Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones

Ever since first hearing about an RPG set as a parallel story (and not just a retelling of known events from the television show and books) in George R.R. Martin’s amazing fantasy world, I was holding out hope that it would lead to an excellent game with a compelling story.  My basic thoughts on the matter?  Well, we got halfway there.

Game of Thrones - PC

Game of Thrones is a third person action-RPG that follows the exploits of two characters, Alestyr and Mors, though their own stories that eventually wind up intersecting in later chapters.  Much like the books (but on a much more limited scale since it is just these two characters), you go from one point of view to the next, getting pieces of the story delivered to you along the way.  While the narrative execution is excellent, the game itself was sorely lacking.

Graphics – 3:

Game of Thrones - PC
The graphics are just terrible and I do not really have anything to sugarcoat that opinion with.  The textures lack detail and tend to be very bland.  The colors are dark and limited.  Character animate stiffly and little graphical oddities and artifacting popped up regularly as I played.  Considering how pretty Skyrim was on this same PC with settings set to half, it is amazing how bad Game of Thrones looks by comparison.

Sound & Music – 6:

Game of Thrones - PC
Some of the musical scores, including the television introduction (which I am very fond of) sound pretty good.  The sound effects by and large do their job – they are unremarkable and not terribly varied but they never got on my nerves either.  The voice acting was a mixed bag of mediocrity.  Almost none of the voice actors stood out as particularly impressive, though there were a handful that were painfully bad in their delivery.  Honestly most of them just muddled around average at best,which is a shame since the game is so heavily voiced and relies on these voice overs to tell the story.

Gameplay – 5:

Game of Thrones - PC
I really disliked the controls using a keyboard and mouse, but I could never get the game to recognize my PC controller.  I am not certain if a control would have made it any better, but I have serious doubts it could have been any worse.  Even adjusting all kinds of settings like sensitivity, I found the control of your character’s movement and the camera in particular to be awkward at best and frustrating the majority of the time.  A few gameplay items were implemented like a slowdown system during combat that does not freeze the action as you make tactical choices, but dramatically slows it down help.  The character customization of class and skills was fairly detailed as well.  Still, when basic movement is such a chore, it does drain a lot of the life out of the game.

Intangibles – 9:

The story is excellent.  Fans of the series will not be disappointed on that front.  Both of your main characters are well-written and very different protagonists who have very distinct roles in this twisting story.  At first their paths are completely disparate, but by the time you reach the last portions of the game, they are interwoven very nicely.  There is also a good deal of freedom of choice and some of these decisions do nothing more than change conversation branches, but most seem to have some tangible impact on things like whether or not a character will be around to talk to later in the game.  Beyond that there are multiple endings that branch off events in the final chapter, so there is some replay value to be had here as well.

Overall – 5.75:

You would think that with a score like this and the remarks above that I completely regretted my time with Game of Thrones.  While I regretted the technical shortcomings and some of the painfully awkward movement and combat, I enjoyed the story a great deal.  For me that was enough to at least enjoy the journey for the most part, though I will probably not replay this title again any time soon.  Unfortunately I suspect a lot of people, even those who are fans of the books, may not want to put their time into this game because of those shortcomings.  That is a shame too, because it is an excellent story with some good gameplay ideas that never really reached their full potential.

TRINE 2

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Trine 2

Trine brought with it some fun platforming and cool puzzles, with local only co-op. Developer Frozenbyte added online co-op with Trine 2. Does that make the sequel better than the original? Read our review to find out.

Our three heroes, Amadeus the Wizard, Zoya the Thief, and Pontius the Warrior, have returned. Their world is now being taken over by strange plants and goblins. They are once again united by the artifact known as the Trine and it is up to them to save their world. The story is told through text and narrative and can be a little hard to follow at first. This doesn’t really affect the actual game play and doesn’t take anything away from the game.

trine2_gameplay

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and puzzles, in side scroller style. If you are playing solo, you’ll be able to switch between all three characters. Each one has their own special abilities and that adds to the intricacies of most of the puzzles. The characters’ abilities are upgraded through experience points that you’ll earn as you play along. Once you’ve spent these points, they aren’t locked in. You can reset them and apply them to other needed abilities for any of the characters. This is a nice little feature that comes in handy early in the game while you are still trying to earn more points. Points are earned by grabbing orbs that can be found all over the place in each level.

trine2_gameplay

The puzzles can be a little mind boggling if you don’t look at them through the eyes of each character collectively. Using the brute power of the Warrior can open up paths that only the Thief can get across. The Wizard is great for reaching higher places, but the grappling hook of the Thief might still be needed to get to those hard to reach places.

All three characters start out with little in the way of abilities, but this changes as you spend those experience points. The Wizard can earn the ability to create more boxes and planks out of thin air, as well as levitate objects and  goblins. The Thief will be given more powerful arrows which can freeze or explode enemies. The Warrior’s hammer becomes an actual throwable weapon, with auto retrieval. His shield becomes stronger and can freeze goblins, which can then be shattered into a bunch of goblin pieces.

trine2_gameplay

The original Trine used a mana bar, which limited you with the amount of magic you could use at any given time. Trine 2 does away with that and you can use your abilities without any restrictions. This is definitely an improvement and makes the game a little more user friendly.

The game can be played completely offline solo or with local co-op, but playing online with two other players is where this game really shines. Puzzles are a little easier as long as everyone knows their part. You can play with the three separate characters, or play Unlimited where as you can all play as any of the three. Having three Warriors in battle at one time will make any pack of goblins a mere speed bump along your journey. Having three powerful Wizards can also make life easier when you work together building things with your blocks and planks.

trine2_gameplay

The graphics for the game are some of the best looking graphics for a downloadable title to date. The level details and landscapes are crafted to make the game strikingly beautiful. Puzzle and level design give you the sense that much thought was given to their creation. Some puzzles can be solved in different ways, and it is the level of detail that adds to this design. A few glitches here and there may force you to restart a checkpoint or two, but it’s not a game breaker to say the least.

The sounds of the game vary from very relaxing, to up-tempo depending on the level. The rise and fall of the tempo matches the game play. The sound track is already available on iTunes and has some great scores. Ari Pulkkinen, the man behind the music, has created a great collection of music for this game.

trine2_gameplay

Trine 2 is hard to categorize as a single genre of game, and that adds to its overall appeal. Platforming, while not always perfect, is fun and entertaining. The puzzles can be quite intricate, but tend to be a little too easy once you start thinking using the collective mind of the three characters. The RPG elements are thin, but do give the title a nice RPG feel to it. Battling goblins and various enemies can get a little repetitive, but that doesn’t take away from the overall fun the game offers. Online co-op sets this game apart from the original, and definitely makes this game an upgrade.

Trine 2 is a beautifully crafted game, with a great soundtrack and intricately detailed levels. With it’s low price tag, and hours of game play, it is well worth its price.

War of the Roses

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War of the Roses 

War of the Roses is an interesting title, because it takes a few chances that generally pay off, makes use of perhaps one of the most popular gaming modes on the market right now, and feels like a game with some as of yet untapped potential.  So what is War of the Roses?  It is an online experience that feels to me like a Battlefield or Call of Duty game, but with swords and bows instead of rifles and machine guns.

War of the Roses-PC

Graphics – 6:

The visuals are not particularly striking.  They do the job, and there are some nice pieces of flair here and there, like seeing your coat of arms show up on your shield for example.  One of my complaints is that the video controls lack granularity in the settings.  My PC ran the game fine, but my laptop was much more of a struggle at more moderate settings, so I had to move the game’s video settings to the most basic. There were areas I would have liked to have tweaked upward, trying to find that sweet spot between appearance and performance, but those controls were not there.  One very positive note however, is that the game ran smoothly for me, even when crowds of fifteen to twenty people were onscreen together in the same general vicinity.

Sound & Music – 6:

Again, nothing here that particularly impressed me but at least the audio did nothing to offend me either.  A few of the songs in the sound track were pleasant enough to bump this up from a five to a six and make this a very slightly above average offering, but none of the tunes really struck me as memorable either. Weapons clank off of shields with a satisfying thud and cries of pain are a constant on the field of war.

Gameplay – 8:

I am among that minority that prefers to play my shooters with a controller over a keyboard and mouse.  In truth the only games I prefer keyboard and mouse on are strategy or sim/builder titles.  This game unfortunately does not have controller support, so what you get is an interesting if sometimes inelegant control scheme using the mouse and keyboard combination.  Movement by keys is what you would expect, but combat is handled in interesting fashion.

War of the Roses-PC
For those using a bow and arrow as their weapon of choice, you click one mouse button to draw back the bowstring and you have to manage a few things at once.  You have to aim your shot – while taking into consideration that the arrow will lose height as it travels any considerable distance.  You have to pull back the string, and hope to release by clicking the other mouse button while trying to time it for a ‘sweet spot’ release where the weapon will do maximum damage.  Hold the string back too long, and you will tire and lower your weapon.

War of the Roses-PC

Crossbow is similar in that it is a ranged weapon, but where longbow is rapid aim and release, the crossbow takes time to load each bolt.  When you first spawn using this weapon, I always load a bolt right away and then go looking for trouble.  It definitely packs a bigger punch, but if you have any melee opponents nearby, you will probably have to switch off to your secondary short sword because you will not have time to safely load another bolt.

War of the Roses-PC

Melee combat also makes use of both mouse buttons as one activates block and one swings a weapon.  Melee comes in a couple of different flavors as you can use larger, two-handed weapons that can be used to block, but have a narrow window for being successful.  On the other hand, that heavier weapon can make for some longer reached and more impactful blows when they connect.  Sword and board gives you better defensive options as you have a shield you can raise – particularly useful if you are trying to close in on an archer – but a lighter, quicker weapon in your main hand.

War of the Roses-PC

Swinging a weapon though, can be a slightly awkward affair.  You press the mouse button to swing and then swipe your mouse to swing your weapon in that direction.  It works well enough when you get used to it, and these combat mechanics are touched on in the tutorial.  That said, I think that this could have been handled in interesting fashion with say, a second analog stick on a game controller as well.

Armor is certainly a factor.  Better, heavier armor generally means you stay alive longer in the scrums.  Some helmets have a visor you can drop down over your face, limiting your field of vision but better protecting you as well.  A nice touch, really.

Intangibles – 8:

So here is where I get back to my initial paragraph a bit.  This game is really only an online multiplayer game with two modes: deathmatch and take the checkpoint.  Some people joke about how Battlefield or Call of Duty should not even bother with a single player mode since they are usually short and the majority of the fans spend the bulk of their time in the multiplayer modes.  Well, Paradox took that to heart in their design here because the only offline mode is a training mode that I found more frustrating than helpful.  There is very little hand-holding going on either in training mode or in the actual game.  Players who have played War of the Roses longer have more levels and more money and therefore better toys than newcomers.  That being said, Death does not discriminate much here – everyone dies quite a bit, though there are certain classes and configurations that do seem more successful than others (horseback and heavy armor are very nice).

War of the Roses-PC

The maps are well made, and with as many as 32 players possible on either team, you can find yourself participating in some very interesting skirmishes.  You have opportunities to aid fallen comrades or to execute wounded enemies.  Both are boons in that you gain experience and the executions can be particularly visceral – from either side of the equation.  These do present some risk versus reward propositions though as you leave yourself vulnerable to an enemy sword or arrow as well.

War of the Roses-PC

So with only one component: online – and only two modes, why give the intangibles such a high score?  A couple of reasons.  One, I simply enjoyed the game.  I had some rough initial impressions.  The tutorial annoyed me, I could not really configure my video the way and wanted and the bells and whistles failed to impress.  I found myself greatly enjoying the game as I waded into combat, fighting side-by-side with my teammates.  Even better was the post-match content, however.

War of the Roses-PC

As you gain experience, and levels – you unlock new classes.  The first four are built in advance, but the next few are fully customizable.  As you dive into those customization options, you can unlock various perks, weapons and pieces of armor for the coins you earned playing the game.  Want to use a polearm as your primary weapon?  Go for it – you will have several to choose from.  Want to play an archer?  Unlock the class, pick your type of bow and then feel free to purchase the perk that lets you hold the string longer.  This part of the game is surprisingly deep and enjoyable.

Overall 7:

I mentioned potential in my introduction, and it is here.  There has been talk that the developers will be adding new contact in the near future, and promise that it will be significant.  I have not yet seen what that will entail – more maps?  more online and potentially objective-based modes?  Perhaps more unlockable items or crest customizations?  That part is unclear at this point.  This game probably will not be for everyone with its essentially lacking storyline and limited number of modes, but for those who enjoy some multiplayer carnage, you can do a lot worse than a title like this that focuses only on that aspect of the gameplay while adding a medieval flavor to the proceedings.

Tie Fighter

Serve the Emperor! Join the Imperial Navy and save the Galaxy!

The back cover blurb of one of 1994’s best PC games began with these words, and what an amazing game it was.  Star Wars TIE Fighter was the sequel to the amazing Star Wars: X-Wing Space Combat Simulator, and it gave players the chance to play for the other team:  The Empire.

1994's Star Wars TIE Fighter

1994’s Star Wars TIE Fighter

I loved the setup to this game: the Rebellion are called “terrorists” and a threat to peace and order in the galaxy.  But the game isn’t just about taking on the Rebellion; your rookie Imperial Pilot is tasked with wiping out pirates, ferreting out corruption in the Imperial Navy, and disposing of other criminal elements.  In all, there are around 50 missions you get to embark on.

Not only could you play fly various missions for your commanding officer, you could also choose to enter into a secret service for the Emperor.  A shadowy member of the Emperor’s Inner Circle gives the player further objectives to fulfill.  These optional briefings add more information to what’s going on in the game as they reveal more and more of the plot.  You don’t need to complete them to finish the game, but they’re fun!

While John Williams’ original soundtrack plays in the background, the player gets to fly a variety of space craft, which include: TIE fighters, TIE bombers, TIE Interceptors, TIE Advanced, TIE Defender (awesome!), and assault gunboats.  Personages you interact with include Emperor Palpatine, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Grand Admiral Zaarin, and, of course, Darth Vader.  If you complete the game and save the Emperor you can expect a closing ceremony reminiscent of the one at the end of the original Star Wars movie, except this time it’s all in the Imperial motif.

Tie Fighter - 1994 - Gameplay Screenshot - Lord Vader

 

Lord Vader expresses his displeasure.

There was an expansion disk pack released for TIE Fighter called Defender of the Empire, which added a few more missions, but didn’t do much in advancing the storyline.  A second expansion pack called Enemies of the Empire was originally planned for an independent release, but ended up as an added bonus to the CD-ROM release of TIE Fighter, called – appropriately enough – Star Wars TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM.  The CD version includes Defender of the Empire, and offers around 100 missions to fly.  This is retro gaming at its finest, so if you never played TIE Fighter, it’s time to suit up and restore order to the galaxy – your Emperor commands it!

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