Sunday, 23 May 2010

Booted and Spurred

As you can see, The Gaming Gentleman is booted and spurred and ready for action on the frontier. I’m currently working my way through the treacherous terrain of the Old West, blasting my way through gangs of bandits and rescuing maidens, and hookers, in distress. It can only mean that I have finally gotten my hands on a copy of Red Dead Redemption on Xbox 360. For the princely sum of £49 I purchased the limited addition version available from GAME stores in the UK, which includes not just the game itself but exclusive downloadable content.

The added extras are Golden Guns, weapons that increase your fame when kills are made with them, War Horse, quite simply the fastest, strongest horse available to you in the game, and the Deadly Assassin outfit, which allows your Dead-Eye metre to refill more rapidly after kills.

I am enjoying progressing the single player game and will shortly be reviewing it here at the blog and at a website that I am working for as a writer. The multiplayer aspect of the game, however, has me a little concerned. Despite being hailed as a new, greater standard of multiplayer experience, one which will allow players to explore the vastness of the Old West and team up with fellow Xbox LIVE players to create posses and take on other gangs, thus far all I have encountered are players more concerned with shooting you as soon as you re-spawn, before you can get together with other players and generally making the multiplayer experience a frustrating and deeply un-entertaining one.

To add to the multiplayer woes, it appears to be full of glitches, like disappearing characters, and the sheer number of people trying to log on to the servers seems to be overloading them and causing problems when connecting to a game. That said, the single player game is impressive and addictive and I hope to have completed it soon. Perhaps in the meantime Rockstar San Diego may have addressed the glitches and server issues on multiplayer, and the obtrusive players may have gotten sick of ruining the fun for everyone else, or fallen off a cliff. I can but hope.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Nobody Does It Better (Splinter Cell: Conviction)

Ubisoft’s stalwart sneaky spy Sam Fisher returns in Splinter Cell: Conviction, the much-anticipated recent instalment in the series that is redefining a genre. The game begins with Sam having left Third Echelon after the death of his daughter in a hit and run incident. Sat in a Mediterranean cafĂ©, Sam gets a phone call from an old colleague from his shadowy ex-workplace warning him of an imminent threat to his life. This kick-starts the story and Sam’s journey to find his daughter’s killer, which will drag the world’s greatest (non-British) spy back into the world of international espionage and pit him against his former employers.

Although still a 3rd person stealth action thriller, the tone of the game has shifted from the constant shadow dwelling of its predecessors to a more open, upfront approach to the gameplay. It’s noticeable in Sam’s appearance too; rather than the skin-tight black-ops body suit he once sported his attire is more urban chic, in the Jason Bourne style. The action and story also seem to take influence from the Bourne series, with a gritty atmosphere and flashback storytelling projected onto walls as you progress the quieter sections of the single player mission. The cut-scene animation is breathtaking with very realistic rendering of characters; Sam himself has wrinkles, realistic eyes, individual strands of hair and a split-lip that doesn’t miraculously repair itself. Even his stubble grows as the game progresses giving it almost a “24” feel, and this is backed up by the clever, jerky camera movement during some of the more tense and sinister cut-scenes.

Sneaking is still a large part of the gameplay, but so is timely dashing from one place to another, tactically avoiding enemies or luring them into traps, separating them and taking them down one or two at a time. There are times when all out assault is required and the game utilises a mechanic whereby Sam can disappear into the shadows, leaving enemies shooting at his last known position whilst he flanks them. The “execute” function is also very useful, allowing players to mark and execute two enemies quickly after successfully taking down another by a hand-to-hand quiet kill. During interrogation scenes Sam can use the environment to punish those who won’t talk and convince them, with the use of things like sinks and pianos, to let him know what he wants to know. The weapon outfit is the standard expected; a mix of pistols (silenced or not), sub-machine guns, assault rifles shot guns and an array of devices including grenades, mines, EMP charges and sticky, exploding cameras to assist Sam’s progression.

For all of it’s impressive features, graphics and gameplay there are a few flaws. The camera angles, as with most 3rd person games, often become obtrusive and cause difficulty for the player to see an area that would be clearly viewed through the character’s eyes. The sound track is largely in keeping with the game but sometimes descends into irritating techno-punk at inappropriate times, usually during intense action, probably intended to add to the atmosphere, but it seems only to annoy and detract. Strangely, Sam appears to have forgotten how to drag a body away from where it falls and to a convenient hiding place, rather remiss of a veteran black-ops agent. This means that players need to be extra careful when felling a foe in case their lifeless body should serve to alert other enemies to Sam’s presence.

However, despite the downsides, the game is overwhelmingly impressive, addictive and fun. The change of pace is refreshing and the lean toward a more beaten, gritty and weatherworn Sam Fisher is a welcome change from the previous formula. It’s cinematic, engaging and entertaining. Fans of the series will love it and new comers will find it easily accessible without the need to have played the previous games. A multiplayer option extends the life of the game beyond the completion of the single player campaign, the content of which will be covered in a future post.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Video Game Time Machine: Rick Dangerous 1989

After a random Google browsing section I found myself being dragged in a figurative Delorean past 88mph and back in time to the land of gaming nostalgia. Thanks to a great website, I have rediscovered one of my childhood favourite video games: Rick Dangerous.

Rick Dangerous was a platform action puzzle game originally released in 1989, which not only toyed with plagiarism, but openly flouted it. Undoubtedly based largely on Raiders of the Lost Ark, even the Front cover of Rick Dangerous looked suspiciously like Indiana Jones. If the game had been made now Lucas Arts would be suing for copyright infringement, however, as it was made before the fiscal power of the games industry had been discovered, it passed by unscathed.

Much more cartoonish than Dr Jones, Rick Dangerous was a British agent who travels to the Amazon to find the lost Goolu tribe. His plane crashes and he parachutes into the jungle. The beginning of the game sees the fedora-sporting Rick running away from a giant boulder (just like the opening sequence of Raiders) and negotiating a maze of traps, triggers and Amazon warriors. The game was very clever too; although armed with 6 bullets, 6 explosive charges and a stick for stunning opponents, players would need to pick their battles, decide who to shoot and who to avoid in order to conserve the valuable arsenal, as reloads were few and far between.

A thinking kid’s game, Rick Dangerous played out over 4 levels; the Amazon, Egypt, Castle Schwarzendumpf (a Nazi stronghold) and a Nazi missile base, where Rick must stop a deadly missile attack on London. Some of the traps had no visible warning so the only way to progress the game in many areas was through trial and error, something that would annoy many but which I found to be one of the great draws of the game. The graphics and gameplay were in keeping with other games of its time, 2-dimentional and comic with individual screens that needed to be negotiated one at a time in order to progress the game. The music (midi files of course) was comic and, bizarrely, very appropriate to the gameplay and the setting.

I was ten years old when Rick Dangerous came out on the Amiga 500 and it was addictive. Like Super Mario Bros mixed with my all time hero Indiana Jones (was then, is now), it’s clear to see why it had such appeal at a time when video games were becoming a much larger part of our lives. Anyone who is interested and has some spare time should visit the website where a full version of the game is playable on your web browser for free.