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The Thumbs Ups of 2011

In a bid to cover off all those things I didn’t find the time to write about this last year (and to actually get a post in for the month of December) I present my inaugural ‘Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down’ lists for 2011. These are the things that either surprised me by being better than they deserved to be or against-all-odds-style fuck ups. Wouldn’t you know it, but both the best and the worst things to happen to me this year involve dragons and Skyrim isn’t even on this list.

Starting small and moving up, I have to say the first thumbs up of 2011 has to go to Breaking Bad. Why? For someone who doesn’t give a damn about any of the things the show is ostensibly about – drug dealing, family drama etc etc – to sit down and plough through 4 seasons in a week it means it’s got to be doing something right.

While Breaking Bad took about 3 years’ worth of nagging from everyone I’ve ever known to try the show, The Walking Dead only took about six months before I got the hint. Now I do like my zombies, despite how they’ve become the most ubiquitous thing under the sun this year, but TWD is something I can recommend to regular folk and be reasonably certain they’ll enjoy it as well.

Could say the same thing about Warhammer 40K: Space Marine too. Here I was thinking you’d need to be a Warhammer fan to enjoy it (which, incidentally, I am not) but it ended up being every bit the game Gears of War is, albeit a little more light-hearted, and despite a campaign that falters at the final act. It is with genuine sadness that I say the DLC took too long for this game – its latest Chaos-themed update and a teased Dreadnought mode in January will go mostly unnoticed due to the neglect it saw for a long time post launch. And that is not something I often say about DLC.

The guys at Relic have a strong pedigree however and it was never likely they’d release Space Marine as a complete dud. I was less sure the newly minted ‘Netherrealm Studios’ could deliver on their simply titled Mortal Kombat reboot however. As an MK fan from the early ’90s I feel perfectly justified in saying that everything the team has turned out post-John Tobias has been garbage. While MK 2010 doesn’t hit all the notes I felt it could have, it certainly hit a shitload more than I was expecting it to. And although I have no idea where they go from here, this solid release has done the unthinkable for myself and many others- returned the MK name to some semblance of respectability. If only Sega could turn the same trick with Sonic.

Saving the best for last, I give an extremely well deserved double-thumbs up to every nerd this side of Kentucky’s new favourite thing in the world, Game of Thrones. No I hadn’t read the books. Nor did I really read at all. That changed, though, and the show would deserve my props of that basis alone. That’s not the only thing it’s changed either. For example, I rarely buy BD-ROMs and have never pre-ordered them. Until now. And never have I anticipated a second season of a show anywhere near as much as I am longing for April 2012. Anything else I could say about the show I’ve already said so let’s just leave it as 2011’s overall highlight and leave it at that.

So this article ended up a bit tame. But coming up next is my Thumbs Down list, and man, some things have really pissed me off this year. Check that out when it goes up, hopefully before the clock strikes 12 if I get ’round to it. It’ll have sharper teeth, I’m sure.

And as one final thumbs up before I kiss this stinkin’ year goodbye I’d like to thank Yurik86 at Deviantart for the sweet wallpaper I used for the title image of this post.


Alien Anthology and Excessive Box Sets

Alien Anthology: Egg Edition

In 2003 the Alien franchise saw what many, myself included, considered the best DVD compilation in film history in the form of the Alien Quadrilogy set. The behemoth was 9 discs long, had two cuts of each of the four existing films and a wealth of extra content included ‘just in case’. Some question whether the series is worthy of such excessive treatment- they can get fucked for all I care.

Now, with that annoying Blu Ray technology that’s all the rage, the Alien series is getting another excessive collectors’ box, with just as many cuts, 40 hours more footage and 3 less discs. Is this new ‘Alien Anthology’ set worth an upgrade?

You can visit any of those videophile review sites to get the long winded version, but let me cut down the answer for you. Video transfers into 1080P are great. Alien gets the best treatment, followed by Aliens, and who really cares about the last two? Audio mixes are all new and actors were even called in to redo lines that were drowned out in Alien 3. All of the Quadrilogy content is there, plus a whole lot more, with the notable addition of an unedited version of Alien 3’s ‘making of’ which shows David Fincher mouthing off on set and taking the name of Fox in vain.

Are those things worth an upgrade on their own? Maybe. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be buying this and if I’m lucky might just snatch up the limited ‘egg’ edition too. Lucky and bloated with cash, that is.

Oh and the discs are all region free in case anyone down under wanted to save a heap buying off Amazon instead of paying JB HiFi’s inflated local prices. Also to just to clarify what I mean by ‘excessive’, this is what I mean.


Steam Recommendations: Black Ops & New Vegas

Call of Duty: Black Ops and Fallout: New Vegas

Steam, that digital delivery system for games from Valve that I have this curious love / hate relationship with, rolled out a new feature overnight – recommendations. Now you, and the rest of the defenceless internet, are set to be subjected to my unadulterated thoughts on games new & old and potentially in such a barrage that you’d think I was on Valve’s payroll. And hey, wouldn’t that be nice?

What I like about this system is that there is a character limit of about a 1000, which demands brevity. It also allows me to be shit lazy and not bother writing real reviews. If you’re a glutton for more punishment visit My Recommendations Page. I’ve decided to start off with two new games Steam prompted me with

Black Ops is an odd beast in that it takes steps forward and steps back from last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warefare 2, all with the haughty confidence of a title guaranteed to ship 5 million or more without much effort. However when you have half the internet playing something online how can you pass it up?
The campaign still provides a high you just don’t get from other shooters. The story is ambitiously different, but I’m still deciding whether that difference paid off in the end. Technology wise, the game used 2008’s CoD: World at War as a codebase instead of the more recent MW2. Odd choice. It looks good, but not great.
Multiplayer is a winner for one reason: Dedicated Servers. 20-50ms pings instead of 60, 70, 80 upto 200 or so in MW2? Hell yes. So far weapons aren’t memorable like those in WaW and MW2, but we’re still in early days.
Sad that I have to mention this but hardware performance on PC is not fantastic. In fact it was practically unplayable at launch. Black Ops is too CPU intensive and if you’re not packing a Core i5 or i7, expect 2-5 second stutters, and a generally frustrating experience ahead.

 

Not as good as Fallout 3. That out of the way, buy this game. Fallout: New Vegas is probably the world’s most bloated expansion pack – most every asset here is recycled from its predecessor. Not to say it doesn’t excel in any areas- gunplay, writing and party interaction are all done better here. At the same time VATS, Special and general balancing are done worse.
If it weren’t for all the bugs in the game this would be easier to recommend as a follow up to 2008’s masterpiece. As it stands the game is a lot of fun, but a lot of patching is in order.
Of course if you haven’t played FO3 yet, get the GOTY of that before you try New Vegas. More content, less bugs… is there really much of a choice to make?


Nulreview: Fallout New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas

Obsidian Entertainment is well known for making the sequels to high profile RPGs. However unlike Neverwinter Nights 2 or Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas is not the sequel to somebody else’s game. Obsidian started the Fallout series, back when they worked at Black Isle Studios, so this is essentially a dev retaking the reigns of the franchise they created. Question is; how did they do?

Fallout: New Vegas is simultaneously one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played while also being one of the buggiest and worst presented products I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing. This is the dichotomy presented in most reviews; the game does not disappoint the lofty expectations of Fallout 3 fans and is in many ways better than that game, but also brings along for the ride Gamebryo Engine bugginess many times worse than what we saw in FO3 or even Oblivion.

So it’s ultimately a mixed bag. On the one hand I love this game to bits, but find it hard to recommend due to the sheer disregard for the player with which it has been released. Did anyone test this mess? Is there a QA department at Bethesda Softworks at all? No doubt this will be polished to a fine sheen many patches and DLC packs down the track, but even then why should anyone buy it now if they can get a more complete and more stable version in the inevitable GOTY edition a year or so from now?

Me? I caved and bought it. Obviously.

 

But if you suspend your disbelief and ignore the game’s technical shortcomings, New Vegas is still full of stand-out moments. Discovering the Brotherhood Of Steel’s underground hideout and getting embroiled in the sinister political inner-workings of their organisation is a quest on a par with Fallout 3’s best, with dozens of potential outcomes. – T3

Like Obsidian’s other big-name sequel – KOTOR 2 – Fallout: New Vegas is a divisive game. So much remains of what made Fallout 3 special, from the ridiculous cast to the joy of exploration, that there will be many willing to overlook all the bugs and glitches in favour of the weight of content that lies beneath. Those who were hoping for more than a mission pack to a 2008 game built on a busted 2006 engine, however, may find new Vegas to be quite literally a wasteland. – Kotaku

It doesn’t look as good as Fallout 3 did, and perhaps that’s down to internal support at Bethesda knowing the engine better than their outsourced pals, but it shows, and doesn’t help when Obsidian are known for lacking in the polish department. I was lucky enough to avoid any full crashes (though my house-mates have suffered these), but dodgy texture load-ins, massive frame-rate drops, out of sync voice work and alarmingly close pop-up have actually marred the experience for me. It is a detriment when you invest so much into the world, lore and characters and I’m hoping some serious patch work is released as soon as possible. – Ausgamers

If New Vegas were being reviewed as a piece of software, as a technical product, the judgement would be absolutely appalling. These are games, however, and deserve to be reviewed for the experiences they provide. The experience of New Vegas is sublime and so incredibly big that the ratio between getting annoyed by freezes and getting excited by the game’s wonderfully engaging world firmly favors a positive outlook. Very few games could be good enough to make up for serious technical errors. In fact, I could count them on one hand. – Destructoid

Fallout: New Vegas is still a fantastic game, only slightly held back by its increasingly outdated tech. Obsidian has created a totally compelling world and its frustrations pale into insignificance compared to the immersive, obsessive experience on offer. Just like the scorched scenery that provides its epic backdrop, New Vegas is huge and sprawling, sometimes gaudy, even downright ugly at times – but always effortlessly, shamelessly entertaining. – Eurogamer


Preview: Path of Exile

Path of Exile

Path of Exile has put a smile on my face. With all the post-Blizzcon chatter about Diablo III I got to thinking ‘where did all these Diablo-clones come from?’ In what was just a few years ago an almost extinct genre, it seems like a flood of wannabes has appeared out of nowhere following the announcement of Blizzard’s highly anticipated sequel. Path of Exile is a Diablo clone, but in this exception to the rule, I intend it as a complement. Developed by New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games, it looks to not only aspire to Diablo, but to surpass it. The game will be online-only. It will free to play. And it also seems to be Diablo on steroids in every way imaginable.

Although a closed beta is planned for early 2011, Path of Exile will ship later that year with 6 classes. Two have been revealed to date; the Marauder and Ranger. Each fits one of the now well known ARPG archetypes, but not quite. They have their own spin on the class and so this makes predicting what has yet to be announced somewhat difficult. You can’t discount the tank, since the Marauder is not quite a tank. The Ranger is not quite typical ranged DPS either… why? I’ll get to that in a moment. Grinding Gear has promised against purely support classes, like Priests or Monks, but I’m more interested in what unique classes could arise from Path of Exile’s unique underlying mechanics than simple direct-damage dealers.

poe4     poe9

I say that because combat in Path of Exile belies a secret depth. Frost novas, firebolts and trademark ‘Barbarian’ skills like leap seem to have made it in. So have the enemies- there’s everything from humanoids, wild beasts and the prerequisite undead shamblers in what has been revealed so far. What makes the system unique, and isn’t immediately apparent, is that magic isn’t learnt or part of a class’ skill tree. No, all skills are granted by ‘materia-like’ gems socketed into armour. One gem might grant a firebolt, for example. However that gem, combined with another in a neighbouring socket might change that one bolt per cast into three. Or make it bigger. Or add armour-penetrating properties. And they can be used by any class. Let that sink in for a second. I’ve maligned the freedom in character-building that was lost between Diablo I and II; this game not only restores that level of customisation but goes a step further too.

    

Customisability doesn’t end there either; loot plays as important a role as ever in Path of Exile. Randomised drops, dungeons and bosses, supported by a persistent online world with a persistent in-game economy, all promise the obsessive gear-collecting fondly remembered and now expected of action RPGs.

Environments are suitably varied. Ruins, forests and so forth are standard fair, but Path of Exile seems to avoid Diablo II’s trap of an ever-brightening colour palate in diversifying locales. Even the sunsoaked coastline in the trailer manages to feel as hostile and forbidding as any dungeon in the game. This in particular is a noteworthy feat given the ongoing controversy surrounding the art direction of Diablo III. And, of course, it’s all random.

poe7     poe5

The online world is hard to fathom so far before launch but the staples; PvP and the aforementioned item economy are promised features. All will be facilitated by the fact that Path of Exile runs entirely on the developers’ servers. While the game will be free to play, it will not be dominated by microtransaction-based advancement. Developers have gone to lengths to emphasise purchasable items will be cosmetic only and will not provide any advantage to players with deeper pockets. This is always the way to go, but unfortunately an area in which all too many online games stumble. Here’s hoping Grinding Gear can stick to their convictions on this point.

All in all Path of Exile shows genuine promise, especially for a game that will be free to play. What the team has assembled stands as one of the most impressive entrees in what is rapidly becoming an overpopulated genre. I can only hope the title doesn’t lose any of its lustre between now and its live date sometime next year. Meanwhile, I’ll cross my fingers for a beta key and eagerly await the chance to take a closer look at this little gem. Until then, take a look at some of the impressive gameplay trailers released so far;

 

 

 

 

Just a disclaimer; as much as I wish they would, Grinding Gear Games has not invited me to formally preview this game. My views here are formed entirely from their public trailers and the write ups at Incgamers, PCGamer & Joystiq.


Sonic Fan Remix Video Walkthrough

Sonic Fan Remix 

Recently, I blogged about pelikan13x’s Sonic Fan Remix – a 2.5D, HD remake of classic Sonic the Hedgehog. The video released at that time whet our collective appetites for a playable version and now one has now been delivered. It’s a celebration! A tip of the hat to pelikan13x, and let’s pray this fan project goes on to achieve great things. If the quality of the demo is any indication, there’s no doubt of that.

Download | Mirror 1

This build, featuring 3 acts based on Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill Zone, was released today and I have graciously put the recently-unlocked Fallout: New Vegas on hold to bring you a 720p clip of them all. First and third acts layouts were inspired by the originals while the second act is something new. Enjoy.

 

Thanks to Sonic Retro for the headsup, and, as you guys noticed, Destructoid was all over it in no time flat.


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