Game: Gray Matter

Gray MatterFinished Gray Matter yesterday.

Gray Matter is troublesome. Jane Jenson (Gabriel Knight series) created that game and it fails. It has a great nice idea and setting: in Oxford you play Samantha “Sam” Everett which accidentally comes to the Dread House, the home of Dr. Styles, a former neuro-biologist. Dr. David Styles suffers from the loss of his beloved wife which burned to death in a car accident some 3 years ago. Ever since he remained in his house mourning the death and hides himself, since during the failed rescue attempt his face suffered too and disfigured him. But with the arrival of Samantha, the ghost of Laura Styles seems to haunt the house, so Dr. Styles sets of some experiments to get in contact with her.

During the experiments strange things happen around Oxford and Samantha takes on investigation. She suspects some magicians of some strange Daedalus Club behind this. But as she is a magician rookie as well she tries to put a stop on the activities and get into the club.

So far: a great setup. Oxford is pretty well displayed, the history, the city, Lewis Carroll and “Alice in Wonderland”, the colleges, and and and

But then: I personally had troubles with the characters: Samantha is an ever lying girl. Yes, as an would be illusionist you ought to lie every now and then, but this is quite excessive when it comes to this figure. And I do have problems with this. So I dislike Samantha and did not get in touch with this character portrait. I was sort of annoyed playing Samantha which is most part of the game. And for Dr. Styles: he is simply a very stupid asshole. Bottom line: I was not interested in the characters! Even worse: I felt a great share of dislike for both. Which is a failure when it comes to the main characters in an adventure.

Then the story loosens. What sets off as been real interesting gets boring, because the knowledge level you are on at the end of chapter 1 (out of 8) pretty much stays at the same level until the end: who is behind the strange activities? Who is the black sheep of the group of students? Who is Mephistopheles? What about the death of Laura and is she really haunting the house? You pretty much know at then end of chapter 1 as much as close to the final. There are no great revelations or suspects. It got very boring, because you run in circles.

Gameplay: what the F*! I’ve expected more from this person in adventure game design! Come on! The triggers are bad, really bad! Example: I could not buy some items at the black wand shop. Only at the beginning of a chapter I was entitled to … for totally unknown reasons why now! Another: I was able to confront Dr. Linkweller with his fling with a student girl … before I eavesdropped the conversation! This is ok, if this is your first adventure but of the Gabriel Knight creators? Huh? Bad! This ought to be an adventure with such things at core. I can’t believe they did not get this right.

And then: loading the scenery for each location anew: come on! I do have Gigabytes of memory. This loading is just a bad game engine implementation.

All in all: a great plus for story setup and environment. The rest is ok (graphics) down to real bad (gameplay and engine).

3/10: 3 out of 10

Game: Prince of Persia – The Two Thrones

Prince of Persia: The Two ThronesFinished Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones two weeks ago. 

Story: one gets not much of a story here. You land in Babylon with your love from the previous game Warrior Within, which I reviewed here. You see the city under attack and are separated. The rest of the game is the hunt for the great evil vizier which has turned into a supernatural evil being. You chase this evil across the city right into the tower of Babylon to final kill it. Yep, that was it.

As an interesting sidekick you gain a split personality, the dark prince, which is way more violent but permanently looses life energy. The reason for all this, the motives of the vizier – well sure: to rule the world, but how and why this magical stuff – as well the dark prince is some pseudo psychological and philosophical gibberish. I didn’t get through it – and it is also totally unimportant to the game. It only serves as a reason that once you thought you have him (the vizier) he throws you back again and again. It’s some sort of artificial reasoning for level extension. This gets a bit annoying to the end of the game.

Setting: Babylon. Well, yes: a city from roof to the cellars. And back up until to the great tower of Babylon. This is nice. Though you do not met anyone else than opponents … and usually you do not get into lengthly conversations with them. Kill on sight. So the city is rather empty … Sadly, the settings and ambiance has not the breath taking coolness of Warrior Within. It turned more Arabic which is not a bad thing per se but simply not as cool.

Gameplay: yee-hoo. The fun! Jumping, Hanging, Swinging, Running: it is all here! This is the real cool part of Prince of Persia. And it is even easier than Warrior Within. This is the Prince Of Persia feeling here. This is just great.

All in all: not as excellent as the Warrior Within but still a nice game to play.

7/10: 7 out of 10

Game: Bioshock

BioshockFinished Bioshock already some weeks ago. This is a perfect game! A must-have. Oh my! This game is without glitches. This is a very fine example of how to create games as a memorial of today’s human culture and society. 

The game’s story starts of not much of a surprise. You are sort of stranded with little or no information and knowledge about what is going on. This is standard storytelling in most games. But what this game sets apart is the way it goes on now. It’s simply great! As you delve deeper and deeper into the city of Rapture you come close and closer to a corrupted society destroyed by the weakness of Objectivism of Ayn Rand.

The creator of Bioshock, Ken Levine, integrated a lot of ideas and his personal thoughts dealing with Objectvism into this game and lets the player – interactively – experience a world of failed Objectvism, a dystopia ruined by its consequences. Plus: the story itself gets a huge twist at about 2/3 of the game again.

The design of the game including graphics and sound are drawn from the times Objectvism was created. So Art Deko dominates … and the details within the game respecting this design are stunning.

Gameplay also includes RPG elements allowing you to booster your abilities. And moral decisions too!

The design of the interface and controls are exemplary. It is easy to switch to different interaction models and to inspect your stats.

All in all: if you didn’t play this game, you do not know what a good shooter is.

Applause!

10/10: 10 out of 10

Game: Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2Finished Dragon Age 2 … and it is a disappointment. Well, it is a good game. But compared to Dragon Age: Origins, it’s, it’s, … ah … a mutation into something based on Dragon Age plus World of Warcraft and Windows 8 Icons. I felt bored and distracted. 

Story: the story is the strong part of the game. It is not uninteresting. And to describe it like this suits it well. It is not epic nor does it in any way fascinate. No. There are basically three substories (Deep Roads, Qunari and Mages against Templars) which are pretty loosely coupled. The link between them is pretty trying. In fact: there are three stories and none ever occupies ones attention. Plus: a lot of tiny sidequests, which in turn are pretty made up and do provide a share of twists and turns. Those are real nice. Okay: I spared myself the Mine Massacre quest in Act 3, fighting with the High Dragon. This is a very stupid fight, since the High Dragon always sends it Minions and is very hard to kill. For pretty uninteresting items (see below). In the end you have 3 mediocre stories with nice subplots which render to an overall “ok”. Whereas Dragon Age: Origins has been “epic-cool”.

Setting: the worst. At first exploring Kirkwall is fun! But visiting the same places over and over again, and over and over again, and over and over again, and over and over again, and over and over again is slightly bullshit. WTF! You get used to a pretty dull and dump world. This is not fun, this is hard work.

Role-Playing: is totally minimized. Which is very, very sad. In the end, I lost interest in equipping my character. I didn’t fell any great impact of the abilities I choose. And there are 0 (zero, null) riddles to solve. Each quest is solved by running from point A to point B to point C. Yes, there are some decisions to make, but they don’t bother you much. Further more: I am only allowed to equip my character fully but not my companions. Why? This was a very cool thing in DA:O. Now I’m covered in meaningless junk. At the end, I fully lost interesting in the items found. It was all trash to me. Useless.

The interface: is “cleaned up”. Thank you. I now play a Windows 8 version of Dragon Age. I don’t like this look and feel. All things are iconic: weapons, armor, abilities, … ah, they should rename the game to Dragon Age: Metro. But then this is more subjective.

The combat-system: is dull. I played a dual-weapon “thief” plus Varric (crossbow) plus Merill and Anders (Mages). As soon I faced opponents I pressed the H-button (“Hold”) for not letting my companions do stupid things, like Merill always trying to run into the middle of the foes. And then cover the enemies with bolts and magic. My warrior only has to keep opponents at bay not to let them get too close to my mages and ranger. I repeated this tactic from beginning to end. Successfully. No headache. Yes: you get explosions and special effects like Disney Land on LSD and you can’t zoom out like in DA:O for a more tactical overview. Nope. And yes, at first this is fun. But, uhm, … no. Please do not repeat this! Give the DA:O combat style back!

On the good side are the conversations between the companions. Like Varric and Merill. These are always good for a laugh.

I deeply hope, Bioware deals with DA 2 as in “Uuups! That went wrong. Good we learned something in how not to do it.”.

What a pity. This is a weak and cumbersome shadow of Dragon Age: Origins. Though it does have some good points, one simply expects MUCH more from a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. Not this, this, this … ah … pretty but meaningless Hack and Slay.

For the records: I sided with the mages and let Anders live.

6/10: 6 out of 10

Game: The Witcher 2

The Witcher 2 - Assassin of KingsWow! What a great game! The universe of The Witcher is stunning. It is very adult in terms of sex and violence. The plot is great and full of twists and turns. CD Project did a very excellent job here in bringing this setting onto the computers. Delving into the lands and lore of the North Temeria, Aerdin, Kaedwin and other places, encountering rude dwarfs and outlawed elves. Plus the ever tangling fear of the dictator state of Nilfgard to the south, clearly resembling Nazi Germany. This is great! 

The rating of 18+ is clearly obvious. It is not that they exalt violence or portrait pornography, no. It just happens. Think of the Middle Ages. In the witcher game you see hanging and torturing (e.g. eyes been plugged out) plus brothels with whores and hookers on the streets. And yes, you can interact with them. All the people are full of superstitious and prejudice, be it humans, dwarfes or elves. It is dirty. It is cruel.

Actually it is a fairy tale. But the Fairies are very adult. Puh! This is a must have for any RPG collection.

So why not 5 stars? Because as great the storyline, the plot, the environment and all these are, the catastrophic are the controls and the combat system. Gee! This nearly ruins it! The controls simply suck. First you tell Geralt what to do. Then he performs the action with great animations. Next you issue another command and Geralt fulfills this. However, the next command is only accepted when the first finished. This results into the fact, that if you decide an action and then decide right another one, the second one wont be noticed until the first one completed. E.g. the line is: role left – stop – jump backwards. This ain’t no matter until you are in an intensive fight. Then time is precious and any wrong command to Geralt will be punished, since the actions Geralt does are accompanied by (great) animations.

So, watching Geralt fight is great: jumping, swinging, rolling etc. *Playing* Geralt fighting is worse, since even on normal mode, any wrong decision is deadly: the system doesn’t give you second chance. Things would be different, when the commands could be stacked up e.g. this: while Geralt roles to the left, the player noticed, that an opponent throws a dagger onto Geralt at the exact place, Geralt roles to. During rolling the player might choose to jump backwards immediately and issues the command to the Geralt figure right aways. Currently this command is dropped, since Geralt is still rolling and only accepted when Geralt comes to his feet again. This results in a tiny timespan where Geralt just stands there and does nothing … eventually been hit by the dagger.

This is the reason I switched back to easy mode. In normal mode, a single failure against a more potent opponent leads certainly to death. Fighting the Keyran in the first chapter was quite hard. I had not a single chance against Letho soon afterwards.

But then “easy” mode is a piece of cake! I spent all my talents in Swordsmanship and this let me pass by the whole game inclusive the final battle with a laugh! Boy, this game is pretty unbalanced! Please, CD Project, think of it the next time.

And, while I’m on it, a) create a better world interaction system: I was not able to pick up some crates along the way even if I stood right in front of it with no obstacle in between and b) what the heck is that touching of the witcher amulet to get hot spots in the game? I mean, seriously, the amulet needs to recharge to do this again. This results in walking, touching the amulet, grab all things of interest, wait until amulet recharge and restart. Why not simply add a hotkey for this thing to lighten up all things the player can interact with? This “wait for the amulet to recharge” is just stupid.

Finally some quests and hints were rather misleading. E.g. Geralt states “I’ve got to burn this nest.” in the Nekkar quest in chapter 1. However the bomb which actually burn things is “Dragon Dream”, which is the wrong one. You have to use another bomb which works with shrapnels.

Or this one: in the last chapter you encounter rooms with glooming runes you have to touch in the correct order. There is no single hint, that you might get a book about the runes at the local bookstore … ah … why not let Geralt state something like “I’ve to get knowledge about these runes somewhere” or something like this.

So, besides these glitches: applause! An excellent great game!

For the records: I went with Iorveth, saved Prince Stennis from the Mob, chose Triss, spared the dragon and killed Letho.

9/10: 9 out of 10

Bioshock under Linux/Wine: better than Windows! OMG!

Yesterday I found myself in the mood to play a game again. So I turned up my Windows 7 partition and tried to play Bioshock. But: there was no in-game sound. After the very first cut-scenes (the airplane crash) you float in the middle of burning water but mute. No sound, no beep.

So I googled around to fix that issue and discovered there is a ton of people suffering from the same problem. I followed several recommendations but nothing changed. There is even a YouTube video for the very dumb with several tips, but none (none!) enabled the sound. It took me about 1 hour along with several reboots and changing Windows 7 core components. Finally I gave up, frustrated. And I’m not alone with that. It seems that Bioshock under Windows 7 (or Vista) is a No-Go.

Today I tried the same game under Linux and within 5 minutes going for the mouse fix I had it up and running! With full sound enabled!

OMG!

I can’t believe that applications made for Windows do not run under Windows but under a Windows Emulation on Linux. This is crazy. One should expect that applications should run better or at least with equal performance on both operating systems. But having Linux being superior to Windows on Windows own playground … is this yet another sign of dying M$ technology?

So, everyone wanting to play Bioshock but is suffering from the sound problem: get yourself a Linux installment! I guess any will do. Bioshock does run on your machine – but not under this operating system.

Game: Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2Finished Dead Space 2. Compared to the previous Prince of Persia _this_ game is gory. And brutal. And everything. The game experience itself is great: always looking over the shoulder in a 3rd person manner, dark and always there is something crawling and lurking right out of sight. It’s a great game with just some minor defects.  

First, the game suffers from the US definition of horror: gore. Not very subtle. At this the game can’t match the No. 1 horror game ever: Silent Hill II. The later had all ingredients without all the gallons of blood (though a good share of it). It defined tension not by the number of limbs cut off, but by the fact that you just do not know what is going on and the overall creepiness. However Dead Space II is quite good in delivering a portion of suspense.

Second, the game stresses the gore factor unnecessarily to a questionable extend: the “Eye-scene” and the “Execution” in the very last chapter: WTF! There is really no single reason found in the story-line to justify this. I believe it’s just there to give US teenagers a good kick to topple the game over other survival-horror shooters.

Third, I f**king hate opponents and enemies which you can’t kill. In the last chapter, there’s a special sort of monster which puts itself back together and rises again. So, you can’t kill it. Ammunition and health packages are rare, enemies are crawling all over the place and this undying thing start to hunt you. Next to the stress to find the exit you now have to make it very fast. This was the reason I switched in the game from “Normal” to “Easy” in the last chapter, because this invincible thing was nothing but pure annoying.

Forth, the story is … uhm … confusing at best. Most of the time the radio speak of Nicole/Marker is very hard to understand to get the full picture. And what Nicole/Marker is doing with Isaac’s mind is totally unknown to me. Also there ain’t any background to anything but Unitology, which is clearly a parody of Scientology. Besides the Marker and this religious movement the Dead Space universe is quite, well, “dead”. There is pretty nothing of interest in it. Dead Space universe history and environment seem to fit on a single page of paper.

I assign the game 4 out of 5 stars. On the pro side: one of the hardest horror yet seen in games(18+ is right) though way too splattery. The sidekick at Unitology = Scientology is pretty obvious and nice. On the con side: the four points mentioned above: too much emphasis on the unsubtle gore part of the definition of “horror”, which is sad, exaggerated gore scenes in the end, which do nothing to the story and seem quite out of place, invincible opponents and completely confusing story within a pretty dead universe.

7/10: 7 out of 10

Game: Prince of Persia – Warrior Within

Prince of Persia - Warrior Within 

Finished Prince of Persia – Warrior Within. This is the second installment of the famous Prince of Persia series. It has been released in 2004 and received quite good receptions. The game is quite gory so rating it as 16+ is quite low for european standards.

 

I assign the game 4 out of 5 stars. On the pro side: it features the best game soundtrack ever! Combining this with the dark, martial ambient gives the prince a very adult, cool aspect. This Prince rocks! On the con side: the player is forced to visit the places over and over again. This gets boring sooner or later. And finally the difficulty: even on the easiest level the game is very, very hard to solve. Enemies are tough and often one has to figure out which move to use in the correct second. Not to mention for a huge stress level when you are chased by the Dahaka! The frustration levels raises constantly if one needs 15 or more runs to get by a boss fight. Funny thing: I managed to get all live upgrades and received the Water Sword, which lets me kill the Dahaka in the end. This fight is a laugh comparing it to the Empress boss fight earlier!

 

7/10: 7 out of 10