Game: Half Life 2

Half Life 2Yesterday I finished Half Life 2 (again).

Played fully on Linux with Steam native (no Windows Emulation)!

This time I tried the Linux version and again as before: this game is flawless. Even in 2014 the Source Engine is breathtaking, the physics in the game represent a landmark in gaming history, and it even has a great story too.

Half Life 2 is challenging from start to end (at normal difficult level). Also all the time you are up to experience new fascinating effects involving physics and the gravity gun.

Half Life 2 is a MUST HAVE in every game collection.

For the record: I managed to unlock all achievements but 2: “Keep off the sands” is just unnerving and I’m not into finding all secret places of the “Lambda Locations”.

10/10: 10 out of 10

Game: Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun ReturnsFinished Shadowrun returns last Monday.

Played fully on Linux with Steam (native, no Windows Emulation).

You play a character in the Shadowrun universe which is on the hunt to bring down a friend’s murderer. Time is around 2057 but due to the Awakening, the world is filled with science fiction high tech and fantasy elements alike. You have genetic modification, cyberplants and hacking warfare along with elves, orcs, dwarfes and trolls hurling magic bolts. A rich and fascinating universe.

… you have to work trough yourself. The game can be summed up by the phrase “too less”. At first there is too less background for the setting, the story. You just start off creating a character, like an orc, with cybernetic implants. Yep, no explanation to this. If you want to find out more about the Shadowrun world you have to look elsewhere but not the game.

Then there is too less RPG. Seldom you find something useful to pick up and equip. Also stats and skills are presented in a very sober way in a plain matrix. No introduction, no nothing. All at once, on page. Also you likely will spend points on attributes and skills you don’t need in future. Sorry, there is no turning back.

Then there is too less adventure. The story is nice, but you got not real decisions to make. The storyline is very linear. There are some side-quests, but guess: too less.

Then there is too less of a challenge. At the first two thirds of the game. I pimped my elf with quickness and assault rifles and the game was no real match at “normal” level. Strategic fighting is nice and … easy. Yeah, the games picks up some pace in the last third and starts to get harder. This is were the fun really sets in. But up to then it is playing a nice story …

And someone always has the idea of something missing. Something’s missing at the RPG, at the adventure, at the combat game, at the grafics, animations.

E.g. Harlequin is one of the coolest elves I’ve come along in playing games, but when he wields his sword he is animated as if someone had stiffed a broomstick right along his “back”. The in-game representation is missing the charisma and style this elf has in dialogues.

Finally the save game mechanics are just bonkers. Actually you just can save at the start of a level, better: the game (hopefully) autosaves at this stage. Making a wrong decision at the end of a level requires to replay to whole level again.

The pro: once you’ve delved into the universe the plot is great to play and the dialogs are really nice written, the combat is fun after all. It remains a nice game. Hopefully they fix this bad savegame mechanics and give more universe background information in the DLCs and patches to come.

7/10: 7 out of 10

Game: Amnesia the Dark Descent

Amnesia the Dark Descent3 days ago I finished Amnesia, the Dark Descent.

Played fully on Linux with Steam in native (no Windows Emulation)!

The previous review of Game of Thrones serves as an example how a bad graphics engine nearly ruins a game, this game is a very fine example, that you do not need AAA-graphics to create a unique gaming experience.

This game is immense. And does not have all the whistles and bells of a ultra-modern cost-intensive graphics to shine.

The tension is always at a very high level. This game really *is* scary. And in a good sense! This has nothing to do with splatter effects like in Dead Space. This here is the Art of Horror game genre and places itself among the #1 references along with Silent Hill II.

The game is about sneaking in the dark, been chased by unspeakable horrors, and winding deeper and deeper into Castle Brennenburg of Baron Alexander. You unroll the story of why you are here and who the Baron is bit by bit by reading notes and memos, most of them audible.

With each hour the game gets more and more creepy and eerie. Monsters start to hunt you and you do not have any weapon for defense at hand. When you are caught, it’s over. Dead. Gone. Point. Either you run or you hide or do both. You do not get any weapon. Ever. You have about 1 hit point. This make you very vulnerable and pretty nervous when walking the dark dungeons.

And you know it all! Hearing the groaning voices of some enemy leaves you be paralyzed in panic; scaring the shit out of you.

Large part of the game is in your head: where could the monster be? What has happened here? What could happen if I act wrongly? Over there: was this a movement of some evil or simply wobbling fog? …

Some riddles are a bit hard to solve, especially in the last chapters. I remember myself at the bridges, at which one of the bridges “needed a push” to come down. I tried to get up with the other bridge part and jumping down at the “need-a-push” bridge. Over and over. T’was the wrong way doing this.

Nevertheless: 9 stars.

9/10: 9 out of 10

Game: Game of Thrones

Game_of_Thrones Finished Game of Thrones last Thursday. Even though the game has a decent story it bursts and get shattered on the shortcomings of the graphics engine. 

You play two characters: Mors, “the butcher”, Westford, a loyal warrior of the Night’s Watch and Alester Sedwick struggling to regain his heritage as Lord of Riverspring after been away for 15 years.

The story is really great and contains all the ingredients the famous Game of Thrones series features: honor, love, fights, betrayal, debauchery, violence, mystic and magic, deception, heroism, and cruelty. It’s all in there. This is a true Game of Thrones story.

Also if you watched the TV series you’ll recognize some characters: Cersei Lannister plays the plotting bitch and you simply can’t get behind Lord Varys motives and schemes. As a goodie: you have a Cameo-appereance of Mr. “Game-of-Thrones” himself: George R. R. Martin is the Maester of Bergholz. Running a little Q&A with him is quite hilarious.

Ok, there are some irrational items in there: e.g. it takes you 3 months game time to travel from Castle Black at the Wall down to the Riverlands, but after chapter 8 you are free to simply click anywhere on the map and are there within a blink of an eye.

Or: at some point Alester murmurs to himself: “pillagers will be executed” during a riot … which does not keep you away to grab and loot anything which is not nailed down. =)

But then there is the story. And what a story it is! I can remember the events in chapter 11 leaving me with my jaws wide open: WTF! The game overdoes this theme and attitude of the core Game of Thrones nature in the end like in the final events in chapter 14, but all-in-all it is a great story to experience. Westeros is here.

This is the very strong part of this game.

Then the combat techniques is quite interesting and has some charm: like in a Dragon Age 2 manner you slow down time – it actually never stops – and issue some actions. This interface is not that easy to get your hold on but after some encounters you’ll learn this new experience. And it is fun. As time does not stop you feel pressure to get to your decisions rather fast. I finished the game on normal level and every now and then I lost some combats and this is a real good experience. Be demanding so that success is sweeter.

This is the interesting part of the game.

… and then there is the game engine. They say it does not take good graphics for a great game to tell a thrilling and fascinating story. True. But the engine should at least bare some minimums. This game is an example to stress this principle.

As the audio and speakers are ranging from ok (average peasant) to excellent (Lord Varys) the Graphics are weak. All in all the textures are squishy, some motions clumsy. You find a lot of people sharing the very same faces and if I don’t know it better I would say I’ve been witness to the impossibility of the framerate dropping below 0! Seriously, you have to be very capable of suffering and be very high pain tolerant accepting this. Walking around the great hall in Castle Black is … well … demanding. Even though some places are nicely rendered like the Gift at the Wall.

If the developers had more time to improve the graphics engine this game would have been rated much higher in the critic’s world.

This is the very poor, ugly part of the game.

For the record, I needed about 36 hours at normal difficulty level and finished the story with Mors taking care of the baby outside of Westeros.

I award this game 5 out of 10 stars, thanks to the pretty cool Game of Thrones story line … nearly ruined by the half-baked graphics textures and graphics engine. It could have been better. Much better.

5/10: 5 out of 10

Game: Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers: A Tale of Two SonsFinished Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons last weekend.

Nice. It’s actually a platformer. You jump and run. You move your character around a very nice drawn world which *is* an eye catcher. This is really beautiful and a must see. Also you have one action button to click, whenever you feel your character might interact with something. That’s not a challenge, is it?

… but you control two characters: the brothers. Concurrently. In parallel. On one screen. Simultaneously. Both moving independently. And it is here you should get an idea about this game. Rather sooner than later you find yourself moving the character on the left with the controls on your right and the character on the right which you control with your left hand. Yey!

This makes your brain jump like driving backwards with a trailer only by looking into the rear mirrors left and right. And it is this the game draws its major points from, since this gameplay surely sets it apart.

For the story: what starts of as a day-to-day fairy tale suitable for children of the age of 6 turns slowly into a very adult dark fantasy. Well, without too much spoiler: you succeed in the quest (there is just 1 to solve; no sidequests). Somehow. But this ending does not suit all players. For the record: me. I got sort of angry and annoyed by the game designers since they tried to build an emotional connection with the main characters and failed at that in the end. Maybe I’m coldhearted but the final minutes in the game did not bother me. Instead I got angry on such story telling. It’s only for the graphics I would go for a second run, but than … nahhh … there is this save point system and when you want to replay some older chapters of the game you lose your previous saves.

On the plus: there are some nice ideas in the chapters of the story telling, e.g. the invisible opponent in the city and the battle field of the giants. But all in all it does not live up to the rather irritating resolution of the story’s main line.

I award this game 6 out of 10 stars, thanks to the very nice graphics, (some) story ideas and the unique gameplay experience.

6/10: 6 out of 10

Game: Kingdoms of Amalur – The Reckoning

Kingdoms of Amalur - The ReckoningFinished Kingdoms of Amalur – The Reckoning last weekend. Puhh … heavy.

This game has been created by “Big Huge Games” featuring the “Big Huge Engine”. And yes this game is BIG, it’s HUGE.

But it ain’t great.

Mhm, yes: from an RPG mechanics point of view you have a lot of cool features: tons of items, item comparision, crafting, skills, lots of quest, cool combat mechnanics, nice interface, neat graphics and and and … all subperb ingredients for a really stunning RPG game.

But. Then … see: you awake in the West only to get informed that yet a great evil Saruman Gadflow has risen in the East. He charges waves of Orcs Tuatah to the West in order to kill all of Middle Earth the Faelands. Your duty is to go to Mordor Alabastra and face him only to find yourself struggling with the even meaner menace: Sauron Tirnoch. But there is no ring or other fancy object involved you have to destroy in a complete ignorance of the property rights of its former owner (hey, it’s “for a good cause!”). Just go there and slain the big dude: US Republican way of solving problems.

And the above “story” is stuffed under a pile of boring sidequests all of “get A”, “deliver B to C” or “kill X monsters”. No turns, no tweaks. All straight forward. The interface is that nice and nifty that you talk to NPCs (which -btw- all sound the same), the quest marker pops up on the HUD map and off we go! I often found myself just chasing these markers without knowing why. I forgot the meaningless gibberish of the quest giver. I stopped caring after ~10 hours gameplay. The world lost my interest, but still runnig around and fighting has some cool moments.

Ah, gameplay: I needed 117 hours to face the final battle. At this moment I’ve been level 41 and it was a piece of cake to finish off the great, evil world destroyer in normal mode.

This game makes me sad. In the very first 10 hours you get a clue about the coolness what has been implemented into the interface (the combat art is real cool and one of the best yet seen!). The world is charming and it starts of very, very nice. But then the game degrades and gets boring, boring, boring, boring. It’s BIG, it’s HUGE … it’s too much, it’s boring. Quantity is not quality. You get into some conversations like an NPC rewarding you with 1200 gold and asks you not to “spend it all at once!” which is just plain stupid compared to the 5000000 gold I’m carying around already.

Less would have been more. What a pity. Too ambitious. They overdid it.

7/10: 7 out of 10

Game: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 34 days ago I finished Mass Effect 3.

A very cool astonishing game with a … fully dumb finale. Up to the very last 5 minutes the game is just – WOW! The cinematic is breath-taking. The unfolding of Shepard’s part in saving the galaxy is staged in way which leaves many other games way behind. If you didn’t play Mass Effect 3, you didn’t see any story telling in games. This is a fantastic journey into a vast in wonderful world.

The downside: there are some. Sadly this could have been one of these perfect games, like Bioshock. But, well … First: hide and duck is on keyboard SPACE. Jumping over some obstacles is on keyboard … SPACE. Therefore I found myself often running towards a barrier in order to protect from the heavy firing in front. Coming closer I pressed SPACE … only to jump over (!) the protective barrier right in the middle of firing. First, I got WTF! but then I got used to this and even took it with a smile. Even on normal level this game ain’t really difficult. Some jumping right into middle of hell instead of hiding myself got me some funny moments and to lough at: a running gag (literally).

Then bugs, bugs, bugs! I could not solve the mercenary mission with Aria: Bailey keeps asking me to talk to the prisoner. I did once and can’t enter area ever since. What a shame! This is a well known plot-bug and Bioware could not fix it? Also one time I found myself sticking in place with my comrades in front not letting me pass. I couldn’t help but reload.

Also the side-missions: in your log you keep track of what to find, where and bring to whom. But sadly I didn’t figured out: a) do I already have the item in question and b) where the heck have I left the person waiting for the item? I found myself running all over the Citadel again and again, only to find one whose items I already found on a planet. This could have been handled better.

Talking about finding things on planets: ME3 introduced yet another mini-game in planet scanning. Why? Why not drop this? I mean, seriously: who really liked that? Well, it is not as bad as in ME2 … but still.

And then: some plot options are not really comprehensible. E.g.: on Rannoch you can only create peace between the Geth and the Quarians if you have made certain decisions in ME2 and loaded one of the save games. But, hey, I can’t see why these decision play a fundamental part in solving the Geth-Quarians conflict in any way different? But ok …

Finally, the ending with the resolution of the Reaper war is … just … bonkers. In a universe with such illogical conclusions as presented at end, hey, anything goes! I’m pretty confident that ME4 will be a great game. Having seen the end of ME3 I have no doubt that any 10-year-old boy could come up with a reasonable solution consistent with the ending in ME3 and this universe in principle to continue this franchise.

All the glitches above drop the number of stars but still: this is a great cool game (until the end). I award this game 8 out of 10 stars.

8/10: 8 out of 10

Game: The Dark Eye – Chains of Satinav

The Dark Eye - Chains of SatinavFinished The Dark Eye – Chains of Satinav about 2 months ago.

This is a decent game. I really like the setting and the story is quite good: you are about to save the world (again). You make a new acquaintance along the path: Nuri, a fairy, who wants to stay in the human world, but in order to save your world you have to take her to fairy land. So you start lying but can’t help to somehow start a romance with her: the dawning of a tragic love story. Some humor could be added though – the game is rather serious. On some occasions the story line hangs a bit and one misses the twists and turns in dramaturgy having a “Wow!”-effect or leave you crying. The game just goes on to be … well … nice and decent.

The riddles along the path of world’s salvage differ in complexity: some are easy-cheesy other are quite hard. E.g. I found myself really lost in the fairy land part. There you start solving puzzles in a H.C. Escher painting … puh! Not that easy since the hints are sometimes pretty rare. Some more hints and advice would have helped a lot.

The scenes are very pretty made and appealing. The game interface is above reproach.

I award this game 8 out of 10 stars.

8/10: 8 out of 10

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