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!