Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Holy Hell, Ziggurat is Pretty Cool













Ziggurat:
  1. (noun) a temple of Sumerian origin in the form of a pyramidal tower, consisting of a number of stories and having about the outside a broad ascent winding round the structure, presenting the appearance of a series of terraces. (source)
  2. (noun) a rogue-lite first-person shooter video game in which the player, armed with an arsenal of magical wands, staves, spellbooks, and alchemical weapons, attempts to survive and advance through the floors of a randomly-generated ziggurat, battling roomfuls of enemies while leveling up and acquiring new perks, items, and spells. 
I tend to prefer games with a finely-crafted campaign, that include a definite beginning and end; these "go until you die, then start over" games often seem like a waste of time to me. As such, I've never been much of a fan of procedural death labyrinths. Ziggurat is one of the few exceptions. It does all the things you'd expect of a rogue-lite, but what really sold me were the gameplay videos demonstrating its fast-paced, old-school action. I have a fondness for shooters like Painkiller and Serious Sam, you see -- games in which you frantically run about killing hordes of exotic enemies in exotic locations with exotic weapons -- and Ziggurat scratches that itch in colorful, magic spades.

Monday, April 13, 2015

System Shock 2 is Infinitely Better than BioShock
















System Shock 2 and BioShock are essentially the exact same game, except one has a cyberpunk theme set in space, and the other has a steampunk theme set underwater. Both are first-person shooters with a wide range of guns and multiple types of ammunition; both feature RPG-style upgrades for character abilities and weapons; both include a variety of "magic" spells that can be used in conjunction with firearms; both feature a setting that's been ruined by horrific disaster; both feature environmental storytelling with audio logs and ghostly apparitions; and both have an important, memorable twist revelation in the story. They even have virtually identical level/plot progression. Those are just the main overarching similarities; when you examine them closer, you notice a ton of smaller, individual things that make appearances in both games, like vending machines and respawn chambers.

If BioShock is basically a carbon copy of the esteemed System Shock 2, and is developed by many of the same influential people who made SS2, with the benefit of a much stronger engine and eight years of industry advancements, then BioShock should be a definite improvement over the classic masterpiece, right? If nothing else, it should at least be "as good as" SS2, right? Everyone had high hopes that it would recapture the magic of SS2 and put a halt to the growing trend of simplifying and "dumbing down" mainstream games. BioShock was indeed a smarter, more complex shooter than virtually anything else on the market at the time -- hence why it was so immensely popular -- but the sad fact is that BioShock itself is merely a simplified, dumbed-down version of System Shock 2.

This article isn't going to be a strict review of BioShock, because it's kind of moot at this point. It's been out long enough, and was popular enough that I'm sure you already know everything you need to know about it. Rather, this is going to be more of a description of what's wrong with BioShock, with comparisons between System Shock 2 and BioShock. For a little more context going into this article, consider reading my recent review of System Shock 2 before continuing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

BioShock is Infinitely Better than System Shock 2














UPDATE: Click here to read the real article.

I know I said at the end of my review of System Shock 2 that I would be following it up with an article "explaining precisely why BioShock doesn't live up to the legacy of its esteemed predecessor," but when I got around to actually playing it, I realized that BioShock is actually a superior version of System Shock 2 in virtually every way possible. Scratch what I said in the previous article -- there's no reason to go back and suffer through System Shock 2's archaic interface and dated visuals when it's much easier to just play BioShock, and especially since it provides an all-around better experience, anyway. So, let's jump into the analysis, shall we?

Friday, March 13, 2015

System Shock 2: A Classic Masterpiece















System Shock 2. The grandfather and holy grail of FPS-RPGs. It was so monumental back in 1999 that it shaped many elements of game design that have become standard practice over the last 16 years. Games like Deus Ex, Aliens vs Predator, Vampire Bloodlines, Doom 3, BioShock, Dead Space, and Fallout 3/NV, all owe their existence at least partly to the innovations established with System Shock 2. Even games like STALKER, Borderlands, and Portal have drawn influences from the almighty System Shock 2.

Despite its immense critical acclaim, winning numerous "Game of the Year" awards and frequently finding its way into modern "Best Games of All Time" lists, System Shock 2 wasn't much of a commercial success at the time. Falling between the cracks of Half-Life in 1998 and Deus Ex in 2000, its legacy was that of an obscure cult phenomenon that few people actually played -- but those who did loved it vehemently -- until BioShock came out in 2007 and renewed everyone's interest in its spiritual predecessor. Even then, finding a working copy was a little difficult, so the game remained largely unplayed and inaccessible until GOG and Steam released digital copies in 2013. Now you have no excuse not to play one of the greatest video games ever made.

The real question, however, as it always is with these "old" games, is whether or not System Shock 2 is actually worth playing in this day and age. After all, lots of old games just haven't aged very well, and why would it even be necessary to play System Shock 2 when there's already BioShock, a more-modern adaptation of virtually the same game design? The answer is simple: because System Shock 2 is a better game, and it still plays remarkably well, even after 16 years of aging. I'll get into more direct comparisons in another article; for now, I just want to talk about System Shock 2 as an independent game and how it's stood the test of time.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Morrowind Sucks, aka, Morrowind is Overrated
















Like everyone else, I have fond, nostalgic memories of playing Morrowind back in the early 2000s, but I was never able to get into it properly. I put about 10-20 hours into it, then gave up and lost interest. And yet, every time I've seen screenshots or heard its music over the past decade, I've felt a desire to reinstall the game and relive the glory days that everyone always harkens back to when discussing Oblivion or Skyrim. And then, whenever I do, I'm soon reminded of why I was never able to appreciate Morrowind, even back in its prime.

It's a shame, really, because I think Morrowind truly is the best of the modern Elder Scrolls games. It has the most interesting world to explore with its completely unique fauna, wildlife, and architecture, and it has the deepest, most complex stats-based RPG mechanics of any modern Elder Scrolls game. There's a reason, after all, that Morrowind was such a popular hit in 2002. For many young gamers, it was their first experience diving into such a deeply rich, complex open-world; for me, I'd already been spoiled by Gothic and Gothic 2, which made it painfully obvious how soulless and mediocre Morrowind really was.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Arx Fatalis: Old School Game in a Modern Skin
















Arx Fatalis is a first-person dungeon-crawling action-RPG from 2002 by Arkane Studios, the team who would later go on to develop Dark Messiah of Might and Magic in 2006 and Dishonored in 2012. Inspired by the Ultima Underworld games from the early 90s, Arx Fatalis is a modern adaptation of old school design. The world of Arx Fatalis is set entirely underground, after a dying sun forces humans, goblins, and trolls to retreat to the old dwarven mines and rebuild their cities underground. You play a nameless human who wakes up in a goblin prison cell with no memory of his past or his own identity. While attempting to recover your lost memories, you learn that you were sent to Arx to prevent an evil god from awakening, which becomes your main quest for the remainder of the game.

Like Arkane's other games, the draw in Arx Fatalis is that it offers players a lot of freedom to decide how to play the game, in terms of building your character in an open class system, how you choose to approach situations and solve puzzles, and how you go about exploring the world. This isn't a thorough, in-depth RPG with dialogue options and multiple solutions to quests, or an open-world sandbox game that lets you go wherever you want and do whatever you want, but it takes elements from those types of games and implements them in a more streamlined fashion. Normally, I would consider streamlining a very bad thing in an RPG, but the execution in Arx Fatalis offers plenty of satisfying depth while keeping the game's pace moving forward in a meaningful direction.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

RAGE: Not Worth a Clever Review Headline














By now I'm sure you're all aware of the colossal "ho hum" that is RAGE, id Software's first (and only) game since Doom 3, which came out way back in 2004. Seven years later, in 2011, they released Rage (as I'm stylizing it from here on out), boasting that it would feature a large world to explore, complete with vehicles, NPCs, towns, side missions, merchants, upgrades, and a crafting system -- a lot of "firsts" for the pioneers of the first-person shooter. The problem, you see, is that other games were already starting to do this at the time (and even a few years prior), and those other games not named Rage did the exact same thing, but better.

Rage is set in a post-apocalyptic future, after a meteor wipes out nearly all life on Earth and leaves much of the planet's surface a barren wasteland. Survivors have banded together in makeshift settlements to defend against bandits and mutants, while the Authority -- a group of technologically advanced soldiers -- attempts to govern the wasteland and restore unity with oppressive force. You play the role of an Ark survivor, a group of subjects put into cryogenic stasis deep underground, in order to repopulate Earth and rebuild civilization. When you emerge as the sole survivor of your Ark, over a hundred years after the meteor strike, you enter the wasteland on a mission to do .... something.