Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A Farewell To Dragons Review

I'm currently playing Dragon Age: Origins, so when I was summoned to the Game-Debate Ivory Tower, I accepted my quest to review A Farewell to Dragons. Being partial to the RPG genre I was convinced that it would be impossible for me to become fed up with them. The good news is that this is still the case and I'm still enjoying my time in Ferelden. Unfortunately AFTD's land of Midworld isn't nearly as gripping... or good looking, nor does it have much personality. A Farewell to Dragons, is a rather generic experience that you probably won't remember for long after completing the game.

The introduction to AFTD is somewhat promising. Your character, a Doctor from our world called Victor, narrates a story which sees an injured girl called Telle turn up on his doorstep. He takes her in for the night (No, not like that! Although the accompanying images are a little... questionable) and agrees to escort her home the following day. Somewhere along the way the two of them fall into some mysterious portal into a new world, the aforementioned Midworld, of whichTelle seems very familiar. AFTD then quickly deteriorates into a confusing, text-based tale which will leave you struggling to figure out the plot.

Without the rich, deep story that provides vital support for a typical RPG, AFTD is left somewhat limp. It's the equivalent of playing a strategy game where the enemy A.I. is your toaster, or a shooter with only one gun and ammo type. Midworld is a clichéd fantasy RPG universe with everything you'd expect from the genre: elves, dwarves, the undead, magic and so on. Except this time unlike Dragon Age: Origins or even Divinity II the game world doesn't provide a unique experience. Yes, the blurb on the back of the box says AFTD contains a ‘Superb blend of fantasy and steampunk settings' but what this means in reality is all of the generic towns have train stations and electric lights.

The locations you visit are all rather bland and aren't exactly helped by the fairly primitive graphics. This extends beyond the towns; you will spend hours walking through repetitive forests as you take on quests for plot development or side quests, and spend a hell of a lot time of wandering around and killing things in an effort to level up. That's right, AFTD is a level grinder. I discovered this early on in the game when my party got their arses handed to them in the first boss encounter. My group of four characters between levels 3 and 5 were no match for a level 10 boss with his group of minions between the levels of 5 and 8. Perhaps there would be less fights here in the real world if people had their level displayed above their head as in AFTD, you certainly wouldn't want to argue with someone who spilled your drink if they had ‘Level 27' displayed above their head... unless you were level 28 or above of course.

But I digress from the point, which is that in order to progress through AFTD you'll have to spend ages wandering around murdering innocent wildlife in order to level up your party. I spent hours in a forest gratuitously harming boars, a rather dull and laborious task. (Eagle-eyed readers will of course notice boar is in the middle of laborious... if you read it out loud anyway. Don't look at me like that, it's a very witty pun!) If the combat in AFTD was exciting this may have been bearable, but: well, it isn't. You point, you click, and you watch your party perform repetitive attacks in the least exciting RPG battles of recent years. It doesn't help that your allies' A.I is questionable at best. I often found Telle, AFTD's equivalent of a White Mage, rushing into hand-to-hand combat if I wasn't carefully pausing battles every three seconds to issue commands. Very frustrating.

On a more positive note, AFTD will be particularly appealing to anyone who's a massive stats enthusiast - if they can put up with the actual process of gaining levels in battle. As your party levels up you're in complete control of upgrading stats and adding skills and the wealth of equipment and weapons available means there are infinite ways to customise your characters which is a good thing, seeing as they aren't exactly defined by outstanding personalities. Like everything in AFTD they're all just a bit generic. Even the good doctor Victor is a bit boring. He may have an exciting personality somewhere but if he does it's lost in the swathes of text you'll have to read. Of course some of the best games have been text based, The Secret of Monkey Island and Baldurs Gate II are two prominent examples, because they had excellent dialogue. Unfortunately ploughing through the pages of text within AFTD feels more like a chore than a pleasure and like many aspects of the game, it's just a bit dull.

And that's the main problem with AFTD; it's all rather dull and generic. The story and characters aren't up to much and the need for grinding through lacklustre combat is just boring. The well implemented levelling up mechanics would be far more interesting if they were reflected in exciting battles, but they just aren't. I know I am beating on about negative points but I have to sayA Farewell to Dragons isn't really a bad game, it’s just come at a time when the competition is stiff, and it isn't a good enough game to compete with Dragon Age: Origins for your attention. Heck, Baldurs Gate II is better than AFTD and its 10 years old! (And also made by Bioware. Coincidence? I think not!) A Farewell to Dragons is average, middling, nothing special and definitely not worth the £29.95 it costs to buy. With so many other, much better, RPG's on the market right now it's unlikely you'll want to say hello to this one, let alone see it all the way through to the goodbye.


(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Big City Rigs: Bus Driver review

What would you expect from a driving game? Fast cars? High octane excitement? Something with enough glamour Jenson Button and co would be jealous? Well then, go and buy Race Driver: Grid because speed, excitement and glamour are not to be found while playing Big City Rigs: Bus Driver.

Yes, you read that correctly, Bus Driver. This game is about driving buses - possibly the least glamorous form of transport (Unless you happen to be a rock star with your own pimped out home on wheels) You have to pick up and drop off passengers, follow the rules of the road and well... not run anyone over while you drive various routes trying to make as much of a profit as possible. Yes, it's almost an attempt to join driving and simulation genres which unfortunately is badly well executed. Despite the concept being a rather original idea for a game, Bus Driver is so full of flaws it's almost as un-enjoyable as a long trip home on a London night bus... when the nutter decides to sit next to you for the whole journey.

Let's start with the basics in that the game just doesn't work very well. Now, buses aren't exactly the simplest vehicles to drive but it would help if Bus Driver actually started with the correct controls. For unfathomable reasons, I needed to go into the options and edit the control scheme before the bus would even move! However, it's when you start driving that the real issues occur thanks to the poor clipping and an apparently non-existent physics engine.

Bus Driver isn't the best looking game in the world; in fact it's graphically poor. (It looks a lot worse than the publicity photos would have you think)But the real problem for me was just how the whole games world just doesn't work- cars just disappear from the road in front of your eyes while buildings and other features will lose their entire textures you drive past. While these problems don't stop you playing outright, I often discovered an issue that was completely out of my control yet meant the mission was over. A combination of poor pedestrian A.I. and terrible graphical issues occasionally led to passengers getting stuck in a place that was neither inside nor outside of the bus. This is a huge problem because with a passenger stuck like this, moving your bus will injure them meaning you fail the tour instantly which is massively frustrating - more so than the useless maps that don't make it clear what direction you're supposed to go.

Now games are supposed to be fun right? Apparently the creators of Bus Driver didn't get this memo because this ‘game' is as boring as hell. Yes, it involves driving, and yes it involves check points in the form of bus stops or specific locations to drive through, but there's no excitement or fun in it because you have to drive very slowly. Waiting at a traffic light - which you have to do or risk failing the tour - is dull. Bus Driver claims to have variety in the various types of buses you can drive, but the game is extremely repetitive. You're basically just driving around very bland environments, stopping, starting and struggling to turn corners. You can't even try to gain enjoyment through messing with the minds of passengers by closing the doors as they walk up to the bus...every passenger HAS to get on, not matter how late you're running.

Unless you have a particular interest in buses and driving them it's probably a good idea not to purchase Bus Driver. It's an individual game I'll give it that but it's hard to enjoy and costs far too much. It's more disappointing than a 10 hour bus journey to Land's end and probably shouldn't be on the roads. (The road is your rig by the way)Avoid it like, well like you would a bus that was hurtling down the road at 50 miles per hour.


(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Dragon Age: Origins goes triple platinum

Bioware and EA have announced that Dragon Age: Origins has sold a mighty 3.2 million copies worldwide since it was released at the end of last year. Naturally, the companies are rather pleased about this.

"This is a tremendous start for the Dragon Age franchise and we are extremely pleased with the great reception the game has already received from critics and fans worldwide," said Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder, BioWare and Group General Manager of the RPG/MMO Group of EA. "Our team is dedicated to crafting high quality, engaging new adventures and stories in the world of Ferelden for our fans!"

With expansion packs in the way of Return To Ostagar and Awakening it's likely both the fans and the creators will continue to remain cheerful for some time to come.

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Monday, 8 February 2010

Election Year Special!

Top of the political pops

It’s election year! And that means come May (or March, or whatever time in the next three months it’s called) it’s likely your mates could be arguing about politics instead of important things like which musician has the best haircut. Fear not however; because loads of great songs are either about political issues or have themes that could fit comfortably within the sphere of public policy, and I've tried to select the best of them in this list

Some of the tracks are based around obvious election issues, for example 'National Express 'by The Divine Comedy represents the inevitable debates about public transport while Blur’s 'Mr Robinson and his QUANGO' (that is a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) has been chosen because of the threat of cuts from every political party. Meanwhile 'Suspicious Eyes' by The Rakes deals with the issues of security and terrorism which may or may not have been increased by the subject of Bloc Party’s 'Helicopter' - The Iraq War.

On a much less serious note 'Golden Brown' by The Stranglers is in there mainly because the title sounds like Gordon Brown, however ‘Never a frown with Gordon Brown’ probably wouldn’t work as a campaign slogan for the Prime Minister... On the other side 'The Eton Rifles' by The Jam represents David Cameron. The Eton Educated leader of the Conservative Party once said its one of his favourite songs, which didn’t go down very well with Paul Weller. While one party will form the government the others will not so 'Loser' by Beck seems highly appropriate here. Meanwhile, the leader of the winning party will become the Prime Minister the loser will no doubt be asking themselves 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?'

Maybe you won’t vote because you don’t see the point, well you’ve been covered in this Gobify list too by The Smiths with 'What Difference Does It Make?' . Of course, even if the world’s most charismatic person is elected to Parliament at the election, they won’t stay popular forever (I’m looking at you Tony Blair) so 'Can’t Stand Me Now' by The Libertines feels very relevant here!

Who knows what will happen come election time, and it may still be some way off, but you don’t need an excuse to listen to a collection of 13 vaguely related but excellent songs now do you?

  1. Blur – Mr Robinson and his QUANGO.
  2. Bloc Party – Helicopter
  3. Divine Comedy – National Express
  4. Graham Coxon – People Of The Earth
  5. The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I go?
  6. The Stranglers – Golden Brown
  7. The Jam – The Eton Rifles
  8. Pulp – Help The Aged
  9. Peter, Bjorn and John – The Young Folks
  10. The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make
  11. The Rakes – Suspicious Eyes
  12. Beck – Loser
  13. The Libertines – Can’t Stand Me Now
(Originally written for Gobshout)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Fallout: New Vegas trailer released

Yes, it's here. Bethesda have released the first teaser trailer for Fallout: New Vegas which is scheduled for release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in October this year. You can watch the trailer here on Game-Debate.

A statement from Bethesda says "Fallout: New Vegas, the follow-up to Fallout 3 - the 2008 Game of the Year - brings this beloved franchise to a location only Fallout could do justice: Vegas. Fallout: New Vegas takes all the action, humor, and post-apocalyptic grime and grit of this legendary series, and raises the stakes"


(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Fallout: New Vegas Annoucement Today

Bethesda are set to release details about New Vegas, the next instalment of the Fallout franchise at some point later today.

A Tweet from the official Bethesda Twitter yesterday said "Keep your eyes peeled for new stuff on #FalloutNewVegas tomorrow!" while Pete Hines, the Vice-President of the publisher, tweeted "if you're into Fallout or want to find out something, anything, on Fallout: New Vegas...well, tomorrow, it begins"

You may have guessed the next instalment of Fallout will be set in a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas. However, it isn't going to be a direct sequel to Fallout 3.

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Age of Pirates II - City of Abandoned Ships

One For Davy Jones' Locker

Avast, me hearties! Do ye land-lovers want to find fortune while becoming the scourge of the seven seas? De ye want to drink grog and woo buxom wenches? Then join the crew and live the life of a pirate. Yarr!

Right, that’s the generic pirate clichés out of the way and there will be no more because Age of Pirates II: City of Abandoned Ships is average at best and frankly doesn’t deserve any cheerful pirate stereotypes. When it comes to competent sea-farers, this one is less Captain Jack Sparrow and more The Sea Captain from The Simpsons. (“Yarr, I don’t know what I’m doing.”)

We were all taught as youngsters not to judge a book by its cover... but you know that’s rubbish because you’ve met people at parties and formed a lifelong opinion of them almost instantly. Yes, he may have cured world hunger but to you he’s still the douche who totally walked over and stopped you from chatting up that really amazing girl that things were starting to go well with. (Of course, change this specific example to fit your gender and/or sexual preferences... or just ignore it entirely and move on)

Anyway, you can probably guess that AoP II doesn’t exactly give the player an outstanding first impression. It’s not pretty at all, the textures are awful, the resolution can’t be much more than 640 x 480 and you can actually see how unsmooth your character is just by looking at their arms. We’re in 2010 now but looking at this will make you think we’re much nearer to the start of the century. Unfortunately the game play isn’t much better than the graphics.

Age of Pirates II features action on both land and sea but don’t expect to get too much enjoyment out of either. While you’re on land its mainly a quest based affair that is slightly remnant of Mount And Blade in that you wander into taverns, shops and the like accepting tasks from whoever may offer them. Once you have a goal, don’t expect much assistance when it comes to completing it. AoP II doesn’t offer any clues as to what needs to be done. The non-existence of a map means you’ll get very used to walking around entire areas, talking to each one of the boring, repetitive NPC’s, and looking inside every building in order to find whatever it is you’re looking for. It’s more frustrating than fun which isn’t something a game should be.

Combat isn’t much more enjoyable and feels rather underdeveloped. It’s mainly sword based and you’ll stab, thrust, parry and block in attempt to vanquish your foes. Unfortunately the controls aren’t great – it’s difficult to move while in battle – and you’ll meet an untimely end if you can’t block at exactly the right moment. Even on the easiest game setting you’ll learn to save often while playingAge of Pirates II. Sadly, heading out to sea on a boat just makes combat even less enjoyable with an even steeper learning curve – and as with so much of this game you won’t get any helpful tutorial to tell you what’s needed.

One example springs to mind here. While playing as Peter Blood I could not for the life of me figure out how to reload the cannons, and as I was playing with the digital download I didn’t have access to manual. My first thought was to visit the he Age of Pirates II Official forum which, just resulted in a dead link. Professional ay? After scouring the internet the only advice I could find was to either ‘Look in the Manual’ (The one that doesn’t appear to come with the download) or wait FIFTEEN minutes to reload the cannons automatically. Here’s some advice, if you do decide to play AoP II, you should definitely get yourself a book for the sea journeys. Not only will you need one for the cannons but also for any travelling on the high seas. The ships move very, very slowly, which is a shame because you can travel anywhere – if you have the patience to get there.

This game had so much potential. The basic elements of taking quests, and hand to hand combat are, as mentioned, very much like Mount And Blade. However, not much has been executed well the poor controls, directionless quest structure and terrible graphics make this a rather forgettable experience which isn't worth the £19.99 asking price. Perhaps with Age of Pirates: Captain Blood due to be released later this year there’s a chance for massive improvements, but based on this outing I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.Age of Pirates II, I command you to walk the plank!

(Review originally written for Game-Debate)

Monday, 1 February 2010

Marvin B. Naylor - Little Speck Of Blue

Charming, Intelligent, Psychedelic Folk

The beauty of the earth, getting older, the end of the world and colonising other planets: are these a series of university lectures or television programmes? Nope, they’re all subjects Marvin B. Naylor has managed to cram into his charming new single Little Speck Of Blue. Not bad going for a song that’s three minutes and forty seconds long.

I was immediately grabbed by the dreamy, almost psychedelic 12-string guitar in this folk record, which mainly just features Naylor and his instrument, save for some backing vocals in the middle.

The Little Speck of Blue? That’s earth, and this song is about how it’s often taken for granted but without being preachy, far from it. The lyrics are warm and often made me smile: ‘They’ll learn of love and death and hate, and learn why certain paintings are great’

Somehow, Marvin B. Naylor manages to remain cheerful while singing about the end of the world in 5 billion years time;’ The seas will boil, and it’ll be like Venus, no place to have a home, but we will have long since discovered Earth like planets and made more buildings that people can go up and down’

This is a charming, intelligent, track and Marvin’s skills as both a lyricist and a guitar player are demonstrated nicely. Little Speck of Blue is delightfully warm and it’s easy to imagine listening to this on a sunny hillside in the summer. Here’s hoping Marvin B. Naylor will be able to play in a delightful countryside environment sometime before the earth has ended.

(Originally written for Gobshout)

Mass Effect 2 tops UK chart

Bioware's Mass Effect 2 has taken top stop in the UK games chart just days after its release.

The RPG shooter has taken first place from the Nintendo Wii's Just Dance and has demoted Modern Warfare 2 into third position.

01. Mass Effect 2 (EA)
02. Just Dance (Ubisoft)
03. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision)
04. MAG (Sony)
05. Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo)
06. Wii Fit Plus (Nintendo)
07. FIFA 10 (EA)
08. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo)
09. Army Of Two: The 40th Day (EA)
10. James Cameron's Avatar: The Game (Ubisoft)

(Originally written for Game-Debate)