Another update

So I’ve been slow to update again, resulting in the state of limbo so often seen on abandoned websites across the Internet.

In short, I have completed Jade Empire, of which the final battles were the first genuine challenge of the whole game.

I have now started playing the free-to-play MMO Guild Wars. I clocked up over 300 hours on this back in 2005 in the long holiday between finishing university and starting work and have taken it up again to stop myself spending too much money on new games.

Problem is it’s so addictive I’ve just ordered the two expansion packs…

Update

It’s been a while since I last updated here, mainly because their hasn’t been much to say and because I’ve been enjoying the sunshine or being too tired in the evenings to do anything. A quick what I’ve been up to:

Oblivion

I stopped playing shortly after getting Jade Empire. I was getting to the point where I didn’t have the motivation to continue. I was thinking of creating a more evil character and looting houses, joining the Dark Brotherhood etc. but then I thought what’s the point? I could amass a fortune in ‘lewt’ but then two problems arise. As I mentioned previously, this isn’t an MMO so it’s not like I can show it off or use it competitively, and it isn’t Baldur’s Gate and there are not a million different swords or spells to buy. So back on the shelf it goes!

Jade Empire

I was really enjoying this game, but I got a point where I realised I was steaming through it and was nearing the last couple of chapters, so I decided to slow down. I did that so much I stopped playing! I’ll get back into it soon, but with a restart no doubt.

Command and Conquer

I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m not quite ‘getting’ the game. Completed the GDI campaign which ended a bit to quickly. I’m half way through the Nod campaign but don’t have the need to complete it. I’m sure I will eventually…

GTA: San Andreas

I had an urge to play this as I’ve never quite completed it. I thought I’d run through the ambulance missions to boost my health. Got to level ten and hit the mission key by accident, ending the mission. Extremely annoying, so I remapped the key to the other end of the keyboard. Tried it again, got to level 12, bounced off a lorry and handbrake-turned over the final patient. If the keyboard wasn’t wired it would have gone out the window :D. Back in the box it goes!

Defcon

There is a concept I’d like to coin as a ‘Wikipedia wander’. You go on Wikipedia for one article and end up clicking on one of the related links. This repeats itself for a few hours until you are reading up on a completely unrelated topic. I think I started on the history of Aesops Fables, and ended up on technical articles on the workings of atomic weapons! A bit sadistically, this lead me on to play Defcon for an afternoon. The game is very simple to play, but is horrible in its plain depiction of the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. Its only a tenner and worth a play.

Dark Angel

I’m about a third of the way through the first series, it really takes me back to when I was younger and watching through the first time on Sky. It has its quirks, lame acting and action here and there, annoying streek speak, but on the whole its an entertaining piece of TV. Amusingly it would seem that half the cast of Battlestar Galactica starred in it at some point. So far I’ve only seen Gaeta as ‘random Latino-looking Jam Pony messenger’ but looking at episode guides online I think I also spot Dee (as Joshua’s blind girlfriend), Crashdown (as a cultist) and Boomer/Athena (as an x? Manticore subject).

Real life!

So as you can see much of my free time has been half heartedly playing computer games and watching TV. I have actually been outside however! I’ve been to see a few mates for birthdays and meets etc. and have really been enjoying the beautifully sunny weather. Maybe this global warming malarkey isn’t so bad 😉

Jade Empire

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The other day I ordered Jade Empire Special Edition which was recently released for the PC. I have a great respect for the Bioware, the developers who also created (in my opinion) the greatest RPG of them all: Baldur’s Gate II. After hearing some positive things about Jade Empire I picked it up. It got it for £17.99 which was quite reasonable, it came in a ‘steel-book’ case common with Xbox 360 limited edition games, a poster and an art book. The poster is not brilliant and the art book is a short staple bound pamphlet- Half-Life 2 Raising the Bar this isn’t.

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On the whole I’d say I’m impressed with the game. There are only three core attributes: body, mind and spirit as opposed to the array available in Baldur’s Gate or Oblivion. This makes it easier to pick up and play, there isn’t much in the way of customisation to be done. It is a very different game to a traditional RPG. You don’t loot the dead for their belongings to sell to merchants, you receive silver automatically. The primary customisations are not what class of armour you buy- in fact as far as I can tell so far you will be stuck with the same paper doll that you start with – but martial art styles and spells. They all have their different powers and chaining some of them together unleashes ‘harmonic combos’. The only one I have found so far slows an opponent and with the second blow obliterates him leaving behind a health power-up. I think the general feeling I get is that it is a very streamlined RPG, revealing its Xbox origins, but a good one nonetheless. Very much more pick up and play than its larger cousins like Baldur’s Gate or Oblivion.

je_tablelegofdoom.jpgGraphically it has aged okay though having got this after playing Oblivion you can see the difference. After seeing the emotion conveyed in the characters of games like Dead Rising and Gears of War, the NPCs here show the game’s true age. The plot seems deep enough and there are hours of fully spoken dialogue, exposition and conversation trees. Its not however, without its faults which mainly are a result of its porting. A lot of the core assets of the game have not been updated with the port. As a widescreen user this is particularly noticeable with stretched loading screen artwork and menu screens (though it does support my screen’s resolution in true widescreen in game). My main gripe is with the frequent cut-scenes. These FMVs rendered in the game engine but saved as video files are extremely low resolution and are no doubt the same files that were on the Xbox version. The definition of analogue television would have let them get away with it then but now it is a glaring eyesore in an otherwise well produced game.

Despite these complaints its a fun game and I’m enjoying playing it. Its also quite crazy at times. I have the ability to turn into a giant frog and poison my enemies and just this evening I managed to pick up a pair of table legs and wield them like dual katanas, as you can see in the screenshot. Madness. Worth the £17.99, I can see a lot of potential for a ‘next-gen’ sequel.

Kane Lives: Command & Conquer 3

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I downloaded the hefty demo of Command & Conquer 3 last night and gave it a bash this morning. I mentioned before that I had my reservations about it, but I am glad to say that they are mostly unfounded. The game seems much better than Generals (too ‘War on Terror’ for me) and its great to be back in the true C&C universe. Although the demo is short it does give you chance to play with staples such as the Ion Cannon and a new version of the Mammoth Tank. It seems like a solid game but it’s not going to win awards for originality. It may be superior in visuals to the voxel-powered Tiberian Sun but its still the same game underneath. Fine with me to be honest. I’m also pleased with the nods to the previous game, including a description of what happened to the behemoth Mammoth Mark II down to the familiar architecture of the walls and gates. I’ll no doubt pick it up once I have some more cash as I just bought Jade Empire, even though I have yet to play it. Oh and the best bit of a C&C game: hammy cutscenes!

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I’ll end the post with a before and after shot of the wonderful new Ion Cannon in single player.

Before:
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After:
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Oblivion: power gaming?

So I’ve spent about fifteen minutes in game, and about three or four hours reading FAQs and wikis on creating the perfect character. I was not satisfied as with games like this you often realise the apparent shortcomings in your character about 20 hours after the last chance to change anything.

I used to do this with the Baldur’s Gate series. At the peak of my geekyness I’d be sitting for seemingly hours trying to get the perfect stats for my character, plotting how to enhance him and grow him. Then I realised that what I was doing was pointless power gaming. I was trying to perfect this character so he was the best in every way. Why? This is no MMO, I can’t show off these impressive stats. I’m not sure why, but I quickly realised that the game designers actually want people to complete their games and so it’s not necessary to power game in order to complete it.

With this in mind I made a sensible choice on my Oblivion character stats based on what kind of ‘character’ I am trying to play, walked out the sewers and started fighting, er, crabs. Time to have fun with this game rather than see it as one big spreadsheet.

Oblivion

I’m trying to get into Oblivion on the PC. I bought it at launch but never got on with it but now cash is extremely tight (switching jobs means no cash for a couple of months) I’ve decided to play some of the games I never got round to finishing.

I spent about 2 hours downloading the recommended mods to make it look pretty, and another 3 playing with the character editor to get the perfect looking person. I haven’t even left the starting cell yet. The annoying thing is I know that I’ll play it for a while and get bored again. I must persevere!

Busy busy

I’ve been so busy of late, I don’t think I’ve turned on the 360 for at least a week.

I don’t like talking about work on here, but its been causing me stress. I recently quit my current job for a new one that’s closer to home and has more career opportunities. Problem was I have a 12 week notice period (I kid you not) and I was pleading to be let go sooner or I might have ended up with no job at all. Despite some pointless dragging of heels they’re letting me go in a couple of weeks. On the upside this means I can finally get (as I need it) a car, the downside is I’ve spent every evening either fretting about my notice (now solved) or car hunting. So I’m knackered. Very knackered. Another weekend of car hunting to go and hopefully I’ll have everything in place by the middle of the month so I can actually play Crackdown and possibly Supreme Commander if it will run on my PC.

That reminds me, the fan on my PC’s northbridge started emitting a whine. Its happened before and giving it a jiggle has done the trick, but not this time. I went to unscrew it but one of the screws was threaded. As I was tired and irritable I literally tore the thing out of the heatsink, bending half of the blades and ripping the screw out. After bending the blades back again, replacing the duff screw and putting a bit of oil on the bearings I put it back in and now its silent. How I get away with being so abusive to my PC I’ll never know, but the beast has served me well for quite a while now.

Casting for Command & Conquer

I just read the casting line-up for upcoming Command and Conquer 3. Quite a bunch:

  • Joseph D. Kuncan: He's always played Kane, he IS Kane.
  • Billy Dee Williams: Yeah, Lando from Star Wars.
  • Michael Ironside: You might not recognise his name, but chances are he's been in a movie you've seen. I remember him most in Top Gun and for his role as the incompetent bad guy in Total Recall (well he was up against Arnold Schwarzenegger).
  • Tricia Helfer: Number Six from Battlestar Galactica. She seems to be filling the part of the blonde evil woman that the previous C&C games have had. My money is on her being asked to put on an 'evil' accent, perhaps Russian, German or even perhaps Middle Eastern (as in movies Russians are KGB spies/or torturers, Germans are Nazis and people from the Middle East are terrorists).
  • Grace Park: Sharon from Battlestar Galactica.
  • Josh Holloway: Lost's Sawyer.

There are some very talented actors there, but I bet that the acting comes out all hammy for two reasons. Firstly, this isn't a Hollywood production, and secondly as a rule C&C games must have hammy cut-scenes.

I'm still sceptical about the game as a whole as the series really went down hill after Tiberian Sun, and has become another EA franchise. Yeah I'm one of those many people who have a distinct dislike for all things EA. The game looks like the latest graphical revision of a stale genre. My money is on Supreme Commander, but I won't pass judgement until I've at least played a demo of it.

Tomb Raider Legend

Call me crazy but I picked up Tomb Raider Legend for the XBox 360 in the 'January' sales for £12.99 despite having completed it already on the PC. To make things worse the PC version and its 360-esqe next-gen mode was one of the main reasons I spent nearly £300 on a new graphics card, only to buy a 360 a few months later on a whim (an expensive whim) which cost the same again. I managed to complete the whole game this time round on medium difficulty in just over six hours according to the game save (not including time spent plummeting to my death a hundred times and watching the load screen).

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So what's the difference between the PC and 360 versions? Almost nothing. The controls are more intuitive on the 360, its much easier to lock on to bad guys and keep them in focus. The graphics are again almost the same. The 360 renders the game internally at 720p so my PC wins on possible resolution. However the PC's next-gen mode seems to be just a little bit less well polished with Lara looking like she's always wearing too much make-up and also mis-rendering some shadows. The worst part of course is even on my capable PC with shiny graphics card, the game can barely generate 30fps when nothing on the screen is moving. But then again on the flip side the 360 with its resolution that is not native to my screen seems less sharp than the PC.

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So a tough call. The end decision comes down to price. When the game originally came out it retailed in shops at the usual £39.99-£49.99 you pay for 360 games and £29.99 for the PC version. Of course online you could save yourself a fair bit but for forty or fifty pounds Legend is pushing it. As I mentioned above I finished the main plot – including bouncing around in the mansion for a bit – in about six hours. When I originally played it took me about 11 hours to get a 100% completed score. You don't get a lot of gaming for your money. I do feel when you put the game length together with some of the rarer screen shots and interviews, you can speculate that a lot of content was binned to make the game hit a release date and make the company some dosh. Don't get me wrong, its a fantastic game, probably the best since the original.

Anyway all this discussion is pointless. I picked up Legend for £12.99, which is a bargain price for a fantastic gaming experience on the 360.