited the planet and the corporations who are fighting over the vault.  However, it’s a pretty minimalist storyline to be fair, and most of the time is spent hunting down bad guys, terminating them with extreme prejudice and looting more stuff to sell.

The major quest line is pretty easy to spot and follow, although you’ll need to do the side quests to increase in power enough to achieve anything.  In many cases, the side quests are more entertaining.  The only issue is that they do get repetitive, there are only so many ways to say ‘travel to here, through these bad guys who you will need to kill, and collect something’.  I was a little disappointed with the end sequence of the game but won’t spoil it here for you.

Multi-Player

The multi-player element of Borderlands is probably pretty good.  However, I’ve never played it so I can’t comment.  You can play two-player split screen on one console, on-line, or LAN based.  It’s co-operative multi-player, I believe, with no PvP element.  Having said that, there is a duel option, so during the game you can duel your opponents.  This is outside of the main scope of the multi-player game though, in my view.

Closing Comments

Borderlands was good fun in general.  I did get a little bored a couple of times after a long session, doing very similar missions over and over, but a break from the game helped, and coming back with fresh eyes made it enjoyable again.  I loved being able to scale the game myself, I’m not a huge FPS lover and I don’t have the skills of the average 8 year old, so being able to outlevel the bad guys when required really did make the game more enjoyable.  Another feature which helped avoid the repetition was that bad guys don’t chase you for ever.  If you’ve cleared a camp, and the bad guys are back and you can’t face killing them all again – just run through.  If you survive, they give up after a while, you just need to find a place you can get to which is safe.  Some people might hate those two features, saying they make the game too easy, but they allowed me to enjoy the content, play at my own pace, and complete the game without getting too frustrated.

The boss encounters were a little underwhelming, but I guess they match most FPS bosses (scoot-and-shoot the glowing bits), the cinematic style and boss info made them worthwhile in the end.

There’s definite replay value in the game, either as one of the other classes, or the same class with different skill choices.  Once you’ve completed the game on Walkthrough 1 you can start again on Walkthrough 2 with the same character, level and equipment.  All the enemies are boosted to your level, so the little dog-like beasts you killed at level 1 are now level 33 and ready to chew your face off.  I can see myself trying to beat it a second time before even trying another class.

Borderlands held my attention for the 5 or 6 days it took to finish it, provided something like 20+ hours of game-play on one run through, and had plenty of humour to keep me amused.  Well worth the asking price, in my view (if you accept that games cost what games cost), and I’ll probably hold onto it to see if there’s any downloadable content I want to see.