30 Sep 2008

Goo-d things come to those who wait...

For a game that came from nowhere -by which I mean from first-time indie developer, 2D Boy, by which I mean a three man team- soon to be released World of Goo is about to hit big. It already went gold a few months back and prior to release there's a huge buzz going around the community that this could be the next significant example of what the gaming medium can produce both artistically and emotionally, a la Braid. If you have no idea what I'm talking about then I highly recommend checking out the predecessor on which the game's mechanics are roughly based.

Tower of Goo was originally released as a flash game and required the player to construct the highest possible tower they could with a help of a few hundred blobs, or 'Goo Balls'. It's addictive physics-based fun and a little difficult to explain. Basically Goos can be used to form rigid struts to make your tower stronger and higher. From then on it's building on your wobbly foundations to create the highest structure you can. Well, you probably need to play it to know what the hell I'm talking about so do so here.

There's a wonderfully adoration-laden review over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun of World of Goo that will give you a better idea of what to expect and what's more, if you pre-order the game you'll get a sneaky play of the first chapter in the game. This is definitely one to watch.

Heads up...

It's all a bit quiet on the Pixel front at the moment. Partly this is down to me spending too much time getting my arse handed to me in TF2 (see left), a general lack of interesting news and the preparation I'm doing for a whole week dedicated to Deus Ex that starts with the Weekend Waster on Friday. On Saturday I'll be posting the exclusive interview I had with the HDTP mod team and from then on I'll be exploring the series in full...

Coming up also are reviews of Spore, The Witcher and Crysis Warhead (hint: one of them is good). Not only that, but I'm soon to acquire a rather obscure ten-year-old game that I hold very dear to my heart and will be replaying it for a full length feature. I'll give you a clue as to what it is by telling you to blow it out of your ass. You didn't guess it did you? Oh, alright then...

More news coming up...

26 Sep 2008

WEEKEND WASTER - SWAT 4

Weekend Waster is back! And this week I present you with... SWAT 4. Coincidently another masterpiece penned by Ken Levine (no, not the underwater one). This is as common as muck on budget right now and you can get it off Amazon here for a measly 6.480000 English pounds.

THE GAME

Fear is discovering that you forgot to reload your taser when you’re only inches away from an armed terrorist’s face. Fear is also finding the graves of small children in the basement of a deranged religious cult with a penchant for assault weapons. But mostly fear is when, after taking a round in the leg and chest and losing three of your men, you are required to clear the last room of a building. Knowing you don’t have any grenades and knowing that you shouldn’t have a chance in hell, but ordering your last man to open the door regardless and limping inside. Not only that, but as the perps within raise their rifles and take aim, still having to consider: is there a chance I could make them surrender? Could I take them alive?

Gameplay in SWAT 4 comprises of continual split-second decision making. It doesn’t let up. If you’re not quick enough then you’re dead. If you don’t cover your back then you will be shot in the back. And each decision you make has to be perfect because there are no savegames or second chances within the scenarios. Yes, it is possibly the most intense game ever created, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but because the thought is always in the back of your mind: People actually do this for a living?

SWAT 4 is a masterpiece of design and a game that I never expected to get much value from initially, but it sucks you in and the scenarios are fascinating snapshots of American suburban living gone hellishly wrong. In short, it's brilliant. In long, it's jaw-droppingly f**king amazingly brilliant. Buy it now.

25 Sep 2008

Metaboli takes GameTap...

This one courtesy of 1up.

It transpired today that Metaboli will be transferring the excellent -but US only- GameTap distribution service to it's own ranks in early 2009. This is good news, although as a previous member of Metaboli I can say that the service offered left a lot to be desired in terms of game updates, quality of the writing and general user-friendliness of the site. Hopefully though they'll adopt GameTap's front-end and of course anything that brings the service to a European market is a good thing. Ancient arcade relics that actually work and value for money are some of GT's best features.

19 Sep 2008

Busey = Mental

For reasons I'm not entirely willing to look into, Gary Busey has been hired to provide some insightful commentaries on forthcoming GTA-em-up, Saints Row 2. I wouldn't have posted this as I have no desire to cover the game, but for some strange reason I can't help going back to watch these videos. So they've done their job.

Honestly, I can't tell whether they're scripted or not, but what I do know is the man is f**king crackers.

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition released

It's already on sale on the high street as the full package, but CD Projekt has just released onto the interweb the patch to upgrade original copies of The Witcher to version 1.4. What does this mean for dedicated fans of the game? Well, there's a new adventure, upgraded graphics, more animations, a better inventory system, decreased loading times and completely reworked dialogue. If all of this sounds like it's worth playing through again for then make sure to dust off your deck of porny trading cards and dive right in.

I'm currently jumping through all kinds of registratory (sure, it's a word) hoops to get my copy patched. Hopefully it'll be a struggle worth enduring and I'll report back with some thoughts on it soon.

The patch can be downloaded in full right here. Just be prepared for some thumb-twiddling because it weighs in at a monumental 2GB.

Dude, that's new school!

If you haven't had a look already, I highly recommend browsing the Bootleg Demakes over at The Independent Gaming Source. The competition is now finished and 68 wonderful entries are up on show. In their own words:
'The theme of this competition was Bootleg Demakes, which roughly translates to "unofficial remakes of games made to look as if they were created on older hardware. So each of the entries is ostensibly based on a real game, only from the past!"'
The brilliantly named Gang Garrison II is particularly fantastic, transforming Team Fortress 2 into a side-scrolling shooter with the connectivity, classes and music all there in retro form.

The rest of the games posted on the site also do a cracking job of displaying the innovation and variety the indie gaming scene has to offer.

18 Sep 2008

REVIEW - Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

The next in a long line of equatorial-environment-em-ups, Mercs 2 brings the explosions and bigger explosions from the consoles to the PC... rather poorly.

The game takes place in Venezuela and seems to pride itself on being something of a multicultural gangbang, with much of gaming's most potent stereotypes present. You've got the wiley Chinese, the laid back Jamaicans, the gung-ho Yanks and the stiff-upper-lip of the Brits. What little there is of a story centres around revenge on an evil dictator that shot you once. Of course, it's neither engaging nor well written and due to the game's main focus on making things go ker-boom, everything that isn't a large explosion gets in the way of all the things that are large explosions. The strange part is that you'll spend most of the game attacking groups of people that don't even have any ties to said evil dictator with no other motive than to make money and unlock the next part of the main storyline. Your actions are supposed to affect relations with these factions, but the result of a faction turning on you is so easily rectified through bribes that it's a pointless inclusion. It all seems a little... empty headed.

Hey, Pandemic, here's an idea for the inevitable Mercs 3: Get rid of the pointless factions and keep the dictatorship. Give the player control of their own army and make it the main objective to capture strategic outposts so they can sustain rebel troops. Let them manage garrisons and organise the weaponry that's distributed between the occupied areas. Make it so that there's some feeling of need and accomplishment to the copy-and-paste missions. Then, at least there will be a greater reason behind the continued fighting. A power-struggle, balancing defences and building up your forces. How much more exciting does that sound? Answer: loads. And I came up with that in a minute.

As it stands the game revolves around completing missions to make money to buy weapons to blow things up to repeat... and this isn't even one of the major issues I have with the game.

For a start, the game is bugged to hell. There are common bugs that you'll need to find workarounds for and not-so-common ones that you'll need to pull your hair out for. Sometimes the bugs can be Boiling Point funny, like distant, somersaulting helicopters or the time I requested extraction, only to watch in bemusement as the helicopter set down on a sandy slope, slid serenely into a nearby lake and exploded. Such things I can just laugh at and try again, but sometimes the bugs can be fun-destroying. There's a particularly annoying one that refuses to reset enemy positions when retrying failed missions. This means you can be on the fifth retry of a mission and instantly, three enemy gunships will be surrounding you with any allies you may have previously had already wiped out from your previous attempt.

The next complaint is that the game looks bad, five-years-old bad. It looks a lot like Just Cause, but without the awe-inspiring vistas. Blurry textures make your surroundings look like an idiot's watercolour painting and to add insult to injury, the anti-aliasing on offer doesn't even work to smooth things over. The explosions can be spectacular though and this remains one of your incentives to blow stuff up, just so the game isn't so eye-bleedingly ugly. It's clear the PC's hardware capabilities have been overlooked for the sake of easy development.

The third complaint is in reference to the Holy-Mother-of-God-that's-annoying audio. If you aren't hatefully mimicking your irritating partner's pitchy Aussie twang within half an hour then you either have the patience of a saint or have already sliced your ears off in desperation. Dialogue is repeated ad infinitum for no very good reason. I think for the most part it's supposed to give an indication as to a person's stance towards you, but it's clearly broken. A friendly faction's goons will repeatedly shout "enemy sighted" when you arrive or an enemy faction may yell " hold fire! It's the merc!" until you unplug your speakers or murder them all. Honestly, I would have been happier without any the voice audio, because it is wholly awful.

I'll rush on through some of the rest: The interface is unresponsive, the physics engine is dodgy, you are at the mercy of irregular checkpoint saves with no quicksave, the AI is awful and the whole thing smacks of lazy console-porting.

Right, now that the muck has been cleared from view, you might be able to make out the score below. Not too bad is it? So, the question is... why am I giving a clearly broken game quite a generous score? Well, it's mainly to do with the fact that when the game wasn't being a complete dick to me, it actually treated me rather well. Yes, it's true that I may be delirous from the meagre PC offerings of the moment or I'm just happy I've completed a game for the first time in ages. Well, it could be those things and more, but at times Mercs 2 has made me smile and that's what's important for a slice of big, dumb, action entertainment.

The comparisons to Just Cause and Boiling Point are meant to be favourable as well, tedious (the former) and broken (the latter) as they were. Ultimately, it's not a terrible game (you can put that quote on the box). Mercs 2 often conjures moments of majesty and awe. It gives the player a box of matches and a crate of TNT and says 'go figure', leaving you to decide the most effective way to utilize the support at your disposal. If you have enough mental stamina to bypass the game's annoyances then you can actually have a lot of fun planning your attack and delighting in your own cleverness when it succeeds. Whether it's lifting off from an oil tanker seconds after you've called an artillery strike on it, or obliterating an entire oil rig in order to kill a single man, there's something to be said for the sense of style that the game occasionally emits, even if it is the gaming equivalent of Quasimodo in a tuxedo.

SCORE: 73%

Peggle Nights released!

I forgot to post this yesterday, but it turns out that everyone's favourite hardcore pachinko sim is back and this time it's slightly darker.

The guff behind Peggle Nights is that you're exploring all of the Peggle Masters' seperate dreamstates to discover what it is that they truly wish they were doing if they weren't so busy pissing about with ball bearings. The new game promises new challenges, new trophies, one new character and more Ode to Joy.

I tried the demo out yesterday and it seems like much more of the same gleeful, coma-inducing, sugar-rush gameplay that we've all come to love or despise with every inch of our being over the past couple of years. Personally, I'm on the fence. No really, I actually am sitting on a fence right now playing Peggle on my iPod.

17 Sep 2008

Valve on verge of Google takeover?

If you think it's been rather cold recently, then it may have something to do with Satan's underground fire-hole freezing over... or it could just be the effects of another wonderful British Summer™.

Spurious claims are all but abounding over at The Inquirer that Google are looking to buy Valve, citing:

'WELL PLACED SOURCES tell us that Google is going to be buying Valve any second now.'

If so, then what would this mean for Valve? What would the future hold for Steam? Browser-based, ad-supported content? Who are these 'well placed sources'? And what on Earth is this 'any second now' nonsense? Had the informant popped to the lavvy to phone in mid-deal?

All these questions and many more remain dubiously unanswered here.

Thanks to RPS for the story.

EDIT: Since yesterday morning Valve's Doug Lombardi has responded by saying this rumour is a "complete fabrication". Well, who'd have thunk it? Bad, Inquirer. Bad.

Back in Bidness!

Huzzah! The DPP is back online and now I spam the site with all kind of news and reviews and crap. It's been a long time coming...

5 Sep 2008

My Beloved Monster

It was a bloody battle waged between extortionate retail pricing and my own financial inadequacy. The outcome: Victory! Crysis, Silent Hunter and Paper Mario were but a few of the casualties lost in the good fight to obtain a copy of Spore, but in the end there was no question as to who would win. To the victor the spoils. To the store staff, an extra fiver and a thank you.

Spore was purchased.

I installed it on my lunch break, which in itself was a trial. The irony of the installer crashing every time it attempted to copy over the support files was not lost on me. I got angry and then copied all the files onto my hard drive manually. Installing it from there went far more smoothly.

Another well-deserved win!

Next came the horror of the message that advised the game needed online verification. No, I'm still not connected to the internet and yes, I am still seething about it. What ensued over the next half an hour involved a lot of sweat and swearing. By the end I was a wreck, both emotionally and physically, but the war was over. The title screen was in sight. Spore had arrived.

2 Sep 2008

British Bastard Telecom

According to BT, the engineer appointed (two weeks ago) to turn up yesterday and set up the new phone line either did or didn't. According to BT, the phoneline is either faulty or it hasn't been tested. According to BT, their staff are either liars or they're just mistaken. According to BT, complaining to the management won't help.

As I can only snatch the odd five minutes at work to post, I may as well turn this into the Blog of Indescribable Hate for the BT Customer Service Team.

Yesterday we were told their systems were down. we were told the engineer would let us know when he had arrived or completed his work from outside the building. We heard nothing. Yesterday afternoon my girlfriend was told that the line had been set up and it would be on after 8pm. It wasn't. This morning it was still dead. I called their office at lunch time, only to be told there were faulty items on the line.

'What are faulty items?' I enquired.

'I can't tell you that, Sir.'

'Is this a common problem that is easily fixable?'

'I can't tell you that, Sir.'

I was told by this helpful gentleman that he had passed the problem onto the Openreach team who would resolve it in 24-48 hours (this timeframe changed numerous times during the conversation). I was asked to call back tomorrow at the same time to check on their progress.

Unconvinced, my girlfriend called up an hour or so later to verify this story. She instead was told that no engineer had turned up yesterday due to an error in booking the appointment. The gentleman who had spoken to me was mistaken. She would make another appointment for next Tuesday.

An hour later and another verification, the above story appears to be correct. A complaint has been logged. Still though...

NOT. F**KING. GOOD. ENOUGH.

I just want to know how it is that they can be so imcompetent regarding what most be one of their most common service issues. Every time you speak to this company is another wasted hour of your time, on hold or being transferred and there's no one else you can go to because only BT can set up phone lines. The lack of competition means that they don't have to provide decent support and for the privilege of your deteriorating will to live you're still charged over a hundred quid.

And so we play the waiting game, although I entirely expect no one to turn up come Tuesday...

1 Sep 2008

Diagnosis: Disconnected

You might have noticed that there was no Weekend Waster last Friday. Well, unfortunately The Dead Pixel is even deader at the moment due to me moving house and currently having no phone line. I'll still try to keep the blog updated with news, but features and reviews are likely to be put on hold for the time being.

As for when the good people at Sky will find the time to push the button that makes it all run smoothly again, well, we'll have to see. I've been told tomorrow at the earliest and two weeks at the latest...

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. When business returns to normal I'll post all the things that have been missed over the down-time and pin up the bunting in preparation for a Deus Ex celebration week, in which there'll be a special Weekend Waster, a feature on its not-quite-so-celebrated sequel and a look at where the series might be going. Not only that, but I'll have an interview with the team that are putting together the much-anticipated HDTP mod. Think of it as the icing on the cake. Except it's cybernetically modified icing... that wears a trenchoat... and carries guns.