Thursday, 24 November 2016

Guns N' Boxes - Early Access Review

Shootin' peeps with exploding bananas in Guns N' Boxes...

Guns N' Boxes shoot

Much like a pixelated version of the Hunger Games, I'm stuck in a corner surrounded by crates of goodies, waiting for the carnage to begin. I can see my opponents in their respective positions - my mouse hovers over them expectantly, eager for bloodshed. As the match begins, I immediately start blasting away at crates with my pistol, hoping for a weapon drop. Success! I run over to it, desperately attempting to dodge my foes' bullets as I scoop up the precious weapon; it's a....weird lobster thing that shoots fire? Ok! 

That is Light Arrow Games' Guns N' Boxes in a nutshell. Madly scampering all over the place, shooting crates with weapons in the hope of getting other, crazier items of mass destruction, all the while trying to blow up everyone else. Sounds like my average Saturday night [note to self: stop trying to insinuate you actually leave the house once in a while and get some fresh air].

Guns N' Boxes character washing machine
If that alone doesn't persuade you to play, what will?

What the developers have cleverly created here is a top down arena shooter that's so madcap anyone can pick it up and play, no matter their skill level - even I, notoriously bad at aiming with a mouse while trying to move with WASD, did some damage with my exploding banana shooter. Everyone is so busy trying to figure out what effect their weapon has, or indeed what weapon they even possess at the time, that any sort of tactics (other than desperately pointing and shooting) go flying out of the window.

This is most certainly a good thing, as multiplayer arena shooters are meant to be fun, especially ones such as Guns N' Boxes which include local multiplayer. An element of slapstick always helps to reduce the tension of being beaten by your friends, and nothing says slapstick like being shot by a pixel art hotdog launcher. 

In fact, if I had one niggle, it would be that there aren't enough different weapons to go around, at least in the current version. You heard me - I crave more wacky launchers to blow my enemies to smithereens, with more obvious onscreen effects. While things like the railgun, which spews forth a bolt of lightning across the entire map, are awesome and obvious, other guns seem oddly generic in such a chaotic game.

Guns N' Boxes railgun

Guns N' Boxes is still in Early Access, so understandably lacks a few features which I hope would be present in the full release. There are only a few arenas to wreak havoc in, though admittedly it looks amazing (as does the pixel art style of the whole game!). Online multiplayer is an available option, yet no-one seems to be playing it; whether that's just because it doesn't actually work at the moment, or just no-one is bothering to play online, I can't tell, but it would have been nice to play against some  fellow humans. As it is, with my nonexistent social life being what it is, I had to play against some punishing ai bots - which are, again, another praiseworthy addition.

Guns N' Boxes hotdog launcher
Hotdogs, away!

I feel like when Guns N' Boxes is fully released it'll be an insane playground of destruction,  full of weird people desperately shooting crates and destroying each other as some sort of bizarre alternative to the after work pint with colleagues. Actually, I really hope that happens. At the moment, it's perfectly enjoyable to play with some mates for a little while. Early Access, as the name implies, gives you just a taste of that carnage, leaving you craving more. And I want more.

No seriously, I need more. Please?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Pixel Assassin - Beta Review

Being all sneaky-like in Pixel Assassin...

Creeping along the top of a crumbling, grey brick wall, I spy a lone sentry at the other end facing the other way. Heh heh heh. I steadily sneak up to him. Slowly slowly, catchy monkey I think to myself - though surely, if I was actually trying to catch a monkey I'd be going extremely fast. Readying my dagger, I walk up behind him and...he goes sailing away in a downwards trajectory to land at the bottom of the wall. Eh?

Although it's not quite what you expect when you go to backstab a man, I enjoyed this somewhat bizarre introduction to Pixel Assassin's Beta, a mobile 2D platformer centered around the elimination of key figures. Admittedly, the poor guard seemed to drift into the air rather than go tumbling down at gathering speed, but you can't have everything in such an early build. It's the thought that counts.

I think his last words were 'argh...'

Indeed, that exact phrase fits quite well with Pixel Assassin at this stage in development. There is a lot of potential for a fun, rather tense mobile game where you are given a target to kill at the beginning of each level, and yet it's held back at the moment by minor niggles and annoyances.

Take, for example, the level layout and enemies. I liked the fact that there a few different enemy types to avoid and/or poke with a dagger. Guards armed with swords patrol aggressively, cutting you down without a moment's hesitation if you stray into their line of sight. Archers are irritating bastards, constantly firing arrows with pinpoint accuracy like they're in a Robin Hood lookalike contest. Get behind them though, and their ass is yours (so to speak). With Pixel Assassin's handy virtual keyboard control system, navigating obstacles while avoiding these ne're-do-wells is rather challenging in a good way.

I'm the king of the castle!

The problem is that, while the levels are indeed tricky to complete, as any game should be, the lack of a checkpoint system makes it incredibly frustrating when you die over and over again and have to start from the beginning of the level each time. I'm not sure whether the red flags dotted around are supposed to be a checkpoint system of sorts, but they weren't working in this test build. I like games to be hard, but not this hard.

The cute pixel art graphics and the appropriate-sounding  music fit well into the game's medieval theme, and the scrolling background is a nice touch which I didn't expect. Again, the issue here is that although these things are great, and praise should be given to the developers for including them, there isn't enough variation - on each level the same sprites and backgrounds are recycled. I'm taking this with a pinch of salt, as I know it is an earl;y beta, but perhaps for a future version a different background per level would be nice.

Sounds suspiciously easy...

I did enjoy receiving an objective screen with my target's details upon it, as it at least gave me a clue as to what I would face at the end of the level. A particular favourite of mine was a target named 'Donald' - just 'Donald - who kicked the bucket while tucked up in bed. Is that the definition of a good night's sleep, I wonder?

The key thing to take away from this is that Pixel Assassin has great potential. This is an early beta, and it shouldn't be judged too harshly. Sneaking up behind guards before cruelly ending their lives is fun, and the overall design is at once captivating and challenging - though perhaps slightly too much of the latter. The effort has gone into the right places; all it needs now is a lot of polish.

And, quite possibly, more opportunities to throw people off buildings.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Exodemon - V0.3.91

Clawing weird creatures to death with my purple hands in Exodemon...

Exodemon menu titles

'Whoooaaaaoooowwww' was my immediate reaction upon booting up Kuupu's Exodemon for the first time; the crusty depths of my soul giggled with delight at how similar it was visually to an old favourite of mine, Bungie's Marathon series. The same blocky graphics, bizzarre alien monsters and sci-fi surroundings transported me back to a simpler time of FPS gaming.

Thankfully, this time I wasn't watching my dad play while I fearfully peeked over his shoulder.

Exodemon puts you in the role of a scientist who's been somehow infected by demonic forces, resulting in the subsequent possession of two purple clawed hands instead, well, the regular ones (is it wrong of me to assume this scientist had 'normal' hands to begin with - can't purple alien scientists also become possessed by aggravated demonic forces? Stop me if I'm over-analysing this.). Really, the game doesn't need any more explanation than this as you rampage around with your purple hands, but I'd be interested to see if Kuupu adds any more backstory.

Exodemon ranged monster enemy
Oh dear...

Visually, Exodemon delights with its old school approach to graphics and, indeed, level design. Much like early shooters such as Quake, beautiful sprites appear to be 2D in a 3D first person environment, which makes me feel like I'm playing in the 90s again. Enemies are colourful enough to easily stand out from the muted tones of crates and walls as they beam into existence. The surrounding environs feel enchantingly old fashioned - there are even moving platforms to jump across, and panels to open doors you've already gone past! [Inner child: heeeheeeeheee!]

Exodemon ranged combat
Eat energy bolts, weird alien scum!

For those who're thinking I've just been suckered in by rampant nostalgia, Exodemon is actually rather nice to play as a shooter regardless. Gameplay feels balanced, as the player constantly chooses whether to get in close with a one-hit-kill claw swipe or, as the need arises, shoot blazing energy bolts from the right hand to take out troublesome sharpshooters. The foe might not be clever, but the various enemy types make it a challenge to stay on top, and I died on several occasions by not paying enough attention.

Exodemon swarm enemy
Yeah these get annoying to deal with very quickly...

Perhaps one of the most intuitive things Kuupu has done is to place the health bar and ammo counters actually on the hands themselves - which constantly curl and uncurl in a sinister manner, by the way - which does wonders for the level of immersion. By  modernising UI in this manner, instead of having annoying top of screen health bars, Kuupu have made sure Exodemon isn't just another old school wannabe.

I don't think there's any point in deliberately trying to find fault with this game for the sake of a 'review', especially as it's in such an early stage; I certainly couldn't find anything particularly displeasing. 

Exodemon background sky
Oooo so pretty!

I really hope Exodemon continues to be a proud descendant of the great FPS titans, and I can't wait to play more of it.

Not  whilst hiding behind anything, I might add. Well, maybe just a little bit.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Children of Apollo - Test Build

It's probably something to do with my warped - and somewhat overactive imagination - but it's amazing how the simple enemies in CargoCultGaming's Children of Apollo seem so very sinister.

Children of Apollo title screen
Look at that screen!!

I reckon it's primarily down to the way this intriguing 2D exploration shooter has been visually designed. The player, and the aforementioned enemies, are composed of simple pixel art shapes, plain white on a completely black background. This is perhaps interesting itself in today's hyper-artistic indie game market, but that's not what fascinates me. Oh no.

What makes Children of Apollo so beguiling is that the in-game view resembles watching footage through an old monitor. It curves at the edges. It flickers. The sides of the screen even wibble around, as if the signal is poor. It's a strange design choice, but a brilliant one considering the planet exploration setting.

Children of Apollo shooting
Yeah, I don't know what's happening...but is that the point?

You see, looking at that old screen, I can instantly believe that what I'm actually seeing is a video representation of an astronaut wandering around a planet and encountering weird aliens - aliens which could now be wildly different in the flesh as opposed to on-screen. Sure, the quality isn't great, but perhaps this is all I can see from a far-off space station - maybe I'm actually controlling some sort of weaponised, man-shaped robot on the planet's surface. 

Sometimes it amazes me what I can convince myself to be true.

It probably helps that in this very, very early build, I have no idea what is going on. I have a gun, which I can shoot continuously and seemingly forever. I can wander around and find strange creatures in a limited area and, because of that artistic design, get extremely creeped out by them beyond all reason and run screaming away in terror.

Children of Apollo enemy
Probably safer to stay in the circle...?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I really do have an overactive imagination, and people are wondering why I've wasted time writing about it, when clearly I've gone slightly mad. Perhaps if anyone reads this, they'll pity the poor fool banging on about some simple pixels moving around on a screen.

But I'd like to think not. I think any game that can induce such a reaction is worth watching, and I'll certainly have one eye firmly on Children of Apollo. From a safe distance.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Fumiko! - Preview

Going on a weird trip in the Fumiko! demo level...

Fumiko! demo level

Entering the world of Fumiko! is a bit like finding yourself inside some weird, narcotic-induced episode, full of bright lights and beautiful colours slapping you in the face as you fly past. The fact that you appear to be playing as a nude representation of a female AI who's head is, essentially, on fire doesn't exactly scream 'reality'.

You know what? Sod reality. Reality doesn't let me spring 100ft up in the air to cross a chasm made of luminous cuboids.

Fumiko! on the other hand, most definitely does.

Fumiko! black demo level
Think I'm supposed to aiming towards the middle one...?

The mechanics of the game thus far seem to be those of a standard 3D platformer i.e. you attempt to jump and dash to different floating platforms to reach objectives and, if you've got my manual dexterity, more often than not plummet to your doom.

Yet that simplified summary does Fumiko! a disservice. For one thing, the jumping itself is insanely enjoyable, primarily because pressing spacebar (though a gamepad is recommended) launches you into space with such force that you can barely control your trajectory all, leaving you desperately trying to aim for any platform which might be reachable. This sounds frustrating, and admittedly coupled with the somewhat slippery interaction with objects it can be. If you add in double jumps and dash jumps, though, then what at first is annoying actually turns into something incredibly fun as you bound across the level like a low gravity Ezio.

Fumiko! demo falling
Bugger, there I go again.

Just what it is that you're bounding across is open to interpretation. Fumiko! is charmingly psychedelic in appearance, its extremely colourful and delightful low-poly models adding to the sense of being in some abstract, AI-based otherworld. In fact, being low-poly helps to avoid visual confusion, as there's nothing more annoying in a platformer than misunderstanding where a platform actually is. The sheer amount of colour on display in this demo level adds a significant 'wooow' factor, as nothing says dull like drab aesthetics. To cut a long story short, Fumiko! looks flippin' good.

Fumiko! text overlays
Looks very nice, but sorta hard to read...

Despite the fact that this is only an early demo level, it's already got some interesting little things going on. It makes clever use of hints and instructions in overlays on the surrounding scenery, so as to not break the sense of immersion by having an incongruous text box appear. What I would say about these, though, is that it's quite difficult to read writing on a nearby block when you're hurtling towards it at high speed.

There are even little cutscenes, cued in by interacting with strange robot fellow once you reach objectives. You can also (praise the lord!) skip the text of these tutorial cutscenes - not that the writing is boring, far from it, but my attention span wanes when I could be jumping around like a demented bunny. It's a thoughtful gesture that many games fail to implement.

Perhaps the only real criticism I have at this stage is that I struggled to comprehend where enemies were, or how they kept making me explode. They're represented as cubes of various colours, in keeping with Fumiko!'s low-poly nature, but they're so transparent that I could barely see them before they promptly forced me to respawn. It added a layer of difficulty which I'm not sure was necessary at that early stage.
Fumiko! demo white background

In any case, I think it's safe to say that Fumiko! is one to look out for, especially if you need some light relief from the humdrum of everyday life.

And, y'know, you basically play as a cross between Cortana and Superman. Awesome enough for you yet?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Abstract Arena - Demo

A look at the Abstract Arena v1.006 demo build...

Abstract Arena title screen

The intricate skills required to master a top-down shooter have always eluded me. Having to maintain a state of 360 degree awareness while also trying to aim and shoot is something that my imbecilic brain can't readily comprehend, resulting in consecutive deaths in a variety of forms.

Despite this, they're often bloody good fun -  and, I'm happy to say, Credici's Abstract Arena  is no different in that regard.

 Aesthetically it's very pleasing, the clean white background contrastingly nicely with the crisp sprites of the arena...participants. There is a slight hesitation there, as playing Abstract Arena feels a bit like being inside the mind of an AI in an Iain M Banks novel, playfully sparring with its fellows in a simulated environment. It's not entirely clear just what it is you're controlling; they could be spaceships battling in some crazy universe, or, equally, representations of advanced AI Minds.
Abstract Arena singleplayer
In case you can't tell, I'm losing.

Frankly, it doesn't really matter -  the clue is in the name after all.

What does matter is how it's executed, and even my mind - with its haphazard top-down shooter skills - can tell that this is done rather well. Because of the aesthetic style, it doesn't take too long to figure out the key elements; who you are, and where the enemy is. Even the menus are presented in such a crisp simple manner that's incredibly easy to understand. The limited keyboard controls, while being in a slightly odd configuration, streamline the gameplay into a pure shooter experience; just primary and secondary fire, none of that confusing multiple-number-keys weapon swapping. I enjoy this kind of pure simplicity in a shooter, the better for me to concentrate on actually surviving (winning is normally out of the question).

Abstract Arena menu
Oooo just look at the pretty colours!

That isn't to say that Credici have skimped on content, even in this early build. Several different maps are available; while at this stage it's not too clear what the differences between them are, the fact that there are any others at all is a nice touch. The AI is absolutely fiendish, and even with the difficulty turned all the way down like a wimp I was still in a lot of trouble, especially when I had the maximum 6 players on a fairly small map. There is even, dare I say it, multiplayer, which seems like a shooter staple but is actually fairly ambitious for a demo. Sadly I didn't try that facet out this time, as the brilliant yet monstrous AI had me weeping impotently in a corner.

Abstract Arena singeplayer
Being honest, I died several seconds ago...
Admittedly, there is still a fair amount of work to be done before full release; there (understandably) isn't a massive amount of content here at the moment.  Despite the clean graphics, I initially had no clue what I was doing, and a tutorial would have been nice. I know, I know, tutorials are for the weak and worthless cowards too afraid to get their hands dirty! Even so, when you're dropped straight into the hungry maw of a ravenous AI, it's good to have a guiding hand. Or even a few hints really.

Nevertheless, Abstract Arena is a lovely little arcade shooter, and I can't wait to see it develop even further. Just don't try to get all philosophical on it and start questioning things, like I did. It's called abstract for a reason, dummy.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Crusader Kings II - Tales of Misfortune

Well that escalated quickly...

Crusader Kings 2 Duke death
There are worse ways to go, but few as ignoble.

The king is dead, long live the king! Except he wasn't a king. He was a Lotharingian Duke, and a pretty rubbish one at that. But he is dead. Very dead, leaving a 1 year old daughter on the throne. Bugger.

Anyone who's played Paradox Interactive's Crusader Kings II will know this is a less than ideal situation. If Europa Universalis is the equivalent of a documentary on foreign politics, then Crusader Kings is a gritty, hyper-violent soap opera where everyone is trying to snatch the reins of power. Sadly for me, the reins aren't that difficult to grab from a toddler.

Let's rewind for a sec. The year is 867, and Duke Primus Dunedain  - yes, I've abused the power of the Ruler Creator DLC to combine Stardust and LOTR - has just entered this bloodthirsty version of Europe, full of vim and vigour. He is the Duke of Burgundy in the Kingdom of Lotharingia, right on the border to the Kingdom of Italy. A Grey Eminence, he's got the diplomatic skillz to pay the billz...or so I hope.

Immediately I spot an initial problem; my king dislikes me. More than that, he hates me *gulp*. What have I done to offend him? Frantically I try to figure out the problem, as the last thing I need in an heirless new game is the monarch's displeasure.

Turns out he's just a bit of a racist. I'm of German stock and he, unfortunately, is not. I could convert to his culture, but then I'd take a massive hit to my prestige, presumably because I'd be seen as an ass-kissing idiot by my subjects.

Turning my attention to marriage, I discover that despite Primus being a Duke there aren't many eligible ladies on CKII's version of Tinder. The sooner he gets hitched and starts churning out potential heirs the better really, but thankfully I manage to spot a Princess, Hildegard Karling, lurking in the list. She's related to a king, so there's a handy prestige bonus for marrying her. Somewhat to my dismay - and, presumably, Primus's, - she actively dislikes her new husband, despite having only just met him. He just can't catch a break.

Crusader Kings 2 marriage
Let the baby-making fun commence!

With a gnawing feeling at the back of my mind telling me that this isn't the greatest way to start a game, I tentatively suggest that Primus go on a hunt to earn some prestige.

A stag's been sighted! Should I let the bold Duke run gaily after it, hoping to earn praise in the eyes of his retainers, with only the slight risk of being maimed? Blithely, I select this option.

Duke Primus has gained the 'maimed' trait. Bloody hell.

I imagine him chasing down the stag on his horse, hair flying in the wind, before shooting himself in the leg with an arrow and landing on his spear point first, much to the amusement of those around him.

Crusader Kings 2 hunting accident
I mean, c'mon, what are the odds?

Now an ailing cripple, it seems old Primus still has a bit of life left in him yet, as not long afterward Princess Hildegard gets pregnant. Shortly after that, out pops his only daughter, and heir, Eowyn - surely, I desperately think, with a name like that things can only improve.

Job done, Duke Primus Dunedain promptly pops his clogs at the venerable age of 31.

Options for toddlers are understandably limited in Crusader Kings; in other words, I make prodigious use of the fast-forward button.
Deciding that the only way for Eowyn to survive is to make her as deceitful and tricksy as possible, her Spymaster becomes her tutor when she reaches 5 years of age. Unfortunately for her subjects, she also gains the 'cruel' and 'arbitrary' traits. I suppose King Joffrey wasn't all that bad a ruler, right?
The Kingdom of Lotharingia has a couple of civil wars, one of which Eowyn declines to join on the rebel side, reasoning that pissing off a powerful king probably isn't in her best interests. She doesn't even get invited to the other one, which is just downright rude in my opinion.
Age 15, and Eowyn gains the moniker 'the Younger' - apparently she's been ruling long enough as a child to earn a nickname, which is more than her father ever did. Only one year to go until Crusader King's version of adulthood rears its ugly head; badly-timed wars, aggravating assassinations and, most importantly of all, boys.
They grow up so fast, don't they?
Stay tuned for Part 2, where it remains to be seen whether the Dunedain dynasty will find a quick and ignoble end in the dustbin of the fictional European family tree.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Best Split Screen Games play with your (soon to be ex) friends.

Sometimes, you need to see the look of outrage in your friend's eyes to really get that feeling of sick satisfaction. You might risk a real-life beating, but playing split screen on a sofa is somehow far more hilarious than online.

Here is a list of some of the best split screen games spanning several console generations [note to PC Master Race - I know you can now do split screen via Steam, but...just...ok?]:

007: Agent Under Fire
Played on: PS2

I don't think I've ever had as much fun with a shooter as I did with 007 Agent Under Fire. A classic first person shooter, this game let you customise game modes to ridiculous levels. Low gravity? Check. Jetpacks? Check. Spiderman-esque grappling hook? Check. Add in one-shot kills for all weapons and you had a recipe for some serious fun.

Played on: Xbox One

If you haven't heard of Minecraft, you must be an extraterrestrial visiting our planet from afar. Hail, mighty alien warlord. Observe how we bicker amongst ourselves as our planet slowly crumbles around us.

Standard Minecraft gameplay applies here, but obviously with another person (or three!); laugh as you systematically destroy all that they've built and held dear!

Call of Duty Black Ops
Played on: Xbox 360

Again, not much explanation needed here. Point, shoot, kill, with up to four players. 'Blops' gained a significant edge over earlier incarnations in that it included bots in split screen matches, meaning that you can play with two people without getting overly bored/frustrated.

Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing
Played on: Xbox 360

What fun it is to play as Sonic shooting a big green boxing glove at Shadow, all while the wacky commentator cries 'Oh no, he didn't see that coming!' It's basically Mario Kart  with Sonic characters, but no less lovable for that.

A plethora of unlockable maps, characters and game modes makes this great for a casual gaming sofa sesh.

Mortal Kombat vs DC
Played on: Xbox 360

Possibly the best way to settle age-old 'who win in a fight...' arguments, Mortal Kombat vs DC sees such crazy things as Batman beat up Sub-Zero, or Superman being impaled by Scorpion's spear. It's also slightly less eye-wateringly gruesome than the regular Mortal Kombat series, which might appeal to those with more sensitive dispositions. Then again, it's still rather brutal.

As with most fighting games, it's made for two player duels, but even four players can benefit from split screen tag team battles.

Star Wars :Battlefront II
Played on: PS2

Remember how the recent Star Wars Battlefront felt vaguely lacking? This game is why. An absolutely superb game to play with your mates, the likes of Yoda and Darth Maul clashed sabres on Conquest style maps. The level of detail was astounding too - even the Death Star trash compactor can be activated at the press of a button, spelling certain doom for anyone foolish enough to be inside.

A must try is the Assault mode on the Mos Eisley map; it's Heroes versus Villains, where the only playable characters are (as you might expect) a mix of powerful Jedi, Sith, Bounty Hunters, Princesses and the odd Smuggler/Wookie combo thrown in. It's as awesome as it sounds.

Halo 3
Played on: Xbox 360

Too many 360 titles on this list? Probably, but it was a golden era of split screen multiplayer, and Halo 3 was its king. I'm not sure why I'm speaking in the past tense - it is still bloody good fun.

The co-op campaign mode - for up to four players -  is excellent, with each player actually looking different (Player 2 is the Arbiter, for the example. Multiplayer is where it's at though, especially with the (then) new Forge mode. None of this namby pamby sprinting, diving, jetpack rubbish. Just hard shooting, fast aiming and driving a Banshee into your horrified friend.

Rocket League
Played on: Xbox One

Take one part Fifa, one part Burnout, mix them together and this insane game is the result. Picture football but played with rocket-powered racing cars. Yep. Mad, innit.

Good for a laugh in split screen, especially if, like me, you get bored of your mates endlessly humiliating you on actual football games. Bastards.

Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
Played on: Xbox 360

One more for the road! A slightly oddball entry, in Viva Pinata: TIP you and a friend cultivate a growing garden of strange, sweet-based animals. It can be quite a challenge keeping the Sour Pinatas out of your garden on your own, so playing in split screen means you can see off those pesky critters with ease.

Of course, you run the risk of Player 2 beating your lovely Fudgehog to death with a disembodied shovel. Thems the breaks.

There are a lot more cool local multiplayer games, but time runs out on me...for now. Let me know of any more in the comments!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Warhammer 40,000:Dawn of War - Dark Crusade

Dark Crusade intro cinematic Space Marines

Waaaaaaagggghhhhhh! That's my only thought as hordes of upgraded Ork Nobz slam into those pretty Space Marines and make quite a mess. That, and quite a sinister laugh. Hur hur hur.

Commanding vast armies in the 41st Millenium was, and still is, insanely fun, and that's why I keep coming back to Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade. Not that I disapprove of what Relic have done with Dawn of II - far from it. I absolutely love guiding my small squad of Space Marines through the battles of a distant future, leveling up and gaining new equipment as they go. It's just that with Dark Crusade, the base-building, fast-paced RTS formula was absolutely honed to something nearing perfection.

The great wealth of races and units available lent itself well to the Campaign mode where, instead of a series of linked story missions, Relic chose to include a turn-based strategy map, much like the Total War series. Once a battle was chosen, Skirmish mode was initiated, including any special units you managed to accrue along the way. There were even semi-scripted missions to completely wipe an opposing faction from the face of the map, which were highly entertaining. Overall, this was a refreshing change.

That wasn't the best thing about Dark Crusade, oh no. Indeed, something else continually draws me back to this game like a moth to the barrel of an overheating plasma pistol; the audio.

Warhammer 40,000 Assault Marine

In no other game have I been so enthralled by the voice work. Relic's Company of Heroes games come close, but nothing beats listening to the panic in an Imperial Guardsman's voice, or the savage joy in the war cry of an Ork. In fact, I'm going to wax lyrical on this even further and set out a formula for this success:

  1. Each faction sounds significantly different. You might think this was a given in 40K, but many other RTS games have units which sound incredibly similar and, therefore, rather dull. Not so here. Space Marines sound professional and fearless; Eldar echoing and dreamlike; Orks have a somewhat dark humour; Imperial Guard like regular humans about to face untold horrors (and, much to my delight, like British Tommies from WWII); Tau full of confidence; Chaos Space Marines sound, frankly, insane. Overall, each faction's voice artistry immerses you in their universe. Admittedly, the Necrons just utter beeping noises, but you can't have everything.
    Dark Crusade Elder Guardians
    Foolish humans, ignoring warnings.
  2. Factions alert you when the enemy is revealed for the first time. This is a stroke of genius which other games overlook. Each race utters their own characterful exclamations when they first spot the enemy in a battle, making the whole setup feel almost real - that they really don't know who they might find, and they're not just moving 3D models set up to fight some others. Notable examples include Space Marines direly muttering 'Heretics...' when spotting Chaos forces, Eldar proclaiming that 'The humans have ignored our warnings, and now they must die', and - my favourite by far - Orks spotting Space Marines shout gleefully 'TIN CAN HOOMIES!!!'
  3. Units scream in terror when they lose morale. An interesting mechanic in Dark Crusade is that units lose morale during a fight and become far less effective. When this happens, you can hear a Guardsman cry 'We can't hold 'em!' or a Tau Fire Warrior shout 'Fall back, fall back!' to his comrades. The voices even change depending on which leaders you have attached to the squad. This actually quite helpful, as when you hear a Space Marine exclaiming 'Back to the rally point!', you know one of your units is in trouble somewhere.
    Dark Crusade Assault Marines
    Death from above!
  4. Units announce their presence on the battlefield. If your attention is elsewhere, it's handy to hear a reassuring 'Imperial Guard reporting for duty.' announcing the presence of your Guardsman spawning at base, or the ominous 'I have arrived' of the Tau Commander.
  5. Units say cool things when you select them. This isn't anything revolutionary; in fact I'm pretty sure this has been an RTS staple since the beginning of time. However, Dark Crusade has several different lines for any one unit, and the character in the voice work is a joy to listen to. Favourites include the Space Marine Chaplain proclaiming that 'I am the Emperor's will made manifest!', or Eldar Banshees stating 'We exist to avenge our sisters.' As ever, Chaos Space Marines provide some of the most characterful lines, including such gems as 'Do you hear the voices too?!' Quite possibly, yes.
Having typed all of that, I feel that I may have gone into a bit too much detail, but I can't help it. Dark Crusade's  audio is insane, and I encourage everyone to immediately play it just for that. Alternatively, if my tirade has resulted in you dying of boredom, hopefully your soul will have a fun journey as it flies screaming into the warp. You filthy heretic, you.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Game Development Sites - getting into the industry

If you read any of the numerous posts concerning getting into the game development industry, they all say one thing: make something. Make anything. Prove to future employers that you can walk the walk - excuse the cliché - and not just talk the talk.

At some point I'll probably post a list of game development resources, of which there are an infinitesimal amount, if you want to make a game or a mod but don't know where to begin.

If instead you're looking for a team to make a game with, then the sweet words which will shortly emerge from my twisted mind palace are for you. For those of a saner nature, I mean that this post is the one you need.

Here are some of the best sites if you've got little to no professional experience and want to turn your hobby into something more:


Known for being a vast repository of quality mods, ModDB actually has a dedicated page for people looking to create said mods and/or new games from scratch.

Displaying anything from paid job opportunities for the more experienced, to hobbyists forging new game companies, this jobs board is great for those looking to become a part of something great. Who knows, if you stick with it  - as many people are prone not to - you might actually become successful.

Think I just heard the collective eye-rolling of all the cynics out there.


I imagine everyone has heard of Reddit, unless you live somewhere in the outer reaches of the galaxy. If you think of anything at all, chances are it's on Reddit, and game development is no exception.

Seeing as it is Reddit, this board gets a huge amount of job postings every day. Some of them are artists or programmers actively looking for projects to get involved in, others might be established teams looking for more talent. As such, act fast when applying or the job might have been filled.

The crucial thing here is, as with all of these sites, you don't need to be a AAA published developer. Some are looking for a bit more experience, certainly, but others are happy to have enthusiastic newbies.

This site doesn't perhaps have the frequency of postings as Reddit or ModDB, but handily it does have a chronological counter displaying how long until the post expires. This stops you accidentally pestering someone about a job listing that has long gone.

Gamedev separates its classifieds into hobby projects, freelancers and general jobs, making the layout actually fairly intuitive.

Here are a few final points:

  • Be wary of those trying to get you to work for free/no recognition - obviously, you might not expect actual payment if you're a beginner, but make sure you at least get a mention in the final release! Always try to check how legit a post is before committing to anything.
  • Don't be a douche and suddenly disappear off the grid. If you have to quit, do so, but make sure you tell your teammates beforehand so they can prepare for your departure.
  • Remember that most of these people will be fellow hobbyists; they'll also have full time jobs, so they probably won't expect a bajillion hours of development a week. That being said, the more effort you put in the closer you'll get to an actual finished game. Wooooo!

That'll just about do it for now. Let me know in the comments about other useful game dev websites.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Age of Gladiators - Review

Age of Gladiators character portrait - female

'Are you not entertained?!' I scream as my gladiator valiantly fights for his life on the brutal, blood-drenched sands of the arena floor. As I watch the health and stamina of each combatant tick down, it slowly dawns on me that I'd forgotten to hand poor old Lupus a weapon as I pushed him through the arena gates. Erm, sorry pal.

A crueller critic would suggest this is due to a certain lack of tutorials and general help in Creative Storm Entertainment's Age of Gladiators, rather than my own unobservant stupidity. It was most certainly the latter in this instance, and yet as I'm playing I get the feeling that I don't have much of a clue what I'm doing. There are a whole host of things to do, and not much explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Frankly, that's not a bad thing at all. The amount of content in this little gladiator-managing sim where, much like in similar sports-related ones, you control the financial assets of your team rather than blow for blow arena combat, is impressive. You can find talent scouts, pick and train gladiators, hire doctors and blacksmiths, engage in shady deals with other gladiator bosses, place bets on matches; the list goes on. The lack of hand-holding for this much content is remarkably refreshing.

betting on your gladiators in Age of Gladiators
Much like Crassus, I might be slightly overconfident here...

The level of detail is also fantastic, proving that you need depth as well as breadth for a kickass sim. Gladiators have their own unique stats and weapon specialities, and if they survive can be trained for even more. I love renaming things to suit my own diabolical needs, and Age of Gladiators allowed me to indulge my (not so) hidden Gladiator film fantasies, styling myself as the irascible Proximo. It's these tiny delicacies that foster a deeper connection to the walking body bags you send to their imminent deaths, and possibly why my failure to equip Lupus adequately was galling. Incidentally, it turned out he was a baker in a former life, so it may not have helped much anyway.

Age of Gladiators animal fight death screen
The sad outcome of unarmed man versus lion.

The game looks gorgeous, with a slightly retro vibe to it. The gladiators themselves are a randomly assigned character portrait, each one looking ready to bring the pain and take out the trash. Sure, it's not like there's any animation in the offing, with each fight being a series of dice rolls next to gladiator portraits, but you can't have everything. After all, this is a management sim at the end of the day.

Age of Gladiators character portrait - male
Just my luck for Lupus to be taken ill on his first day.

These sorts of games admittedly aren't for everyone; this ain't no mollycoddling, here-is-your-next-objective kinda rubbish. You need to pay attention to survive, but it is definitely worth it. Plus, y'know, it's gladiators! What's not to love?

The verdict: If you like the sound of a game similar to Football Manager with more gladiatorial violence, great artwork and forcing slaves to fight lions then look no further than Age of Gladiators. Et tu, Brute.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Destiny - Tips for Beginners

With the release of Rise of Iron, more people than ever will be hopping onto Destiny for the first time.

Destiny title screen

This is a short yet (hopefully) sweet little cache of beginner’s tips to help those newbies take their first steps on the road to greatness, or the wrong end of a Knight’s cleaver.

·         Class doesn’t really matter – It’s the age-old dilemma: which starting class to choose? You get three choices in Destiny – Warlock, Hunter or Titan – and each have their own skill trees and armour. You also get three character slots though, so if you want you can have a go with all of them.

They can use exactly the same weapon types; Hunters, despite the name, aren’t limited to sniper rifles, nor Titans to shotguns. You can build whatever the hell kinda class you want – the only difference will be the skills on offer, and base stats such as health (understandably, a Titan is a bit tougher than a Hunter).
Then again, if you want to feel like Emperor Palpatine then the Warlock is totally the way to go. #justsayin

·         Xander 99-40 – Sure, you might not feel like Boba Fett when you complete these pretty simple bounties from Xander 99-40 (found in the Tower area), but they are extremely important for levelling.

Xander 99-40 refreshes his bounties every day, so it’s wise to visit him before going anywhere else. Completed bounties give a massive amount of xp towards your level progression and item upgrades, so it’s worth remembering to pick up the easy ones – stuff like kill 50 Fallen and suchlike. Seriously, at lower levels just a couple of completed bounties can result in levelling up.

But just how do you complete them? You’ve achieved the objective, but the bounty symbol is still yellow. What gives?

Players who aren’t fans of fetch quests needn’t worry; you can complete bounties at any time, from anywhere. Just go into the Progress tab, find the completed bounty highlighted in yellow and select it, Job done!

·         Dat crazy ol’ map – The galaxy map, while initially quite simple, gets more cluttered as the game progresses. Here are a couple of things to look out for:

o   Crucible – If PVP is more your bag then you’ll be wanting the Crucible arenas. To find them, look for the white outline of two crossed swords in top right section of the map.

o   Strikes – These are available from level 20 onwards, and are essentially dungeon runs with random matchmaking. They can give great loot, so they’re worth a shot. Just look for the sword-and shield symbol in the top right of the map.

o   Symbols – As with the above points, some things on the map may look as though they’re just decoration – they aren’t. Hover the cursor over everything and who knows what you may discover!

·         Free roaming - Those coming from an MMO background may wonder initially if the whole game is just a series of semi-scripted missions. ‘Where is the free roaming, exploration of planets?’ one might ask as they cheerfully defend another objective from the irrepressible Fallen.

Fear not! You can indeed explore a series of connected regions on each planet to your heart’s content – all you have to do is open up the galaxy map, find a planet, select the marker shaped like an arrow on the planet’s surface (i.e. not a mission star) and Hey Presto! You’re in.

·         Patrols – You may eventually receive a mission to do a certain number of different patrols. This is ultimately confusing as Destiny doesn’t really explain what they are or how to do them.

To complete patrols you need to open up the galaxy map, find a planet, select the marker shaped like an arrow on the planet’s surface (i.e. not a mission star) [déjà vu anyone?]. Once you’re free roaming on the planet, you should receive patrol markers come up on the HUD; just locate and activate them and you get a mission objective to complete. Huzzah!

It’s also worth noting that doing patrols, and exploring in general, is a good way to collect materials needed later for upgrading weapons and armour.

·         Random Events and how to find them – Have you ever been out walking when suddenly a horde of aliens emerges from a cunningly hidden dropship? Thankfully I’m talking about Destiny’s random events and not real life – though that would be quite cool, wouldn’t it?

These events can occur, as the name suggests, fairly randomly in any zone on a planet which isn’t an instanced location. What this means is that you won’t get a Taken invasion in the middle of a crucial boss fight, but that you can take part in random events in open zones even while technically doing a mission. Essentially, anywhere that you can see other players (who aren’t your fire team) these events can crop up.

Having said that, it’s often a struggle to find these events if they really tickle your fancy. So, here’s a handy website to help you do just that.

Got any more tips n tricks which haven’t been put in this article through sheer laziness? Let me know in the comments!