Welcome to a massive “week in review”, which should really be called “the year so far”. A mixture of recovering after the pre-Christmas period and tidying up other writing jobs has left me with little time to shoot the shit on VicBStard.com (formerly known as stateofplay.co.nz). So, my apologies all round.*
One of the great things about building a new PC is deciding what to re-install on it.
I’d been running my PC for almost five years before ripping it’s guts out a few weeks ago and replacing it with a new i7 CPU, a socket 2011 motherboard and 32 gigs of RAM. In that five years I’ve dabbled in countless MMOs, all now abandoned, and installed/uninstalled a huge amount of demos. What I was left with was a series of hard drives full of mess and a crippled operating system that flatly refused to accept that it was properly licenced.
At the same time as finishing the PC build those folks at Telstra connected up my 10MB/second!!!!!!! cable internet. Resisting the download and installation of everything that the internet has to offer was incredibly hard; and whilst there was no need to download and re-install Sony’s seminal MMO, Everquest, I did partake in a bit of Sony online nostalgia by installing the freshly-minted Planetside 2.
I’d played the original Planetside way back in the days of dial-up. Even though I was fighting against high pings, Planetside was great. Unfortunately the monthly subscription was a bit too much to pay for a game that I could only return to occasionally.
It seems that I wasn’t alone as the MMO monthly subscription model is now almost extinct, with Planetside 2 now free-to-play. All the top MMO games now offer free-to-play microtransaction-based play (all except Eve Online- which is a pity). Thus it will cost you nothing to have a go on Planetside 2 except your internet fees.
As with the first game, Planetside 2 places you as a member of a faction in a perpetual battle to capture and control zones. The game plays as a vehicle-laden first person shooter; think a futuristic Battlefield 3 with huge continental-sized battle-zones. The world of Planetside 2 is massive and full of detail (recalling Anarchy Online‘s vast, but generic landscapes). In order to get about player can purchase vehicles by accessing terminals in faction bases. These range from ATVs to aerial weapons platforms. You need to earn the credits to purchase the vehicles in combat and if you find yourself getting blown up you are going to have to wait until to can respawn a similar vehicle. Whilst I’ve not overtly been told by the game it insert my credit card number, I believe that the more real-world funds that you pump into the game the better kit you can get; which makes sense and is similar to that which I’ve experience with Funcom’s Age of Conan and Star Trek Online.
Playing something of Planetside 2‘s scale, I believe that this sort of thing is the future of multiplayer FPS games. We now have the processing power and the bandwidth to be dropped into massive persistent combat zones. The age of 64 player FPS maps is coming to a close. Even on consoles the horizon is broadening with the likes of Dust 514 on the PS3 and it’s integration with the PC’s Eve Online universe. The times they are a-changin’.
Another game that is doing well operating with a new PC and a bit more memory is Arma 2, the backbone of another persistent multiplayer game, the zombie mod DayZ. I’ve enjoyed Bohemia Interactive’s battlefield simulators all the way back to Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. The only problem is, for all their genius, Bohemia seems to think that we are all running super-computers. Each title in the Arma series has been a game that my PC has grown into, like the pair of shiny oversize shoes you mum brought you when you were a kid with “a bit of growing room”. I’ve always found Arma titles to perform a bit shit on release, but like a dream a few years down the line.
Apart from the ability to play the excellent and free DayZ mod, Arma 2 is a gem of a game that should sit in every PC gamer’s collection. Sure the voice acting is appalling and the missions hokey, but the world and the hardware in the game is without peer. Using the editor players can set up there own scenarios from minor skirmishes to all out Armageddon, and at 60fps it all looks amazing. I’m looking forward to lowering the visuals on my top-end PC to squeeze 15fps out of Arma 3 when it is release later this year.
Another old game getting a shot in the arm is SimCity. I’ve just reinstalled the excellent (and almost decade old) SimCity 4 on my new rig; which, with a few tweaks, runs at a stonking pace. Even now Sim City 4 beats such pretenders to the city building crown as the CitiesXL series. It is a credit to the developers, Maxis, that I can still pick up and play SimCity 4, continuing a game that I commenced in 2004, and still be totally engrossed by it. I just hope SimCity can live up to SimCity 4‘s legacy.
One of the most interesting things with SimCity 4 is the interaction between the cities. Switching on the transportation links on SimCity 4’s regional map highlights the transportation routes and the inter-contectivity between cities. This is what allowed me to create niteresting places like farming cities, cities that wouldn’t survive on their own, but work great serving their neighbors. This gameplay dynamic was further expanded in CitiesXL with a vast amount of services able to be traded between cities, and where no trading cities was available, the ever present Omnicorp filling the shortfall.
EA’s upcoming SimCity reboot features the controversial decision to require an always-on a connection to the internet in order to play. A lot of people are getting very upset by this. Ten years ago things would have been a bit more upfront and the game would have been called SimCity Online and they’d have been no fuss. The online connectivity issue is a non-problem. Who’s PC isn’t connected to the internet? Everything is connected to the internet these days. The only problem I can see is either if your internet goes down (in which case my vast Steam-based, cloud save enabled, collection of game will also be unavailable) or if you are considering obtaining a cracked copy of the game from The Pirate Bay, in which case you’ll have to choose another city-builder to satisfy the frustrated town-planner in you.
All I can say is the idea of running a city in a region full of other cities run by real people sounds pretty cool and I can’t wait until March to find out just how it all works out!
A little bit of downtime has given me the opportunity to finish of a few writing jobs that I’ve had kicking around, the most enjoyable of which was a review of Hitman: Absolution for shanethegamer.com. I’d already reviewed this game shortly after release for Techday.com ,but due to time constraints overlooked a Shane the Gamer review. What was nice about writing a review a few months after release was the amount of consideration I could put in the text. A second playthrough and the time to let it soak in allowed me to write something with a little more feeling than usual.
I’ve been writing video game review for quite a few years now, for both print and online; I started out writing for print. What’s great about magazine reviews is that copy needed to be ready for deadlines, deadlines that revolved around print times. This meant that sometimes I’d have a few weeks to review a game. Writing review for online publication is a shit-fest in comparison. Half the time review copies arrive on the day of release (or, when in New Zealand a week later), and the competition posts the review the next day. For this reason I think that those early reviews are a load of bollocks. It is shamefully easy to write a review a game having hardly touched the game, especially if it is a sequel and if you’ve already previewed it, but is is also morally wrong. OK, so when I was in Auckland I used Techday.com’s debug consoles to review release code early, but nine times out of ten those other outlets are getting the review code the same day as me…and posting a review the next day. Even a reviewer playing a six hour game should spend some time contemplating the experience else the review ends up either gushing with praise or a rant still hung up on that particularly frustrating boss fight.
I’ll end my whine/rant there and finish off by saying I really enjoyed Hitman: Absolution and was very happy to get the opportunity to write a more considered review. You can check out my review at Shanethegamer.com here.
In the blink of an eye it’s February and so begins the final quarter onslaught of video game releases. Just when you thought that you’d recovered from the massive amount of top-quality pre-Christmas releases, it’s wallet out time again.
I’m currently stamping my way through Dead Space 3, which I’ve got to say is engaging me a lot better than the previous titles in series. Whereas Dead Space 1 and 2 felt like dismal Doom3 clones ( all three games of which I put down long before finishing them), Dead Space 3 feels more cinematic and…exciting. Whilst the game has provided me with some pretty astounding set-pieces, the series protagonist, Issac, does seem to weld to most inadequate and under-powered weapons in the history of gaming; I need to start crafting some better ones!
As well as SimCity, another game on my upcoming games list is the action-orientated entry into the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. I’ve be sitting on the demo of the game since the release of the Zone of the Enders HD collection which, in Europe, it came packaged with. They did a similar stunt with the original Zone of the Enders release and the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo, way back.
I finally got around to playing the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo the other week. I’d already had a go at the EB Expo Mindscape booth, last year, but it is much nicer to try out a game in the comfort of your own surroundings. You can read about how I got on in my write-up, as published on Shanethegamer.com, here. All I’ll say is, I can’t wait to step back in the Metal Gear universe and chop some stuff up!
I’m going to stop right here, as if I spend any more time writing this bumper edition of “Week in Review” it’ll never get posted. So I’m signing off. I promise I’ll be back soon to talk about Dead Space 3 in a bit more detail, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Bioshock Infinite and some more on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance!