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Archive for Joe Martin

iPhone Review: Predators

Posted on 9th Jul 2010 at 10:00 by Joe Martin with 8 comments

Joe Martin
The Predator franchise has a spotty history when it comes to videogames, ranging from the giddy and gory heights of the original AVP to the abominable lows of Concrete Jungle on the PS2. So, our hopes weren’t high for the iPhone game based on the new Adrian Brody movie, Predators.

As it turns out, that’s just as well too. Predators isn’t actually a bad game, but it’d be a stretch to say that it’s a really good one. The Appstore is practically overflowing with arcade survival games these days and though Predators is functional and fun, it doesn’t really stand out all that much.

Predators on the iPhone is a fairly predictable affair, essentially a mission based survival game of the arcade variety. Each mission is slightly different, but the basic premise is always the same – as a lone Predator you have to prove your worth by besting armed humans. The specific objectives vary each time, so sometimes it’s a matter of surviving for X amount of time and sometimes it’s about scoring certain types of kills, but the underlying gameplay is always the same.

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Games I Own: Lego Racers

Posted on 8th Jul 2010 at 11:19 by Joe Martin with 17 comments

Joe Martin
I never had any of the classic consoles as a kid, only an old Amiga A500+ and occasional access to the BBC Microcomputer at school or the one in my Dad’s office. That means I missed out on some of the apparent classics, like Mario Kart, so I can’t really comment on how Lego Racers compares to what many hold up as the king of kart games. All I can say is that I really liked Lego Racers.

In terms of gameplay and features there’s not really much to say about the original Lego Racers other than that it was a kart racer. You had little racing cars made of Lego and you went through a series of levels, trying to place ahead of the boss of each league. In each race you could collect power-ups to turn the tide of the race – missile attacks, oil slicks, rocket boosters, the usual fare. Unlike the latter Lego Racers 2, the first game didn’t have a big open-world for you to explore between races, just the levels and a few hidden shortcuts.

In fact, the only remotely original feature it had was the most logical and obvious one possible, given the franchise – you could build your own cars from unlocked bits of Lego. Supposedly the design might change how your car handled, but if there was any evidence or indication of that then it was so minimal that I can’t honestly say I ever noticed. Instead, I just tried to make my car look as badass as possible.

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Games I Own: Nerf Arena Blast Demo

Posted on 30th Jun 2010 at 10:10 by Joe Martin with 19 comments

Joe Martin
Yes, you read that correctly, the Nerf Arena Blast Demo – i.e. not the full game. It came on a coverdisk for a games magazine years and years ago and is one of three demos that I’ve hung on to without ever bothering to pick up the full game.

Released in 1999, Nerf Arena Blast was one of several forays that Nerf made into the games industry and is essentially just a brightly coloured FPS that swaps out the usual assault rifles and rocket launchers for Nerf blasters. I’ve never played the full game, but the demo featured two levels and gamemodes – one a straight deathmatch, the other a scavenger hunt variant, both against bots.

Nerf Arena wasn’t a fantastic game, at least if the demo is anything to go by, but it’s not as bad as you might expect. It was built on the original Unreal engine, which leant it some smoothness and graphical aplomb. It was also a lot faster and more fun than you’d think – mainly because the lurid neon levels were full of shortcuts, secrets and jump-pads to keep things interesting.

Still, it was by no means a spectacular game and the reason I’ve kept it around for so long isn’t anything to do with the game itself, not really. I’ve not even thought about actually playing it for a decade.

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iPhone Review: Super Quick Hook

Posted on 29th Jun 2010 at 11:39 by Joe Martin with 4 comments

Joe Martin
Sequel to one of my favourite iPhone platformers, Hook Champ, Super Quick Hook’s is easily one of the most addictive games on the AppStore, even though it’s mainly just an iterative advancement on it’s predecessor. Really, other than new graphics and levels, it doesn’t add all that much to the original formula – if anything, it takes things away and reduces it to the bare essentials.

Where Hook Champ was a cave-based race against time that saw you swinging through caverns in a bid to reach the exit before a giant ghost ate you, Super Quick Hook is a lot more relaxed and open. There’s nothing chasing you now, so you can leisurely take in the scenery and explore the much larger levels in search of secrets.

Control and feature-wise, Super Quick Hook is almost identical to the original Hook Champ though; just touch and hold where you want to shoot your grappling hook and start flinging yourself through the levels and grabbing as many coins as you can. Once you reach the end of a level you’re booted back to the main screen and can use your booty to buy upgrades or cosmetic tweaks before you try another level.

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Atheism in Dragon Age: Origins

Posted on 28th Jun 2010 at 11:22 by Joe Martin with 58 comments

Joe Martin
I’m playing Dragon Age: Origins in my spare time at the moment. My character is a Common Elf Rogue and I’ve had a hard time getting back into it since our review. That’s partly to do with the fact that I’m just not as enamoured with swords and sorcery as I used to be (nowadays I prefer lightspeed and lasers), but it’s also that I have a problem with the way the in-game theology is presented to players as a foregone conclusion.

I’m anxious for this not to become a real-world religious debate, but I will say that I’m an atheist and that that’s something I wanted my Elf, Jacob, to share. It seemed to make sense that a Common Elf character should be atheist too – the history of the Alienage Elves has them completely detached from their old gods and culture, while also being relegated to second-class citizens by a Chantry-led society. An Elf in an Alienage wouldn’t have grown up with the Dalish religion, but would likely have been spared the attention of the Chantry too – at least, that’s if the Origin story is anything to go by.

Dragon Age’s fictional religion obviously plays a big part of the story, with the Chantry cast as alternately oppressive and supporting of society and constantly near the centre of attention. Whether you’re helping rogue mages resist what could be seen as religious persecution or collecting ancient texts for Chantry scholars, the religion of Andastre and the Maker is pretty much unavoidable – and when it’s like that, I don’t have a problem with it. Just as in real life, I’ll let people believe what they want as long as they don’t try to make me do the same. It’s on that last, italicised clause that Dragon Age and I start to have problems…

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Thoughts on Regenerating Health

Posted on 22nd Jun 2010 at 10:01 by Joe Martin with 54 comments

Joe Martin
My first thought on the concept of health regeneration in games was something along the lines of “it’s rubbish”, though with more swearing and waving of fists. With a bit more consideration though, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps there just isn’t a good way of presenting a character's health to players.

The matter of presenting player health has been one of shifting standards, with each new format being initially unpopular before it became the convention. Back in the good old days (TM) of the Spectrum pretty much every title employed a system of Lives or Sudden Death, where suffering one hit would kill your character or avatar, and you had three or five strikes. Then along came the likes of Wolfenstein which presented health as a percentage and, for a while, people hated it. Then it became the standard.

Now regenerating health is starting to supplant that format and people hate that too, claiming that it takes the fun and challenge out of a game as you can just hide behind a rock to recover from a headshot. Regardless, it’s already become a standard for many styles of games – though there are exceptions to every rule, especially at such a general level.

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Free Games I Like: Orton and the Princess

Posted on 15th Jun 2010 at 13:57 by Joe Martin with 7 comments

Joe Martin
I’m a firm believer that it’s better to do something simple very well than it is to fumble something more complicated. So, it’s no surprise that I like indie platformer Orton and the Princess – it’s uncomplicated and polished to perfection. You are the beige square. The eponymous Princess is the pink square. You have to get to the pink square. Then the next level begins.

Gameplay-wise, Orton and the Princess isn’t any different to dozens of other platform games. Avoid the spikes, dodge the traps, reach the end of the level, set a high score. It does a few things though which help to set it apart – little things, like having an incredibly energetic banjo theme tune. Ding-ding-ding,duh-dong-ding!

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iPhone Review: Chaos Rings

Posted on 4th Jun 2010 at 10:59 by Joe Martin with 8 comments

Joe Martin
Square Enix has been one of the best major publishers on the iPhone, bringing some solid ports of the early Final Fantasy games, as well as some more original games exclusive to the iPhone. Chaos Rings sits neatly between those two ideas; since it’s basically a Final Fantasy game exclusive to the iPhone.

Well, OK, it’s not technically a Final Fantasy game – it’s lacking the FF prefix and there’s probably all sorts of smaller stylistic changes I’m not familiar with, but as far as a layman is concerned it’s basically the same. It’s stuffed with random encounters, old-school turn-based combat and characters with strange names, stupid hair and a penchant for muttering to themselves like old alcoholics.

Crucially too, while the boiled down description of ‘it’s just Final Fantasy on the iPhone” may sound like a bad thing, in reality it really, really isn’t. Chaos Rings is actually quite brilliant.

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I Heart WikiBooks

Posted on 29th May 2010 at 11:21 by Joe Martin with 21 comments

Joe Martin
I’m a big believer in eBooks, not just because I think that’s inevitably the future of publishing in the same way that digital distribution is the future of the games industry, but also because there’s something that just appeals to me about eReaders themselves. It probably comes from watching too much Star Trek as a kid.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that conventional books are obsolete and I’m not saying that within two years we’ll have be carrying Kindles in our backpockets. I still buy 99.9 percent of my books in their traditional format, just like I still buy games on discs every now and then, but I do recognise digital formats as the future.

Anyway, one of my most recent sources of digitally digested delight has been Wikibooks. They are awesome.

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Free Games I Like: Choice of Broadsides

Posted on 28th May 2010 at 11:02 by Joe Martin with 40 comments

Joe Martin
You can do a lot with the written word and I find it endlessly interesting that even the most beautiful and graphically demanding games are often judged on the quality of the script. GTA IV was praised for its serious story before anyone remarked on how big the world was, while Crysis is often slammed for the way the experience is wounded by awful dialogue.

With that in mind, please don’t be put off that my latest favourite freebie is a text-only adventure, because if you dismiss it out of hand then you’d be missing out on a great little title. A word can make a thousand pictures and all that.

Essentially a multiple choice adventure, Choice of Broadsides casts you as a young officer in the navy of Albion, a fictional country which is basically a stand-in for England. At the start of the game you’re but a junior shipmate, but through your actions you get the chance to woo eligible ladies, orchestrate naval battles, deal with mutinies and do all the other stuff that an 18th Century naval officer would do.

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