Once upon a time I made a blog about video games. And this is what's left of it (mostly tweets).

3 October 2008

EndWar: Paris siege

There’s something oddly disturbing about seeing Paris being bombed in a video game. I’m beginning to understand why Venezuela was irked by Mercenaries 2 (few countries or cities have embraced their silver-screen career like New York has).

Other than that, not much to say about the game; the voice commands seem to work well (for this particular demonstrator, although they’re shown more extensively in the other three-part walkthrough), but judging from the videos, and my very limited knowledge of RTS games, it doesn’t look like you have to do much by yourself — which may after all be a realistic simulation of a Presidential war room, and at any rate makes the game more accessible. This is clearly no Starcraft.

4 October

Kotaku podcast: I want to do my podcasts in Little Big Planet or Test Drive Unlimited.

16 October

EndWar (360 demo)

I don’t know what the online mode is like (I hardly ever play online, as already established), but the solo mission is awfully short. It’s more of a tech demo, obviously, for the interface and voice controls of the game, and — wow, it’s impressive.

During the voice calibration I thought the system had to be cheating, but voice command just works (I shouldn’t be so surprised; computers have had this for a while now, and recognizing a known, limited set of words is pretty simple with the computing power of current systems) and it made me want to try my Mac’s speech recognition again.

I’m not going to get into detailed analysis of the game, or its controls, because I don’t grok strategy games, and the mission was so short anyway, but I can tell there’s one thing quite wrong with the interface, and it’s a shame they would waste such an innovative technology this way: you need to memorize all available commands.

It would be trivial to display a menu when you start voicing a command (as the game does when you press the right-hand trigger), then display submenus as you work through menu items, but that’s not allowed: submenus are only shown after you’ve finished your command “sentence,” so that… you can see what options you missed. It’s certainly not going to hamper serious users, who will quickly memorize the limited set of options, but it’s a very stupid mistake that I don’t quite understand.

Anyway… the game’s mood is quite competently grim and depressing (the release’s timing couldn’t be more in/appropriate, actually), the graphics are adequate, and I still think it looks too simple for real RTS fans, but a good primer for console gamers.

 

Couldn’t be bothered to change my xbox’s language settings to see what it’s like in French (assuming the demo does speak French).

29 October

Tomb Raider: Underworld (360 demo)

Here’s a nice, meaty demo — so meaty, in fact, that I almost gave up on it a dozen times. It’s already hard enough to spark interest in a ten-year-old franchise whose gameplay has been basically unchanged all along (yeah, yeah, Lara has more moves, now she can shoot two targets at the same time and balance on the top of pillars, whatever); at the very least, you should cover the basics and make gameplay flawless, and Underworld is anything but that.

Sure, the graphics are slick (although rocks are still too blocky) and Lara has some nice animations (that would look state-of-the-art if Assassin’s Creed hadn’t been there before), but that’s just a pretty coat of paint on crumbling walls: it begins with invisible walls in the ocean of the opening sequence but goes on with imprecise, glitchy controls, a crappy camera, buggy enemies and very artificial level design only made worse by how good the graphics are: every time I got stuck (and that happened several times in the demo), it wasn’t because I had trouble figuring what I was supposed to do, but because I wasn’t sure if this or that ledge was decorative or Lara could jump to it, or whether this or that wall was firm enough for Lara to jump off from; all of it made worse by the camera constantly zooming in and out so that you lose all sense of perspective and have no idea whether you’re supposed to jump there or it’s going to kill you.

After I’d watched videos of this game, I was all prepared to like it, but it’s been an infuriating hour of playing the demo and I can’t imagine going through the whole game.

 

31 October

Mirror’s Edge (360 demo)

Mirror’s Edge looked cool in the previews, and trailers, and gameplay videos; unsurprisingly enough, it looks cool in the demo as well.

I don’t really like the way I have to hold the gamepad in order to play (is anyone used to pressing the Xbox’s triggers with the middle finger?) but they make sense — left bumper means “up” and left trigger means “down,” and maybe you couldn’t have as precise control if you had to keep your right thumb on the face buttons instead of the stick… or maybe you could. It feels like I would have cramps after half an hour of play, and I wonder if it’s more or less comfortable on the PS3’s pad.

Regardless of the unfamiliar controls, this isn’t an easy game: I did break a sweat during the short demo, and felt the sense of urgency and helplessness when chased by the bad guys. The “runner vision” is unobtrusive (if not insufficient — I wouldn’t have minded having access to some kind of map so I knew for sure where I was supposed to be going, but then I guess that’s an integral part of the game design), and the most elaborate maneuvers are definitely not dumbed down (I know I’d have a hard time pulling the “wall run, turn around, jump” stunt during the course of the game) but the feeling of controlling a free-running character is very real.

An unqualified success, that I’d really like to experience more. And reserving the time-trials section of the demo for people who pre-ordered the game is really lame.

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