Friday, 30 November 2012

Finished: Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line, there isn't actually that much I can say about this game that hasn't already been said by many others, I will give it a shot though.

Spec Ops is a game where the mentality of always pressing forward, making the judgement calls as they come in the field is likely to get you.

It isn't a game where you know you are in the right, even if you make a questionable call every now and then,   but you also aren't playing a deliberate villain, it is about the road to hell paved with good intentions and determination to do what needs to be done.

You won't walk away from this game thrilled, nor pleased with overcoming a significant challenge, the gameplay itself is only competent, not outstanding. It is however a story told very well, using a mix of cut scenes, in engine dialogue and animations, to reflects its shifting atmosphere, progressively getting darker and more vicious as you get closer to the end.

It is not a game I would describe as fun, it is however, a game worth playing.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Finished: Orcs Must Die 2

What motivated me to finish off Orcs Must Die was the incipient release of Orcs Must Die 2. Finally I was motivated to pull open the game and push through the last half a dozen levels.

The biggest change between OMD1 and 2 is the addition of co-operative play. It has been integrated to such an extent that playing solo has been slightly compromised, there are conversations with one side missing and the new levels often have enemies fighting fairly far apart and there are significantly fewer teleporters than in OMD1.

The game does subtly scale the enemies, I actually did not notice until after I finished the game, but the weakest orcs tend to not appear in coop mode. You also do have the twin advantages of getting all of the cash (rather than 50%) and twice the number of slots for weapons, traps and trinkets.

Most of the old traps and enemies return along with a generous helping of new ones. The game itself feels very much to be more of the same. As a bonus, those who own the first game get a good chunk of those levels available for solo and coop play in Orcs Must Die 2. Allowing you to tackle The Finale with two players, vastly improving that level in my opinion.

Robot Entertainment also changed up the skull and upgrade systems. The 5 skull scoring system still stands, but now there are bonus skulls. Even if you manage to leak that one kobold, it is still worth continuing through to the end, because finishing a level will give you at least one bonus skull, if not more, you get bonus skulls for killing lots of orcs, for not using traps, for not using mana, for not taking any damage, for not leaking any enemies. These can really add up, on Nightmare I can fairly reliably get 15 bonus skulls.

This helps with the new upgrade system, rather than the single step upgrade system from OMD1, each trap and weapon in OMD2 has a bunch of upgrades. A main path with 3 levels, a choice of two unique upgrades (than can be freely swapped between outside of levels) and possibly special upgrades. Combined with some traps having an initial unlock cost it can cost upwards of 40 skulls to unlock and fully upgrade a trap or weapon.

This means that whilst you earn a lot of skulls you will be spending them like water, even having gone through the normal campaign, the classic levels on normal, and some of nightmare and skull farming on Chasm I still have plenty of traps, weapons and trinkets to unlock and upgrade.

Trinkets are a new element, they take up a slot and provide a passive and an active benefit. Increasing health and regeneration, or giving enemies a chance to drop coins, decreasing trap reset time. They don't directly kill orcs but I find that I almost always spend 1 to 2 slots on them because the passive effects are so damn useful.

Despite these changes, overall the game just feels like an improved version of the first game, if you don't play coop you aren't really doing anything particularly new, it is more of the same. As the game ramps up you get increasingly long levels and no checkpoints. I honestly don't think I would have finished the game, or continued to come back to it for quick sessions were it not for coop. With coop, the longer maps are just a slightly bigger commitment with friends, but you can divide and conquer levels each able to focus on your own chokepoint, swapping positions to coordinate trap placement and generally having a great time coordinating on creating your orc killing machine.

As a result I easily have 5 times the number of hours in Orcs Must Die 2 compared to the first, the cap of 2 players is both annoying but useful, because I only need to find a single buddy willing to play to get a game going I get games a bit more frequently, it just feels like we are excluding any other friends who go online during the game.

All in all, Orcs Must Die 2 is a great game and I recommend that you get it if anything I have said has interested you. You also should pick up Orcs Must Die 1, but only because that unlocks the classic levels in OMD2. They are currently 75% off on steam, they even have a demo if you just want to check it out.

Games list at time of post: 410 unfinished titles
Changes since previous update: Finished 0 titles, dropped 0, added 0

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Finished: Orcs Must Die

Orcs Must Die is a third person shooter/tower defense game by Robot Entertainment.

The premise is pretty straight forward Orcs are attacking the fortresses of the order, trying to make their way through the Rifts they protect to get through to the juice vulnerable lands beyond. Most of the orcs and associated forces are very single minded intent upon reaching their target rift via the shortest path possible.

The order is unfortunately mostly out of commission, save that is for The Apprentice who is able to take up a trusty magical crossbow and conjure defenses to prevent the orc hordes from pouring through.

For the most part it is a pretty standard tower defense game, though on a closer and more personal scale. You have a budget provided each wave, but you also earn money per kill, earning more money for long killstreaks and combos, which doing multiple damage types to the unfortunate victim before it dies.

The game excels in providing a wide range of traps and weapons. There are only a limited number of slots a player can fill with weapons and traps, so choices are made around level layout, expected enemies and personal preference.

Performance in levels is scored, both with a score based on kills and combos, and a 5-skull rating system. 4 skulls are based on rift points remaining, 1 for beating par time.

These skulls are then spent on upgrades, every trap has an upgrade that will cost a certain number of skulls, this system is final, you cannot ever refund the skulls, and you can earn a maximum of 5 skulls from any given level, which does potentially mean that if you spend them badly it will be very difficult for you to progress late in the game.

I loved the traps in this game, there are floor traps, wall traps, ceiling traps barricades and minions. I particularly liked a combination of barricades (fortunately orcs can't jump or climb), grinders, tar pits and swinging maces where the terrain allowed it. I picked up this game just after it came out and I had a lot of friends also playing through it and having a great time. We all had a great time watching orcs get flung into acid pits, set on fire, shot with arrows, exploded with bomb, sucked into grinding machines and knocked down by gigantic swinging maces.

Unfortunately the late game really starts to drag, the levels get progressively longer and there is no mid level saving or check pointing. This is especially bad when aiming for 5 skulls, a minor mistake can set you back a significant amount of time.

As a result there was a significant gap between when I bought this game and when I finished it, it took Orcs Must Die 2 coming out to convince me to play through the rest of Orcs Must Die 1.

Games list at time of post: 410 unfinished titles
Changes since previous update: Finished 0 titles, dropped 0, added 3

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Finished: Alan Wake's American Nightmare

American Nightmare is a gaming equivalent of the bottle episode. While it progresses the Alan Wake story beyond the original campaign and the two DLC episodes, it has been structured such that it can easily justify the reuse of a small number of level, art and character resources.

Personally I think it is a decision that pays off really well. To give a minor spoiler (skip this paragraph if you want to avoid it), the justification used is a time loop, each time you reach the end of the final map you are sent back to the first one. Except that you aren't just doing the same things over and over. Alan is not the only one aware of the time loop  meaning that while assets are reused, you don't just do the same damn things over and over.

It seems pretty clear that the focus of American Nightmare is combat, the horror elements are still there, but they have been pushed into the background, mostly surfacing in the Mr. Scratch videos. Instead the gameplay emphasises faster paced combat with a larger variety of enemies and weapons. The flashlight has been tweaked such that it no longer passively removes the darkness, Alan has to focus (and use battery power) to make enemies vulnerable and even to provide the temporary stun.

They added a bunch of new enemies, some that split when exposed to light, big enemies, ranged enemies (including grenadiers), even non-human enemies, making fights more varied and challenging. Finally rather than pistol/shotgun/rifle there are a range of guns allowing players to trade off between accuracy, rate of fire and firepower. Some guns are clearly better than others, but unlocking those are tied into the page collection mechanic.

The game has a few different modes, but I only played the single player campaign once. I found that the focused story and tweaked combat system really worked well for me and it was great to be able to pick it up at a cheaper price point than the main game. I am curious as to what other developers would do if they were to make a bottle episode in their franchise. Anyone able to name other examples of this kind of approach?

Now exams are over I want to get through this backlog of game posts before I head overseas. The plan is to continue the Note Taking App project as well.

Games list at time of post: 407 unfinished titles
Changes since previous update: Finished 21 titles, dropped 3, added 30
Been a while since I added this at the bottom