12 December 2013

Review: Nightmare House 2 (PC)

How fitting that my first PC review on this blog is about Nightmare House 2. It is a completely free mod based on Half-Life 2 and thus really feels like a "for us by us" kind of thing.

A lot of you might probably have heard about this game before since it is a pretty popular mod available from multiple sources. But for the sake of clarity I will explain it in short terms anyway. Nightmare House 2 is a direct sequal to the first game, building upon the premise of a place you need to escape from in order to survive. This time around you get to explore a hospital called "Never Lose Hope", which happens to be riddled with zombies and ghosts. Sounds good, does it not?

During your journey you will encounter not only monsters but also a small SWAT team, creepy mannequins, a dead angry girl and other things that just makes you go "aha, Fear!". This is not a bad thing. You do have to rely on axes and guns to survive though, which makes it feel a bit too action oriented for my taste when it comes to this genre. There are a lot of things taken directly from Half-Life 2, so I ended up looking for stuff I recognized more than immersing myself in the game I had before me. The slight delay in a few sound effects also made the jumpscares a bit weak since it felt more comical than scary. There is however a pretty interesting story behind it all, but it unveils at the very end and therefore feels a bit... Rushed? Forced? Something like that. I do however appreciate the effort.

It is a pretty short experience, a couple of hours is all it takes to reach the end, but the fact that it is completely free and made as a mod still makes it feel very ambitious. I recommend this one if you are a fan of horror, but do not expect to get scared.

02 December 2013

Update: VGL is not dead

Hello again everyone! I have been away from this blog for over six months. What happened? The Ouya happened. I got my Ouya sometime in early june and since then I haven't played anything else. This means I have not been playing anything that fits this blog. That will change however. I have a few games up my sleeve that should be talked about here, and I also plan to bring PC into the mix as I grow fonder of that gaming platform by the day. Don't worry, if I go there I won't be bringing up recent games which pretty much always have DRM and stuff. I would in that case aim for the slightly older PC games and perhaps a few interesting mods...

I have a lot on my plate these days though. I'm currently studying full time, I got promoted to editor on a gaming site I've been creating content for and I am also a part of the staff over at Ouya Forum. This means even less time to put into this blog. I'm currently playing Nightmare House 2 (a free Half-Life 2 mod) which will be reviewed on here shortly. I also plan to beat Pathologic although I suspect that will take some time to write about.

19 May 2013

Review: CRT: Crash Team Racing (Playstation)

I am very sorry for the gap of nothingness on VGL, I have been very busy reviewing games for the site I am currently writing for - and there it is focus on newer games which fall out of this blogs scope. But fear not, my dear readers, as I have recently decided to do the occasional Playstation/N64/Saturn-review on here as well - which should bump up the frequenzy if only with a fraction. Today I finished Crash Team Racing, or CRT for short, and I do have a few things to say about this game.

First off, I want to point out that this never found its way into my collection as a young gamer so there will be no nostalgic values hidden in the background. This is quite frankly something I regret, I would like to say I played it way back because that would have been a good thing. The sense of speed in this game is extremely good, so good in fact that it can compete with the rest of the bunch of kart racers from that time. I thought I was in for a fan service game with nothing more than a tired clone of a core - but then again it is Naughty Dog we are dealing with here.

It looks great, it runs smooth as butter, the action is solid, it gets really challenging in the later stages and there is plenty of fun stuff to do apart from just playing through the so called "adventure mode". There is  also an arcade mode, VS/battle, time trials, challenges and the list goes on.

There is eight different characters from the Crash Bandicoot universe to choose from right off the bat and you navigate between the levels through hub worlds. This makes for a perfect opportunity to try out the controls and practice on moves you recently got explained to you.

My only gripe with this game is the bosses. In the end of each hub world you get to compete with a boss one on one - with the boss laying out traps and exploding stuff like there was no tomorrow. This might sound like a reasonable decision for a "boss fight" - but maybe not all of them. It is the same thing throughout the whole game, which effectively takes away any sense of surprise or excitement about the bosses.

Other than that, it is a competent kart racer with a lot of speed, action and fun. I would recommend it to anyone that likes the Mario Kart-games.

Oh, by the way. CRT made me regret not buying Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3 (I only played the first one and The Wrath of Cortex) so these are now on my "to buy"-list. When they are purchased and finished they will surely be reviewed as well.

15 February 2013

Review: Mercenaries (Xbox)

When I play this game I feel overwhelmed, helpless, clueless, bored and lost. I can not for the life of me understand the ratings it got at the time (mostly eights and nines out of ten). The world is ugly, uninteresting and very lifeless. The vehicles have no feeling in them what so ever, all the missions are "go there, capture that person" which keeps my motivation at an all time low. On the cover I can read "go anywhere, blow up anything", but as soon as I got myself seated in a tank I discovered that I could not even run down a tree. Or a bush. Or a two feet fence. There just is no speed, no fluid gameplay and no clear oversight. I worked my ass off the first couple of sessions to become friends with the Chinese faction, and then I had to do work for someone else and then everyone hated me again. The very few vehicles I meet out on the road mostly want to kill me, and seems to be endlessly spawned once you had enough and try to take them down.

I have played many of these kind of games, I love Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row and Just Cause. I have done this before. But never have I felt so understimulated at the same time as frustratingly confused. Why is the simplest tasks in the game the very hardest to do? Needless to say, I really struggled with this one. After maybe five hours of playing this mess I caught myself playing the game just to being able to write this review. It felt like such a horrendous waste of time I contemplated just throwing the game in the trash. This gets no money at all online (I bought it for £0.01) so why bother trying to sell it?

Anywhere you go there are roadblocks and all kinds of stuff in the way for your vehicle. It is quite frankly mindboggling how a game hellbent on freedom prevents you from going anywhere without making it a pain. I gave Mercenaries a fair and thorough chance to shine and develop some nice characteristics in about five long sittings - but I now just feel empty. Yeah, thanks for nothing Pandemic.

12 February 2013

Review: Far Cry: Instincts (Xbox)

When I first heard of Far Cry: Instincts, I thought it was Far Cry "but for Xbox". Oh boy was I wrong! It has a storyline of its own, new abillities, a lot of extra material and a complete and versatile level editor. A lot of bang for the buck, so to speak.

Jack Carver is one unlucky camper. He manages to yet again find himself in the middle of a big showdown where he has to adapt to the circumstances to be able to survive and escape in one piece. This time around he gradually, with a little help from a mysterious serum, evolves into something more than human and before you know it you are throwing your enemies high up in the air and running almost as fast as some of the games many vehicles. This may sound offputting to some, I know I for one like my first person shooters to be plain and more about aiming skills than a circus, but it does add to the story and it just works. The abilities are introduced in a slow pace so that you can explore them at your own speed, and they really help out a lot once you are comfortable with them. I also felt here is where the seed to Crysis and that series' "ability wheel" was planted. I also see a lot of what would later become Far Cry 2 in Far Cry: Instincts, as far as the level layouts goes.

As with the first installation of Far Cry, Instincts soon changes the scenery from tropical island to run down areas and a lot of indoor action. From colorful and alive surroundings to dark gritty corridors and one generic industry landscape after another. I did not like it the first time and I did not like it now. That is why I really love the level editor that is included on the disc. From here I can create my perfect multiplayer maps with full control over every little aspect - and sure enough my favorite template is the tropical one. Since the Live service for the original Xbox is permanently shut down there are no user made content to download and play around with, but I imagine it must have been so much fun when the game first came out. Such a shame I did not try it out until now.

So yeah, in spite of a visually boring last third of the time spent in the story mode and somewhat stiff controls in some regards I would say this is one of the best first person shooters I have ever played on Xbox. It certainly beats Halo, that is for sure.

27 January 2013

Review: Eternal Darkness (Gamecube)

Get Eternal Darkness they said. A teriffic horror game for the Gamecube they promised. Well, I can not resist a good horror game since it is one of my all time favourite genres - and so I purchased Eternal Darkness a few years ago. But I did not really got around to playing it until just recently.

In all honesty the game did not really click with me. It definitely had its moments but I would not recommend it to neither horror fan nor the average gamer. But I still think it is a worthy game to keep non the less. I will try to explain. Eternal Darkness is by far the most original horror game of its time I'd say. It has got the traditional third person view with a lot of puzzles, maps and the twist which in this instance would be the magic. Yes, you are able to cast spells in this game. We'll get to this in a bit.

The game centers around a huge mansion where your grandfather lived. Your whole family tree is a mishmash of historically important persons to this fight against the eternal darkness that threatens the world, and you get to read about your relatives adventures in pages you find scattered all over the mansion. When you read about something, you re-live it and have to fight your way through riddles and labyrinth until you reach the end of that particular journal and return to the mansion, which acts as sort of a hub between these adventures.

Since there is a lot of magic going on there is also a lot of fiddling around with the menus, because there is only so many spells you can assign to the buttons. The map is constantly being brought up because every site you visit is immense and there is even more reasons to go into the menus that I will not go into detail about here due to slight spoilers. Needless to say, there is a lot of poking around in the menus which will get somewhat tiresome in the long run.

One of the game's absolute peaks for me as an experience is the way it plays with that it in fact is a game. From out of nowhere, it seemingly restarts. You get the boot up sequence thrown in your face, you get blue screens, your limbs fall off... And then it jumps back to normal and your character screams "this... is not... really... happening!". It all adds up to a special experience that is interesting, but in the end not all that interesting to actually play. Stiff controls, never ending fiddling with the menus and a lot of backtracking takes a huge chunk of the atmosphere away. So yeah. it is definitely worth a look but do not pay too much for it.

25 January 2013

Review: Call of Duty 2: Big Red One (Xbox)

Big Red One is a spin off on Call of Duty 2, exclusive for the home consoles. Instead of the regular mish mash of storyline telling it focuses on one single company, namely Big Red One. Is it Call of Duty? Yes it is. Is the gameplay intact? Yes it is. Is it one of those generic World War II-shooters? Yes it is.

I for one did not get all that in to the "WW2-games" that ruled the earth a few years ago. This is probably why I found this particular game to be very intriguing. It has a lot of intense action, it is very fast paced, it has engaging and believable interactions between the characters and it is over all a very polished and fun experience. Like most of the Call of Duty installments, that is. I am not what you would call an Call of Duty-fan but I do think the series have a lot of sweet moments and I still buy the CoD-games coming out for the PS3 and 360 nowadays.

One of the very first things that bothered me though, with this game is the controls. Or the button layout to be more precise. I have to choose between just a select few predetermined setups and of course they all have some irritating faults. There is, for exampe, no way to put the reload on X and the "aim down the sights" on L at the same time. If I choose to have "aim down the sights" on L, then I have to have grenades on X - and reload on one of those fiddly buttons called Black and White - which I never seem to find fast enough with my thumb. That way I throw grenades everytime I try to reload since I am very used to reload with X. If I put reload on X, then L becomes grenade, so naturally I throw a grenade every time I want to aim down the sights. It is a mess.

While the story is not really all that interesting, it is easy to see why Call of Duty became so enormous. It has got tight gameplay, responsive controls and it quite honestly feels pretty up to par with even todays games in ways. Do not get me wrong, there are a few classic older bugs like characters getting stuck and stops the game from progressing, a few minor things like a certain weapon not being able to reload properly and so on... But it has a intense and immersive atmosphere to the point that when I was not playing I only thought about playing. It can be had for dirt cheap, it is a must have!

22 January 2013

Review: Counter-Strike (Xbox)

Counter-Strike for the Xbox had some really nice things going for it. Not only was it, by the time, the most pleasant looking version out there of the popular Half-Life mod, it even sported a few exclusive maps and gave console gamers a great arena to compete on, Xbox Live. How does it compare to todays Counter-Strike games?

Understandably, not too well. The graphics is grainy and way too dark, the controls are a bit stiff and the animations of the players leave a lot to be desired. Other than that it still is a pretty good game. I mean, it is after all Counter-Strike, and not a slimmed down version mind you. It has a lot of maps which all are a bit tweaked and polished, the controls work great for the platform (in other words; with a Xbox controller) and there is almost no loading times what so ever. It loads and runs extremely fast and there is no lag or freak outs in any way. With plenty of options in the menus (such as various difficulty settings, both custom rules and soundtrack) the matches can be set up to give almost everyone a suitable experience.

So for a Xbox game it is packed with intense action and awesome gameplay. If you are down with a controller instead of keyboard and mouse for this type of game I would say it is a must have. Since the Live service for original Xbox games was discontinued on March 11 2010 there is no online matches to be found for this installment of the Counter-Strike series but that is okay. There are bots with a wide range of difficulty levels on the disc and that is enough to have some fun.