If the shoe fits…

Okay, amidst all the recent games-playing that’s been going on at Chateaux Koffdrop there’s a few things happening in the culture that I want to get off my chest. Let’s begin:

Do games kill people? Well, the response to a question by the culture is typically “Don’t be daft, games don’t have that power!”. An argument tends to ensue about how games don’t have an influence in real life. I’ve no problem with this. However, when the same culture will pick up a piece of news from some science report stating that games have some positive effect on people’s reaction times or multi-tasking abilities my mood changes somewhat. You see, I believe the argument is that games either have some influence on people or they don’t. What I tend to see is very selective reasoning demonstrating a mentality that chooses to dismiss any negative influence but champions any positive influence. This is biased and hypocritical. It’s also an over-simplification – but that’s something the culture does too much of and is never going to change.

So, if you’re going to argue that games don’t have the power to influence then make sure you’re consistent and your view doesn’t suddenly change when it suits you to pimp games as some sort of science boon to the human race.

For what it’s worth, I’m very much in the camp that says games do influence. I know I’ve played long sessions of Burnout and then found myself in a car wondering why we’re not putting our foot down and just tearing up the traffic. Hell, I’ve been playing a lot of Crackdown recently and every time I see a multi-story building I see jumping and ledge-gripping potential. That’s influence. Now, I’m not about to go crashing cars or doing a Spiderman impression because other parts of my brain kick in before these idle thoughts take over my actions. What I’m saying is that games do influence. I believe that’s a constant. The influence can be good or it can be bad – but the influence is there. The difference, of course, is on an infinite number of other factors such as how balanced the person being influenced is in the first place or whether they have access to guns or not.

If you want to be listened to and taken seriously, it’s important not to come off as a knee-jerk reactionary. This is especially true if your view or stance is the one under scrutiny by popular opinion – regardless of how accurate or informed that opinion may be.

This little nugget of wisdom works in many ways – from being the switched-on gamer that understands what gaming is and how corrupting it may or may not be to being of the popular opinion that, hey, you’re a gamer so you know when people who make games are being lazy or not because, after all, you play games so you know everything about how they’re made. In that latter example, I’ve placed the gamer in the same spot as gamers view ‘the public’ in respect of the whole “games kill” argument. Gamers know that anyone who’ll spew that rhetoric at them clearly doesn’t understand the breadth of what they’re talking about. Yet, in an instant, they’ll immediately adopt that manner when it comes to deciding how a game is this or that or what Brand X is doing and how they should be running their global corporation.

Take, for example, some recent news that broke about how some new maps for Gears of War were going to be sold rather than given for free. Apart from the outcry by gamers over the idea of being charged real money for extra content (which is hardly the worlds greatest crime – unless you’re so used to getting things for free that you believe nobody other than you should earn money for what they do – even if it’s something regarded as the best of it’s kind – which rather makes rational people somewhat unsympathetic when you talk of the supposed selfishness of others) the culture generally decided that Epic were good and MS were bad. That MS were ‘evil’ for overruling Epic’s desire to give content away for free and, anyway, they already pay some bucks for xbox live in the first place so more stuff should be free and, besides, MS don’t need the revenue as they’re rich fatcats anyway. That’s pretty much the gist of what I read.

MS as a platform holder and MS as a publisher are two different entities. Forgetting the indignant rage gamers feel whenever they’re reminded who’s actually in control of things in the games industry it’s worth remembering that, typically, the publisher calls the shots. They fund the developer to make the game. Both developer and publisher will be subject to some frighteningly detailed contract that stipulates god-knows-what-but-you-can-be-sure-that-YOU-don’t-know-what. Also, let’s get some perspective on things. Games cost the same $50 or £40 ten years ago as they do today. In some cases they cost more. In fact, factor in interest and inflation over a decade and it works out that, if anything, games are cheaper today than they were in the late 90s. So, actually, if you stop and think before complaining you’d realise that, these days, you’re getting more for less. In fact, if gamers stopped thinking about themselves for a brief moment and factored in the broader picture that involves, not just gamers, but publishers and developers too (because, hey, you wouldn’t have games without publishers and developers would you?) you’d realise that whilst the cost to the consumer has, if anything, gone down a little the cost to developers and publishers has shot up astronomically.

The whole deal with mircotransactions or in-game advertising is to earn revenue in, hopefully, non-intrusive or optional ways that mean the rising development costs can be offset in a way that avoids having to charge $120 or £100 per game at retail. Nobody wants that so here’s the alternatives that are being considered. Will this become the norm? Well, it depends if those methods are successful or not. That’s where consumers do have some power.

But, please, don’t sit there refusing to think of anything other than your explicit belief that you’re entitled to free digital entertainment whilst choosing to ignore anyone other than yourself in the equation and then brand others as selfish. Nobody who is presented with that argument or line of thought (and I use the term lightly) will give you the time of day – because presenting that to those who DO know what is going on and who DO understand how and why these decisions come about will simply regard gamers in precisely the same way that gamers regard those who make statements like “games kill”.

In all cases, you’d make a better argument and have a greater chance of being listened to if you stopped and thought things through first.

Try it sometime!

The post with no name

You know, my recent posts have been focusing on the past. So for a mild change of pace, I thought I’d tell you what I was playing in the present. I understand that your very lives revolve around the minutiae of my gaming preferences and I feel a responsibility to keep you fed on the digital plankton of my life. Aren’t I nice?

Having purchased one only last week, it’s understandable that I’m spending a good amount of my gaming time with my 360. I got a pretty reasonable deal on a machine – Play.com (no, I won’t link to the site because it’s lethal and sucks money from your wallet. I’m doing you a favour. Trust me.) were selling 360 Premium + PES6 + Gears of War + Crackdown for a smidge under 300 notes. Now, three games is roughly £120 which means the hardware matches Wii prices. Just soak that fact up for a moment or two.

Anyway, the goods turned up nice and promptly and after setting up and recovering my underused gamertag I was ready to check out Gears of War. As you may have read, that’s all behind me now but I’ve spent plenty of time using the controller and tended to find (on Gears at least) that the fourth and fifth fingers on my left hand tend to get uncomfortable after a while of constant aiming. Right now, I’m playing a game that uses the surface buttons a fair bit and, frankly, they’re pretty harsh on the thumbs – just like the original Xbox’s were. None of this is the end of the world, but I had heard a lot from people who claimed they found the controller to be the most comfortable ever and, for me, I’ve quickly found that to not be the case. And whilst wireless is nice, I’m not relishing dealing with replacing or recharging batteries all the time. Then again, my games room isn’t so big so wires were never a problem for me in the first place.

So, with a chunk of Gears behind me (yes, I will be playing again so as to unlock gamerpoints) I move on to the next game: Crackdown.

At the time of writing this post I’ve probably been playing it for about a week. An hour or two in the evenings and then pretty much all weekend. After my alarming addiction to GTA:SA I’ve realised I’m an absolute sucker for a moderately decent sandbox city style game. I’ve dipped my toe into the waters of Yakuza, Bully, Just Cause and Scarface but not made much progress in any of them. Crackdown, however, has my full attention and I’m really really enjoying it.

Firstly, there’s some things I really *don’t* like about it. The lack of narrative that the aforementioned games have is pretty absent in this game. It’s just you with a variety of goals but nothing linking yourself between each one. This isn’t a fatal omission but it is noticeable by its absence. Having said that, the voiceover guy who remarks on your actions and sends you bulletins hits the perfect pitch and delivers a sort of black-humoured Omni Consumer Products tone to events.

What do you mean "It's the wrong screenshot"?

I’m enjoying the core game and the nature of the achievements so much that I intend to hunt down the stunts, car and rooftop races. However, this are needlessly fiddly to find and it’s not instantly clear which you’ve competed in or beaten and which you haven’t. Sure, you can review the in-game achievements list but a different colour marker or some sort of simple “WON/COMPLETED” flag would save some confusion. This is a device that the game uses to identify weapons dropped by gang members and their status as to whether these are in the Agency Supply points or not (and therefore whether it’s worth grabbing one and delivering it) – it seems odd that this thinking wasn’t extended.

Also, I really don’t get the character design. I once worked on a racing game where you had lots of over-the-top characters to choose from. Reviews questioned the choice of character design stating that none of them were appealing looking characters and they all looked twisted in an un-humourous way. I totally saw their point but was too used to the characters by that time to be objective on it. Crackdown, although no way near as severe, has a similar issue. It may only be from the neck up, but the character designs leave me cold. Dunno why, but there’s nothing there that makes me think I’d enjoy playing as that sort of character. From the neck down though, it’s cool. Liking the body design and love that exaggerated jumping animation with the flailing arms and legs. I also really like how the ground cracks when you land from a massive jump.

In fact, the whole jumping thing is great. I really like that the game isn’t played solely from the ground level like so many of these games tend to be. The fact that scaling heights and leaping across rooftops is integral to the game is really fun and I love doing impossibly long jumps from one rooftop to the other. However, it’s a real shame this isn’t exploited in your objectives as most of the kingpins seems to be based in one location and not really make use of their environment. I’m reminded of GTA and mission where you’d chase people on foot or in car or even both in some of the later missions. Maybe this happens later on in the game, I’ve only beaten the first of three gangs so, perhaps, the game will get more cunning rather than just harder through firepower.

So, yeah, Crackdown is dominating my time right now. There’s nothing I’m really doing on the PC gaming-wise – DRoD is, of course, a constant distraction but that’s a given.

My PS2 has taken a well-earned rest for a while. I’m determined to get back into Final Fantasy 12 at some point but then, I’ve got Oblivion and Tiger Woods ’07 incoming on the 360 not to mention a U.S. import of Rogue Galaxy to get started. Rogue Galaxy looks to be the favourite here.

DS is going through a puzzle phase. Whilst puzzle games are nice and all, I’m waiting for something that looks a little more varied. I’m not a fan of Pokemon so, please, don’t suggest it. My DS time is usually spent on the bus and just before lights-out at Chateaux Koffdrop with time spent equally on Slitherlink, Puzzle Quest, Phoenix Wright 1 (getting bored with all that reading!) and Picross. I might talk about those later, I might not. I have to say, I saw trailer 9 for FF12 Revenant Wings on DS and it smells very strongly of Final Fantasy Tactics which, to me, is a good thing. It’ll be a while before a western release though.

Well, that’s it for this lengthy installment. Don’t be shy – especially if you’ve got Tiger Woods on 360, I’ll give you a pasting once my copy arrives!

Beaten – Round 5 – TKO

Well, yesterday’s post was a bit longer than I expected but, hey, that’s how I roll. Some times koffdrop.com is a barren wasteland with no updates for ages, other times, it’s an opinion fest with details, pictures and a host of typos. Damn, it’s good being me. Anyway, unless I start delving back into 2006 this will be the last Beaten post from me for a while as, right now, I’m at a point where I’m starting games instead of finishing them. So let’s end with a bang:

Gears of War (360)

Hang about! You know what this means don’t you? Koffdrop’s finally joined the next-gen. Yes, it’s true. I may have taken my time but I’m here now and I got a pretty sweet deal on a 360. Will I get other machines? Undoubtedly – when there’s sufficient content that appeals to me and the market has settled down a little. Some of you, I’m sure, will already have spotted the gamercard in my sidebar. Feel free to drop me a message or a friend request.

So, last Friday, my new toy arrived, I hooked it up to my last new toy (42″ HD LCD screen) and played nothing but Gears of War until I beat it. It was good!

I will, of course, talk about the visuals but first of all I want to talk about the dominant part of the gameplay – cover and shooting. It’s kind of odd that a week before I played Gears for the first time I should have worked my way through Second Sight which delivered a very satisfying mechanic of cover and shooting. In fact, had I not played Second Sight I’d be far more impressed with Gears. Now, I’m not going to start a fight between the two, I’m putting my experience down to coincidence, but it certainly casts a different light on things.

So, yeah, I totally sucked at Gears in the first chapter. Hell, I didn’t even manage to aim with crosshairs until way too late. However, I hit my stride and found the game really delivered some great action and made the most of the relatively limited mechanics it had to offer. Let’s not beat around the bush here, the game is a solid first/third person shooter with a cover mechanic worked into it (and a certain amount of vulnerability worked into the player so as to make it essential to successful gameplay) and a nifty active-reload doohickey. That’s the meat and potatoes. Co-op is gravy.

I don’t think I’m being overly critical on the core game. The cover mechanic is absolutely brilliantly implemented and, like the rest of the game, looks perfect. Heck, I was checking out the detail on the back of Marcus’s head and ear looking for some flaws and couldn’t really grumble! Thing is, as great as the cover system is, it’s a little contrived. For example, in Chapter 3 when you’re underground there’s a narrow passage you walk through and it just happens to have rocks and a structure that screams “Hello! These are really obvious cover points. I’m going to throw some bad guys at you in a second”. There’s other instances of such contrivances and it brought the game’s ultra-slick standards down a notch.

And whilst the game may not do loads of different things, what it does it does very well indeed and they get as much mileage from the mechanics as possible. The areas of gameplay where you have to stay in (or create) lit areas were a particular highlight. I thought the beserkers were great too, the game breaking it’s regular theme and having you act quietly and leading the enemy to an exposed spot was a good change of pace. Likewise, the driving section was decent. Thing is, I really don’t get the big deal with driving vehicles in games like this. OK, if vehicles are integral to the overall gameplay (Battlefield, for example) that’s one thing. But I don’t find this compulsion to play a half-assed driving section as some sort of ‘added dimension to gameplay’ particularly rewarding. It did hardly anything for me – but I’ll argue that it was as well executed as any other area of the game, just totally unnecessary. I also enjoyed the different qualities of the weapons. I tended to favour the Lancer because, lets face it, chainsawing is so wrong but it feels so right.

Marcus explains the origin of the analogue controller to a few Nintendo fanboys
Marcus explains the origin of the analogue controller to a few Nintendo fanboys

Of course, the visuals bring it all home. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and, more than anything, the human effort apparent in the game is what really impresses me. The principle characters are simply astonishing to look at and realise that this stuff is running in real time. Their appearance maybe highly stylised (particularly ‘Unreal’ stylised with their traditional big shoulders and big boots look) but it’s just gobsmackingly good. It’s more pronounced when you encounter some of the lesser NPCs in the game such as the Stranded where you can see the difference in design quality between them and the principle characters. Furthermore, the character animation is absolutely bang on. A particular highlight to me is when the player messes up an active reload and their character slams the barrel of the weapon a couple of times. But in pretty much all other areas the animation is so good you simply don’t question it or the impossibility of the armour and movement of the characters. There’s no question that the underlying technology is good stuff but, as expected of Epic, Gears of War makes it look

better than anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s Epic’s job to make their technology look peerless and, make no mistake, Gears of War sells Unreal technology. It sells it because it makes it look so good. Epic have clearly invested a massive amount of time and money into the appearance of Gears – not just to make an incredible looking game but to advertise their technology. I’d be willing to bet that they put a considerabaly higher percentage of their resources into their art budget than most games do because of how important it was to make the world go “Wow” and to sell Gears and generate incredible buzz for the technology. Once again, this isn’t a criticism it’s common sense and, like the rest of the package, it’s executed with style and precision. Good for them – they deserve the attention and the business.

I really enjoyed playing Gears of War and seeing my new toys flex their muscles. Now I’ve beaten the game I’ll be indulging in a bit of online play (probably only with people on my friends list) to get the most out of the game and machine. I’ve no great compulsion to return to the single player campaign other than for achievement points but seeing as I have Crackdown, PES6 and Oblivion to check out I’d rather see new things on the new toy than take another look at something I’ve already played through – even though it’s very pretty.

So that’s the end of my posting splurge for a bit. I’ll let you know what I’m currently playing a little later on – along with feedback on it. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you on the other side of the screen?

Beaten – Round 4

The hits just keep on coming, don’t they? Three games down and we’re still not at the end of the list. I can tell you’re impressed. Let’s get this round underway then:

Second Sight (PS2)

When this game first came out it found itself being incessantly compared to another psychic-powered action adventure – namely Psi Ops : The Mindgate Conspiracy from Midway. Now, as it happens, I ended up buying, playing and enjoying and beating that game at the time of it’s initial release. However, beating that game leaves a sour taste in my mouth as it has one of the worst narrative endings in all of gaming. I am only saving you pain by telling you that the last thing you see before the credits roll is “To Be Continued…”. Awful. Fun whilst it lasted but cheesey as hell.

Now, understandably, I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Second Sight over the last year and it’s been my intention to check it out for a little while now. Glancing around the web I see a fair bit of love for this game and a solid appreciation of it’s method of storytelling. Having beaten the game I can confirm that it really is something quite special for a commercial console game to have achieved. In a nutshell, the story and the storytelling method manages to break linear structure, shift the player’s perspective, maintain interest and deliver a clever wallop at the end.

You are John Vattic: confused guy. The game starts as you wake on a surgical stretcher in a laboratory. You soon realise you have psychic powers allowing you to move objects from a distance and heal yourself. So begins your quest to discover who you are and how you got that nasty bruise on your head.

As the game progresses other powers are made available to you such as the ability to move unnoticed, to fire a wave of psychic energy and, later on, to posess others. Some of these powers become more powerful during the game.

The game plays as a third person action adventure using either a fixed or player-controlled camera. The targeting system is smart and allows for ease of use and for that all important headshot accuracy when you need it. One thing that works absolutely brilliantly is the use of cover. It may take a bit of time to get used to the controls but there’s some superb events in the game when you truly feel like you’re making the most of your environment and ducking out to take precise shots at your targets. They nailed the look and feel of this element absolutely brilliantly and my only gripe is that there weren’t too many areas in the game that really showed it off.

The game offers the player a choice of playing style in most situations. It is possible to run and gun but you will almost certainly want to use a bit of care and stealth (and psychic power) to make the best progress. The mechanics of the game sometimes feel a little contrived in that it’s quite possible to find yourself tripping an alarm and facing endlessly spawning bad guys with no real way out other than to return to an earlier checkpoint. Checkpoints are fairly frequent in the game so it’s not too much of a pain, just a little un-subtle.

The game keeps things fairly simple. You have health and psychic energy. That’s about it. Your psychic energy gets used as you use a power and refills of it’s own accord at a satisfyingly quick rate. There’s enough going on to keep you wanting to use your powers and the fact you can heal yourself to full health doesn’t mean the game is a pushover.

A good example of the game giving players options is a scenario where you’re in some tunnels. You could try to kill patrolling guards with ammo and psy-powers. You could try to sneak past using the psy-power that makes you invisible to others (but not CCTV cameras) or you may prefer to posess on guard and gun down the others.

Later in the game, although your options still remain fairly open, you’ll have probably got a preferred tactic you like to employ that works best for you. I mentioned earlier that the execution of firing from cover was brilliant but under-exploited, the game offers lots of scenarios where you get to flex your psychic muscles however you wish.

Sexual harassment in videogames. Whatever next?
Sexual harassment in videogames. Whatever next?

The celebrated storytelling takes the form of distinct chapters top and tailed with engine based cutscenes. The game tells two stories at the same time – the story from where the game opens with John Vattic searching for his identity and The Truth and, in every other chapter, the story of events taking place 6 months ago when John Vattic was assisting a military team in Russia. The present-day chapters tend to have a stronger sneaking gameplay in them whilst the 6-months-ago missions feel a little more brazen and action based.

Needless to say, just as you get a juicy morsel of information in one timeline that increases your interest in that part of the story further, you’ll be returned to the other timeline to pick up events from there. It’s not uncommon for the relevance of events in one area of the story to make you question some of the things that you learned elsewhere. In fact, there are some areas where the game appears to out-and-out contradict itself. This is the game narrative trying to mess with your head a little (which it succeeds with great effect in the final chapter) but the final series of revelations make sense of it all and give motivation to review the story all over again to see where the developers were being particularly clever.

If anything, I found my desire to want to know more of the story too strong as I binged on the game over a bank-holiday weekend and beat it in two sittings! Second Sight should be celebrated for making a very enjoyable playable and accessible action game without going down overly cliched routes or spoon-feeding everything to the player. In fact, you may get to the game and still have questions but, with a little bit of thought you’ll find all the answers are there.

For the age and the limits of the hardware, the game looks great. Everything moves at a smooth rate and many of the special effects are really eye-catching. The psychic effects are great and many of the incidental effects (such as when you’re dangerously low on psi-energy or when a camera spots you through your psychic cloaking) are really superb. I’ve also always been very fond of the stylised character designs in the TimeSplitters games and this continues in Second Sight delivering interesting looking, distinctive characters with some brilliant animation. The twitchiness of the main character really helps set the tone at the start of the game.

One thing that I particularly liked throughout the game was the use of computer terminals. It would be very easy to just go to a screen showing the information. However, when you use a terminal in the game, the camera stays in the game engine and the texture on the computer screen depicts a basic windows, pointers and icons type interface (in truth there’s a variety of styles used throughout the game). You use your controller to use the mouse and, assuming you’ve used a PC in the last 15 years, the rest is pretty obvious. What’s really great is that you remain IN the game. You can pan left and right and you’ll see the area around the computer. Your suspension of disbelief isn’t broken and neither is the tension of you feeling you’re on borrowed time standing in one place using a computer terminal when someone might spot you. It could have been a very easy thing to just go to a separate screen or deliver the information through some menu-based PDA but it’s really great to see this choice being taken and I believe it really helps to keep the player ‘in’ the game. I’m not sure it’s something that everyone would care about on the surface but I think the game would have suffered somewhat without such a thoughtful means of delivering important information that was thematically correct and well executed.

I’d encourage everyone who cares about stories in games or appreciates those things that show off extra effort and attention to detail in their games rather than gaming-by-numbers to play through this game. It’ll be cheap as chips these days or, if you prefer, you can probably work your way through it in a single renting.

Unlike Psi Ops, the game delivers a satisfying and clever conclusion that really shows that games, although they may often be filled with death and carnage, can actually be really smart and thought-provoking. A theme I hope we see more of in the future.

Beaten – Round 3

Well, round 2 was satisfying (for me, at least) but time marches on and so, it seems, does my gaming progress. Here’s another one that I managed to cross off my ‘to do’ list:

Titan Quest (PC)

Titan Quest is a Diablo clone. Or, more accurately, it’s a Nethack clone. I don’t see why Blizzard should get the honours for a genre they merely polished. (For other examples, see Starcraft, WoW and their entire portfolio). Anyway, misplaced honour aside, I really enjoyed Titan Quest.

I like a tasty dungeon hack but the last one I made any headway in had it’s progress wiped during a hard-disk crash and I couldn’t get motivated to slog through the start of it again.

So, Titan Quest sees your anonymous character click’n’kill a myriad of mythological beasts in Greece, Egypt and China. It doesn’t re-write the rulebook in any way, it just does what it does solidly. Unlike more recent dungeon-hacks the viewing angle cannot be altered beyond zooming in and out. This makes the gameplay feel slightly more linear and initially felt compromising but it took no time at all to get used to it and to feel that I was always seeing the visuals as they were meant to be seen.

The quality of the graphics are superb. Like any good hack, your avatar wears his armour in accordance to how you’ve kitted him out. Your enemies also display any extra armour they may be wearing. The environments look fantastic too. Initially you start in greek farmlands and whole fields of swaying crops react to your movement. Although it must be, none of the envrionment graphics appear very modular. The changes in ground texture from larsh farmland to barren waste to marshes to snow is never too jarring. The exception to this tends to be caves which do tend to look a little formulaic in their appearance – then again, there’s only so much you can do with caves I guess.

There are six different disciplines of magic to choose from at the start of the game. You’re offered to choose one of them near the start and, later on, you can enroll in a second discipline also. Each discipline can be mastered in it’s own right and contains spells and sub-spells that can be levelled up too. To be honest, I didn’t really explore too much of that. I mastered the two disciplines (which makes spells more effective and also significantly boosts your health and mana stats for your character) and then maxed out two spells which saw me through pretty much all of the game. I won’t criticise the game for that as it let me play the game how I wanted to. I’m sure if I’d explored that side of it more I’d learn more of what it has to offer.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the game is the enemy deaths (and considering you’ll be seeing a lot of them, they should be good to look at). The moment an enemy dies, rag-doll physics take over. No big deal, right? Fair point. But if you’re a lot stronger than your enemy they get thrown back by your finishing blow. If you warp back to an earlier area where you’re many levels above those of your enemy then carving through them is great to watch as you’ll have bodies flying about all over the place. Nice touch!

Our hero meets the formiddable Egyptian Kabbadi team
Our hero meets the formiddable Egyptian Kabbadi team

There’s some other useful stuff in the game. Later on you can meet merchants in towns that will allow you to spend money and buy back character points that you spent on your spell development. This way, if you wish you hadn’t levelled up one spell because you want to boost another to beat a boss you can do so. Titan Quest also allows your avatar to have two weapon/armour configurations on the go at once. So you can swap your short-range sword-and-shield configuration to a long-range bow configuration with a key-tap during the action. This works well in many situations.

Dungeon hacks always tend to suffer from the problem of players grabbing all the loot around and then needing to go back to town to free up inventory space. Titan Quest is no different. Towns have warp portals. You can create a 2-way portal anywhere in the game so getting back to town, selling your loot and going back to where you just were is easy – but it’s still an annoyance. There’s huge amounts of loot and treasure in the game. You can hold down ALT to make it easier to collect the items (doing so brings up colour coded item labels – easier to click on). The colouring of the text helps you to know if an item is rare, enchanted or relatively worthless. Either way, you’ll still have loads of cash and loot by the end of the game.

The story, such as it is, is just the usual dungeon-hack mechanism of ‘go here’ type mission which sets you with a target and lots of meanies to kill along the way.

There’s a great variety of well produced bad guys too. Higher level versions of a particular speices are usually larger and more decorated than their more humble siblings. All of them look great and animate brilliantly. In the first chapter (Greece) the game seemed to be recycling the characters a little too much but the later chapters keep the variety going and the theme appropriate to the environment.

I found bosses looked great and were imaginative but were never much of a mental challenge to defeat. More often than not, a circling tactic punctuated with long range attacks and a bit of patience would see them off. Stocking up on potions helps too, of course.

Although I got to the end of the single player campaign I’ve not tried the level editing or online modes – nor the two higher difficulty campaigns that become unlocked. If anything I found the single-player campaign marginally too long for it’s own good and I just wanted the game to be over and my investment in my character not to have been wasted.

It’s not often I beat a game on the PC though – so I’m happy to have played through Titan Quest and may indulge in the addon pack (Immortal Throne) that is available. I’m not aware of any other recent, big production dungeon hacks other than the distinctly different flavoured Marvel Ultimate Alliance from Raven games. I’d certainly recommend the game if you’re a fan of the genre.

Beaten – Round 2

Yesterday I talked through my experiences with Zelda – having played the game from beginning to end I felt pretty qualified to comment on it. Things take a change of tone with a game that some of you might have heard me talk about before..

God of War 2

It goes without saying that I was keen as mustard to get my hands on the full version of this game. I’d played through the US demo a few weeks before release and it told me all I wanted to know. Everything I’d enjoyed so much in the original would return in abundance.

One of the most joyous things with God of War is that is eschews all this self masturbatory talk of ‘innovation’, ‘pushing the envelope’, ‘never before seen..’ stuff and just says “Fuck you. I ain’t pretending to be new I’m just the best at what I do”. In fact, this mentality is pretty much the tone for both games. Now, if they were false claims then you could mock but, frankly, GoW1 was the best at what it did until GoW2 came along.

Once again, let’s not bother to set the scene with the narrative. Greek mythology is a rich seam of ideas that can be exploited for videogames. But at the end of the day, you’re a bald, angry man with a mean set of cutlery. You run, you jump, you slice, you dice, your grunt an awful lot and the game glorifies everything you do every step of the way.

Everything in God of War is epic. The scale of Kratos’ challenge. The heat of his anger. The herculean struggle to open a treasure chest. It’s all gloriously over the top and communicated to the player in perfect effect. The sense of empowerment, the sheer bad-assness of the protagonist gives the game incredible momentum.

Another of GoWs skills is taking this momentum and doing all it can to keep it running. Loading time is almost non-existent. Saves and interface interruptions (such as spending your power-ups) are less intrusive than before. The game flows beautifully. There is no time where you feel “This is the end of level 4 and the start of level 5” – it’s all one flowing experience. This is easiest to spot in the sequel’s new modes of gameplay – the Pegasus (actually, Pegasus was the name of a winged horse, not an entire breed of horse.) Most games would have a clearly defined beginning and end transition between regular gameplay and the transition to this new mode. GoW handles it seamlessly and, before you really know what’s going on, the majestic camera has swooped around the scene and you’re up in the air. Likewise, the end of this gameplay mode literally throws you back onto your feet and the pace of the game continues without missing a beat. The constant pace of the game really enforces Kratos’ determination and unrelenting nature. It’s brilliantly executed and, in the best possible way, something most gamers simply won’t notice.

Kratos resolves a dispute with his anger management coach
Kratos resolves a dispute with his anger management coach

As we all know by now, technically, GoW2 appears to have little regard for the technical limitations of the aging PlayStation 2 and coaxes the silicon into doing things it simply shouldn’t be doing. A lot of this is present in the depth and detail of the environments. Some of these are mind-boggling inventions of pure fantasy. One particular point is when Kratos finds himself scaling a titan – we see him clinging to a rocky surface and, as the camera pulls away, further and further and further we can see that Kratos is actually clambering across the bridge of the nose of said titan and will continue to run around it’s face and other areas. Such over-the-top, huge-scale, impossible concepts are what videogames used to be all about. Doing the crazy, impossible, unheard of things that most of us couldn’t even imagine. Over the years we’ve done a lot of that and found solace in driving real cars or pretending we’re great skateboarders – but here’s a game where they’ve managed to think up some stuff that is so wild that, even with the best descriptions in the world, you simply have to play it to do it justice. Credit here goes as much to the imagination of designers just for the concept as much as the technical and artistic skill for realising it.

As I mentioned yesterday, a game that surprises by delivering something more or different from expectations is what makes me remember it. In that regard, even though GoW is a sequel and therefore has a huge degree of familiarity to it, there are countless times when I was just bowled over by things I simply did not expect to happen.

The game plays much like it’s prequel. The mix of lateral thinking puzzles and over-the-top combat is handled better than in the original and, no, there’s no rotating columns of spikes in this game. Having said that, those infamous spikes never game me much trouble in the original.

God of War 2 is for fans of the original. It does everything a sequel should do. If you’re not a fan of the first, this won’t convert you. Then again, it’s belligerently not trying to convert you. It knows what it is and if you don’t like that then it doesn’t give a damn.

As Penny Arcade said: Every other game is the joke. God of War 2 is the punchline.

I look forward to an equally confident and playable sequel.


It’s been a while since I’ve made a hearty update here. Partly because my worktime is kept pretty busy and partly because, shock horror, I’ve been playing games in my free time.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to beat a handful of games already this year. For me, that’s a big deal as I could easily go 12 months without finishing a single game!

Zelda – Twilight Princess

At Christmas time I was playing the 8.8 revolution that was Zelda – Twilight Princess. I was playing it as it was meant to be played: on a Gamecube with a control pad.

Where some (many?) would say the game succeeded I would say the game failed in that it was precisely what I expected. You see, for me, a great game or a memorable one is one that has the ability to surprise you. I mocked Zelda TP months ahead of it’s launch for being just another cannon in a lengthy franchise with merely a graphics update. I expected block-pushing and I got it. I expected whimsical shallow NPCs and I got it. I expected paper thin ‘plot’ and I got it. I expected all the old staples of every goddamned Zelda game I care to recall (such as ‘earning’ your sword) and I got it. In short it was Zelda by numbers with pretty graphics..

..although, having said that, the quality of the graphics was pretty inconsistent. The enclosed environments were nice but the large overworld vistas disappointed. The texture work on the Gamecube was pretty rough and the design of the NPCs was hugely inconsistent in both theme and quality.

All the good things about previous Zelda games were present and, like previous Zelda games, you already know about them so I’m not going to repeat them here. Where the game fell down was in the areas of challenge (both mental and reflexes). After the well designed Water Temple all subsequent dungeons were, almost literally, a walk in the park. They tickled the grey matter but solutions to problems were instantly evident and executing the solutions was never an issue. Sure, fighting Gannon (what a surprise! Gannon’s there too!) was a cute difficulty spike but it was far too little far too late. It certainly didn’t make up for the labourious portal warping the player uses throughout the latter half of the game which is made wearisome by the over indulgent need for the game to force you to change from human to wolf in order to warp and then, more often than not, change back to human form to continue your quest once you’ve warped – making the ‘short-cut’ warping mechanic unnecessarily slow and cumbersome and, by extension, self defeating.

Link doing what Link does best
Link doing what Link does best

And the less said of the weak-ass narrative ending the better. Making a smug nod to Link’s over-cliched muteness was not charming in the slightest and just highlighted, to me, another of the game’s shortcomings.

It was all terribly predictable. Content. Delivery. Outcome. I think 8.8 was generous and playing Zelda almost straight after Okami really shows how tired this franchise is becoming. And don’t give me that “Ah, it’s an homage to it’s predecessors – it’s MEANT to be overly familiar” excuse either.

And what the hell happened to some of that action portrayed in those early screenshots? Like the one with Link fighting three or so highly detailed and nicely textured lizardmen? I saw block pushing, I didn’t see that though. Strange…

Do you feel I’m wrong? Play Zelda as though it’s some game instead of a mighty, holy-of-holiness Zelda game and you’ll see what I see. The mere mention of Zelda gets people so distracted that they totally fail to see a game for what it is – well produced but bland and overly formulaic. Nowhere did I see innovation or originality – just shinier graphics and a painful over-reliance on the status of the franchise. Same game but better graphics – from a company that preaches innovation and disruptive attitudes. As usual with Nintendo, I remain unconvinced. The moment you actually challenge a lot of their claims instead of swallowing them without thinking you find they don’t stand up to much scrutiny at all.

Seriously, go buy a PS2 and get Okami. Bigger game. More heart. More originality. More charm. MILES better ending. Oh, and no IP-whoring either.


OK, that was quite lengthy so, instead of deconstructing the other games I beat recently I’ll leave it here and talk about one of the other three games on my list tomorrow.

Feel free to comment or discuss.


Following a recent post I’ve been having a bit of a discussion with a commentator via the comments section (duh!).

Well, it’s worth pointing reader’s attention to the top menu bar at koffdrop.com and, in particular, to the item called “Discussion“.

Clicking on it will take you to the discussion area of this site (duh!, again) which is a type of forum. The forum software is quite different from many that are seen on the internet but it’s simple appearance shouldn’t be regarded as a mistake.

I’ll be looking at how these two areas of koffdrop.com can be integrated in the future but, for now, if you’ve got something lengthy you wish to discuss then why not give it a whirl?