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I hate you, Shadow Guardian

November 27th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

I’ve mentioned Wizardry 7 a few times on this site – it’s a turn-based RPG from the early 90s which has consumed huge amounts of my life. It’s full of tough fights, right from the start when you find your pathetic newbies swarmed by rat-men. You’ll spend an awful lot of time either dying, or hitting the “sod this, abandon game” button and reloading to try again.

Yet one boss is, amongst all the defeats and beatings, particularly memorable. Where by memorable I mean, my hatred for it will forever be etched into my mind like words carved into a granite cliff. It is an awful, howling, infuriating abomination of a monster. I cannot recall how many attempts it first took me to get past it.

Image taken from www.oldgames.sk. If I ever had any I put them all on a memory stick then set fire to it.

Image taken from www.oldgames.sk. If I ever had any of my own I put them on a memory stick then set fire to it.

Let’s start with talking about how difficult it is just to land a solid hit on the Guardian. Its standard physical attack sometimes causes paralysis – so the character it afflicts does nothing for several turns of combat. It can cast a scream that causes fear, which means that each character has a chance of cowering uselessly instead of following the orders they were given. Also it can Blink, disappearing for a portion of each turn, which means some characters won’t get a chance to take any actions.

In other words, your team is either slumped on the ground motioneless, backing into a corner softly whimpering, or just firing spells into thin air. None of this is doing any damage to the Guardian, as it grins away at you from its spooky, skeletal, ghostly, face. Now let’s talk about what it does in return to your futile efforts.

There’s the Lifesteal spell, which I’m fairly sure is broken as it announces “678 points damage” when your average character has, at this point in the game, maybe 40 hit points. So that’s instant death and he gets some healing in return. Then he has Asphyxiate, which is actually meant to be instant-death as it doesn’t do numerical damage, just either outright succeeds or fails to make a character drop dead . Thankfully the latter occurs, sometimes, but when it works that can mean multiple characters dead in one shot. Maybe the entire team. Game over man, game over.

So let’s sum up – your guys are worthless, he is floating around blinking in and out until he decides to just casually destroy you. I should point out countermeasures to some of these effects do exist, but at this (fairly early) stage in the game, your characters won’t have access to all of them, at least not in strong or plentiful enough forms. Cure Paralysis potions are pricy. A level 2 (out of 7) Magic Screen spell isn’t going to help a vast amount.

That’s not all! There’s another layer of awfulness to this guy. See, normally in an RPG like this, if a monster is kicking your ass you can leave it for a while and go quest and fight stuff elsewhere. Gain some experience points, level the team and get them some better swords. Then come back and have another go.

In this case, though, once you pass into the section of dungeon containing the Shadow Guardian, there’s no way out except past it. You can, if you wish, grind away killing monsters in area immediately before it. But that could mean hours upon hours of killing the same damn giant bugs and lizards over and over and over, and there’s no chance of upgraded gear. It’s a dismal position to be in if you’re seriously under-levelled for the fight.

So then, a golden rule of old RPGs – keep multiple savegames. Always have one at least an hour’s play before your current location. But still, screw you, Shadow Guardian.

More diving into haystacks

November 17th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

So I finished Assassin’s Creed, finishing in couple of rather brutal ten-on-one fights, a disappointingly linear final sequence and a surprisingly easy Final Boss. Still a solidly enjoyable game overall. I’ve now moved onto Assassin’s Creed 2, and so far it looks like an all-round improvement. Which is pretty much what a sequel should be like!

AC1 repeated the same pattern of events about 8 times – do a bunch of short missions in exchange for info, save people from being harassed by guards, do a big Assassination Mission. This time around, the structure is less rigid and there are more activities to keep you busy. You can crack on right away with the assassinations, or goof around doing secondary tasks at your own pace – looking for chests of gold, or various side-missions. There are also the Assassin’s Tombs to investigate, dungeon-like sections with an emphasis on climbing and platform jumping, in search of keys to a particularly fancy treasure.

Then you can return to your home town and upgrade buildings and buy gear. Having resources to manage, a choice of weapons etc is a welcome addition, although I’ve already now bought just about everything I can, and have the town 71% upgraded, after thoroughly ransacking all the treasure I could from the first city. I wonder if they should have thrown in more stuff to purchase.

The visual indicators of guard hostility towards you are somewhat clearer, AC1′s separate indicators for social status and witness awareness were a bit clunky. I’m might not be far enough in to comment extensively on combat, it actually feels mostly easier, except for when fighting brutes. Having hireable allies is quite entertaining, sending a bunch of Courtesans to distract guards while I steal loot.

The cities still look gorgeous, and there’s a great feeling of freedom skipping around the rooftops of Florence, until I screw up and mistime a jump and go crashing into a crowd of people anyway. Our hero Ezio is a bit more charismatic than Altair, I think we can feel a bit more attached to him when we see his care-free pre-assassin life and the tragedy that led him to take up impractical hoods and stabby blades.

I think I need to play more before I decide what I think about on the meta-story about Desmond. The intro with him was pretty much a chore to get through before I could begin the historical content. For now though, I am glad that despite them keeping the “game within a game” theme you don’t need to basically start up, and quit, twice each time you play.

(ps I am playing some Old Games too. Honest! We might have another joint review in the works).

Another place, another time

November 9th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Today’s game takes us – indirectly, at least – back to the earlier days of FFG, and one of the first games we ever covered.

Let’s go stunt driving, it’s Crashday.

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a more serious matter

November 6th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

So this Gamergate business appears to be still rumbling along. Ostensibly it’s about ethics in gaming journalism, and I’m sure that’s what some followers believed. Yet the movement seems heavily tainted with reactionary anti-feminist attitudes, sometimes to the extent of threats and harassment. It’s getting pretty ugly out there, and a couple of GG’s prominent targets have apparently even left their homes in fear.

We think it should go without saying, but, based on recent events, it obviously doesn’t, so we’ll say it: games are for everyone, and women belong in gaming. They’re playing Mass Effect and the latest Call of Duty along with everyone else. What’s more, they shouldn’t have to lay low, keep their heads down, or accept stuff like sexist attitudes or overtly sexualised female characters in gaming. It’s fair game to challenge traditional attitudes about what is and isn’t appropriate in gaming. So, no getting upset over feminist critiques. There seems to be some sort of feminists vs gamers narrative being set up, which is fairly dumb. It’s not a battle, it’s about improving gaming.

I was unsure whether we should really comment, we’re generally not ones to get topical here. But my fear is, to say nothing is to give tacit approval to awful things done in the name of ‘gamers’. We here are a part of gaming culture on the internet, even if we’re the most tiny of remote backwaters. So, I feel we should speak up. We’re really not interested in anything Gamergate has to say, we think it’s something without merit, and nothing more than an excuse to voice destructive prejudices.

If people really want to monitor the relationship between game developers and journalists, then sure, go for it. But it would be best to start again, under a new banner, because this one now stands for something else.

The three incarnations of TIE fighter

October 30th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

So yesterday I was very enthusiastic about GOG releasing TIE Fighter. Now unfortunately, having investigated further, I have a bit of bad news. Your purchase gets you original 1994 DOS release, and also the 1998 version. What’s missing, though, is the 1995 Collectors CD-ROM edition. This boosted the graphics resolution up to SVGA, improved the cutscenes and also had some extra voicovers.

You might say, if you want an upgrade to the original, why not just play the 98 release? However the change over to texture mapped graphics is something that rather changes the feel of the game. I guess it was a step forward in videogame graphics but I think, whether you prefer those early days of textured 3D to clean polygons, is something of a matter of taste. Meanwhile the soundtrack is no longer the dynamic imuse system, changing on the fly to match events, that did such great work in building atmosphere and excitement. It’s just ordinary CD tracks.

So that release could be seen as TIE overhauled, and not entirely for the better. Whereas the 1995 one is still the original game, just sharpened up and improved. It’s in my view the definitive version, and hopefully GOG will add it sometime.

(RT if you’re reading, I just quickly tried the ’94 DOS version, and it recognised my generic USB joypad right away without any need to tinker with the config)

Launch all TIE Fighter squadrons: Lucasarts games (finally) available at GOG.

October 28th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

New Publisher at GOG: Lucasarts\Disney

This is fantastic news, something we’ve been waiting for since gog.com first started up!

First up, we’ve got the space-sim X-Wing, an important event in PC gaming history. There had been star wars games before these, but a fully fledged simulation was something new and amazing. You were right there in the pilot’s seat, throwing the X-wing into loops as you evaded TIE interceptors, or gritting your teeth and staring down the sights as you closed for a strafing run on a Star Destroyer.

For variety you had the agile A-wing and the heavily armed, but clunky, Y-Wing. To add depth, you had to keep an eye on energy levels between lasers, shield and engines – nothing too complex, but a system that forced you to decide which factor was more important in a given situation. All this to a great score that not only featured familiar Star Wars themes, but changed on the fly to match events, using Lucasarts’ imuse system.

If there was one point against X-wing, it was that it was rather unforgiving – if you had to, say, protect a friendly ship you basically had to know ahead of time when and where enemies would hyperspace in, or you could never be there in time to protect it. The sequel TIE fighter eased back on the unfair map design, and then improved on X-wing’s strengths with a huge range of ships (6 or 7 fliable) and a wide range of missions. It’s probably one of the top few finest PC classics of the decade, in fact, still one of the greatest games of it’s sort to this day.

(for both games, and gog have included both the original and the 1998 versions with texture-mapped graphics, although those latter ones dropped the responsive sound-track for just CD-audio).

Like a lot of 30-somethings writing on websites I could prattle on here if I don’t watch myself. Let’s move on to the point-and-click adventures that Lucasarts were also known for. The most important release in this department, since it’s the first time it’s been seen on digital distribution, is the original Sam and Max. It’s a great example of the offbeat, wacky humour that made Lucasarts stand out over the competition. There’s also Fate of Atlantis, and the Monkey Island special edition, which were already on Steam but we’re always happy to see DRM-free releases.

The front page promises more to come. I’m particularly hoping for Day of the Tentacle. I also wonder if we’ll ever see their old World War 2 flight sims, like Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.

Get a bloomin’ move on

October 25th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Whoops! Back again already.

This is kind of an accidental review, as you’ll see, but new content is new content, I guess.

The game is The Italian Job.

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What’s wrong with being sexy?

October 25th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

We have a new discussion review for you today. Chosen for reasons of simply trying to give something a go that we’d never bothered to look at before, rather than any attempt to be topical, we make a belated attempt to take a look at a game from the Leisure Suit Larry series.

So – and I can’t believe I’m finally typing these words on FFG – here’s our review of Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail!

Larrytitle

3D Realms are back. And they’ll always have Duke3D, at least.

October 24th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

It’s been many years since we thought of 3D Realms as a company that actually made games. Their glory days were back in the late 80s to mid 90s, first releasing a bunch of platformers and scrolling shooters under their initial name Apogee, then several of the early classics of First Person shooters. From there they slipped into a decade-long failure to make a sequel to the most famous of those games. Then they shut down development altogether in 2009, not doing much more than fighting legal battles and licensing out remakes.

However, they’ve now been bought out and relaunched by Interceptor, the guys who did the remake of Shadow Warrior. This should be exciting news, I guess? One of the titans of days past, brought back from hibernation? Well, one new title they’re working on is bombshell which frankly… does not look promising at all. It’s like they took a generic “hot woman” 3D model from 10 years ago, stuck a robot arm on her and tried to give her attitude with a motorbike and a half-assed attempt to look a bit punk.

I’d like to be optimistic. Maybe they will have sucess with a new intellectual property. Or maybe we’ll get an awesome new Rise of the Triad. Or they’ll challenge all those indie hipster platform games by relaunching Bio Menace.

What a guy.

His mullet will now be ironic.

For now though, they’re celebrating the revival with an anthology of their their back catalogue. There’s a lot of content here – going all the way back to the really early stuff. Want a full list? Of course you do! It’s after the cut!

3D Realms are back. And they’ll always have Duke3D, at least. continued »

Her Majesty’s loyal terrier, defender of the so-called faith

October 18th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello!

I’ve been in the mood for some shooty action for a while, and a quick look through the archives suggests it’s been a while since I tackled a first-person shooter. (It doesn’t seem like a long time to me, because I’ve reached the age where all the years blur together, but it is.)

Anyway, it’s time to fight for queen and country as MI6′s most famous spy in 007: Nightfire.

NightfireTitle

We have more coming, including another discussion review, soon.