Thoughts On… Bloody Good Time

When the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Multiplayer was announced, many people were ecstatic about its new and innovative ideas. However, a big group of PC gamers felt that it was a little too familiar to something we had played before. That was The Ship, a gem of a game where players had to murder carefully selected opponents in interesting ways without incurring civilian casualties or letting security see them welding a revolver. Now Outerlight’s latest game has graced Xbox Live Arcade and Steam and it’s a fitting sequel to the original covert murder them up.

Them bloody actors!
Bloody Good Time sets you up as one of a group of young actors wanting to take part in a film being run by the mysterious (and temperamental) Director X. However, to step up to the role, you need to kill your seven fellow actors with a variety of ingenious weapons in three different film sets. As it’s a primarily multiplayer based game, this is the only real story you’re given. I quite like it, as the back-story effectively links with all parts of the game from the art style and character design, right down to the basic gameplay.

A good time?
A basic game of Bloody Good Time is split into several rounds, each of which can have one of several game modes. Hunt requires the player to find and kill their target before they themselves are hunted down. Revenge gives players multiple quarry one after another but previously killed players can gang up on their killer in order extract sweet vengeance. Elimination is last man standing, giving a player one quarry at a time until they are the last one left. Finally there is a straight up deathmatch which gains occasional rule changes such as hunting the leader or trying to pass on an infection in order to gain the highest score. These various modes are a lot of fun, especially when they start changing stuff up mid-game.

In game, it plays like a standard first person shooter, however, instead of the usual basic weaponry, you will pick up a wide selection of gear, from baseball bats and frying pans, right up to radiation guns and Molotov’s. Throughout the game, each weapon is assigned a star rating which works out the score; the higher the stars, the more points you gain when you make a kill with it. On top of this killing phase, there is also the need to keep your character fed, rested and not desperate for the toilet. This adds a pretty cool mechanic as you have to gamble your time spent fulfilling your needs so your pursuer doesn’t simply find you napping and break your neck.

There are only three levels in Bloody Good Time but each of them are good fun. All of the maps have one or two focal points all players will wander through at some point but those who know the map will find the more unusual weapons off the beaten track. The three maps are also expertly styled after the various stereotypical film settings; from the classy version of Las Vegas to the trap-filled horror house, each is packed full of character and the perfect backdrop for the madness that takes place.

KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!

Bloody Team Fortress!
Bloody Good Time has an excellent art style. Its cartoon styling is perfect for the madcap violence that occurs in the game especially with the character design. The overly stylised character design is spot on in a similar way to that of the TF2 characters and each different type of target can be spotted at long distance, so you can easily hunt them down and stab them in the face.

That bloody sound!
Bloody Good Time may have its strong points but the sound is probably a weak link in the chain. Most of the weapons sound pretty flat and the director’s instructions are a little repetitive, especially when he shouts them out at the start of each round. The background music suits the theme of the game, though, but you haven’t come to this game for the music.

Unfortunately there is a bigger flaw then the sound. At time of review, there are plenty of servers out but player numbers seem to fluctuate massively. I get the feeling that despite its cheap price on launch, not enough people have picked it up, which is the kiss of death for any multiplayer focused game in spite it obvious plus points.

Time for the bloody end!
It’s a real shame that this is the last game that Outerlight as a company released; just after release, the Edinburgh based company was shut down leaving just the studio head to work unpaid. Bloody Good Time is perhaps the second best version of the hunter style of online gameplay, only slightly behind the slick joy that is Assassins Creed Brotherhood’s multiplayer.  In terms of Bloody Good Time though,  I recommend picking it up when it’s in a sale as it is still a good time even with just bots.

Thoughts On… Rulers of Nations

What looks like a game, sounds like a game, plays like a game but really isn’t a game? Anything labelling itself a geopolitical simulation, that’s what. Rulers of Nations, sequel of Commander in Chief, is one such product and unfortunately it is not a good game by any stretch of the imagination.

Ruling the World in 2011
In Rulers of Nations, you take control of any current nation in the world and attempt to marshal it through 2011 and beyond via the current political situation. I have to say that the games does at least model this section quite well; nearly everything is up to date and although it’s at the start of 2011, all the events that occur are plausible. The scenario set also includes several other starting positions and objectives, such as withdrawing troops from Afghanistan or deal with the after-effects of global warming. It’s a gameplay idea I’m fully behind and would love to be in a game that does it well.

Playing the World for a fool
The problem comes when you actually start playing a bit more of the game. It starts off with small little inaccuracies (such as modified leader names) which make little sense in what is meant to be a simulation game. The biggest issue are the tutorials, which are vital in a game as complex as this. They are  broken, despite several attempts at various versions of the game. This is a fundamental flaw that makes the rest of the game next to impossible to play. There is some information in the dense manual, but even with this, the game is still pretty hard going to get into. This put me off entirely the first few times I tried playing despite the fact I really like other games in the same genre.

There is something very wrong with those leader’s faces…

Ugly politics
Graphics in this style of game are not its forte and it really shows. Admittedly much of it is serviceable for presenting the vast array of figures it produces as you govern, with a strong use of archive footage and other such video clips to present news events or sudden changes in the political climate. Similarly the world map is a delight to look at, with its hundreds of units, towns, cities and other points of interest. However, the game also has several talking heads which are slightly unnerving, with low texture over an imperfect model with some quite rough lip-syncing.

You hear that? It’s the sound of revolution!
Sound is another area this game is lacking in. The ambient music that plays in the background is passable but entirely forgettable. The voice acting however is atrocious. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s painful but you’ve seen it done a lot better by smaller teams. I think the ultimate judgement on the fact is that I played most of the game with the sound muted.

Stats!

It’s lonely at the top
The game has multiplayer but at the time of writing it is lacking in players. Seriously, I didn’t find a single player to go up against in the game’s various scenarios and this is over several months of play and various attempts to get online. I get the feeling that its main draw is probably for single player.

In the end…
I really try to look for the good points in any game but unfortunately Rulers of Nations seems lacking in any decent aspects apart from its basic system. It’s an ugly game, lacking in polish in all areas and that mars a basic underlying set of mechanics that work well. Unlike one of my favourite series of games (ArmA), this is one training tool that fails to work as an actual game. I cannot recommend this to anyone.

A Little Update–West Wing, RPGs and Life

I haven’t written on this site for a pretty long time. This is probably due mainly to all the work I’ve had to at uni but I’ve also had been experiencing a lack of interest in writing. In fact, I’ve had this lack of interest in many things at the moment from gaming itself to other things like trying to cook properly with the ingredients I have lying around in my freezer. Its a horrible feeling – you just don’t want to do anything. Its even a stretch to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve got over a bit of this and I’m trying to get back into the excitement of things at uni and the worlds stuck on the disks in my machines.

west-wing

One thing I have been enjoying is the seasons of the West Wing I’ve been borrowing off my grandparents. I started last summer and have been watching them on and off. They were recommended by both my Nanna and my Mum. Every episode in this fantastic show is immensely watchable, mainly as it treats the viewer as an intelligent individual in contrast to many show today. The other great part about it is the cast – they gel perfectly together, with plot lines that focus on two characters work perfectly. You can tell how well it works by the fact that I’m caring an awful lot when even background characters either vanish or are killed off. Its also funny to see famous actors appearing out of nowhere like the actor of Agent Coulson as the FBI link to the White House or Locke from Lost appearing as the head of the Joint Chiefs. But its the main cast that works the best. Josh, CJ, Leo, Toby, Sam and The President are all amazing characters with memorable traits and feel real. This is how to make a long lasting series and make it last all that time without jumping the shark. Well done also to Mr Sorkin and his writing. Overall, if you haven’t seen this series, watch it.

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Another thing I’ve been up to is more tabletop roleplaying. I fully admit that its has a geeky reputation but I also think its an important thing to do. For one, its great fun telling a story through your actions without the need for pieces or fancy graphics. Its an exercise in imagination and storytelling you don’t find anywhere else. Its also a great way to look at what makes game’s design to tick as there is little gap between the raw rules and the players. Currently, I’m still taking part in the D&D 3.5 edition campaign and the more recent Shadowrun campaign. There both great fun, although I am a bit happier with the Shadowrun rules as they seem less complicated than the traditional D&D, perhaps in part due to the use of a single dice type and the success system as opposed to requiring to specific values. I’ve also bought the Deathwatch rulebook and I’m looking to run a campaign of it at uni. Its a good balance between Shadowrun’s elegance and D&D’s detail while also letting you blow away Xenos for the Emperor. The books are also a delight, filled with all the detail that made Warhammer 40K great and with a real coffee table look to them. I might take a proper look at the books in a few weeks and write some impressions up after I’ve played a game.

So that’s life. It may be a little bit more downtrodden than most posts but I will be putting some more reviews up on both This Is My Joystick and here. I’ll get some more posts up soon.

Thoughts On… Alan Wake

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Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy
Year of Release: 2010
Platforms: Xbox 360

When you play games and don’t unfortunately have the luxury of infinite money, you are guaranteed to miss out one or two games when it comes round to working out a game of the year around Christmas time. Last year, I missed more than a few – Bayonetta, Vanquish and Alien vs. Predator (thank god for that). Luckily, I was able to fix one of my major misses by getting round to playing Alan Wake, Remedy’s survival horror game announced way back in 2005.

For those who like me also missed Mr Wake’s adventures last year, Alan Wake is a famous horror author who is experiencing a major case of writer’s block. He decides to go to the picturesque town of Bright Falls in the Pacific Northwest for some time away and to gain some inspiration for his next book. However, while there he wakes up after a car accident, with his wife missing and a whole week knocked out of his memory. Now, as dark forces appear out of the woods, he must discover what happened in that missing week, find his missing wife and discover just what is going on in this mysterious town. I loved the story and, like a good book, found the game hard to put down. Its paced beautifully, helped primarily by its episodic setup complete with recap at the start and end of episode cliff hangers. It actually feels like you’re taking part in a Twin Peaks-esque adventure in the usual town gone wrong. The characters, so key to a game focused on its plot, don’t disappoint. His wife is a little bit annoying and Alan’s New York agent Barry is a little bit grating in the voice acting department but apart from that they are all believable, fitting to their role. I do love the FBI agent who (like in all these stories) turns up trying to arrest the main character. He never refers to Alan by name, instead substituting in other famous authors names instead. He is additional responsible for the best scene when he finally works out just what is going on.

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The gameplay doesn’t disappoint either. The creatures Alan fights are formed and possessed by the darkness and so in order to hurt them, Alan has to to use light. This can range from the tiny flashlight and flares he carries around with him up to searchlights and even, during one of the best sequences in the game, the entire setup of a Heavy Metal show including pyrotechnics and stage lights. This can lead to some hard decisions in the game such as when to use that precious flare gun round (think grenade launcher) or when to simply dodge out of the way of the enemies and leg it to the next safe haven of blinding light. To help with your evasion, Remedy have mapped a simple dodge to the sprint key, making Alan lurch out of the way of thrown axes or a weapons swing before sprinting away. Every so often it goes into a slow motion effect, showing your clumsy attempt to get out of the way of the sharp bit of metal attempting to embed itself in your skull which again fits the games aesthetic of being a TV production.

As well as having to use the light or simply running away, most of the bad guys will then have to be dispatched with a selection of weapons you might find up in the woods around a small town in the middle of nowhere. Alan can carry at one time three weapons – a revolver, a flare gun and a single two handed weapons which is normally a choice between a two shot hunting shotgun, a pump action police shotgun or a bolt action hunting rifle. This choice makes sense as its pretty rare to find a rocket launcher or an assault rifle in a small town. It also makes sense when you realise that all these weapons are found in logical places – flare guns are in emergency boxes while the hunter’s in the local cabins are stocked up with firearms. I am slightly concerned about just how many revolvers are lying around the town though. In addition to the guns, you can also carry two throwables – flares and flashbangs. Flares act as a safety buffer, giving you a bit of breathing space after you’ve dropped them from the bad guys while also removing their shield if they are too close. In contrast, the flashbangs are like the bombs in Geometry Wars – clearing the screen of bad guys or causing huge amounts of damage to the large enemies.

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Which brings me onto my final point and the game’s only major flaw in the gameplay – the game lacks enemy variation. Throughout the game, you fight four different types of enemies from the low health, high speed damage dealers up to variations on the theme of a big guy with either a hammer or in certain cases a chainsaw. There are also some possessed objects in the environment (like in any Steven King horror book) which at some points may include diggers and even a train but these fight merely consist of pointing your flashlight at it for long enough that it goes away. And then there are the crows. Fuck those guys.

Alan Wake appears to have a massive desire to collect everything in the game. There are many different types of collectables to find which includes coffee thermos flasks, manuscript pages that form a key part of the plot, mysterious parcels of flares and flare guns you find lying around in special marked caches and the brilliant fake radio and TV shows in the game. They provide a nice change of pace, especially the TV show “Night Falls” a Twilight Zone styled drama show which is hard to simply claim as finding and not watch. The Remedy guys obviously had great fun making them and it shows in the over the top acting alongside the terrible lip synching. There is also a brief yet brilliant clip in the last chapter featuring one of the writers (Sam Lake) who is better known as the face of Max Payne. These collectables do add a great deal of replayabilty to the game which took me about 8 hours to get through on first try.

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During Alan Wake’s development, it was at one point shown off as an example of DirectX 10 through a tech demo showing off the fantastic environment created for the game. Of course, the game was then shifted to being an Xbox 360 exclusive but luckily it lost none of the graphical talent. The game’s lighting system is probably one of the best and most realistic I’ve seen but it really cranks up the atmosphere with its combination with a fog system. Nothing beats seeing an chainsaw wielding shadow creature coming out of the fog towards you. The characters are pretty good as well mostly – one or two characters look a bit off and there are occasional lip synching issues but Alan, Barry and rest look almost human without going into the Uncanny Valley. I also love the sound – the ambient soundtrack captures the atmosphere perfectly while the in-game soundtrack have a good weight to them making many of the weapons even more satisfying. At the end of each episode, a guest song plays ranging from a Roy Obison tune at the start to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” over the credits. I do particularly like a song written for the game by the band Poets of the Fall. Overall the game is a technical delight.

In terms of bang for your buck, Alan Wake has nothing on top of its singleplayer story. However, there are a ton of collectibles to find, some of which require the game to be played on Nightmare difficulty. In addition there are two DLC packs that continue the story on from the ending in the main game. At time of writing, I haven’t finished these two packs but from what I’ve played the story is as good as the main game but the gameplay is a little harder adding in some new ideas and continuing several that were included right at the end of the main game as all DLC should.

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Alan Wake is a brilliant game well worth the wait. It has excellent writing, good gameplay hooks and an engine that can produce some beautiful settings without any slowdown. The price on it is plummeting so I recommend you pick up a copy and play through it and enjoy the great experience that is Alan’s time in Bright Falls. Just don’t be afraid to run towards the next light source.