Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GTA4 - Great start, weak middle, crappy ending

The first five to ten hours into the game I was pleasantly surprised by this game. This is was the first GTA I played seriously, mainly because it was the first that featured a main character that looked like a nice guy. In a world of crazy people, mafia, drug dealers and other organized crime he comes along as a reasonable guy and gives a good contrast to the crazy world out there. His cousin, which isn't part of that organized crime, but gets into conflicts with them every now and then also seems ok. So far so good, but then the game slowly falls appart bit by bit.

The characters that you care about simply fall out of the story, once you have done all their missions, there is simply nothing left for you to do with them except that rather pointless relationship-system. This really feels rather weird, since you have some characters which you pretty much don't see for 20 hours only to have them jump back into the story 5min before the end of the game to be featured in the grand finale. And this isn't just a case with some people, but pretty much a case with all people. The people who you work for are either dead or in jail after a handfull of mission and those that aren't simply fall out of the story. You still have them on your phone, but they don't answer to calls and just aren't relevant to the story any more. So you basically just jump around from one mobster to the next doing your handful of missions to be then done with them. There simply isn't a real plotline going on, it just feels like random stuff thrown in to keep the game going. The relationship system also feels completly pointless, since it doesn't seem to have any impact on the story. The girlfriend that I dated a few times in the beginning just disappeared after a little plottwist with no explanation whatsoever, while the new girlfriend, which I never dated in the whole game, became Nikos story-arc girlfriend. What good is a relationship system if you can't even chose your girlfriend? The main story arc also concludes in a rather unconclusive, predictable and stupid way. I could see that stupid plot twist coming from a mile away as it was pretty much cliche-in-a-box. The oh so great story that other reviewers talked about was nowhere to be found in this game. It might have been hinted at at the start, but it never happened in the later game. And of course as if that wouldn't be enough, the final bad-guy isn't exactly which you expect, since that guy I did expect to finish off, just disappeared like all the other characters earlier in the game with no explanation whatsoever.

Ignoring the story, the gameplay itself is decent enough, but not without plenty of faults that you would have expected to be fixed in the now fourth iteration of 3D GTA games. Driving around still feels like GTA and is still quite fun, thanks to the big detailed city around you. The shooting this time is quite good, but a little easy at times, which means the mission get harder by pure enemy-mass, not by enemy- or teammate-cleverness. The cover mechanic work most of the time quite well, but sometimes you get stuck to the wrong wall, directly in the line of enemy fire, which is annoying and should have been fixed. Where the gameplay however falls short is simply in the complexity of the missions or lack there of. Due to the lack of reset points all missions are rather short and symplistic. Most are either of the "drive from A-to-B" kind or of the "shoot-this-guy" kind. There is one bank-robbing mission that is quite amazing, since it combines everything that is good about this game into a great experince, but that mission is sadly pretty much the only one that exhibits this type of complexity. One nice, but problematic, addition is the abiltiy to drive taxi, which reduces the need for boring drives through the city, it however also makes things a little to easy, since it allows you to pretty much skip from one mission directly to the next, leaving little need to explore the city on your own. I would have prefered it if they would have reduced the mission count and instead of focusing on quantity, focusing on quality. Even as somebody who never seriously played a GTA before, the mission become stale and boring after a while, since its pretty much the same thing over and over again, with only a litle bit of variation.

The graphics in the game are decent, nothing that will blow you away, but given the size of the city and the freedom you have, they hold up pretty well. In a tiny few police chases the framerate becomes pretty low, but for normal gameplay it holds up well enough.

To sum things up, the game starts out pretty well and in the first 10 hours or so I could have understand why this was rated by so many a 10/10, but a little longer into the story it just loses coherence and stops developing and the terrible pretictable cliche ending just puts a nail in the coffin. The game is a lot, but it could have been so much more. It feels stuck halfaway between awesomeness and mediocrity. The game has plenty of great parts, but also plenty of weak ones and after finishing it the weak parts sadly just stick out more. Finishing some games gives you a feeling of joy, but this one left me pretty annoyed. Especially with all those great reviews out there, I simply would have expected much more from the story. All those characters and dialog simply don't do it when the overall storyarc is completly lacking, down to the point of pretty much being non-existing in parts.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Call of Duty 4 - Lets play some shitty games...

Time for another little game review, this time Call of Duty 4 for the Playstation 3. If one believes the hype it is currently the second best PS3 game right after GTA4, clocking in at a shiny 94/100 on metacritic, but well, I don't trust reviews, so I played trough it myself (single-player campaign only, 'cause I don't do multiplayer).

If there is one thing that Call of Duty 4 does really well it is giving a nice demonstration of all the things that are wrong with video games these days. The graphics and presentation is nicely polished for sure, but that doesn't help much here, since neither story nor gameplay can impress. The only good part about the gameplay is that it plays rather fluently. You can run around, shoot people, throw grenades and do stuff and it never feels cumbersome, which is a good thing. The invisible walls are this time also covered up reasonably well, you still run into them, but I have seen worse. However the gameplay is also pretty flat and uninteresting, because the whole surrounding world is just fake and brainless. The game features endless hords of enemies, scripted events and fake gun shots and a war that waits for you to make it progress. You also can never act on your own, but instead have to follow your teamleaders around and follow their orders. That alone wouldn't be so bad if at least the story was completting, but its not. Generic american and british soldiers fighting against generic middle east and russion bad guys is as generic as you can get and on top of that the "good guys" aren't even exactly sympatic nor especially "good" (executing a man tied to a chair is just one of the many questionable things). Another big issue with this game is that there is simply way to much happening on the screen, most of it is fake and doesn't do you any harm, but it does a good job of giving you a headache. This is simply the most noisy game I have ever played. The single player campagne also has the "issue" of being incredible short and having an incredible shity ending, that just comes out of nowhere in the mid of a mission.

To sum things up, this game is pretty much all show and no substance, it feels like walking trough a movie without ever having a proper way to influence what is happening on the screen, and well its a bad movie on top, so there really isn't much fun to have. The game also is a nice demonstration on how to waste tons of graphics. Some levels look great, but you never actually see that, because you are way to distracted with shooting people or getting shot. The game completly lacks those calm moments where you can actually get a feel for your environment and enjoy the view, its all run-and-shoot and that annoys a lot.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How to clone a clone

What happens when Pingus, a Lemmings clone, gets cloned? Well, something like this. Seems to be a mobile phone game obviously inspired by the real Pingus. From what I can tell from the few screenshots it doesn't use any Pingus graphics and the source will likely be Java, so no it seems to be 'clean' and not a GPL violation, since Pingus is all C++.

Running Firefox3 on OLPC

When one tries to run Firefox3 on the XO-1 under Sugar one will quickly find out that something is wrong, the icons are super-sized and so large that the whole interface gets squished together. I haven't yet figured out what the real course of this issue is, however there is a quick workaround:
  • enter "about:config" into the URL bar
  • confirm the warning that will pop-up if you haven't already
  • search for layout.css.dpi and set its value to something like 90, larger values will result in larger icons, while smaller values will result in smaller icons
Once the change is done the icons will appear normal size and Firefox3 is ready to be used.