Entries tagged as review
Consider Phlebas remains for me the gold standard of Culture novels. So stand by for comparisons to it and complaints that Banks didn't just reproduce the exact same plot. But anyway, The Hydrogen Sonata is another book set in the Culture Universe. That means space opera and fast talking AIs.
The Hydrogen Sonata is about one Vyr Cossont, a member of the Gzilt civilisation in their final days. The civilisation as a whole is preparing to Sublime, that is transcend the physical universe. However with just a few days to go before the big event a dirty secret threatens to emerge that could wreck the whole affair. So it's up to Vyr and whoever she happens by to figure out the secret, decide whether to let everyone know and not get killed by the entire army that's after her.
The Hydrogen Sonata can be viewed as a topic book. It takes a particular topic, the process of Subliming, and demystifies it. In previous Culture books Subliming was mentioned and those who had done so were cosmic forces interacting with the mundane world only through visions or occasionally supernovae. Here we get to see it happen and realise the people who undergo it aren't ascetics or mighty beings, they are really just people. All the other topics around subliming are mentioned. Those who choose to remain behind, what happens to all the technology, how people live out their remaining days when there's a definite end to civilisation. It's a monumental book that succeeds in digesting this vast setting concept and boiling it down for us. There's very little to beat the opening of Hydrogen Sonata, as Vyr walks through a near abandoned city, her home city. Later on she visits a party boat representing the other extreme, a massive celebration of life before it ends as we know it. There's pay-off for it later on too.
Unfortunately it's like the plot gets in the way for the rest. Vyr is whisked away and at the same time thrown out of her own story. Various other characters take over, especially the Culture who are only tangentially involved. They're not bad characters, even the antagonists get Banks careful development to the point where you can understand their motives. The problem is they just end up spoiling the mood of Vyr's story. Her ending is the real ending but it's crammed in amidst endings for every character we met, so the effect is lost. The ending is in many ways similar to Consider Phlebas. A lot of people die for dubious achievements and we're forced to ask if anything the main characters did really mattered.
The Hydrogen Sonata is almost two books. One a very interesting look at the end of civilisation through one of its members, the other a lot of people trying to out-maneuver the apocalypse. Perhaps it would have been a better book if it had just been one or the other. Looks like this sonata should have been a solo.
Consider Phlebas remains for me the gold standard of Culture novels. I loved the protagonist. I loved the story set against the backdrop of a major interstellar war. I loved the depressing ending. I even love the cannibalism. So a true sequel has a lot to live up to. Look to Windward both achieves and fails this for highly personal reasons. So let's jump right in shall we?
Look to Windward is set for the most part on the Masaq' Orbital. It's just another Culture ring that orbits space and is home to billions of people. The events of the novel are set around an anniversary of sorts, light from the detonation of two stars blown up at the climax of the war from Consider Phlebas is finally reaching the orbital eight hundred years later. It's a cause for celebration and reflection. To complicate this an emissary is arriving from a species just recently recovered from a civil war. A war the Culture caused. So Culture citizens have cause for reflection on sins long past and sins recent. As the emissary arrives Culture delegates, the Homomdan ambassador and others plan and worry their way through daily life and the anniversary. But the emissary has a secret. He's on a mission of vengeance. The Culture started a war that killed five billion of his people and he's going to repay them, life for life.
Look to Windward is a very standard novel in the Culture setting. That's not a putdown. It's a portrayal of the setting in a time of peace, when people's greatest concerns are whether they'll go skydiving or lavarafting tomorrow. Banks goes so far as to have sections entirely of dialogue, drowning us in irreverent concerns of background characters. The main characters engage with all of this to varying degrees. Ziller, the outcast composer revels and detests it but appreciates the culture. The Homomdan ambassador, representative of a people who fought against the Culture all those years ago participates with some bemusement. And then there's Hub, the massive computer who runs the entire Orbital. The novel meanders with these characters and others, even as it slowly builds the tension with Quilan.
Quilan, the emissary sent to kill. He is in a sense the main character of the piece, even though he's the antagonist. His story is the very beginning of the book and his history is a sharp contrast to the ease the others exist in. It's a testement to Banks' skill that he uses such a bold idea and makes it work. You engage with Quilan, you learn his assignment as he does, in the end you even sympathise with him, even as he readies to commit mass murder.
There's a lot of twists to the story as it goes on, some you see coming, others you may miss. The resolution was too neat for me, though looking back there was a blink and you'll miss it Chekov's Gun. The book is a true sequel because it is about the grief and loss that comes after war, whether that war be recent or long ago If there's one narrative compromise that sticks out, it's that these people need therapists.
In short, A worthy follow-up to be sure.
You might be forgiven for thinking I played a lot of games this year. Really what I played was VR tech demos. I'll deal with them separately, after all most of them don't last more than an hour or two. Instead let's dig into the meaty games that were played this year. Remember they don't have to have come out this year, this is just the first year in which I touched them.
Deathwing It's been a bit of a Warhammer Christmas but they can't all be winners. While Deathwing has it in the atmosphere department everything else in the game feels janky and unfinished. Space Hulk was never my favourite board game and this isn't likely to convert me.
Pillars of Eternity This looked meh to me from the beginning and while I did find it a pleasant game which I completed to the finish I've little desire to go back to it. There were only a few interesting aspects to the world and no moments that stick out overall. Everything was serviceable, a firm meh.
Star Wars: The Old Republic I don't know why I tried it it to be honest. A drunken dare? It doesn't do anything interesting as an MMO or a Star Wars game. It's just a time filler. If this is what KOTOR turned into, leave me out of it.
The Elder Scrolls Online Another MMO, I have terrible taste. Elder Scrolls lasted longer in my mind than Star Wars but it's the same instanced off skinner box, just with larger areas. Play only with friends and murder them afterwards to preserve your secret.
Divinity: Original Sin This was the first year I actually dug into Divinity Original Sin. There were some false start attempts to co-op with friends but it's not really a co-op game. It's the sort of RPG that is more enjoyed alone in a dark room as the night draws ever closer... But seriously it's a fun game with just enough of everything. Credit goes to the simple but effective combo combat system which allows you to spam your favourite moves or experiment.
Mordheim It's Warhammer and Warhammer is good. The studio have done a fairly faithful recreation of the tabletop game but put their own spin with the forced over the shoulder cam that keeps you involved in the action. It's enough to make it its own thing feeling distinct from XCOM. I've only played a little but I want more.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun Likewise I only played a little of Shadow Tactics but it has all the fun of the old Commando games or Robin Hood, with the added bonus of being about super ninja samurai happy time. The developers know their audience as the first prompt of the game asks if you want the dialogue in Japanese with English subtitles.
Stellaris A strong contender for game of the year, Stellaris marked itself out from all the usual Space Empire games by being in real time. After the first few games it can get a bit samey but the developers have released promising DLC to spice up the weaker areas.
Total Warhammer Alas, there was nothing anyone could do to take away Total Warhammer's crown for game of the year. I'll admit I was hyped for the release but waited until this year to pick it up. Every expectation of mine has been met. It provides the Warhammer experience AND the Total War experience. The Orks are fighty, the Chaos is foul and every zombie is rendered with the artistry a big studio like CA can provide.
Wait, let me recheck the title. 2312 is not this year's round-up of what I played but a book title. I've not read lots of books this year, snacking rarely between mealtimes. However this was probably the one that stuck with me. There's an amusing divergence between books and games. If I said I hadn't finished a book and tried to review it, I'd be laughed out of town. Yet some games are downright unfinishable, with bugs out to here or gameplay that loops round like Finnegan's Wake(which I promise to review as soon as I finish it). Anyway, no more digressions. It's time for the review.
Continue reading "The Year in Review: 2312"
Did you enjoy The Elder Scrolls series, a venerable list of RPGs from Bethesda Studios with a focus on open world exploration and quantity in gameplay? Well then you'll momentarily enjoy reminders of those games while you're playing The Elder Scrolls Online. You'll turn and recognise some architecture from Skyrim, or catch a reference to a guild from Daggerfall.
One of the two things that Elder Scrolls Online is a big pile of references. This means that, every time I play it I think about better games. Thanks to the Elder Scrolls Online I really want to install OpenMW. Now, you might say World of Warcraft was a big pile of references to its predecessors but WoW at the time was a new way of looking at the Warcraft world. It had a wow factor as it let you walk inside a Mage's Tower that in previous games had only been viewable from the outside. Elder Scrolls has done it all before. Some of it with less visual acuity, some with more. The only thing Online offers over those other games is the promise of multiplayer.
The other thing that the Elder Scrolls Online manages to construct is the perfect skinner box. The homogenization of areas is extreme with each map varying only in how the dungeons and points are laid out. They all have some dolmens, a few open dungeons, a group dungeon and a list of things to do.There's plenty of variation in the individual quests and the vistas can be compelling but you can't shake the feeling you're ticking off boxes on a checklist. That checklist is the achievement list. Even at the faction level each faction has a starter zone, then one main area for each level range. The DLCs are a welcome change of pace as they're their own areas, breaking out of the series of droning progression. They must have realised at some point what a drudge it would be because the One Tamriel update allows you to level anywhere as any alliance. You can hop over to the high level Dominion zone and quest there as a low level argonian. This ironically brings in Oblivion's problem with level scaling, namely that every fight feels the same.
So it's a skinner box full of references to better games. Does Elder Scrolls Online have anything to recommend it? Well yes. The skill system is good. It's got the Elder Scrolls level from use along with perks that can be bought using skill points at certain levels. There's plenty of skills as well allowing for a good deal of freedom that might not be apparent from the starting classes. Skills aren't all handed to you immediately either. They appear to go along with the guilds you join or character perks you earn. Werewolves and vampires are implemented in a manner that makes them feel earned. Crime is its own venture that can be quite profitable.
The game has undergone some huge revisions from launch. Tamriel Unlimited, One Tamriel with more on the way like Player Housing. It might be enough to keep your interest until Elder Scrolls VI. For me it's only fun with friends.
I'm finally going into Pillars of Eternity, under advisement. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm an aficionado of the Infinity Engine games. Just last year I started another Baldur's Gate II play through only to drop it when I realised I'd already done everything. Yes, everything. From Kangaxx all the way to the golden pantaloons.
Pillars of Eternity is inspired by the Infinity engine games. It was advertised and plays like a mix of them. It feels like its own spin on them certainly as everything is reminiscent but always slightly different. But does trying to live up to the entire legacy at once cost it in the end?
-The first Infinity Engine game shows its age. What Pillars borrows from this is the world map. Like Baldur's One, it's grid-like with its areas and progress consists of progressing through the areas to reach the other side, opening them up one by one. It has a lot of wilderness areas that are revisited only occasionally. Apart from this it's hard to see any comparison and Pillars undoubtedly stacks up better. Baldur's One was exceeded by its own sequel.
Icewind Dale/Icewind Dale II
The two Icewind Dales fall mostly together due to their shared focus, being dungeon romps of mostly linear progression. Icewind Dale II was a little stronger on story and characters, while Icewind Dale One had it in the atmospheric locations department. Icewind Dale influences are clearly seen. Some of the battle music is a call-back and the expansion The White March takes place in snowy reaches involving abandoned dwarven holds and a remote village struggling to survive against evil armies. However Pillars isn't focused on dungeon romps as much so it inevitably suffers compared against the Icewinds. It simply can't afford to do its dungeons the same justice because they're not the main event. Od Nua I'll get to.
The most character and story driven of the games. Torment has its own sequel planned in Tides of Numenera. In Torment you're not out to save the world, in fact you can't even save yourself. The best you can do is fix what you broke. Pillars does evoke a little of that in its story. It feels like it’s on the right track in terms of quest resolution. There are choices however frequently the choices are just 'Kill this guy' or 'Kill the first guy who asked you to kill this guy'. The companions too never quite reach the character they have in Torment. A personal preference of mine is for the 'Just you and your party' style of the Infinity engine games. The newer style of 'Everyone joins and the extras stay at your base' always feels too gamey to me, as if they're nothing but bundles of stats waiting for you to take them out for a spin.
Baldur's Gate II
The big daddy of the Infinity Engine games and the one most people remember. Baldur's Gate II balanced story, gameplay, characters and freedom into one big bundle. Pillars definitely positions itself as the successor to BGII, trying to do similar things with a Stronghold, an optional massive dungeon and a single main villain carrying out evil plots that involve shady practices by the Gods. Here unfortunately is where Pillars really falls down. Especially where it directly apes BGII. In the villain department, Pillars is lacking. Its main villain just does things, he's never really given a compelling motivation. Od Nua, which is Pillars' answer to Watchers' Keep feels thinly spread, with too many floors and not enough happening. There's many occasions where we're told rather than shown events happening. After the Gilded Vale in the first Act Pillars seems too concerned with opening out into a Baldur's Gate One style, losing the impact of the story. Ultimately Pillars fails on its ambition. Its plot is much more mature compared to Baldur's Gate II but also more abstract. It doesn't feel like a problem that can be solved by just beating the bad guy so when you do there's little sense of closure.
As a comparison against all the Infinity Engine games, Pillars vastly improves on the game system. Infinity relied on 2E D&D, always a shaky proposition for implementation. Its own system updates much of that, while still feeling similar. Wizards and fighters are still there but they feel new and fresh. It's not without its problems, stats are sometimes counter-intuitive and there's little incentives to level outside your class abilities but it's still a step forward.
There's not much to add beyond what I've already said. I could talk at length about minutiae like itemization or the specifics of certain quests but my ultimate feeling is the same. Pillars is a good game but not a great one and that's in part due to living in the shadow of its heritage. It's doubtful a sequel will be able to step out beyond that. The best that can happen is the making of a new game using the same engine, as Infinity was used, in that way Pillars could eventually be itself Baldur's Gate One, the aged parent to a whole family.
A guest blog by our very own Heroh
Anybody who is anybody knows that Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013) is the best game ever. Full stop. And what better time than during an anniversary to release the remastered bundle of the games that everybody loves? Sept 13, 2016 marks the anniversary release of Bioshock The Collection which will include the game of the century – Bioshock Infinite (hereafter BS:Infinite, or is that Infinite BS? HEYYYOOO!). Spoilers – but not sorry, because you played this YEARS ago, remember?
Continue reading "Bioshock Infinite: A TON OF FUN Until It’s Not"
What to make of Stellaris? Another Space 4x game, another Paradox sandbox game. Every gamer has longed to conquer space since Galactic Civilizations. To seek out new civilizations and beat them up. My last space game was Endless Space, technologically engaging but dry. Before that there was Galactic Civ and Alpha Centauri. How does Stellaris measure up to these and to previous Paradox games like Crusader Kings 2? Read on.
Continue reading "Stellaris: And also stars"
A short demo with more credits than content. There isn't even a sandbox where you can idle. The demo is just, showpiece, a sample button pressing puzzle and then some deflecting shots with a lightsaber. You can tell those credits had to rattle this out in record time before jumping back onto a real project. It's a mere taster of what can be done in VR. But that lightsaber...
Let me tell you about that lightsaber. It doesn't feel like much, because you're just holding a plastic controller in reality. It doesn't look like much, because it's just a shaft of light tied to the controllers movements. It sounds like everything. From the low hum when its still to the loud vmmm when its swung. And the VR makes it real. You move your hand and the lightsaber moves. You swing it overhead and it purrs above you. You twirl the controller awkwardly, because the controller has a big round top that isn't built for twirling, and the lightsaber forms a web of protection before your eyes, blaster bolts reversing direction as they bounce off.
Don't be afraid to admit it. The screenshots look terrible. All those jagged edges and the tiny resolution. But again this isn't what the player sees, this is just the output to the flat screen.
I'm not afraid to say ILM have done a fantastic job with the visuals. There's all sorts of particle effects and photorealistic deserts you won't see in any other VR product. It really is a visual stunner. The gameplay is the weakest portion of this game. It's a cinematic event rather than a gameplay bonanza. It is one of the demos though, the kind you want to show to friends so they can experience VR. It's earned a recommendation from me on those merits.
Vanishing Realms has an interesting enough premise. Basic, but evocative. You're something like Gordon Freeman, a voiceless troubleshooter summoned by unknown powers to deal with a situation. What follows from there is a simple dungeon crawl. It's a launch title, showing the power of the technology more than anything. It also showcases why trying to take screenshots is annoying. These are the result of screenshotting while in-game. It's capturing the output to the flat screen rather than the two monitors that compose the headset. Not that a screenshot of those would be any better. They'd simply be two flat images instead of one. You'll just have to imagine the 3 Ds.
There's two aspects to Vanishing Realms. First is the "Whoah, they added that". Like how they have mining and archery. Well why shouldn't they? Other games have those features. So let's dispense with that. Yes Vanishing Realms has an inventory system so what. How do all these reinvented wheels work? Competently enough. Sometimes the inventory jumps around and it can be awkward trying to change weapons. Mining is just swinging a pick at things and collecting what drops out.
So what's good about it? The fact that it's VR. Combat is the most viscereal but just walking(teleporting) around is the wow factor. You start out underground with fleeting glimpses of the sky, so when you finally emerge into a quiet night it's breathtaking. The monsters are cartoonish but vicious. The fights are rough, though I probably wasn't in any real danger I spent most of my time cowering behind a shield and swinging wildly. There's also enough variation in the monsters to keep you busy and when multiple types show up together it becomes an exercise in tactics. Traps are not quite as great. There's some swinging blades in certain areas but it can be a bit hit or miss on whether you're in their arc. Other stuff like rockfalls are just decorative.
There isn't all that much to Vanishing Realms. I clocked in about two hours on both the first complete realm and the second, arena fighting one. Like most VR programs its really just a demo. A preview of what is to come. There's a lot of figuring out to do, will we be able to implement walking without motion sickness? Is there a fluid way to handle inventory? Will it be possible to do more environmental hazards? Well, Vanishing Realms is a good start.
2015 and what a year it's been. Well, not for gaming. As per usual all of gaming's delights are promised next year in XCOM 2, Kingdom Come and the like. The best games are the ones we'll play tomorrow. But what did we play yesterday? As always I limit this list to games I played for the first time in 2015
Avernum 2 never gets old, even if Jeff Vogel does. It's an interesting thing to see a creator go back and redo his old work and an opportunity that isn't afforded by any other medium(sorry Lucas). There's good changes and bad, there's modern UIs and less zany spells but ultimately it was good then and it's good now.
Knights of the Old Republic I've ignored for years on Bioware's back catalogue and only once playing did I find out it's basically Neverwinter Nights with Star Wars. Why did no one mention this? I love Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars... eh but the game is good.
Nosgoth is the revitalization of an old classic, albeit as a 4v4 third person combat game. Nosgoth unfortunately seems to have stalled since I played it in the Summer and it didn't have much content to start with. However it makes the highs simply for the rush of playing an immortal bloodsucking fiend and the thrilling defiance of playing the human resistance.
Vermintide made the top of the list this year and completely out of nowhere. I did not expect this to be good. What I got was Left 4 Dead but with the dull zombies replaced with conniving, excitable ratmen. What I got was a rollercoaster I'm only just getting bored with after finishing it three times. Vermintide is the high of the year.
7 Days to Die is a block building survival game where zombies appear and try to kill you. It's about the same as any other game in the genre to me. I'm always very meh on zombies.
Savage Lands is a survival game with more my taste in setting. It looks good however I ran through its content fairly quickly. Needs more work.
The Force Unleashed is more Star Wars! Why is Star Wars so big this year? It looks pretty has good destruction gimmicks and the story feels Star Wars. Probably better on consoles.
Transistor looks amazing and if you're seeing a common theme by now it's that looks aren't everything. Despite the gorgeous style and interesting story it's all window dressing on a game that ranges from boring to frustrating.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto I only got a brief glimpse of this as it has mouse issues preventing play but it seemed very British, which is a good thing.
What a difference a cover makes.
I went browsing for an old book I own online, Orvis by H.M. Hoover. It turns out the reprint from 2002 looks like this.
Naturally I was outraged. How dare they change things! But seriously, I can't help but think of the book as with the original cover my copy has
How 70s sci-fi is that? I'm amazed the pilot's helmet isn't ten times bigger.
But what about the book within? Orvis is one of my childhood memories, from when the future seemed so bright and hoverboards were only a few years away. It's about Toby and Thaddeus, two schoolkids from the colonies who don't fit in on earth. Toby meets Orvis, an old, abandoned robot who is both highly intelligent and extremely refined. Toby feels surplus to requirements and seeing Orvis left to rust resolves to get him to a safe home, to her great-grandmother. Unfortunately things don't quite work out as along the way the transport they're on is hijacked. She and Thaddeus are stranded in the Empty and forced to rely on Orvis to survive. But Orvis is free now, why risk it all to help two fragile humans?
Continue reading "Orvis"
Just look at that title. Even better than The Last Starfighter. I didn't see Last Starfighter until after I'd read the book and when I did I wondered if Terry Pratchett thought "This movie should be updated" and then wrote the book. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. To save mankind we must first know what they're about. Press Continue.
Continue reading "Only you can save Mankind"
Memoria means memory. The game as well as the word. Released a year after Chains of Satinav, Memoria was a direct sequel, despite the marketing focusing on new character Sadja. Was it a PR experiment, or did Chains not sell enough so they changed the cover character? Who can remember these days? Not me, I just played the game. As for where it stacks up in comparison to its predecessor, let’s find out.
Continue reading "Memoria"
(Page 1 of 2, totaling 19 entries) » next page
What it's all about
This is the Devpit, where all my ideas, projects and thoughts end up. Have a dig and find something that interests you.