Saturday, 31 March 2012

Review: Journey

Achingly beautiful from the outset, Journey, as the name suggests, is more about the adventure than any great revelations at the end. The story is not directly explained, you just see the history of the land explained by a series of tapestries, but then it doesn't have to be to make an absorbing experience. I found this made Journey a very personal game as I filled in what wasn't thoroughly explained with what I thought was going on, giving myself justifications for why my character was on his quest. My idea of what happened may be very different to what the developers had in mind, but in the end it made sense to me. 

In the game players assume control of a robed figure as they travel through a desert. You only have two abilities; to jump and to recharge your scarf. You can only jump for as long as you have charge in your scarf and the length of your scarf governs how much charge it holds, at the start of the game you have no scarf and throughout the game you can collect glyphs that extend your scarf. You absorbe charge from cloth fragments in the environment. Saying that you jump is a bit misleading as it's more like you become weightless and flutter majestically through the environment as it is so artistically done.
You charge your scarf with the floating cloth fragments to enable you to jump.
The multiplayer is especially beautifully and seamlessly done. You don't get to choose your partner and there is no way to communicate with them, you will just discover them, and if get too far away from them they will fade away. There are no load time as a player enters or exits your game; this really helps to keep you immersed, as if you are just meeting another traveler along your path. It is amazing how much losing someone I never spoke a word to affected me and the pure joy of making another encounter; I found the feeling of comradery a parter gives you unmatched by any other game.

The way the world reacts to your presence is also wonderful. As you wonder through the desert sand parts as you wade through it and cascades down dunes, cloth fragments flutter around you and glow when you absorb them and cloth creatures fly around you.  The game lasts for between one and two hours and, despite what you may have seen from the media, the locations vastly vary throughout that and they are all beautifully done. I won't ruin the later stages of the game, but just know that they offer some of the most beautiful, and most heart wrenching, scenes to ever appear in a game. Light is used especially beautifully in this game and is often used to create breath-taking imagery. 
Without any sort of communication Journey manages to create a strong bond between players.
Concerns about the games length should be instantly disregarded; if anything Journey benefits from it's concise length as it makes the whole experience playable in one go. I didn't want it to end but it is done in a such a way that you can't argue with it; I don't think that with an extended length Journey would be a better game. It's amazing that ThatGameCompany managed to keep the feeling of magic and awe last as long as the did and this might have been lost if the game was longer. Multiple play-throughs are vital; on my second go, only a few days after the first, I knew what was coming but was still totally enthralled by the game.

Overall Journey is a brilliant game with only a few shortcomings; it is as close to perfect as any game I have ever played. Although the game is quite expensive considering it's length I didn't feel cheated after one playthrough, let alone multiple playthroughs, and I know I will go back to it very soon. In many ways Journey is  like an interactive piece of art with it's striking visual style, pitch perfect soundtrack and open to interpretation story. Journey might not be to everyone's tastes and could be  considered a bit light on content and gameplay, but, in my opinion, it provides incontrovertible evidence that video games can in fact be art.
The unique visual style of Journey makes it an unforgettable experience.
Final Score 9.5/10

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review: Mass Effect 3

Writing a review for Mass Effect 3 poses somewhat of a challenge as there is a dichotomy between the vast majority of the game, being to the same standard as players of the series have come to expect, and it's truly awful conclusion. The shocking ending goes far to spoil the experience, but does it make ME3 a bad game? No, not by a long shot, but it prevents the trilogy from delivering on all the promises BioWare started with the first game. Not only does the ending lacks the scope that the whole game was gearing up to, but your choices make little difference and the outcomes, whilst only briefly explained, violate much of the lore established in the other games, books and comics.
The Reapers take a much more prominent role in this game.
Mass Effect 3 is a third person shooter set in a science fiction setting. The developers created an impressively vast Galaxy for the original game with varied races, each with their own complex histories, and a lot of locations with greatly different environments; it's a testament to their creation that it is still interesting and largely unexplored after all these times. The first Mass Effect had quite deep RPG elements, and whilst the second game streamlined much of this, ME3 brings some of this back. There are a lot more weapons this time round, and each can be levelled up and modded with credits to improve their stats. Any class can carry any of the five weapon types now, but each weapon has an associated weight, and the total weight affects how quickly your powers recharge.
The Galaxy may be burning but renegade Shepard always has time for a drink.
The game starts on Earth with the cataclysmic arrival of the Reapers. The second Mass Effect was very much character focused as you travel around the galaxy recruiting a team for a suicide mission; this game tasks you with uniting all the races in the galaxy to take back Earth and destroy the Reapers. Over the course of the game you visit the home planets of many of the most prominent races in the series to try to persuade them that their only chance is to stand together. Your old employer, Cerberus, has other plans for how to deal with the Reapers, which leads to conflict as they are at odds with your own. With the Reapers, Cerberus and the Geth making a return there are plenty of different enemy types to face, this keeps the game interesting over it's twenty to thirty hour length. 
The Harvester is one of many new and interesting Reaper forms.
Throughout the game you acquire characters for your team, including some from previous games, to back you up in combat. The line-up this time round is smaller than what has been seen before, but it is probably the strongest line-up yet with many favourites returning and great new characters being introduced. You nearly always have two of your team members with you with you and you can control what powers they use in combat. Many characters from the other games and media also return, even if only for brief cameos, and this really helps to make the Mass Effect universe feel immersive. Throughout the game there are many touching moments, with characters new and old, which bring the characters alive and makes you actually care about them. It's a shame that this high level of care is missing from the finale as story and characterisation have always been just as important as game-play to the series.
Every single member of the line-up is strong this time round.
Missions are accessed through a galaxy map aboard your spaceship and whilst you can blaze through the main quest-line quite quickly it is highly recommended that you do play through the side quests too. As you complete missions you increase the galactic readiness which affects the outcome of the choices you make at the end of the game but little else. The side missions are mostly very boring fetch quests that task you to fly into Reaper controlled space to retrieve an item of cultural significance by scanning a planet. Each of the major races provide one or more side missions, much like how the characters in the previous game had loyalty missions, which are more suitably padded out and well worth doing.
I wish developers would make being in London more subtle; I think there are more red phone boxes in this game than in actual London.
The game runs on an updated version of the engine used in Mass Effect 2. The upgrade in graphics may only be slight Mass Effect 3 is still a very beautiful game. The levels may be overly linear but the backgrounds are massive, distinct and really help to set the tone for the game. Pristine cities, ruined worlds and derelict ships are all handled perfectly. I was disappointed at how few setting the PC version of the game has. I had a problem with freezing at a certain point in the game and had to restart a mission because of it, but apart from that the game ran perfectly.   
Prepare to be repeatedly amazed by the environments.
The multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3 is done well and there is a lot of options for customisation, but if you don't like it you will probably resent that the multiplayer effects your total galactic readiness. I cannot agree with BioWare's decision to have the campaign and multiplayer so intertwined; the multiplayer may be fun but, especially if you play Mass Effect for the story, you shouldn't be forced into having to play online. The multiplayer itself is a hoard style mode; a team of four has to hold off against waves of enemies and occasionally complete objectives. The classes, weapons and powers are the same as in the single player but you do not play Shepard.
Working as a team is really important for success in the multiplayer component.
I went into the game knowing that the ending had been widely criticised but was determined to keep an open mind. Until the point of no return Mass Effect 3 hit every note right with me; the missions are epic, the characters and writing are great and the pacing of the game keeps it interesting throughout. However, when the final mission starts you don't get the feeling that there are thousand (or hundreds of thousands) of people fighting and dying by your side, you only encounter enemies and hear friendlies by radio. You go around the galaxy collecting forces but in the end it doesn't matter you joins your army because they all add up to just a number and you don't see them in your actual army. If you can get over the disappointing ending then Mass Effect 3 is an amazing game and still a worthy addition to the much loved series.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Life in the Middle 18/03/2012

Over the last week I have been working hard on my macro and using bio more to constantly harass the enemy. In team games I have been practicing with mass Marines and drops, something someone suggested, to improve my control and drop effectiveness. Team games are very useful in certain situations; they are less stressful and they give you a chance to practice builds and try different units without risking your MMR. Doing damage with drops and getting out alive is something vital to learn as a Terran and well worth spending a lot of time practising on.
I think I'm getting to the point where I macro too much sometimes; I think 90 SCVs is probably too many.  
At the moment the only match-up I am consistently struggling with is TvZ. For the most part I am doing a 6 Hellion fast expand but just can't seem to do any damage when they go mass Zergling. Even without Banelings I find mass Zergling hard to deal with. More Hellions seem like they should be the answer but I don't like to use Hellions too much as the game progresses as they are so weak against Raoches and Mutas. The main point of having Hellions outside the Zerg's base is to deny creep but they can also contain them on two bases for a while and force them to make extra Zerglings.
Early Roaches make Hellions less useful in the early game.
Sometimes when I get frustrated I go for fast Siege Tanks or Banshees instead of playing the builds I have properly learnt which is bad as it normally leads to me throwing the game because I'm annoyed. I need to work on reacting better to losing and to make sure I always know why I lost. I am someone who normally has a very calm disposition but StarCraft 2 has the ability to make me rage like nothing else can and this seems to happen to a lot of others too. I was playing earlier and people kept raging at me, saying stuff 'like nice a-move', when I had been stutter stepping my ass off and choosing my engagements wisely.  
So. Many. Banelings.
One thing I have learned about TvP is to never engage in a choke; especially when the opponent has splash damage units. Against a Protoss you always want to be able to stutter step backwards and spread out to form a good concave, even when they don't have splash damage. My current strategy is a one Rax fast expand, adding on another two barracks and two gases after the expansion is down, and going for fast upgrades and a reactor Starport. I like this build as it allows me to get out early Medivacs, which help to negate how effective forcefields can be in the early game.
O cheers buddy; this from a guy who was 40 supply down and rushed to Colossus without Sentrys.
In TvT I am focusing on bio at the moment, leaving Siege Tanks until later in the game, and using Medivacs and run-bys to out-position my opponents. Having to know where everything is so that I don't get caught out has really improved my map awareness and forced me to get better at scouting the whole map. I am enjoying the challenge of TvT at the moment; it's really testing my ability to micro and split more than how I used to play. Reapers are great to open with in TvT as you can normally kill some SCVs with just one and then use it to scout when Marines start to come.
Saw it coming so set up a flank and crushed.
At the moment I am not really sure what to do against Infestors, I always try split but still seem to lose a lot of units to fungal growth, is it worth getting out Ghosts now that they have been nerfed? Apart from to EMP Infestors is there any point to Ghosts any more? Thank you for reading, you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter (@RobinTerran) if you so desire.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Review: Alan Wake

Alan Wake was has finally come to PC in an updated editionwith improved graphics and the original two DLCs included. Players take on therole of Alan Wake, a famous writer, as he tries to save his wife and overcome agreat darkness. The story is about light versus dark and this carries overheavily into the game-play. The game plays as a third person shooter with aheavy emphasis on story and a unique twist; before enemies can be killed youmust burn the darkness out of them with light. Flashlights, flares and flash-bangsare often more important than bullets in this game.
The lighting and locations truly make this game beautiful; in spite of the slightly dated graphics.
The developers have created a great world with interestingcharacters and beautiful locations. The game is set in and around a smallisolated town in the American North-West, which is the perfect setting tocreate an oppressive atmosphere in, with vast misty forests and run-down buildings.Radio programs, TV shows and the characters really help to bring the world alive.Going off the beaten track is encouraged and you are rewarded enough to make itworth your while.
Despite there being no creatures of darkness in the sunlight a feeling of unease pervades into the daytime.
The game is split into six chapters and in which you exploredifferent areas, to achieve different objectives, whilst picking up pages of amanuscript that seems to foretell what is happening. However, this leads to abit too much repetition as you find manuscript pages that tell you how eventswill unfold, play through the events and then have Alan talk about what justhappened.
Driving sections help to break up the monotony.
The game can often feel too formulaic; you travel through astretch of forest to reach an objective, there’s some story, and then you do itall again. Different sections try to mix it up, by taking place in sunlight, ortaking away your light or guns, but the game can still feel overly repetitive.For a game so focused on story it’s strange that the lip-syncing and facialexpressions are done so poorly; the voice acting is good but it doesn’t make upfor how unemotional the characters look.
The DLCs get really weird but I thought they were great.
The DLCs don’t add to the story but take interesting ideasfrom the main campaign and push them further; the creativity they display isamazing, especially when things get really surreal. Overall Alan Wake offersgood value for money, has fun, if slightly repetitive, game-play and an interesting story that is well worth playing through to the end.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Life in the Middle 11/03/2012

This week has been a week of change as I put into practice what I learnt last week; I spent a lot of time watching tutorials and practicing on custom maps last week. I have tweaked my builds for each match-up and, even though I was expecting it to take a dive, my win percentage is already up. I am now taking a fast expansion in every match-up and properly focusing on macro, as at this level good macro will take you far. I am sill in Platinum but with these new builds am hoping to go up to Diamond in the next few weeks.
Every single time I get a gg.
In both TvT and TvZ I used to for for 2 Rax pressure and then either expand or keep applying pressure depending on how much damage I did. Now in TvT I open with a reaper then fast expand and go into bio. I used to rush out Siege Tanks but I prefer the mobility of bio in the early game. Siege Tanks are really good in TvT, and I still use them a lot to lock down ground, but they make it harder to harass early in the game. I always build a bunker because I know how easy it is for a couple of early Marines to cripple you.
It's the best feeling when you make a catch like this; he's about to lose 40 supply.
Versus Zerg I have started to go for a six Hellion opening with a fast expand and a strong bio follow up. Again I am focusing on bio and leaving the Siege Tanks until later in the game. I think I used to tech up too quickly, with Siege Mode and all the bio upgrades, and forgot how important it was to get actual units out; leaving me vulnerable in the early game. I was underestimating the effectiveness of bio, even though it is Terrans most effective army component, especially how useful Marauders are.  
53 Minutes into an epic TvZ of constant action and it all comes down to this last engagement.
My TvP has changed the least of all; before I was going for a one Rax fast expand into four Rax, and now I am going for a one Rax fast expand into 3 Rax. I get earlier gas with the minerals not spent on the fourth Rax and focus on fast upgrades instead. Getting out Medivacs and Vikings in a timely fashion is really important in TvP. I think that one of the reasons I used to struggle in the match up was because I left getting air until too late. Also, I used to leave my main army at home when doing drops, but now I think that you really need to the threat of your army out front to make drops truly successful.
I love it when a plan comes together.
I wish I could have used blue flame Hellions before they were nerfed, they are still super effective but they used to be glorious harbingers of death. I don't like what has happened to Ghosts either, Terrans used to be overly dependant on them, but now they have been rendered overly useless in late game TvZ. Thank you for reading, you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter; I'm @RobinTerran. Check back soon for my review of Mass Effect 3. Dude

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Life in the Middle 04/03/2012

For a while now Terrans have been starved for a good tuition source, but this week two YouTube series tried to rectify this. DeMusliM has been a great inspiration, and his stream is on of my favourites, but he plays too fast for me to be able to keep up with what he is doing; dedicated videos are more useful. I'm sure that everyone who is interested in seeing Apollo's tutorial has already seen it so I want to talk about Max's series instead, as well as talk about Blizzard's StarCraft Master.
Max goes through a two and a three Rax build that I think I will adopt.
Max goes through by match-up and casts replays from his perspective explaining all of his actions however minor they might seem. This way of doing it is really useful for gaining a greater understanding of Terran as a whole. I have only watched his TvP tutorial so far but I look forwards to watching the rest over the next couple of days. Max manages to keep the commentaries interesting and educational throughout, even in the slower sections, which is the mark of someone who truly knows what they are talking about.
In StarCraft Master some of the challenges are very similar to those in Darglein's.
It seemed like everybody was talking about StarCraft Master so I delayed writing this for a day so I could give it a go. Before playing it I only saw Machine struggling on challenge 30 and hadn't read anything about it, so went in knowing little about it. For those of you that don't know, it is a custom game contains 30 micro intensive challenges that can test anything from your ability to micro a single unit to your control of a small army. It took me about 2.5 hours Blizzard time to complete all the challenges.
Some of the challenges just seemed like you needed to approach them in the right order.
You have to play every race and I like this as I think everyone should have at least a basic understanding of the other races. To some extent the skills you learn are transferable between them anyway. It doesn't extend much further once you have completed the challenges, as there is only one difficulty setting, but then again skill involves being consistently good at something; not just achieving it once, so additional play-throughs may be useful.
My favourite challenge tasked you to snipe Banelings amongst waves of incoming Zerglings.
This week has mostly been a week of learning, so hopefully I will be able to apply what I have learnt next week to get back to the top of Platinum. Thank you for reading and don't forget to check out Max's tutorials and check out my review of Alan Wake. You can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter, I'm @RobinTerran.