Archives for category: Reviews

Gateways is a throwback to simpler times. While most Half Life 2 mods imitate the finely crafted levels of Valve’s masterpiece this one throws all pretense out the window in the hope of creating the most interesting combat scenarios that Half Life 2’s gunplay can deliver.

The mod begins by informing you that as Dr. Freeman, you have been captured by the Combine and must escape. Here’s where things get a little strange; at the start the mod has you running through astoundingly narrow corridors, looking at captured zombies in cages and pressing buttons to make something unpleasant happen to them. There are an awful lot of Source mods which funtion as a sort of electronic zoo, whereby you walk about and the mapper shows off his ability to make something interesting to watch.

That is not Gateways and the mod’s beginning minute is a complete misrepresentation of what this mod is about. It is completely incongruous with the true Gateways and is really quite a turn off compared to the rest of the mod, which is of a much higher quality than the opening few minutes.

Gateways is the antithesis of Half Life 2. Where Valve want the player to be immersed in something believable, Gateways is about presenting you with a visual spectacle of enemies and abstract environments. Each area you enter makes less sense than the last, yet the combat grows more fantastic each time. While some of the scenarios, such as killing combine soldiers arrayed Brady Bunch style along one side of a giant cube, are not terribly interesting, these are far outnumbered by more interesting encounters. In one level, I went from fighting hundreds of Antlions simultaneously to ducking behind stalagmites on a circular staircase, being shot at by combine turrets in a middle tower. Upon ascending to the top, I found a crossbow which I then had to use to knock over every turret on my way down. Outside the opening level the design is always interesting, although it never really moves beyond creative uses of func_brush (primitive blocks).

The mod is above all, extremely cathartic. It feels so good to be let loose with Half Life’s combat system, in a way that Valve never lets you be. Whether fighting hundreds of enemies or playing skittles with them, this mod never lets up with the intensity and the edge to the difficulty makes it quite the workout for your reflexes.  The game’s breakable wall mechanics are a both janky and gratuitous, but you’ll quickly forget about such complains as you suddenly need to test which weapons work underwater.  The game is broken up into four sections which you can tackle in any order, which makes progression feel all the more satisfying as you complete the Antlion level with a weapon you unlocked from the combine level.

Despite feeling janky and poorly made throughout the mod, Gateways is a pretty solid one and a half hour kill fest. The first time you press a button and enemies spawn you’ll feel pretty underwhelmed by the mod’s lack of ambition, but soon the inventive ways in which those enemies spawn will win your heart and the game will be impossible to put down for it’s duration. The visual fidelity even begins to seem charming in how appalling it is and the entire experience feels like a glorious throwback to when Id ruled the shooter roost. 9/10

This review is for the first “episodic” installment of the Portal Memories mod (for Portal). According to the team behind it, the mod operates under a “play as it grows” structure, meaning that there will be more content every few months which is good as the first release it pretty short and the design suffers for it. The entire episode consists of four maps and will run you perhaps a quarter of an hour to finish. Being the first episode, the developers seem determined to wean players back into the Portal mechanics by only giving you the power of blue portals, meaning that the puzzles are somewhat simplistic.  There’s a clever moment where the mod will surprise you by doing something that is both logical and unexpected, but it’s largely pretty simple stuff.

This doesn’t prevent one of the levels from being excessively difficult however. The level dangles across a precipice and it’s frustratingly easy to slip down to your death five or more times, attempting to complete a fairly simple puzzle.  What makes this even worse is that you usually fall onto a walkway below, however there is no way to either climb up from this walkway or throw a portal down to get yourself back into the level, forcing you to commit suicide. Which is pretty demoralising by the third time.

The game's "hub world"

The levels all look fantastic, a great deal of work has gone into making the chambers look visually striking. Although Valve deliberately eschewed having a lot of detail in Portal, Memories revels in having detailed chambers and it looks stunning. Particularly (and ironically), the perilous drop I complained about earlier is a real treat to see. What few animations are in the game are of surprising quality as well. The mod does recycle GLADOS’ AI cores however, which means you’re forced to listen to the blue core spout cake memes again.  The mod is mercifully free of rehashed lines from the original game however, so you can thank the team for that.

Despite the simplicity of the whole thing, I really enjoyed my short time with Portal Memories, even when I was repeatedly plunging to my death in a certain level. It’s attractive, has a nice core premise and an undeniably satisfying progression structure.  I am more excited about the mod’s second installment however, when they will not only be implementing more challenging chambers but also introducing the Portal 2 theme of the mod, which is designed as a bridging device between the two games.  8/10.

The mod is ~100mb and can be found here.

As good as the mod looks, it's the Portal 2 inspired areas which are most impressive.

Star Rush is a neat idea; to offer customers an extremely accessible game to play while waiting for the train to arrive, while simultaneously offering a decent replayability. Although it rests quite closely to app store poster child Doodle Jump in it’s simplistic tilting gameplay, its clean aethetic would surely come as a welcome change to experienced doodle jumpers looking for variety in their lives.

Sadly, the logical idea behind the game is pretty much moot as it has a myriad of problems which prevent it from ever reaching parity with the game it draws so much inspiration from. The speed of the game means that you’ll only be collecting maybe one in five stars that flies across the screen,making it a disheartening experience despite the constant climbing of your combo meter in the corner. The game’s encouraging proclamations of “good” and “great” become somewhat patronising and while it’s not hard to make a life last for some time, you never feel that you did particularly well in contrast to Doodle Jump’s, in which frequent terrain changes make you feel as if you’ve actually achieved something. To combat my inability to react to the stars in time I found myself tilting violently to move  faster, making the game ever more frustrating as I could no longer see the screen a problem that’s unfortunate to see this far into the iPhone’s lifecycle. The omission of online leader boards is an unfortunate one as competition with friends might counteract the feelings of impunity one gets when playing the game alone.

Star Rush is hardly the first Doodle Jump clone on the app store nor will it be the last and for this reason it’s impossible to recommend.  While there might be less interesting clones out there on the app store, there’s no place in such a market place for a clone which fails to match its inspiration is such a spectacular manner.

I review a bunch of demos that I downloaded in a fit of madness. Twitter Style.

Final Fantasy VII PC

Crashes. I do get to hear some nice menu music and see a Square-Enix logo though. 7mb download.

Metal Gear Solid PC

Cannot detect my graphics card and announces it will restart in software rendering mode before exiting to the desktop. Does this whenever launched.  49mb.

Guilty Gear X PC

Has one chatacter matchup that can be played on one difficulty and no control explanation. I couldn’t for the life of me find how to move.  34mb.

Wolfenstien

It has a cool action sequence in decent video quality to start with. The demo never comes close to matching the cutscene’s appeal. The demo’s at it’s best when gravity is occasionally and inexplicably disabled.  Not sure if that reflects well or poorly on the game.  650 mb.

ARMA II

Worst presentation layer I’ve ever seen. Appalling voice work and a disconcerting head bob.  The gunplay was unsatisfying and the core movement felt frustrating in some way I can’t articulate. I got bored and quit before anything cool happened. Who uses the enter key as “use”? 2GB.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Much like ARMA II, the gunplay and movement were both frustrating although in a different manner. Squad command seemed interesting enough, a lot of options that were easy to access in a radial menu.  Looks really bad.  My squad was more than enough for the enemies offered, so I felt pretty useless in combat. Quit the demo when I had to call in fire support and couldn’t find how to do this. A nice amount of military sounding chatter between squadmates but it looped too quickly. 1.4GB

Diablo 2

Controlled really well and loot felt satisfying in a way that neither Titan Quest nor Torchlight felt for me. It was a lot scarcer. Gold felt special because I got it every 5 enemies instead of every enemy.  Low item durability meant I had to switch weapons pretty often, which was also a nice change from the above two titles.  Might get annoying at high level if there’s no easy repair functionality. Environments quite amazingly bland. Will probably pick up if I see it at GameStop. 125mb.

Call of Duty

Compared to the later titles, weapon handling feels really unsatisfying. Other than that, it’s really Call of Duty.  Grenades also have a weird throwing animation where they don’t appear until after you’ve thrown them.  Feels pretty dated.  So do most WW2 games now. Couldn’t make it all the way through the demo, lost interest. 180mb.

Dark Void

Opens with a flying level, which feels awful to control on the mouse. Unresponsive and imprecise. Couldn’t get the hang of the combat and died three times in quick succession, killing my interest. Nolan North isn’t a magic fix for an uninteresting script. Also, couldn’t up the resolution from 640*480 until I was actually in the demo. 1GB.

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

Controlling Stubbs feels awful, totally confusing narrative in the demo alongside  enemies which stulocked me in the air to death. Flatulence is the height of this game’s humour. Strongest film grain effect I’ve ever seen in a game.  236mb.

Galactic Civilisations

I was destroyed by the interface. 50mb.

Brothers in Arms: Highway to Hill 30

Neither the enemies nor the weapons react to shooting very well, the tactical stuff didn’t grab me. Interesting RTS style camera view available, cool in concept. Start of the demo establishes you as the squad leader but you spend the game following orders from your subordinates for some reason. Can’t navigate over knee high fence syndrome. At one point the game leads you on a two minute walkabout to get to the other side of a knee high fence.  384mb.

Dungeon Siege

Got me all nostalgic for my primary school days. Five stars. 200mb. (Actual game is pretty awful, although it had a nice leveling system)

Penny Arcade Adventures Ep 2

Damn fine writing. Quit the demo when it presented me with ten fights in a row, with the sneaking suspicion that after those fights I’d have to pay to get the narrative payoff. 317mb

Machinarium

Amazing until it crashed. Also the inability to right click in an adventure game is infuriating. 32mb

Jedi Knight 2: Dark Forces

The game opens with a Star Wars scrolling text explaining that Kyle Katarn has forsaken the force and the Jedi order, then proceeds to dump you halfway into the narrative with all of his Jedi-ness restored. Aside from that frustrating note, a fun Star Wars skinned Quake 3 engine shooter. Also, why is the recticle in the Jedi Knight series always so weird and floaty? 68mb.

House of the Dead 3

I assume the real game is short, because the demo lasted maybe 3 minutes. Sort of fun shooting zombies with pin-point mouse accuracy though, would probably pick it up if I saw it in GameStop one day.  Pretty bad in terms of everything, mind you. 50mb.

Far Cry

Quite a bit of fun. Graphics are still pretty passable although it has a Call of Duty 1 esque grenade hidden until thrown animation. Same happened in Wolfenstien too.  Would pick up on sale on Steam. Permanent health seems to really complement the vulnerable predator feel in Crytek games. It’d be interesting to see Crysis with it. Quite hard on the normal difficulty.  500mb.

There’s all the games which weren’t terribly interesting, stay tuned for seperate posts on Splinter Cell, Max Payne, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and Indigo Prophecy, which were all interesting demos.