Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Personal data stolen from PSN

Bad new, I'm afraid. It seems that hackers have stealed your personal information from PSN, though your credit card information may be safe. Seems as if things are going from bad to worse for Sony.

Minecraft modding API

As it seems, Minecraft Modding API will be free of cost, but instead of API in the sense I understand it, it is access to the very source code. This will of course be way better than the current situation, but I can't help feeling that this is the lazy way out and does not really help that much when it comes to mods breaking down every update. But, I may be wrong, we'll see.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Portal 2 (PC) (single-player)

So, Portal 2 came out a little while ago, preceded by Valve's promotional ARG, in which 13 indie games were on sale on Steam and received extra content and crypted messages and all that mumbo jumbo and whoop-de-doo and promises that the game could be released earlier (well, it did, if I remember about 7 hours earlier than destined release time). But all this aside, what was this anticipated game like?

Please do note, that all following is written solely on the basis of single-player campaign

Portal 2 is a sequel (GASP!) to a little 2-4 hour puzzle game, that was released alongside Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2 and its two episodes in a nice gamepack known as The Orange Box. The gameplay mainly consisted on playing with portals, through which player could go. Say, you place one portal on your living room's wall and the other to your bedroom's wall, you could walk through the living room's portal and you'd be in your bedroom. And you can take stuff with you through the portal, which makes things a bit more curious. And, even further to make things more interesting, your inertia would be conserved when you go through portal. What does it mean? What goes in fast, comes out of the other one fast. So, the original game was played pretty much through these concepts, plus lasers, of course. And robots, that try to shoot you, but since they can't move, they could be easily knocked down and so on.

The sequel, of course extends on these principals, so everything that was in the original game is still in and a lot is added. These include such things as springboards (they send stuff flying), different gels/paints (blue paints make stuff go bouncing, orange lets you move really fast, and if you paint wall white, you can place portals there) and pull/push streams and solid light bridges(!). These offer a very large repertoire to create mind-bending puzzles.

Well, as in puzzle games things usually go, you start with a few basic things and start to build up to them to create harder and harder puzzles, and so is in Portal 2 also. The thing is, usually you should go with this ever-increasing difficulty/tricks to keep things fresh, but Portal 2 stumbles in this from time to time, not too often though. Sometmies I just went mad when I couldn't find a way to progress, and it was something as simple as "jump pretty high from here", as if difficulty was suddenly reversed.

The game has a really, really good visual style and runs great on older machines even though it looks rather good. Animations remind me often of Pixar-movies, and that is a compliment. The game is nice to look at and most of the time, visuals give you a good clue what is your target.

Level design
The game (still) takes place in Aperture Science's research facilities. A lot of time has passed since original Portal, and vines and other plants have grown all around the facility. The first third or half takes place in these areas, and is pretty much the best areas of the game, so when you play the game, do take your time and look around to find all kinds of neat hidden stuff.

Then comes the chapters 6-8. Oh boy. Somebody dropped the ball here, and hard. What was a leisurely puzzle game, becomes a frustrating pixel hunt with repetive puzzles. I could've tolerated this, but it was absolutely horrendous and I spent about half of my playing time stuck on those chapters. To make things worse, the environment is really, really bland and boring ruins with pretty much nothing to see.

Portal 2 isn't really heavy on the story, but it has more of it than original Portal, which introduced us GlaDOS, the murderous and testing-obsessed AI with sarcastic comments. In Portal 2, GlaDOS has somehow lost most of her/its charm and turned just really hateful with very little (good) sarcasm. Luckily, around midpoint of the game her/its writing gets better and it's actually nice to listen to her/it.

Of course, Portal 2 introduces two other characters - Wheatley, the well meaning joke-cracker AI and Cave Johnson, the long since passed away founder of Aperture Science. Though Wheatley tolds jokes constantly, it is unfortunate that they rarely really hit the spot. On the plus side, the worst jokes aren't all that bad, but aren't really great either.

Cave Johnson is introduced around the midpoint of game (chapter 5 or 6 if I remember correctly) and he simply has the best writing in the game, cracking really good jokes and being just a manly man. He is never seen beyond some paintings and portraits, and his voice comes from old recordings that play as the player makes his way through old rooms of Aperture Science facility.

Main gripes
Portal 2 is a good game, without doubt, but I'd like to address some of my main annoyances.
1. Loading screens
There are loading screens between every room, and they aren't those barely noticable loading screens from Half-Life 2. No, these take the whole screen, and really break your immersion. And it is really bad at the first third of the game, when rooms are small and simple, and you spend about 1/3 of your time watching the loading screen and 2/3 of the time playing. Luckily, later on, the loading screens get rarer and rarer. But still, I can't wrap around my mind, who thought that it was a good idea to put a loading screen in the middle of an intense chase. Really.

2. The middle part of the game
It has the best writing (thanks to Cave Johnson), but on the other hand, the level design is the worst found in the game. If it were merely ok, I'd just shrug my shoulders and move on, but no. It is absolutely horrendous. Old gray walls everywhere and very, very little indication where to go. A game that has held you from hand to that point and then just throws you out with no point to go is rather bad thing, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary, but I didn't find pixel hunting and repetive puzzles good.

3. The length
It took me about 6 or 7 hours to complete the single player campaign. Not really long, when you think about it, and I spent about 2,5-3,5 hours on chapters 6-8. If you don't get stuck there, 5-6 hours will probably be rather close to how long the game is. And by saying game, I mean single-player campaign, there is also co-op campaign. When I get the time, I'll give it a shot.

4. The menus
The menus are for some reason really unintuitive to navigate with mouse, and I found myself cursing when I clicked the third time off and got an explanation what anti-aliasing does instead of setting it. Luckily I didn't need to spend a lot of time there, so the menus are a very small offender.

It's a good game that has some noticable flaws - okayish writing, loading screens bloody everywhere, the absolutely horrendous middle part and short length of single-player campaign. If I'd have to give it a 'score', it would be probably a solid 8 out of 10.

No screenshots because I can't find where they were saved. But I believe Google can help you to find videos and pictures of the game if you're interested to see more.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Amnesia - The Dark Descent: Justine (PC)

So, Amnesia got an expansion as part of the Potato Sack-Valve ARG-thingy. It's not really long, but you can get it for free. At least on Steam it was automatically updated, I don't know if that's the case if you bought Amnesia straight from Frictional Games. But, let's cut to the chase. Is it any good?
Still not for children.

Why, yes it is. I'd say that it is overally far more scary than the whole of Amnesia itself (maybe excluding the prison). This time you don't play as Daniel from the original game, but as a woman who wakes up in a strange dungeon with a sight of a creepy monster and sharing the cell with an eerie gramophone of sorts, and a voice telling you that there's a trial ahead. What follows is a Saw-esque horrorshow, where you can either kill or save three persons.
You poor bastard, if only
you knew what's gonna happen
There's only one monster in this 'episode', and he wasn't in the original game. Oh yes, it is a he, and a human, which, in my opinion, makes him only more scary. There's nothing quite as creepy as trying to stay hidden and listen to him yell "I CAN HEAR YOU. I WILL KILL YOU BITCH". The reason why he yells that is revealed during the episode, and the story altogether is rather nice, though the ending is, to say at least, nonsensical.

Oh yes, the episode also features permadeath, meaning that should you die at any point of game, it's game over and you must start over. You can not save at any point of the episode, but as the episode takes about 20 minutes to one hour to complete, it is allright and makes the atmosphere all the more oppressive.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nintendo's new console

So, it seems that Nintendo will present a new console at E3, which should be more powerful than Xbox360 or PS3. Seems a little weird direction, as lately Nintendo's consoles haven't been real powerhouses when it comes to specs. Might turn out interesting. As long as it has lots of good games, I'm all for it.

And hey, Amnesia got a little expansion pack on Steam the other day, I've completed it. I'll post my short thoughts later.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Amnesia - The Dark Descent (PC)

Oh god, here we go
So, pretty much everyone and their grandmother have heard of Amnesia, the allegdely most horrific game in existence. You have probably seen some hilarious videos on YouTube about players losing their, um, self-control while playing the game. Taking place in Prussia some time around 1830-1840 in an old, worn-down castle it has a great setting for a moody adventure. Made by a Swedish company known as Frictional Games, who are known from their previous Penumbra-games. So, how does Amnesia fare?


As you might know, there is absolutely no means of combat in Amnesia. Well, not for you at least, the enemies can easily tear you to pieces. So, what do you do? You stick to the shadows and if that fails, you run as fast as you can. Penumbra-games had a good physics engine, and so does Amnesia, so you can pretty freely pick stuff up, rotate it as you wish and throw it around. Most of the puzzles revolve around this, much like in Half-Life 2 of the Penumbra-games. Puzzles include stuff like opening and closing vents, placing gears to their places and so on, nothing too complicated. While in darkness, you gain a slight 'night-vision', but it isn't all that good and fancy as you might think, but it really enhances the atmosphere.

As said above, your only way of self-defence is hiding, but this has a catch - should you linger too long in the shadows, your sanity will lower, and if it hits rock bottom, Daniel (the main protagonist) is only able to crawl on the floor. Loss of sanity has other nice aspects too, such as hearing voices and making it harder to hide from monsters. And oh yes, should you look directly at monsters, you would lose your sanity and fast. Sanity is restored by remaining in light and progressing in the story. If there is no light in the area, you can use one of your precious tinderboxes to light a torch or you can light up your lantern, which uses even more precious oil. Health can be lost by, you guessed it, getting hit by enemies and other nasty stuff. Health can be restored by progressing in the story and also by using rare potions.

Poor Agrippa
Though some players have said that they constantly ran out of oil and tinderboxes, I noticed that by the time I reached the end, I had a full lantern + 9 extra refillments or whatever they are called and around 30 tinderboxes. But on the other hand, I never use anything unless I really have to.


Hiding didn't work so well
The game's atmosphere is at the beginning pretty lame, as it resorts way too often to "BOOOO A DOOR OPENED BY IT'S OWN" or "BOOOOOO A MYSTICAL WIND"-tricks to scare the player. Also the soundscape seems a bit monotonous and only distracts. However, both of these aspects only get better as you progress in the game, as the scares get rarer and rarer and the soundscape starts to blend in well. And overally, the game has clearly taken a lot of influences from Lovecraft.
Things aren't looking too bright

The worn-down castle of Brennenburg is really, really moody and offers a good place for horror story, however, I really liked more Penumbra's setting as it was more 'realistic', or should I say, more immersive? But still, finding a naked body in the morgue is one thing, taking a vaccine from the said body's blood is a whole another thing. It's things like these that make the game feel creepier than your average horror game - you are forced to take some actions to survive, and they really feel immoral and disgusting. And oh yes, the guys from Frictional have taken everything they can out from the setting - you visit cellars of all sorts, torture chambers, archives, prison, sewers, afromentioned morgue... and every place will make you nervous. Really nervous.

Yeah, this game is not for children
The monsters are of little variance, but that really doesn't matter, as they are rarely shown and seen. And if you see them, you are either too close, or should be running. And the monsters can be quite intelligent - I was rather amazed when a monster noticed that I was hiding in a room and started tearing the door down. Then I cried a little as it killed me, while I was weeping in the corner.

And if you haven't heard of the water monster yet, just check this YouTube-video. It is really, really tense. Let's just say, I felt safe because there were boxes all around. But then I had to drop into water and the chase began, and I only could breath once I was on dry land.

tl;dr-version: atmosphere gets great about 1/4 into the game, and won't let you go. And the graphics are really good, too.

Who said picture is worth a
thousand words?

The story starts with the greatest cliché of them all - Amnesia (didn't see that one coming, huh?). Daniel, the protagonist, is inside Brennenburg castle and finds a note from himself - descend into the Inner Sanctum of the castle and kill Alexander. Why? It isn't revealed straight away, because, you know, that would be pretty lame. But it is a good reason to start moving. That, and the fact that "Shadow" is chasing you with an intent to kill.
One of the many diaries that can be found

The story develops in two timeframes - the one which the player is in, and the another, which is told by Daniel's diaries and other notes that can be found around the castle. I don't want to spoil too much, so I'll try to keep that to a minimum. The story revolves around an Orb that Daniel found on expedition in Africa, the curse that the orb has brought upon him and how Alexander tried/tries to help Daniel. The story also features Agrippa (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa) as a major character, who also happens to be a real person, a German magician, occultist and so forth. And Johann Weyer, who is not seen in the game in person, is also mentioned. So you know that something occult is going on. The endings were a bit of a letdown, but still fitting in the contextual sense.


The game started a little slow and trying too many cheap tricks, but the further it got, the better it also became. It wasn't as scary as the Penumbra-games in my opinion, but is still one of the best new horror games, and I recommend everyone to try it. Besides, it costs less than 8€ on Steam, and there's also a demo available. Should you have a Linux or Mac-computer, worry not, Amnesia is available for Linux and Mac also, so in a sense, it's a true PC-game. If there's something bad to say, it is that level design is sometimes too confusing (I am looking at you, prison).