Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No post next Tuesday

Yep, like the title says, no post next Tuesday.

I could try to blame it on the fact that I'm going to be out of town this weekend, or that work's been busy, or that I've been constantly depressed (to the point of being unable to look at a game objectively), or any number of other things.. and all of those do factor in to it, especially the being out of town this weekend.

Buuuut, I have to be honest, the biggest reason is.. I procrastinated on finding a game to review.

If I can't kick being depressed it might turn in to a hiatus though. >.>

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Post Apocalyptic Mayhem

Genre: Action, Racing
Developer: Steel Monkeys
Publisher: Meridian4 via Steam
Released: 2011

Zolgar paid: $4.99+$0.99 for DLC
Beaten: There is no beating PAM
Zolgar's rating: 7/10
Replayability: Moderate to High.

So you've seen me take a couple of nostalgia trips already, this time around though.. it's slightly different.

Back in the day, I played a lot of Twisted Metal (the first one), and while I've gotten several of the others since, none seemed to capture the same sense of enjoyment I got from the first, despite having more new and interesting characters. Part of it may have been the obsession over Sweet Tooth, but that's another story entirely.

Not that long ago though a little game called Post Apocalyptic Mayhem was released on Steam, I kinda wanted it, but knew it would control poorly with keyboard and mouse. However, as you may recall from my Darksiders review, I recently purchased a 360 pad for the PC. Shortly thereafter, Steam did a Free Weekend/50% off deal. Played it, bought it.

Now, there's some major differences between PAM and Twisted Metal, yet it still captures that same sense of .. over the top, chaotic mayhem and vehicular destruction that the first did.

Rocket car, semi with giant saw blades.
Typical racing game, yup.
PAM is technically a racing game, but it's actually a vehicle combat game which takes place on a race track. Laps have value towards winning, but you'll get a lot more kills than you will laps, so worrying about laps is kinda pointless, and it's based on time, not a set number of laps.. well at least the 'main game'.

The main thing that stands out about PAM is the vehicles, they combine the chaotic aspects of the cars from Twisted Metal and the cobbled together scrapheaps of Road Warrior (awesome movie, by the way).

Normally, in a game like this I would prove a breakdown of the details of each character.. in this instans though, I'm going to give you screen shots, and their weapons. Is this because I like you, or because I'm lazy? .. do I have to choose one?

Now, every car has 3 weapons: Front attack, Side attack and, Read attack. Which, in case you somehow could not guess means an attack that comes from the front, that comes from the sides and, that comes from the rear.
I'll classify the attacks as the follow:
Melee range: basically you have to physically ram/sideswipe your opponents to use.
Ranged: Distance attack
Mine: generally scatters and explodes.
Hazard: Dropped and stays for a short time creating a hazard on the way.

Some attacks will have special traits, as well, which I'll note.
  • Logger
    • Front attack: Grinder, melee range.
    • Side attack: Sawblade arms, melee range.
    • Rear attack: Log drop, hazard.

  • Scorch
    • Front attack: Flamethrower, ranged.
    • Side attack: Magnetic torpedoes, ranged.
    • Rear attack: Toxic landmines, mine.
  • Space Cowboy
    • Front attack: Magnetic field, melee. 'stuns' target and attracts debris to their vehicle, damaging them.
    • Side attack: Electro-mines, mine.
    • Rear attack: Flamethrower, ranged.
  • Childhood Dreams
    • Front attack: 'Scoop of Destiny', melee. Flings target behind the bus.
    • Side attack: Molotov Cocktails, ranged.
    • Rear attack: Oil Slick, hazard.
  • Nitrogenius
    • Front attack: Freezethrower, ranged. Freezes target.
    • Side attack: Ice slick, hazard.
    • Rear attack: Ice crystals, hazard.
  • Meth Alchemist
    • Front attack: Acid Canisters, ranged.
    • Side attack: Sticky Bombs, ranged. (And they look like yard flamingos)
    • Rear attack: Psuedopowerup, hazard. This drops a canister that looks almost identical to a powerup, but is actually an explosive.
  • Kitty With Claws
    • Front attack: Unicorn horn drill, melee.
    • Side attack: Teddybombs, mine.
    • Rear attack: Perfume cloud, hazard. Engulfs single target, deal damage over time while disabling the vehicle.
  • Nucloid
    • Front attack: Earthquake generator, ranged.
    • Side attack: Mini-nukes, melee.
    • Rear attack: Nuclear waste, mine.
  • The Veteran
    • Front attack: Jackhammer, melee.
    • Side attack: Gatling guns, ranged.
    • Rear attack: Caltrops, hazard.
The following 3 vehicles require purchase of the Chaos Pack (usually $1.99) to access at the time of writing.
  • Eye Scream (the requisite ice cream truck)
    • Front attack: Ice Cream gun, ranged.
    • Side attack: Cotton Candy balls, hazard.
    • Rear attack: Ice Cream Boulder, hazard.
  • Tow'er
    • Front attack: Crusher, melee.
    • Side attack: Wheel boots, hazard. Locks up enemies wheels.
    • Rear attack: Towed car, hazard.
  • The Fuzz
    • Front attack: Grenade launchers, ranged.
    • Side attack: Donut bombs, mine.
    • Rear attack: Spike strips, hazard.

There are also five tracks to cause mayhem on!

  • Wasteland, a desert waste with a mixture of canyons and an old military outpost.
  • Concrete Jungle, a destroyed metropolis.
  • Airplanes belong in the air, cars belong on the ground.
    Cold War Beach, once and ocean front city, now half buried in sand with no ocean in site. Also includes a lot of naval wreckage.
  • Airplane Graveyard, a boneyard.
  • Death Arena 8, a somewhat chaotic arena map, once an urban empire, now destroyed. Partially takes place in the subway tunnels.

So that's all well and good,” you're saying, “but what about things like mechanics and whatnot?”

First, let be known I played it very little with keyboard controls. Why? Because frankly.. why would I? I only did it for a moment to see how bad they are, and as far as games like this go, it's not too bad. Arrow keys to steer and accelerate, ASD for your attacks, Shift for nitro, and random keys for different views.

Forgot how to kill? look in the right hand corner!
Gamepad makes so much more sense though, at least if you have one which PAM will auto-recognize (such as an Xbox one), simple intuitive gamepad controls. And the game conveniently has the attacks labeled for an Xbox gamepad, so if you ever forget...

The best tactic usually seems to be to stay ahead of the pack and rely on your rear and side attacks. Front attacks are good, but letting yourself be put in the position to use them can be risky, as it exposes you to front attacks, side attacks and rear attacks from your opponents. As such, I find that fast maneuverable vehicles tend to be the easiest to win with. Your mileage may vary though.

This leads to slightly stagnant gameplay once you've found the car that works best for you, and learned the choke points on the 5 maps.

My biggest real complaint though is there's no 'default attack' (like the machine guns from Twisted Metal), so all of your attacks are gathered as power ups, and you can only have 1 of each attack at a time. (Another reason to stay ahead of the pack, too, your choice of power ups.)

Aside from that, is has no mechanical flaws and plays easily.. unfortunately though, they decided, much like Sanctum, that their game doesn't need a story. This is a trend with indy/small developers that I am not liking. Forgetting that.. people like stories to their games.

Killed dreams.. just like any good parent!
The other trend I'm getting tired of in games is, you guessed it, nonachievements. PAM has it's share of them, such greats as 'kill one opponent' and 'play The Veteran'. I wish I was kidding, I really do. Granted, it does also have the greatest achievement name in the history of achievements: “Putting the 'laughter' in 'manslaughter'.” It makes me giggle.

Let's make a car combat game!”
OK, but is has to have an ice cream truck!”

Price and availability:

Friday, October 7, 2011

City of Heroes: Freedom, part 1.

Genre: MMORPG, Super Heroes
Developer: Paragon Studios/Cryptic
Publisher: NCSoft
Release year: 2004

Freebie type: F2P MMO
Paid option: Real-World Currency Market, Monthly subscription

Zolgar paid: .. I plead the 5th.
Beaten: It's an MMO
Zolgar's rating: 9.5/10
Replayability: MMO

As much as some of us may hate it, Free To Play is currently the future for MMOs. This may change when someone finally headshots World of Warcraft and/or the American economy rises out of the shitter, but until then? Free To Play it is.

As such, many games that have been Pay To Play have gone F2P, at first it was just the ones that failed to take off very well on the subscription model (DDO, Horizons and, CO, just to name a few), yet in recent years even some of the more popular ones have switched to F2P, with various models and levels of success.

There's a lot of bad business models when it comes to a F2P MMO. Super restrictive free accounts, 'unlimited trials', or systems that limit how much you can play without paying (“10 quests a day, then you pay.”)

There's some good ones, too, though. The one I find to be the best is the model which I believe Turbine pioneered (I could be wrong), and is used in many games that went from Pay to Free. It's the one City of Heroes has adopted, too.

With City of Heroes: Freedom, a player can level 2 characters from 8 different archetypes (classes) from 1 to 50 without paying a dime.

Free players have 2 character slots, and can access any of the 15 non-VIP servers. They have access to 8 out of the 10 basic archetypes (lacking Controllers and Masterminds), and have access to most of the power sets for those archetypes. As well they have access to most of the games content, including full run of both Paragon City and the Rogue Isles.

Sure, there are some things a completely free player doesn't get, but if there weren't, what incentive would they have to give Paragon Studios their money? There is, however, more than enough content to keep free players interested, and make them want to pay for a less restricted account.

When someone decides that City of Heroes is worth money, they have two options. Premium account, or VIP account.

A Premium account is any account which has purchased any number of points from the Paragon Market. Most of the restrictions are still in place, but there's a few minor upgrades, and then they use their points to buy things like character slots, archetypes, power sets, content, costume pieces and so much more. As well, they start progressing in the new Rewards System, which gives players tangible (but not game breaking) benefits based on how much money they have given Paragon Studios. Most of these benefits are things like enhanced storage and useful utility powers. For every 1200 points they purchase, they get 1 'token' which allows them to select a benefit from a level based off of how many tokens they've earned.

.. and I'll look down and whisper "no."
Or, they can go VIP.
A VIP account costs $15/month and gets access to all (current) archetypes, that is all 10 basic, and the 4 Epic Archetypes, all but a scant few power sets, all current content, free use of Mission Architect, alignment changes and, the Invention System (things which Premium players have to pay for), a monthly stipend of 400 points (worth $5) and 1 Reward Token, 12 character slots per server (and a 16th server).. and, of course, the Incarnate System, which is the endgame power advancement system that cannot currently even be purchased.

For the price of buying everything that the VIP account unlocks, you could easily pay for a VIP account for several months, and use your 400 point stipend to buy fun things like new power sets and costumes.

A nice little list breaking down the account types can be found here.

Now, I warn you.. my review of City of Heroes is a little biased.
I've been playing it for more than 6 years, my main account has all but one upgrade, collectors editions of all 3 games, etc. and, I have 2 accounts. Suffice it to say I like City of Heroes just a wee bit, and have probably given them more money than I spent on my truck.

One of the things which has kept me in City of Heroes for so long is the character creator, while it's not perfect, it is the best one I have ever seen. The main weaknesses are a limitation of 2 colors per item, and the inability to do an asymmetrical character.

With just the base costume pieces, you can do almost anything you can imagine, and it only gets better the more costume packs you get.. there are still a few things that are really hard to pull off right (like I've had a very hard time finding a way to replicate the Repo Man from Repo: The Genetic Opera). Honestly, I could try to describe the character creation, but it wouldn't work very well. Simply put it's color selection, item selection and sliding scales. I would have a screenshot of the creator for you, but, well.. something hates me and I can't get a screenshot.

Slightly dated, to be sure.. but let's be honest.. City of Heroes is a 7 year old game, they've managed to improve the creator over the years, but it's reaching it's limits without a total system overhaul.

The other thing you have with City of Heroes, is character options, far too many options some might say.

As a free account you have access to:
  • Go. Hunt. Kill Skuls.
    Brute: Melee damage, very 'balls to the wall' in play style. They have good HP, good defenses, and low base damage, but improve in damage the longer they're in combat. A good brute never stops moving until the mission is over, or he's dead.. and a good brute doesn't die!
  • Tank: Should be pretty obvious, damage soak. The best personal defense in the game, and a very good Taunt, paired with a passive AoE taunt in all of their attack makes Tankers best suited for the role of keeping enemies off the 'squishies'. Their damage is weak though.
  • Scrapper: Very much akin to a Brute, Scrappers are a rather fast-paced melee class usually, though they can benefit from careful tactical playing and pausing to 'catch your breath' so to speak. Scrappers have very good damage, and a chance to critical hit for double damage, and their defenses are decent, but not quite as good as a Brute.
  • Stalker: the last of the Melee archetypes, Stalkers could also be called 'ninja' or 'assassin' or other such things, and likely would in other such games. Stalkers do better damage than Scrappers, but have even lower defenses, they also all have a Stealth ability and will crit (double damage) from Stealth. Stalkers also get a special attack that deals obscene damage if done from Stealth.
    Unfortunately though, the game tends to be stacked against Stalkers, especially in teams. In solo, you can do well with a stalker with patience, and a willingness to run away. In teams a stalker is often relegated to the role of a scrapper, which is.. not ideal with most stalker builds.
  • Blaster: Blasters are primarily a long-range class, and do, IIRC, the best base damage in the game. Their secondary set usually gives them a mixture of control and melee attacks. Blasters tend to have one major weakness: they piss a lot of things off, and have no raw defenses on their own aside from limited control. Although, blasters are the only characters who can continue to attack even when mez'd.
  • Dominator: Crowd control is a Dominator' primary focus, with an assortment of holds, immobilizes, and other forms of mez attacks, and a pet for some extra damage later on. Their secondary is a mix of melee and ranged attacks. A well build Dominator is a force to be reckoned with, sacrificing a true melee archetype's self defenses for crowd control, which serves to make them just as survivable against most foes as a tank, but dealing far better damage.
  • Defender: In other games this might be called a “cleric” or the like, or even worse a “healer”. Defenders however, are not healers. Defenders are the only dedicated support archetype though. Their primary powers are usually buffs or debuffs, sometimes dispersed with a heal or two as well, entirely focused on one thing: keeping the team alive. Their secondaries are ranged attacks, usually fairly low damage output. When solo, Defenders do get a damage boost however.
  • Corruptor: Reverse Defenders. They share many of the same primary power sets as Blasters, and many of their secondaries are the same as Defender primaries. If a Defender is focused on supporting the team, and attacks when they have the time, a Corruptor is usually more akin to dealing damage, and supporting the team.. if it's convenient, which leads to Corruptors usually favoring aggressive secondaries that debuff and debilitate foes. Corruptors have a base damage lower than Blasters (but higher than Defenders), and have a chance to do double damage that increases as their foe takes more damage.

In addition, you can purchase two more archtypes, and four Epic Archetypes, or VIP players get access to them for free:

  • Controller: Sharing many of the simae primaries as a dominator, a controller is also heavily focused on crowd control, however instead of attacks for their secondary they get support sets like a Defender's primaries. This leads to a very useful, and powerful, character when teaming, although without a good build controllers suffer solo.
  • Mastermind: Who hasn't wanted to stand back and send an army of robots to deal with their foes? Or maybe zombies? Or street thugs? Do you want to team, even when you're solo? Then a mastermind is your archetype! Their primary is a mix of summons (Minion, Lieutenant and, Boss grade ones), and ranged attacks, while their secondary is party support, making them forces to be reckoned with while solo, and outright murderous in teams.
    (side note: All Mastermind teams are fun and insane.)

Bloody hell, they let Furries play this game?!
I would cover the Epic Archetypes, but .. well, they're kinda confusing to go over, and you won't have access to them until you reach level 20 anyways, so you can get someone else to explain them to you. Just be prepared for a lot of “Kheldian's suck!” Information on Epic Archetypes, as well as the most up-to-date information on the above listed archetypes and their power sets can be found here.

Now, I know.. you're thinking “8 archetypes free, 14 if I pay.. that's not a lot of options!”

Well! Every archetype has multiple primary and secondary power set options, for example a Brute has 120 potential combinations for a completely free player, with payment you can get that to 140 right now. Dominators are on the low end of the spectrum with 42 options for free players, and while I could try to list all of the power sets for all of the archetypes.. I would be here for far too many hours, especially since, on top of those numbers there are:
Power pools, generic powers for your hero or villain, such as flight, super speed, limited heal, things like that, with 9 options, each character can take up to four pools which gives a hell of a lot more options per character.

Then if that wasn't enough, there's also Ancillary/Patron pools which unlock at level 35, and add another dimension of power to your character, usually these add something that your archetype doesn't usually have the ability to do, most archetypes have between 8 and 10 options for their Ancillary pool.

Finally, if you have a VIP account you also have Incarnate abilities. There are currently 5 incarnate slots available, 4 of which can get 4 power trees (the 5th can get 16 trees), each tree has two 'final' options.

Then, because of individual power selection and personal choices on enhancements no two characters will be identical unless they are following a specific build guide.
So a Dark Melee/Shield Brute, with the Speed, Leaping, Leadership and Fighting power pools and Mu Mastery Patron will not be identical to another one of the same set choices.

For the last time I am not the Green Arrow, Lantern or Hornet!
So yes, even free players have so many choices that if you tried to play every single option in the game, you would never make it. Even if you tried to play every primary/secondary combination, you'd be hard pressed to make it. If you want to then think about going VIP and spending a bit of money on additional powers? It gets to a point where you can sit there staring at the creator for an hour trying to pin down a concept for what exactly your going to play.

This alone, I consider reason enough to get a VIP account, 12 slots per server and 16 servers available, instead of 2 slots total.

That concludes Part 1! Next up we'll cover the mechanics and content of the game!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Change to posting schedule

Greetings readers,

I have put a lot of thought in to this, and have decided that I am going to switch to an every-other-week posting schedule (however the First Friday of the month will still be a freebie game). Why am I doing this? There's several reasons.

First and foremost, this has been taking a lot of my time. That's not a bad thing .. but this is just a hobby for me, and I have a lot of other hobbies, and a full time job. I need to devote a bit less of my time to this, so I don't burn out.

Second, as I noted above.. I have a full time job and other hobbies, including playing video games other than the one I review every week. This leaves me with less time to play a game to review every week than I would like, leading to me often seeking games that are quick and easy to review.

Third, cost. I have a large backlog of games ot review right now, yes. However, I noted the time issue? Well, most of them are games like Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, NWN2, and other games that I can't get a really good feel for the game to write a decent review of in just a couple hours of gameplay, so I'm buying a lot of casual games, and believe me.. I ain't made of money!

These factors have lead me to the conclusion that switching to an every-other-week format will be positive all the way around. While it will lead to less reviews in total, it will improve the longevity of my Blog, and also improve the quality of my reviews.

To make it up to you though.. the upcoming Freebie review is going to be at least a 2-parter!

Tune back in on Friday the 7th for City of Heroes: Freedom Pt 1 and Tuesday the 11th for Post Apocalyptic Mayhem!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Special Update: New Humble Bundle!

Greetings my loyal readers! (all.. 5 of you!)

I bring you a special update today to let you know about the latest Humble Bundle: Frozen Synapse.

Pay whatever you want and you get Frozen Synapse (a $25 value!), pay a bit more than the average purchase price (presently floating around $4), and you get Trine, Shadowgrounds: Survivor, Shadowground, Splort, and Jack Claw.

If they follow their usual pattern, they'll probably add something else to the bundle too!

As an added bonus, you can decide how much of the mone you want to go to two awesome charities (EFF and Childs Play), the developers, or the Humble Bundle people.

Act now! The bundle expires on October 12th!

(I totally did not blog this from work.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sega Genesis Classics Collection

Genre: Assorted
Developer: Assorted
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2011 (bundle on Steam, most games were early/mid '90s)

Zolgar paid: $7.49
Beaten: 40 games, what do you think?
Zolgar's rating: 9/10 (bundle. Individual games vary)
Replayability: Varies by game.

So today I'm actually breaking from my norm a little.. and I'm actually breaking one of my rules, too. I'm not so much offering a specific game review, as a review of a bundle of games. The Sega Genesis/Master System collection on Steam. This contains 40 games from the Genesis and Master System, including some great classics that I spent too many hours of my childhood playing.

Granted, the bundle is $30 regular price. However, I decided it was acceptable to break my $20 rule for this, seeing as it comes out to $0.75/game, the only thing more budget friendly than that is buying it on sale!
Peaceful and serene. What could possibly go wrong?

Much like Duke Nukem 3D, there's a lot of nostalgia in Genesis games for me, and for that matter, just console games of that era in general. When I was 9 (I think) my mom got a Sega Genesis.. they weren't brand new, but it was still the giant design and the 6 button controllers weren't out yet. I still remember being woken up in the middle of the night to see the airplane level of Sonic 2. Side note: I have an awesome mother.

The Genesis has been packed up for years though, the game cartridges collecting dust, every now and then though, I miss some of the games on it. This little bundle serves to feed my nostalgia kick quite well.

So, this bundle is 40 games packages with an emulator, now that my nostalgia tripping is done, the first thing I'll talk about is the emulator itself.

First, the controls. Genesis games were not, by any means, intended to be played on a keyboard. However, the emulation software includes support for keyboard and controllers/gamepads, complete with full customization and button mapping to replicate the 6-button Genesis controllers. I didn't do much with the keyboard, I'll admit.. I have a controller, why play it inefficiently? It does map up nicely on an Xbox Controller though.

Remember when these graphics were good? .. neither do I!
It also provides you with something that very few Genesis games of the day offered: save games! You can save your progress anywhere in any of the 40 games. Granted that progress saves your current number of lives and current health. Still better than you used to get!

Mechanically I've not found any of the problems of classic emulators.. well other than if you run it at too large of a resolution it gets more pixilated than normal. Pixels? Seriously?! These are top of the line, 8 and 16 bit graphics! (Remember when we thought 16 bit was just epic?)

For the games:
  1. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
  2. Alien Soldier
  3. Alien Storm
  4. Altered Beast
  5. Bio-Hazard Battle
  6. Bonanza Bros
  7. Columns
  8. Columns III
  9. Comix Zone
  10. Crack Down
  11. Decap Attack
  12. Ecco the Dolphin
  13. Ecco: The Tides of Time
  14. Ecco Jr.
  15. ESWAT: City Under Siege
  16. Eternal Champions
  17. Fatal Labyrinth
  18. Flicky
  19. Gain Ground
  20. Galaxy Force II
  21. Golden Axe
  22. Golden Axe II
  23. Gunstar Heroes
  24. Kid Chameleon
  25. Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole
  26. Light Crusader
  27. Ristar
  28. Shadow Dancer
  29. Shining Force
  30. Shining Force II
  31. Shining in the Darkness
  32. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
  33. Space Harrier II
  34. Streets of Rage
  35. Streets of Rage 2
  36. Super Thunder Blade
  37. Sword of Vermilion
  38. Vectorman
  39. Virtua Fighter 2
  40. Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

Yeah, sorry, I don't love you enough to review 40 games, and besides, I doubt you want to read that much anyways. There's a few specific ones I'll touch on in just a moment though.

The one thing that holds true for most anyone who goes back to playing a video game from the late 80s to early 90s, is the sudden remembering of how bloody hard games were back then.. and if you're too young to remember those days? You're probably going to feel like you just suck at video games.

Sometimes the hard elements were sheer frustration factor, other times it was just being brutally unforgiving. Things like not healing between levels, scarce health items, or just AI programmed to actually kill you.

However, while being extremely hard, it also makes the game feel far more rewarding than most modern games. Modern gaming the first few levels are basically handed to you under the guise of 'teaching you to play'. Some of these, you find yourself struggling with the first fight, wondering if there's some stupid thing you're missing because you don't have the instruction books.

Good or bad? Your call.

Then the games I wanted to mention:

Comix Zone:
This one has always stood out to me, maybe because I used to be a comic book nerd and sometimes fancy myself a writer. Comix Zone is also one of the main reasons I bought this bundle.
Who knew panel walls were so solid?

You play Sketch Turner, a 'modern day' comic book artist, who gets pulled in to his own comic book by his archvillain. Your goal? Find a way to get out of the comic book and back in to the real world before your villain becomes a full-fledged human and conquers the world.

The interesting thing about Comix Zone, is that while it's a sidescrolling action platformer, it takes place on comic book pages. You move between panels, sometimes tearing through borders. There's also some 4th wall breaking going on. New foes are drawn in, and you can even tear up a piece of the page to throw as a paper airplane.

Comix Zone is also one of those that was brutally unforgiving. Attacking the environment hurts (and you have to do it), you don't heal between levels, health items are scarce, and you have one life.

Shining Force:
I didn't even know about this game until I got the bundle (I got in to RPGs late in to the SNES, and really with the PS1 and PC).

Shining Force offers me something that tends to be hard to find in modern games. A decent turn based tactical RPG. A pleasant surprise when I was expecting a meh-ish JRPG. Now, Shining Force is no Temple of Elemental Evil or Ice Wind Dale or the like, and plot/character wise it's very much a JRPG. But combat wise it's good, fairly simple and straight forward, no weird annoying controls to deal with (something many console RPGs could use). One minor complaint is that characters get XP individually as opposed to per combat, so your fighters will level up much faster than your squishies.

Also, in a rarity for games of it's age: death isn't game over, you get 'ported back to the last save point.. keeping the levels you've gained.

Hero got.. er.. is balls.
Hailing from about the same era as Comix Zone, Vectorman was a weird little platformer that seemed to have been built more as the developers playing with new technology than anything else.

It ended up a fun one though, with an odd shapeshifting hero and all manner of interesting foes to destroy. It also runs a little easier than many games of the era. Although, of course, the boss fights are classic games of timing and coordination. Run, double jump, shoot, double jump, run, double jump, shoot. And so on.

Shinobi III, Ecco the Dolphin and Galaxy Force II also all earn honorable mention as games that I wasted far too many hours on as a child. And Galaxy Force II earns the distinction of being the only game on this list that my mom was better at than me. As much as I would like to cover those, and more, I'll stop here, so as to not spend the next 20 hours writing. (especially seeing as this will be posting in ~7 hours.)

Suffice it to say that if you're looking for a nostalgia trip, or maybe just want to step back in time to when video games were hard, and you felt like you achieved something without getting a little popup saying “Congratulations, you have picked your nose 5 times!”, this collection is well worth the price.

If you don't want to spend $30, individual games are $3 each, I would say Shining Force and Comix Zone especially are worth that.

“The perfect thing to make you feel like you suck at video games.”

Price and Availability:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Genre: Adventure (Hack'n'slash style)
Developers: Vigil Games
Publishers: THQ
Released: 2010

Zolgar paid: $5.00
Beaten: No
Zolgar's rating: 8/10
Replayability: Decent

I avoided this game for a while, because I never touch games like this on the PC.. their control schemes are always so wonky that the enjoyment gained from slaughtering hordes of everything in sight is lost from fumbling around on the keyboard. Darksiders though, actually makes the keyboard and mouse controls work fairly well, pretty much as best as can be expected for a game of this style.

That being said, I wandered to my local evil soul sucking big box store that sells everything and purchased a 3rd party Xbox controller (because I was not about to pay $40 for a name brand!), with quite literally no setup beyond plugging it in (not even installing drivers because Windows recognized it), it worked with Darksiders, and has a much more sensible and usable control scheme.

This is a console port, after all. It was built for controllers, so if you have a 360 and have a wired controller for it, it'll make the game that much better. Non-360 game pads will probably work too, except you'll most likely need to set up keybinding.

If you've looked around you've probably seen various odd descriptions of Darksiders. One of my favorites is “God of War meets Zelda meets Portal.” I think that's giving it a little too much credit though.

This is a God of War style hack and slash adventure game, right up there with: God of War, Dante's Inferno, Drakengard, and many many others. Like most of it's modern-day competitors, it offers a basic “RPG” element (your character improves over time by way of gathering stuff and killing things), an assortment of weapons to use, and special 'finisher' moves which drop you in to a in-game cinematic for a unique kill for the monster type. That just means Darksiders lives up to it's Adventure genre tag.

But Darksiders also brings something else to the table. A fairly decent plot, now it's no JRPG with a long, drawn out intricate plot with all manner of character ties and.. blahblahblah. If I want that I'll read a book!

That looks heavy. Let me help you.. by smashing you in the face with it
You play War, one of the Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse, of course), tricked by the forces of evil in to re-starting the war between Heaven and Hell before the time was right, allowing them to ravage the Earth, the forces of Hell eventually winning the day. While that whole epic battle is happening, unfortunately you're being judged by The Council, your bosses (their sole purpose is keeping order and balance), for jumping the gun and unleashing the war before it was time.

While you plead your case, that you were tricked, they heed not your words and sentence you to death. That's it, game over...
Don't believe me do you? Fine.
War makes a deal with the Council to send him down to Earth (stripped of his powers), to find those responsible and punish them. If he succeeds then he's able to more or less put things right, if he fails.. well, he was sentenced to death anyways.

So begins your quest! The plot doesn't sound like much, but there are a few unexpected twists. I don't like spoilers though.

Technically, gameplay begins before all that happens. You start out on Earth pre-cataclysm, and do all kinds of epic things (like turn in to a giant winged flame demon-thing) as a teaser for what the game will be like later, face off against the Destroyer, lose your powers, get your butt whooped, and then it going in to the story intro.

Then, you come back to Earth and find out that that 2 minute cinematic? Yeah, that was a century. Human kind is dead, and the world is a demon infested ruin now. On the positive side, that means you get to destroy things willynilly, and you also get an awesome post apocalyptic world to explore. Given the right tone, the world would be down right creepy, however they gave it good lighting and didn't give it all kinds of eerie music. This makes me happy because I don't like creepy games very often.

Andariel? No, she moved to the outskirts of Tristram, sorry.
You will explore ruined office buildings, broken freeways, crumbling subways, and so much more.. including a cathedral that has long since been desecrated by a demon queen. The Sisters of the Sightless Eye will be very pleased when you kill her. .. wait wrong game!

The amount of work they put in to the game world is also rather impressive. Dead bodies and burned out husks of cars litter the roads, shards of broken glass still hang in window frames. Pieces of rebar jut out of concrete, bent and jagged. Areas with high volcanic activity are covered with thick white ash the looks almost like snow. I could go on, but if you're as much of a fan of that kind of thing as I am, you'll want to spend a lot of time just exploring the world.

To some the world might appear a drab, lifeless world, myself though, I find it impressive that they were able to capture that so well for this game, because that's what it needs.

There's also a lot of destructible scenery (such as cars and light posts), much of which can be picked up and used as a weapon, as well as environmental pieces which can be destroyed by certain actions, though sometimes there's minor immersion breaking quirks in that. Like a place you push a statue down and it punches a hole in the ground for you.. there's no ground debris or remnant of the statue when you jump in the hole.

That's enough rambling about the world, I think.

So far as I've played, the puzzle element of the game remains fairly simple, and more about being aware of your surroundings, and how you can affect the environment. It does serve to keep your mind more active than killing a bajillion and a half demons.

Aside from world exploration and puzzle solving.. there's also a bit of combat. Really! I mean, you're playing War.. who would expect a guy like him to fight!?

Combat is standard fare. One button attacks, one button jumps etc. If you're on a keyboard, your mouse button is attack, mouse movement is camera look, WASD is move, and all your other commands needed are convenient to the mouse or the WASD keys. Sometimes there are just things that do not work well on the keyboard though (such as if you want to cast a spell while moving it requires holding down 2 keys and hitting a 3rd, not always easy.)
Whether keyboard or gamepad, you do run in to minor camera issues, but I've dealt with a lot worse, and I'm probably one of the pickiest people when it comes to cameras (I have actually walked away from a game just because of it's camera before).

L DL D DR R Punch. Aww, no Hadoken.
You also get an assortment of special moves, which also work as is expected. block+attack, double tap attack, jump+attack, jump+hold attack, jump up and down three times, turn in a circle while clucking like a chicken block and attack... you get the idea. As much as I love games like these, and I love the special moves, I personally always find it hard to remember how to do the really awesome ones in the thick of combat. Darksiders seems a little better than most for that though.

In addition, you also get a few spells, or sorry 'wrath abilities', which have an assortment of effects. I always forget about them, personally, though they're a lot easier to access with the controller, it just requires holding another button and popping up a menu and stuff. Clearly too much work when I could just be all slicey choppy with my giant sword.

Yuffie called... yeah, she wants her star back.
Throughout the game you will also find or earn special abilities and equipment, like a war-horn, a 'shuriken' and, shadow wings. These are often required to solve puzzles and progress, but sometimes they're also used in finding secret areas.

And of course, no game would be complete without a slew of items you really need to hunt down. These include, but are not limited to, health increase items, Wrath ('mana') increase items, armor sets, and trophies to sell to the vendor.

Yep, despite the fact that you're wanted by heaven and hell, and running around a world where everything is a denizen of one or the other.. there's still someone you can buy stuff from. In this instance it's a demon who fell out of favor with the Destroyer, and trades in souls. Thankfully everything you kill drops souls, so you can buy new spells, new moves, new weapons, etc.

Souls, in fact, come in three yummy flavors: Lime, Lemon and, Frost (you know that soft blue flavor that no one really knows what it is).
Green souls are health, collect them and be healed!
Yellow souls are Wrath, you use Wrath to cast spells!
Blue souls are money.. or apparently actually demon food, since the vendor seems to eat them. Oh well, who cares what he does with them as long as you get your new shiny! (Don't want to think about him buying artifacts...)

So far, the only thing I have really disliked about Darksiders, is the requisite flying level. I hope beyond hope that there is only one (I know there will be more though), because I suck at flying levels, hate them, and at least the first one in Darksiders sucks. There's not even an evasive dodge move. Had I been using keyboard and mouse when that came up, I would have flipped the game off and walked away from it.

Over all, it's a really fun game that actually does a good job of getting you hooked on more than just '20,000 more kills to the next achievement!'. So much so, in fact, that I got distracted playing it when I was gathering screenshots, thus contributing to a late upload. Would I pay $50 for it? No way, but I hate spending more than $30 for a game. Would I pay $20? Maybe. $10? Definitely! $5? A steal!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Genre: RPG (Action)
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: 2000

Zolgar paid: $5.99
Beaten: Yes, been a while though
Zolgar's rating: 7/10
Replayability: Moderate.

Nox is a game I actually had on disk ages ago, and one that I occasionally lamented the fact that I no longer had the disks, as it was a game I wasted many hours of my 'youth' on. I was never sure though if it was really that good of a game, or if I just had fond memories of it.

Well, as I was pondering what to review this week, GOG released Nox. Instabuy. Installed it and started playing.. yep, it was really a good game! It's not without it's flaws of course, but all things considered it has actually aged extremely well when compared to other like games of it's era.

When I did my Sacred review, I closed it by saying that Sacred is Diablo for 'real' RPG players. Nox is the reverse, it's a 'real' RPG for Diablo players.

The story of Nox is a fairly simple one; you play Jack Mower, a 20th century redneck who lives in a singlewide with his wife, who just happens to own this weird orb that the necromancer queen Hecubah needs to conquer the world of Nox. When Hecubah opens a trans-dimensional portal to recover the orb, it also happens to suck Jack through, too.

In a moment of deus ex machina, Jack just happens to land on the deck of an airship, piloted by a slightly crazy old codger who decides he has need of Jack. From there, the gameplay begins, and the story will change depending on your class of choice.

Each of the three classes starts out with a completely different and unique introduction, before being put on to 'more or less' the same storyline (but for perhaps different reasons) as the other two. Your final goal? Stop Hecubah from taking over Nox.

Normally this storyline would be two strikes for me. I don't usually like the 'modern day dude sucked in to a portal' cliché, and I outright despise the 'you are the chosen one' cliché. Nox somehow makes it work though, partly because the game does not take itself seriously at all. It's not a 'comedy' game by any means, but there's a lot of humor to it.

As I said, Nox has 3 classes, Warrior, Wizard and Conjurer, not many by today's standards but this is an almost 12 year old game. The classes are pretty self explanatory, but I'll go ahead and give a brief rundown.
  • Warrior: Pretty obvious, melee master. Swords, maces, thrown weapons, special skills like charging foes. The closest to magic you'll get is enchanted weapons and armor, and bows are for pussies. Unlike Wizards and Conjurers, you will gain your special abilities as you level up.
  • Wizard: Also pretty obvious. No armor, only able to use staffs as weapons.. but also able to produce all manner of spells. Wizards will find spell books throughout the game, or buy them from NPCs, and use those spells to produce basic utility effects, defensive measures, or pure raw damage. Wizards also gain the ability to make spell traps, which they can drop and have up to 3 spells go off when a foe triggers them.
  • Conjurer: Kinda like a cross between a ranger and a wizard, conjurers summon animals, charm animals, and have a mix of offensive and defensive spells. They're also the only class that can use a bow and can wear light, but not heavy, armor. Like wizards they learn their spells from books they find, as well. Conjurers also have the ability to summon 'bombers' little units that will charge at the nearest enemy and explode, setting off up to 3 spells.

Gameplay wise, there's a few things that will throw off ARPG veterans. Right click moves, left click attacks or interacts. If there's no interaction, you attack.. this sometimes leads to wasted arrows on a conjurer.

Special abilities/spells are activated using the ASDFG keys, while ZXC will activate recovery items. For Wizards and Conjurers the mouse wheel will scroll through the spell trays.

The game is hitbox based, as opposed to accuracy. So at times, aiming a ranged weapon can be very awkward, and the projectiles will often go right past your target until you get used to what you're doing. It seems hitboxes are very small. However it also means if you keep moving ranged foes are less likely to hit you. Warriors can also use their shields to block incoming attacks (so can opponents though), but blocking only works at attacks from the front.

In addition to potions to restore mana, there are also 'mana crystals' throughout the world, which provide extremely fast mana recovery. While this is really nice in some ways, it leads to a lot of backtracking, and forcing fights to happen in certain areas, especially on a Wizard you will find that you spend, in my opinion, too much of your time running back to the nearest mana crystals, because you never know where the next one will be.

The main detractors to the game, for me, are:
No character customization. A warrior is a warrior, the only real customization you get is choosing what weapons and armor to use. Wizards and conjurers get to 'customize' their spells, sorta.

Arrows are not plentiful, and vendors do not restock.

Massively linear gameplay. Highly restricted on where you can go, how much you can explore.. and backtrack? Yeah, right.

Not so much a detractor as something of an annoyance to someone who's grown used to modern action RPGs: Death means game over, so you really have to remember to hit F2 and often.

A note one multiplayer:
The multiplayer of Nox threw out the norm for Action RPGs and went closer to FPS of the day. Offering such things as Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, later they introduced a PvE multiplayer mode as well. The servers have long since been shut down though, meaning the only option these days is LAN.

Short review I know. Nox is an easy game to cover it seems.

Screenshots shamelessly stolen from here.

Can you take me home? My wife made bacon...”
Bacon bound we go Imp, but first....”

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