Hollywood action blockbusters like National Treasure hold little appeal for me these days, and games like Call of Duty 4 are a big reason why. After all, why watch a big name actor go through the familiar paces of fighting against impossible odds when you can be the star and do it yourself? The Call of Duty series, or at least the installments that were made by Infinity Ward, have always emphasized the cinematic aspect of the gaming experience, and true to form, their latest effort is probably the most refined example of the video game as interactive action movie on the market today.
Everything in this game from the slick loading screens that double as mission briefings to the constant running commentary of your ever present companions and the relentless linearity of the campaign serves to reinforce the impression that this is gaming Hollywood-style. The great thing about Call of Duty 4 is that it mostly works. When your squad members are screaming at you to get on with your mission objectives while the nearby explosion of a grenade is ringing in your ears and you see wave after wave of turbaned generic Arab terrorists coming at you and there’s shooting and confusion everywhere, you really do feel like living an action movie.
Monsters’ Den is a newish, free to play, flash-based game that replicates an old-fashioned party-based dungeon-crawler. You control a party of four characters out of a total of five different classes and take them through multiple levels of a dungeon, killing monsters and getting loot. Each character has detailed statistics and different skills, which you get to upgrade every time you descend to a lower level of the dungeon.
The thing about Monster’s Den is that despite its simplicity, it has a surprising amount of depth. Do you customize your warrior to be a sword-and-shield tank or give him a huge two-handed warhammer to go to town with? Do you play your mage in the traditional way of staying in the back and flinging spells or have him front and center with protective spells and a magic-enhanced sword? With a loot-colouration scheme that seems lifted straight from World of Warcraft (green, blue and purple items with a decent variety of different bonuses), savable games and plenty of abilities to experiment with and enemies to fight, it can be pretty addictive. My only complaints are that the default difficulty is perhaps a little too easy and there aren’t enough different classes to play around with.
Between this and the flash version of Portal, it’s amazing to see how far flash games have come. They make a good argument that 2D games aren’t dead and that good gameplay can overcome skimpy graphics.
The lesson that Crytek must have learned by now is that advertising your game by boasting that its graphics engine is so powerful that it will bring most computers to their knees is probably not a good idea. Everything in Crysis’ pre-release marketing hype heavily touted it as the game to get to show off your ultra-powerful and expensive system that puts gaming consoles to shame. But as Bill Harris noted in his blog, it didn’t even manage to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks of release while the 10th rated console game sold over 300,000 copies in the same time. It is a telling fact that Crytek recently announced that their next game, a sequel to Far Cry, will be available on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 as well as the PC.
The sad thing here is that Crysis is a game that does deserve to sell better. It has the greatest graphics ever seen in a game thus far, yes, but it also has a huge playing area that allows an open-ended approach to solving tactical problems in-game, it gives the player a cool set of abilities that combined with the nifty physics in the game makes all sorts of wacky actions and situations possible, emergent gameplay of the most spontaneous kind, and it’s the kind of game that, innumerable flaws notwithstanding, make you sit back and grin when you think of the crazy shit you’ve just managed to pull off.
Ever since lead designer Cliff Bleszinski famously posted photos of himself hobnobbing with celebrities at E3 while promoting this game on the SomethingAwful forums, I’d been predisposed to dislike Gears of War. It didn’t help that the look and feel of the game leans heavily towards testosterone-fueled machismo of the worst sort. So it came as a pleasant surprise to me when I finally got my hands on the PC version this month and found it to be a more than decent game.
The machismo is all there of course: huge guns with chainsaws for bayonets, grunts with big bulging muscles and anatomically implausible jawlines who make frequent references to kicking ass and toughing it out while the only female presence is a lieutenant who is mostly heard and not seen. The well above average dialogue however manages the difficult task of making it seem familiar rather ridiculous. Combined with the excellent duck-and-cover mechanics and satisfying shooting action, it adds up to a very playable shooter.
So, I’ve been messing around with Dwarf Fortress for a while now. Its full name is actually Slaves to Armok: God of Blood, Chapter 2: Dwarf Fortress but I figure the game, with the kind of graphics it has, or lack thereof, doesn’t need any more strikes against it. The game has been available as an alpha-state, free download since August last year, but the ASCII graphics intimidated me too much to try it. However, I’ve been hearing plenty of good things about it, and since Bay 12 Games recently added a Z-level to it and other players have made it easier on the eyes with modded tilesets, I finally plucked up my courage to give it a whirl.
What you’re seeing there is a project by the Tampere University of Technology in Finland to create the world’s biggest game display by using the windows of an apartment building as pixels. Here they’re implementing a version of Tetris specifically written for the project, though I must admit that the player playing it isn’t much good.
Pretty amazing project though and it would totally rock to see it implemented on a larger scale on skyscrapers.
This new service for WOW players seems ridiculously cool: select a character on any server, select what items you own that you want displayed on the character and the service makes a customized figure of that character. It won’t be available until December 11 and at US$120.00 including freight charges it isn’t exactly cheap, but this is exactly the kind of business idea that makes stupid sense retrospectively. Considering the amount of time that MMO players spend on their characters and how important it is to most players that their characters look cool, it’s pretty obvious that this is exactly the kind of product that would appeal to a big segment of the market.
I’m still playing WOW on and off but mainly because it’s the only game I can play together with my wife. We’re still at level 64 after a few months of Burning Crusade, so that’s some super-casual playing for you.