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I felt a little like a dying clown, with a streak of rin tin tin

January 8th, 2017

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Happy New Year to you all. Hope you had a good Christmas.

Today’s review is of the last of Telltale’s attempts to make a decent CSI game: Fatal Conspiracy.

csifctitle

It’s in the game

December 24th, 2016

Written by: Rik

I like football games, possibly more than I actually like football. A couple of matches in the evening after work during the week is one of life’s simple pleasures. But recently I’ve found it difficult to find a footy game I can get on with. Not since PES 2008 (which. depending on your point of view, was either the worst of the series and death of modern PES, or the last hurrah for Pro Evo as we used to know it) have I invested a massive amount of time in a particular title, instead flitting between various reasonably modern versions of the two major franchises for a season or so without any of them really clicking for me.

Possibly they’re a bit too hard. This is difficult for me to admit, as someone who always felt that more complicated and nuanced football games represented progress, instead of constantly harking back to Sensible Soccer or Kick Off. As a hardened PES nut in the mid noughties I was fairly insufferable, demanding to play at the highest difficulty and scoffing at anyone with a preference for FIFA because it might have been easier to get to grips with. It was about understanding the game of football, us PES knobs used to say, and if you understood the game of football you’d know why PES was better. I never thought the time would come when I wanted an easier game.

*strokes beard* Of course, there hasn't been a really good football game since Pele's Soccer on the Atari 2600...

*strokes beard* Of course, there hasn’t been a really good football game since Pele’s Soccer on the Atari 2600…

These days, I find modern football games do replicate real football, but mainly in the sense that they’re a bit like playing in real life as an unfit 35 year old surrounded by keener and more athletic players: kind of familiar with what’s going on, but petrified of receiving the ball, desperate to get rid of it when it comes your way, and when you occasionally consider doing something vaguely clever you realise that to perform even a basic turn involves a delay of several seconds between thought and action.

In skilled hands, of course, I’m sure this is not the case. But otherwise they kind of feel like a throwback to FIFA ’97 – unresponsive players and animations not keeping up with the action – with stilted and frustrating on-pitch action the result. Bloody minded, dogged persistence can bring some sense of achievement and progress, but it all feels a little too much like hard work. A bit like when football games weren’t just about FIFA and PES, and there were viable, if flawed, third party options that had good bits and bad bits, and finding out provided a few hours of entertainment.

This wasn't the best year for FIFA, although there have arguably been worse since.

This wasn’t the best year for FIFA, although there have arguably been worse since.

There’s a bit of reluctance to look back in football games, as with football itself. Leaving aside the “Sensible Soccer is the best” crowd, the people who cling onto their favourite PES or FIFA from the past sort of seem a bit mad because of their refusal to move on. It seems a bit like me saying I’d rather support the 1992 First Division title winning Leeds team, or the 2001 Champions League semi-finalists, instead of the current rabble. But I think that might be where I find myself at the moment.

CSI: Unsolved!

December 18th, 2016

Written by: Rik

This is another review of a Nintendo DS game, kind of following on from this one, the reasons for which are explained here. Normal service (i.e. reviews of old PC games) will be resumed shortly.

Such was my fondness for CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases, I would have been happy for subsequent games in the series to change as little as possible, to the extent that simply providing more cases using the exact same engine would have done me just fine. Realistically, that was never going to happen, given that even the most positive of contemporary reviews didn’t come close to mirroring the almost bizarre levels of enthusiasm that I have for that game.

To be fair, though, Other Ocean’s follow-up, CSI: Unsolved! (hereafter Unsolved, because I really can’t handle quite so many exclamation marks in the same piece) is very, very similar to its predecessor in lots of ways. They’re very recognisably related, and follow much the same format. But certain presentational changes have been made, all well-intentioned and with the aim of improvement, and unfortunately they all add up to an altogether inferior experience.

Start the game and you’re straight into a DS rendition of the TV show’s credit sequence. And, yes, this finally (finally!) includes the theme song, although it’s a bit of a cruise-ship cover version. The cast of characters is pretty much the same as before, except Sara Sidle returns in place of the suddenly-departed Riley Adams (so, basically, the Season 10 cast). In TV, the point of a credits sequence is to introduce the actors who are going to be starring in the show. In a game without any voice acting, you just get a run-down of the character names (in a bizarrely pixellated font, in this case).

CSI: Unsolved! continued »

Horseradish Hill and the Rhubarb Rapids

December 12th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Today in “news from a year ago that we somehow missed”, that will be of interest to fans of classic platform games: Keen Dreams is available on Steam.

Most of the Keen series was published by shareware giants Apogee, later known as 3D Realms. However the developers, id software, had previously released games through Softdisk. After the first Keen trilogy was completed, id still had an outstanding contractual obligation to write a few games for their old publisher.

So, while this was a bit of a chore for iD, they used it as an opportunity to develop technology for the next keen. What resulted was a kind of prototype for Keen 4 and 5. It has the bolder, more cartoony graphics style of those later Keens, along with sloped floors and and some limited adlib card support. However not all the features of Keen 4 are present – there’s no pogo-stick, no background music and Keen can’t climb onto ledges. So Dreams is sometimes referred to as “Keen 3.5″.

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It’s the most surreal of the series (it is a dream after all), putting you in a land of giant vegetables. So you’re up against killer broccoli and potato soldiers. Your weapon is different to the other games, instead of a zapper you throw little grenade things that only temporarily stun enemies. I suppose a spinoff like this is the place to goof around a little with gameplay mechanics.

Another other nickname for Dreams used to be “the lost episode”. The main Keen series has been well known to retro gamers, since two installments were given away for free, and Apogee continued continued to make their oldies available to order via mail or online (and they’ve been on Steam for a while now). Dreams however has been hard to find – it came from a small publisher, we hadn’t able to purchase it for years, and it didn’t appear in compilations with the other Keens.

However, it’s now no longer abandonware. What’s more, it’ll only set you back £2.80 on Steam. The blurb on steam says ” This classic DOS game has been updated to run on modern systems, with new Steam achievements and leaderboards”. I’m guessing that means it’s been recompiled for windows, and isn’t just bundled up with Dosbox.

(side note: the wikipedia page for Dreams says this and the later games had Parallax scrolling. This seems wrong to me – parallax is when the background scrolls at a different rate to the foreground. Which I’m pretty sure didn’t happen in any Keen. Or am I remembering wrong?)

75 tons of lasers and stomping

December 5th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Gigantic bipedal robotic war machines are a fairly ridiculous idea, yet one that has much popularity in scifi. I suppose simply because they mix the mechanical with the humanoid, like some kind of massive armoured warrior with guns for arms, unleashing more firepower than the Red Army and casually treading on cars, houses and people. For gaming fans of such robotic engines of destruction, a favourite series was Mechwarrior. There were several installments between 1989 and 2000, then it went for quiet for over a decade. An online multiplayer-only version arrived in 2013, but we don’t really care about that sort of thing here. However here’s some good news: Piranha, the makers of Mechwarrior Online have revealed they’re working on a proper 5th instalment with a single-player campaign, titled Mercenaries.

(Which, just to be slightly confusing, is a subtitle that’s been used before so I guess this is Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries 2?)

My own experiences of Mechwarrior come from the middle span of series, and I came aboard with Mechwarrior 2. What impressed me right from the start was how your view from the cockpit bobbed around as the mech took each massive stride. Also, you could glance around and see the mech’s arms and legs. You weren’t just some sort of disembodied presence with guns, but an actual walking war machine.

Nowadays the low-poly graphics are rather primitive, yet something about them still appeals to me. The mechs stomping around like boxy, angular avatars of war. The landscapes are bare and uncluttered. It’s like robo-warfare distilled down to core principles. Huge blocky leviathans lumbering ponderously around, swivelling at the waist to train their heavy guns on their unfortunate target. Little speedy guys loping into a flanking position. You the player, walking repeatedly into wall trying to figure out the fairly complex controls.

Then there was that important mechanic of monitoring waste heat levels. Many weapons had limitless ammo, but if you hammered the fire button repeatedly for too long, the mech would start overheating. Push the heat levels too far and an emergency shutdown leaves you standing there inert for several seconds, which dumps heat but is is an embarrassing way to turn yourself into an easy target. You can choose to over-ride that and start moving and firing again, but that carries the risk of exploding violently.

I also recall the extensive customisation options for your mech. Maybe too extensive, actually. The range of choices was bewildering. More lasers in the arms? Or maybe the torso. Or put heat sinks there. Or an autocannon. Or more missiles. Following on from that, given how totally the mech could be reconfigured, I never really worked out what separated any two mechs of the same tonnage. Looking back, I kind of wish more of a basic profile was imposed on each mech. Make this one a long range missile support guy, the next one a heavy gun carrier, another a close range assault specialist. And so on. (Maybe 4 onwards did that, I dunno).

Mercenaries (the first one) I also played, tho I recall some heavy duty cheating. This one brought in a resource management aspect. Rather than being given a fresh new mech every mission, you were now responsible for your own small army. You earned cash for successfully completing objectives, and spent it repairing or rearming your mechs. You also had to purchase new ones for yourself or your wingmen to pilot. Since your starting mech was kind of spindly and pathetic, earning your way to something more heavyweight was an urgent necessity. I’m guessing this new one will work in a similar manner.

Then onto 3, which featured more realistic graphics. Which either look closer to modern standards, or lack that kind of stark abstract appeal of the old titles, depending on your perspective I guess. I recall my favourite tactics in that one being to find a balance between speed and size, load up on beam lasers than basically try to just chop everyone’s legs off. That one had persistent assets between each mission also, though it dropped the financial part, you just scavenged supplies along the way.

Mech 4 I missed out on, it was on my “find this and play for FFG” list for ages. Neither this nor the older games have appeared on digital distribution yet, as far as I can tell, so if you want to play any you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and hunt down copies on ebay or look at abandonware sites. No idea how compatible they are with windows 10, sorry.

Anyways, I’ll let myself get a little excited about this latest installment, but not too excited just yet as the release is scheduled for 2018.

Thanksgiving retro-gaming

December 1st, 2016

Written by: Stoo

I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in America visiting the Wife’s family and celebrating thanksgiving. Which was pretty great, with the key traditional features of a family gathering and stacks of food. Even if due to a hectic schedule led to us chopping vegetables and making pies at 2am the night before.

Anyways my brother in law has lately been in the mood to revisit some old Nintendo favourites, so while over there I was introducing him to emulation on his PC. As it happens I learned a few new tricks myself, because instead of installing a bunch separate emulators we ended up setting up Retroarch, something I’ve not tried before.

If you haven’t heard of it, Retroarch is a front end for running emulators for many different systems. The emulators are referred to as cores, and there are a wide range available, for just about every console you’d want. For popular systems like the SNES you’ll have a few choices. The cores are created by third parties and I think many are based on standalone emulators (I recongised Nestopia in there for example).

Cores aren’t included with the base package, but adding them is dead easy as you can choose what you want to install from within the Retroarch interface. Roms however, you will have to provide yourself from external sources, of course. I recommend emuparadise.me. Then just go back into Retroarch and tell it to scan whatever directory you put the Roms in.

The gui is geared towards use on a big screen, so it’s fairly uncluttered. It’s also geared towards use with a gamepad. In fact we found xbox controllers worked great for both the gui and cores without much tweaking required.

So we were pretty quickly up and running playing Mario Kart. My brother in law wanted to revisit Chip And Dale’s rescue rangers, which I’d never played but recognised as the work of Capcom, something about the music and graphics was a bit megaman-ish. He also indulged me in a game of Final Fight 3, one of my favourite of the old scrolling Beat ‘em Ups. In which I always play Mayor Haggar because he can grab bad guys, jump into the air then piledrive them into the sidewalk.

One other matter to report: we were also taken to an amazing arcade full of old 80s and 90s games. You pay a flat fee up front, at the door, then play any games as much as you like. Which is great because I suck at these arcade classics, so infinite continues are a must. I had a blast on a bunch of games including Galaga, some truly ancient vector-based star wars game, and Gauntlet 2. Meanwhile my wife and sister in law were happy playing some old racing game, and some pinball too.

The highlight was the 1992 x-men beat-em-up, which all four of us could play together. Infinite lives meant we could freely use the health-draining special moves, so I spent the entire game spamming Colossus’ “angry explosion” attack. Which he never actually does in the comics because his powers have nothing to do with explosions. We also had a four-player go at the Turtles arcade game, a trip back to that first wave of cartoon-fueled turtles mass popularity, circa 1989. This was entertaining also, although I was occasionally trying to control entirely the wrong turtle, since they all look pretty similar to each other.

So if you ever happen to be around northern Illinois, pay a visit to Underground Retrocade in West Dundee.

Real cars, real racing

November 14th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

How are things? Anything going on in the world? I’ve been on holiday, just catching up.

Today we’re looking at some semi-serious racing action, in the form of RACE: The WTCC Game from Simbin.

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Hail to the king, baby!

October 20th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Duke Nukem 3D. To commemorate this, 3D Realms have released World Tour Edition on steam, featuring a new fourth [edit – make that fifth] chapter created by a couple of the original level designers.

When I wrote about my favourite early shooters, I sadly chose to omit Duke3D, mostly because I never actually played more than the first (shareware) chapter. I’m more familiar with Blood, which used the same engine, so that took a slot on the list instead. Still, it made a strong impression for a couple of reasons.

Most obvious is the game’s general attitude – the machismo, the goofy humour, the stacks of movie references. Duke is an iconic gaming protagonist, a pastiche of 80s action heroes with his shades, his swagger and the gravelly voice. The game is, I think, aware of how ridiculous he is yet it’s totally unashamed. He mows down pig cops, delivers one-liners, and goes to strip clubs.

Most of this I can still enjoy. Not so sure how I feel about the strip clubs. Maybe I can take that as all part of the joke too, but if lady gamers are put off, I will not blame you. The women in pods moaning at you to kill them, is definitely just unpleasant and jarring.

Moving away from that sort of Serious Business topic, this was the first shooter I played with maps that looked like something in the real world. I think there’s a more subtle point at work here too, it was a shooter with locations that looked like they had an actual purpose.

Consider Doom for a moment – you might be told a level was a toxin refinery or a command post, but it was mostly just an abstract collection of rooms and corridors with a scifi theme. You’d be hard pushed to say what was meant to happen here. Duke however gave us streets, a bar and a cinema. Nowadays urban drabness is actually overdone and kind of tedious, but in 1996 it was new and exciting. We weren’t in some vaguely defined fantasy or scifi fortress, these were the sort of places that actually existed in a city.

To enhance the realism, 3D Realms packed their maps with all sorts of details, many of which were interactive. Duke could smash bottles, knock pool balls around. The duke-themed pinball machines didn’t actually do anything, but they did provide a chance for another bad joke (don’t have time to play with myself!).

Duke arrived at a time when we were looking for a new king of the first person shooters, as Doom aged. It was a new and exciting challenger for that throne, but was unable to claim it for long. A few months later Quake showed up and wowed shooter fans with its next-generation, true-3D engine. Yet even if it was stuck in the 2-and-a-half dimensional shenanigans of earlier days, I always preferred Duke3d personally. Quake was advanced but drab and uninspired, a game of grimly shooting grey monsters in brown castles. Duke3D had some colour, personality, and attention to detail.

The World Tour edition will set you back £15 on steam. Which is more than we normally pay for a 90s shooter (Quake is £4) so I guess you’re paying for that new chapter. The original full version of the game has been pulled from digital distribution, but, if you just want a few levels of Duke without shelling out, the shareware version can still be downloaded from 3D Realms. (you will need to set it up yourself in Dosbox).

CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases (Extras!)

October 15th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hello! So, I captured quite a few screenshots, bits of audio and video clips for my piece on CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases. Although I was able to use most of what I wanted to in the main article, I figured I may as well stick some of the rest up here.

CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases (Extras!) continued »

CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases

October 15th, 2016

Written by: Rik

This is a review of a Nintendo DS game. We don’t review DS games on here, except here we sort of are doing that, obviously. But it’s not going in the main list of PC reviews. As discussed previously, I sort of just wanted to write about this game and get it out of my system.

The first CSI game to be released on the Nintendo DS was a port of 369 Interactive’s Dark Motives. To be honest, it wasn’t great: the source material was pretty bad to begin with, so a technically-compromised version of an already rather stiff and uninspiring adventure was never likely to be a success. There was potential in the format: the DS interface made for easy adventuring on the go, the touchscreen and stylus a ready replacement for the desktop PC’s mouse pointer, but it needed, you know, a little more thought than simply trying to cram an existing CD-based game onto a tiny cartridge.

DS Dark Motives: the presentation gives the written dialogue a certain “Jill Sandwich” quality.

A better approach, then, was to develop games specifically for the system: while many PSP games fell into the (admittedly tempting) trap of almost-but-not-quite recreating the PS2 experience on handheld, the DS wasn’t powerful enough for developers to have to confront that dilemma on a regular basis. Games that focused on what the machine could do best, both from an audio-visual perspective and in the use of the touchscreen, had the best chance of being successful.

CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases is a great example of this. Not only is it an improvement on the DS version of Dark Motives, it’s better than the PC version of Dark Motives or any of the other CSI games. It’s also – wait for it – the best looking and best sounding of all the CSI games, which is some achievement given the limited technical resources of the system on which it was released.

CSI: Deadly Intent – The Hidden Cases continued »