A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Category: Computer Games Page 1 of 2

GTA: Vice City

It’s good to be back!

Last week I had one of those urges that only a pregnant man can have, to step back into the shoes of Tommy Vercetti and relive the delights of Vice City. This 2003 Rockstar outing was easily one of the best games I ever played, everything about it simply oozed style and polish. It’s almost as if the developers took a standard checklist of things that get rated in a game, made sure every area got given the works, and then spent the rest of their time filling in the gaps. Because it’s exactly that which nails it for this game, the attention to detail that makes playing Vice City like stepping into the ’80s: the clothes, the music, the cars, the giant mobile phones, heck, even the intro scene features the game being loaded on a Commodore 64. Rockstar’s particular sense of humour is also here to see by the bucketload, from the tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the missions, through the fantastic dialogue and hilarious radio stations, to the small jabs and puns that little the streets of Vice City.

All of which is without even touching on the gameplay. Sitting firmly in the sandbox genre, Vice City gives you a wonderful feeling of being able to go about things your own way. Goofing around, stealing cars, running from the police, there’s plenty to do in the game when you aren’t really doing anything! But fortunately that doesn’t mean that Rockstar skimped out on the main storyline, which is by all means fantastic, and features all sorts of mission types, from starting riots, racing through the streets, to knocking off banks and delivering numerous methods of ‘persuasion’ to various denizens of the city. Aside from the main plot, there are plenty of other side missions and extras to discover, which add ample distraction to the standard mayhem generally meted out whilst driving between missions.

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Left 4 Dead Review

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead (PC)

For whatever reason, Valve deemed last weekend to be worthy of celebration, and in addition to offering a welcome discount, offered a free trial for their action-packed zombie fest Left 4 Dead. Never one to pass up on such offers, and having a few friends who’d already bought the game, I spent a fair few hours last weekend testing the game out, enough so to have convinced me to actually buy the thing!

Whilst Left 4 Dead sits firmly in the survival horror genre, it is without a doubt a shooter through and through. Whilst the genre may have its early origins with games like Alone in the Dark, Left 4 Dead is to that what 28 Days Later is to Night of the Living Dead. It’s a high-energy bloodbath, which is well and truly the game’s essence. Forget setting, plot or character development, the game boils down to an assault course for four, through levels strewn with zombies to some method of escape, with occasional safe points along the way.

That might not sound particularly novel, but the game’s central tenet is its co-operative side. Whilst there are plenty of games past that have featured zombies in one way or another, none have quite provided the experiences associated with the stereotypical zombie genre. Left 4 Dead clearly owes a lot to the zombie movie, from the opening intro to the closing credit sequences, and the gaming world has been truly aching for such a game. Mods such as Zombie Panic! or Zombie Master filled a gap, but Left 4 Dead has made full use of the Source engine to create a movie experience built for four.

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Return to Team Fortress

Team Fortress 2After playing Valve’s last flagship multiplayer game, Team Fortress 2, on and off over the past year, I’ve had some of my initial thoughts change since my post earlier this year. A raft of modifications, patches and packs have tweaked the game’s dynamics and bolstered its features such that the game now exudes a certain amount more polish than previously. My earlier speculation that Valve would not have the time (or eventually the inclination) to produce ‘service packs’ for that other classes in the game, after the length of time the original Medic pack took to be released, seems to have been disproved, with two further releases in the intervening period. These packs not only added achievements and unlockable weapons to two further classes, the Pyro and the Heavy, but also added extra game modes and maps.

I had originally written this post, long lingering in the limbo of the drafts bin, pointing out a number of weaknesses with the game as it stood. The most recent patch has done much to address those problems, and is a welcome and rather unexpected update, given Valve had denied there would be any releases for Team Fortress 2 until 2009 on account of the amount of work going into their latest release, Left 4 Dead. I’ve gone through and added some comments or changes where necessary, to reflect the recent update, though on the whole this post retains its original state.

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Assaulting the Team Fortress

Team Fortress 2

Valve’s Team Fortress 2 is already over six months old, so now might seem like an odd time to write a post on the games merits, but with the recent release of the Medic Achievement pack, and the rather surprising (though not unwelcome) news that Valve intends to integrate some of its popular features and improvements into the ageing Day of Defeat: Source, I decided I’d jot down a few of my impressions.

The release of Team Fortress 2 came as something of a surprise, after so little news about its development, with virtually nothing concrete after the initial revelations in 1999. The finished version bears absolutely no relation to those initial screenshots, instead maintaining much stronger links to the original modification Team Fortress Classic, with a strong glossy coat of The Incredibles style graphics and an uncut, Columbian-strength injection of humour.

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Company of Heroes Review

coh_front_1.jpg

Company of Heroes

With some of the highest scores awarded for a real-time strategy, being one of the Top 20 Metacritic All-Time High Scores, Company of Heroes ended up being one of those games I had little excuse not to try out, given that my PC could (just about) run it. Admittedly I’m unable to comment on the graphical splendour which seems to have charmed so many gamers’ hearts, as every setting on my screen reads either ‘low’ or ‘off’, but I’ve played a fair few strategy games over the years, and despite my early cynicism, Company of Heroes has warmed to me after a little experience on the online battlefields.

Whenever a game is released with a major historical theme, such as the ever popular World War II era, cries go up about the loss of realism to the gaming gods. Such and such would never happen, this and that never existed. Of course, many strategy games don’t even attempt to pander to the pedants of realism, and have been all the more successful for it (take the recent Supreme Commander, or any in the Command and Conquer series). Company of Heroes is no saint in this regard either, but its efforts to create a game at once realistic and fun have to be admired. There will always be players who complain about how developers could have stayed truer to real life, but Relic have done a good job in creating a game which at least seems realistic enough, and in ways which make the game fun to play. Shells fired at tanks have a chance of only glancing off the armour, and depending on the situation might even miss altogether; units under heavy fire become surpressed, limiting their movements and actions, or even pinned, leaving them helpless unless pulled out or relieved; and the variety of weapons and vehicles keep the tactics fresh and varied.

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