Archive for the ‘First looks’ Category

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The Witcher

December 14, 2007

I started playing The Witcher last night, and I thought I’d make some early comments. If you want an indepth review, Google can show you a ton of them.

New battle mechanics, a fantastic storyline, and a gritty setting make The Witcher one of the most engrossing, mature RPGs to arrive on the PC in years.

That’s from Gamespot, which gives the game an 8.5 and Eurogamer gives it a respectable 7.5 and says;

One for those who value story and character over technical innovation then, but definitely a game worth trying if the concept has tickled your fancy.

Now that’s great and all, especially as I maintain that good characters and character development so important in a game. The problem is, after playing for an hour I’m just not feeling it. Yes, I’m admittedly only an hour in but there’s not been anything so far that hooks me, or makes me care about anyone or anything in this game. The plot mechanic of amnesia is straight out of some daytime soap, and the characters seem about as deep. Everyone I’ve seen so far is very wooden in both a graphical sense as well as a story sense. For the record, I’m playing at 1680×1050 max detail with very smooth frame rates so my comments on the graphics are not crippled by a lousy system. At one point I was drawn out of an ingame cutscene as I was thinking how much they characters look like wax dummies. The pre-rendered stuff is spectacularly rendered (less spectacularly animated) and the overall in-game graphics aren’t exactly bad… they’re just nothing to write home about. Sadly, I’ve played Crysis and as I suspected that experience has limited the wow factor in just about every game that comes after it as far as graphics go.

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Graphics notwithstanding however, the characters do seem wooden. The story is there, the attempts at development are there and the rather long in-game cutscenes are there… yet I find myself not caring much about the charactersor the plot. Without spoiling it there is a scene early on that’s clearly supposed to pull the ol’ heart strings, but instead just left me sitting there rather dispassionately waiting for the exposition to be over so I could click-click-click my way through some more combat.

About combat; I only found out this game was based on the NeverWinter Nights 2 engine shortly before playing, but even had I not read that it would have been obvious. This game reeks of NWN, which isn’t a bad thing exactly as I enjoyed NWN back in the day but the more I noticed the similarities the more I wanted to actually go play NWN.

If playing one game makes you wish you were playing another, if the characters in it leave you bored and dispassionate and if the graphics are nothing to write home about… I suppose that equals a pretty bland gaming experience. Still as I said, I’m only an hour in so I’ll give it some more time before rendering my final judgement. As it stands so far though, I’m not terribly impressed.

Luckily I still have my NWN discs kicking around if things don’t improve.

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The cinema of Call of Duty 4

November 28, 2007

The Call of Duty series has something going for it. It’s not stunning AI, it’s not solid replayability… in fact the whole series has really lacked those things. What is has is a very rich sense of cinematic feel.

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As you play, you know the game is heavily (completely) scripted but you really just don’t care. In CoD4, like all the other games in the franchise, if you die and go back to a previous save you know full well the same enemy dude is going to pop out from behind the same wrecked car and shoot at you. This time though, you’re ready for the little bastard. That predictability is almost a part of it’s charm. You might find it frustrating that the enemy caught you out with a grenade the first time through, and the second time was even more frustrating… but by the third go through you are completely ready for him, and the little digital bugger doesn’t have a chance. Payback is a bitch.

Where other games put you in a free open area and give you many ways to get through a given encounter, CoD4 and the rest generally present you with a script that you get herded along to follow whether you like it or not. That doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s no different than a movie. You don’t go see the latest action flick and walk away disappointed that you didn’t get to choose how the hero killed his way through the plot. You’re presented with it, and you take it in as presented. CoD4 is exactly like that, but instead of watching you get to take part. Yes, it’s scripted but if done properly it doesn’t feel like you’re being told what to do so much as it feels like your actions are advancing the action movie along. When you talk about it with friends who’ve played you don’t ask what happened to them in the game, you know what happened… the conversations are more about “I liked the part when…” just like a film. That’s not a bad thing at all.

Sometimes it’s nice to be presented with an open ended sort of game where choices abound, but honestly sometimes you just want to sit and take part in an action movie. CoD4 is the latest in the franchise to provide just that, and it does so surprisingly well.

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Ghostbusters gameplay footage

November 19, 2007

Younger gamers out there might not fully appreciate everything that Ghostbusters was. I was 15 when the original hit the theaters in 1984, and it was the first film I went back to see twice. The happening soundtrack, the characters with that great 1980’s lazy-adult vibe to them mainly thanks to Bill Murry, the storyline was fresh and interesting and the special effects were absolutely terrific. To a 15 year old in 1984, the movie really offered the full package. The sequels never really lived up to the high of the original, but now thanks to the miracle of modern computing we get another go at it.

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Ghostbusters is coming to every gaming platform you can think of… DS, PC, PS2, PS3, 360 and Wii. Take a peek at some gameplay footage over at G4TV.
Now it’s admittedly going to suck mightily, because movie games always suck mightily. Also, on a personal level I’m guaranteed to think it sucks because as good as Ghostbusters was to my 15 year old self back in 1984, it just doesn’t hold up well. This 38 year old me recently watched it again and it was… lacking in a lot of departments.

I wonder how long until we get a Back to the Future title?

-ab

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Crying over Crysis?

November 17, 2007

Like most gamers, I’ve been waiting for Crysis for some time now. Early reports showed stunning graphics and spoke of deep gameplay, and rich AI. Finally, after a lot of hype and videos, it’s here. Of course, not everyone is happy.

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Despite much hoohah about how scalable Crysis is towards older systems, there seems to be a couple of vocal groups in the various forums who just aren’t satisfied. The first of these two groups consist of guys with super computers trying to run it a ‘very high’ settings and ultra high-def resolutions. “I just bought a new double quad core 1000gb system with 18 linked BFG 8800 Ultra’s for this game and it runs like crap! I want a refund!”. Cry, cry, cry. To these people I say this, why not put that super computer of yours to better use and try running the game a decent, yet very attractive resolution such as 1680×1050 and turn the graphics “down” from ‘very high’ to the still pretty spectacular ‘high’. There’s no shame in that you know, and you might actually get to play it at 30fps. It’s quite fun from what I understand, and it looks absolutely terrific.

The other group who seem to be complaining are the poor sods with 5 year old systems and overly high expectations. You know the sort, the fellows with the PentiumII with 512mb of RAM and an ATI 9600Pro. Yes people, this game is very scalable but there are limits to that and you really can’t expect to play games these days with ancient systems. Well, you can expect it but you’re going to be disappointed.

So far I’ve been playing the demo on a P4 2.8ghz system with 1.5gb ram and an nVidia 7600GS. Not a super system by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s new enough that Crysis is very playable. My 21in widescreens native res is 1680×1050 but 1280×720 always looks nice and crisp on it and at that res, with physics and water detail set to high, and the rest at a mix of medium or low I’m getting very smooth frame rates. Yes, two of the low settings happen to be textures and shaders which take away almost all of the photo-realism this game is so well known for but hey, I get to play it and it’s fun. I guess the point of this is, tune your settings to your machine and try to enjoy the game rather than whacking everything up to max and then bitching. Also, if you’ve got an ancient rig, save some cash for an upgrade before spending too much time complaining about what very impressive game at any graphics setting.

I’ve got a quad-core Q6600 with 2gb, dual 10k Raptors and two 8800GT OC2 running in SLI coming next week. Super computer? Maybe, but it’s going to run Crysis (and everything else) a lot better than my current rig and you won’t hear a peep of complaint out of me about it.

-ab