Posted on 9th Oct 2010 at 08:36 by Joe Martin with 36 comments
I completed Half-Life: Blue Shift for the first time last night and, I have to say, I was enormously disappointed with it. I’d heard it was supposed to be the worst Half-Life game by far – something which had put me off playing it until recently, when I picked it up on a whim, but even I wasn’t expecting it to be so totally…bland. It was too short, too easy and enormously lacking in character. It took me three or four hours to complete, during which I died once and didn’t get to see anything in the way of new monsters or weapons.
Compare that to Half-Life: Opposing Force, which I still maintain is the perfect expansion pack even in spite of the silly end-boss. Opposing Force has plenty of new content, including an entirely new race of aliens that have never been officially explained within the Half-Life canon. Plus, it has the barnacle gun. It’s a fantastic expansion pack.
What really makes Opposing Force better than Blue Shift though isn’t just the new guns and baddies, but the fact that it has a personality of it’s own which, while it draws on Half-Life, feels entirely distinct. Like the original Half-Life, both expansions open with the player sat in a moving vehicle, but where Blue Shift merely apes HL’s train ride Opposing Force differs in every possible way. HL opens with the start of the story, deep underground, with a sedate and lonely pace; Opposing Force’s Adrian Shepherd is in a helicopter with the rest of his squad, entering the plot at the half-way point in a rather dramatic fashion.
Posted on 31st Jul 2010 at 15:06 by Joe Martin with 32 comments
Heads-up displays are, to me, a far more contentious issue than some of the other more bandied-around topics
in modern game design. Everyone cries about regenerating health and how many weapons a player can feasibly carry, but HUDs seem a lot closer to the real, underlying complaints these other issues hint at. Instead of worrying about whether players have regenerating health
, what about considering if the player should even know how much health they have left?
The issue of how
health and ammo should be presented though is only secondary to the far bigger question of if
they should be presented at all. Whereabouts do you draw the balance between accessibility and realism? In most shooters there's no logical reason why your character should have an ammo counter in the corner of the screen. It's only there because the player needs that information in order to get the most out of the game. As players we just take that info for granted.
Posted on 22nd Jun 2010 at 10:01 by Joe Martin with 54 comments
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.
Posted on 12th May 2010 at 12:40 by Joe Martin with 48 comments
I’m playing No One Lives Forever at the moment and, while it’s an undeniably great game and one that I’ve played many times, I’ve found myself getting increasingly infuriated with it for one simple reason. The cutscenes are far too long. They break up the flow of the game far too much and the mission briefings are often so padded out with needless dialog that it’s impossible not to get distracted.
What makes it all so much worse is the fact that much of the information you’re being bombarded with is repetitive, as well as flabby. You spend ten minutes listening to Cate Archer being berated for being an incompetent woman in the male dominated spy industry of the 1960s before the supposed mission briefing even tells you what you’ll be doing in the next mission. Then, when the cutscene is all over, it’s all summed up for you in a objectives and story screen anyway. It’s a massive flaw in an otherwise striking and superb title.
Length isn’t the only issue with NOLF’s cutscenes though – they are also rendered dull by how static they are with just three characters standing and talking, unmoving. Monolith obviously tried to liven things up by throwing in some interactive bits where you can choose how Cate responds to her superiors, but it’s too little and too late.
What really bothers me though is that No One Lives Forever isn’t by any means an exception. Almost every game imaginable has problems with cutscenes – it’s a well documented theory that Valve shot itself in the foot by deciding to always have Half-Life told from a silent first person perspective. In the short term it definitely increases the immersion, but with the story that Valve is telling it’s unbelievable that Gordon should be so stoic and static.
Posted on 5th May 2010 at 10:33 by Joe Martin with 78 comments
I don’t often cheat in games, but nor is it something that’s completely unknown. It’s usually just a last resort, because I’ve hit a brick wall or I can’t find a way out of a level and need to look at a walkthrough to get a bit of direction. I should point out that I never cheat in online games because, well, what’s the point? I’ve also only ever cheated in one game that I was reviewing – an adventure game where I got stuck for three hours on an early puzzle and which sent me back to the developer asking for help.
Outside of the review process, I honestly don’t usually see a big problem with cheating in games as a whole as long as it exists within certain parameters. In my opinion for example, you should never just sit down and cheat straight away – you should try and play the game properly first because you need a proper sense of risk to feel the reward. At the same time though, if you reach a point in a game where the fun is being bled out of it then why wouldn’t you use an exploit to get around it?
There’s always going to be a fraction of gamers that disagree with that last point and who think that games should be incredibly challenging, but I’ve had the enjoyment sucked out of far too many titles that way to possibly agree with them. Some of my absolute favourite games have been almost totally ruined by moments of excessive difficulty. I’ll confess that the last boss in Beyond Good and Evil sent me scrabbling for a cheat list after the eighth try and, when it turned out there wasn’t one, I was very put off. The game was saved from my hatred purely by the fact that I knew it was the last boss and that I wouldn’t have to repeat the experience. If the game had threatened to go on beyond that point or if the experience up to that point hadn’t been so brilliant then I’m pretty sure I would have just thrown it away. I’ve done it with other games.
Posted on 22nd Apr 2010 at 10:42 by Joe Martin with 72 comments
I may as well start off by saying that I don’t usually like my games to be too difficult and that, if I’m sitting down to play a game for my own enjoyment, I’ll almost never, ever put it on Hard difficulty. In fact, I’m more likely to play it on Easy.
There’s a lot of people who’ll baulk at that; the type of people who label themselves as ‘hardcore’ gamers with an inflated sense of pride and dismiss the majority of titles as ‘baby-games’, most likely. Despite what they think though, I think my reasons for opting for a lesser difficulty are pretty good ones.
It comes down to a matter of taste and what you’re looking for – and what I usually look for in the games I play at home is a good story and the chance to have some fun. Sticking the game on maximum difficulty is something that’s more likely to get in the way of that than facilitate it and the worst fear I have with any new game is that I’ll play it on Hard, love the story, reach an impassable boss and then get stuck. In that situation I’d be more likely to put the game down and move on than to replay on a lower skill setting – and I’d hate to miss out on a tale I’d otherwise enjoy.