Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gaming History: Prince of Persia

You're probably wondering what "gaming history" is all about. Well, i'll keep it simple: during the past years, i've been missing on newer games very much because my PC was so crappy that it couldn't even run games which required Pixel Shader 1.0. So now that i got a monster of a PC, i decided to play and finish all the games which i feel i've been missing out on. I started with the PoP series.
Now i haven't been a total stranger to the series, playing a bit of each of them at a friend's house a long time ago, but i didn't quite get to feel the whole of them either. This is changing.
I started with Sands of Time. Most of you probably know the story, since this game isn't a stranger to most people (and if it is, you should be damn well ashamed), so i'll get you the short version: you're a prince who steals an artifact called the Dagger of Time from some conquered kingdom and gets tricked by the vizier to stab it into a huge hourglass (another conquered relic) therefore unleashing madness the likes of which the world has never seen since ol' man Freeman pushed the crystal into the beam back in Half-Life 1. The game(s) is an(are) action platform games, which rely on the main character (the prince) doing spectacular gymnast feats as he maneuvers through destroyed and soon-to-be-destroyed buildings. Most of the puzzles in the game are requiring you to get from point A to point B like this, and if you see a big, missing bridge connecting the entrance and exit from the room, you know full well that you're going to slide along that ledge, jump from it to another ruined ledge, then to a column, then to another column, then to another ledge, then run along the wall jumping at the last moment only to grab hold of a wooden beam you can walk on, then do another 2342847 feats, circling the room 3 times before you get to the other fucking end of the bridge. But that's fine, the puzzles aren't repetitive nor are they boring (to some extent), and the prince's infinite stamina and flawless grabbing of ledges is something you get used to quite fast.
The other part of the game is fighting. Sands of time had a nice, yet relatively simple fighting system in which you can block, do combo attacks, jump on enemies and even jump from walls in powerful lunge attacks. Yet it was flawed because it could be abused. Most enemies could be easily killed by jumping over them and hitting them mid-air (meanwhile, they couldn't hit you because you were a bit out of reach) over and over again, and the ones who were immune to that (swinging their swords at you the moment you wanted to climb them and jump over their shoulder, resulting in you falling and taking damage) were easily killed by another abusable trick: the wall lunge i mentioned earlier. You basically jumped backwards toward the wall, then hit the attack button and it would be an instant 1-shot-kill. Well not really kill, since the enemies just laid on the ground waiting for you to impale them with the dagger of time (getting up again if you didn't), but it was the closest thing to a 1-shot kill you could ever see in PoP. Basically, wall was my friend. When enemies were near, i looked around for the nearest wall and hugged it tighter than druids hugging a tree. The battles are made a bit more complicated by you having a sidekick for more than half of the game, which is an indian princess (or whatever she was) who shoots arrows. And it's a bit difficult in keeping her from dying when she's surrounded by 4 enemies and the only thing little miss Sitting Duck can do is shoot. I mean, i've never seen her dodge or move AN INCH in combat... i guess she's too retarded. Of course, the game also follows a little childish love story with miss sitting duck, resulting in some amusing dialogues here and there, but the end is a bit disappointing for the poor prince since you get to turn back time before the pincess even meets you, thus getting you into the awkward position of being asked who the hell you are after you spent the whole game with her. I kinda like that since it deviates from the whole "good defeats evil, the guy gets the girl, everybody fornicates and the universe is happier" type of endings you usually see in games.
The other bad thing about combat is the targetting system: the game basically chooses your current target (the monster you turn and face) based on who it THINKS you want to hit, and it's not always right, resulting in the situation of trying to finish off a downed mob only to have him get up moments later when you find yourself frantically pressing E on the wrong enemy. A manual targetting system would have fixed that, but there is none.
The special part about the game is the prince's ability to use the dagger of time to do some nice stunts based on manipulating it, such as slowing down time, rewinding time (which you'll find yourself doing very often, since in PoP it's awfully easy to find yourself falling to your doom), getting visions into the future (basically shows you fractions of the prince doing puzzles and jumpin' around), combine slowing time with rapidly teleporting from one monster to the other, killing them (loved this one) and a big, stupid AoE attack which i don't quite get: how the hell do you make sand "explode"? But i guess it HAD to be there, action platform games with intense combat sequences wouldn't be complete without a big area of effect explosion after all.
Finishing Sands of Time, i couldn't wait to move on to the next one on the series, thinking it would solve lots of problems and knowing the combat system to be better and improved.
So i ventured into Warrior Within, only to put on my "wtf" face when i found a completely different atmosphere from the other game. Whereas Sands of Time was mostly childish and non-dramatic (except in some cases), Warrior Within was... well the opposite. The prince dyes his hair black (either that or his hair starts growing as black as fucking tar), puts on black leather clothes, adopts a "i wanna kill you right now" type of look in his eyes, starts cursing and turns into the most determined motherfucker this side of Faerun. Basically, whoever opened the sands of time is supposed to die, but the prince turned back time before the sands were opened, so he didn't die. But he's still supposed to die. So now a huge, invulnerable, ugly... thing (see right) chases him around and tries to make him meet his destiny. So the prince goes to the island where the sands were first created in an attempt to... honestly i don't know what he meant to find there, the place was obviously deserted. But still, he's in luck as his ship gets sunk by some bitch (pretty much the biggest whore-antagonist you'll ever see) and he follows her trough some time-portal going back before the sands were created.
First thing that i liked was the music. Warrior Within has one of the best soundtracks ever made for a game, hands down. The music fits the atmosphere perfectly, the songs comprising almost entirely of heavy-rythm rock songs, most of which are bad-ass. Hell, while the big bad black ugly thing (game calls it the Dahaka) is chasing you, you can even hear the instrumental of I Stand Alone, by Godsmack, and all the other songs are similar to it too.
Moving on... well, the combat system was improved, i.e. it had more combos and animations built into it. I had faith that Ubisoft would learn from their past mistakes... but they didn't. The targeting system was the same, the enemies still would attack you when they weren't supposed to (did i mention that?), and the number of times you would die just because you had bad luck was still the same. Well maybe the number of nice combat moves and stuff makes up for it... barely. They removed the visions and the slow time + teleport maneuver (why?), introducing a gay-er version of it (i.e. you turned into a sword-machinegun while your enemies stood still), the sand bomb is still there though, and it's improved too.
The difficulty curve on this one was pretty rough for me, as i was at one point supposed to activate two towers which were full levels in their own right, so i chose a random one of the two and ended up choosing the HARDER (the game never tells you the sequence in which you're supposed to do them), and after much sweat and annoyance in finishing that level, i found the other tower to be easy as piss.
The bosses are a little bit harder here, and the game even has 2 endings, one being available only if you got all the secret health powerups. Speaking of health, i found it pretty dumb to not have any health items in the game, or even more spots with water (your normal healing point), sometimes finding myself with only 3 enemies until i hit the next save point but only 10% health left (save points are 90% of the spots in this game where you get full health). This made the game feel more like survival than fun, instead of "choosing my own combat style" (like ubisoft bragged in one of their movies), i had to choose the one which killed the enemies with the least damage to me (usually being the "jump-over" technique from PoP1). I still hoped this would be remedied in the next game.
About 3/4 though the game, the prince turns into a ragged Raziel-like creature called a Sand Wraith, in one last attempt to change his fate. Doing that makes sand regenerate (sand being the ammunition for the time feats you can make), but health drops at a steady pace. Needless to say, i usually spent 1/4 of the way from save point to the other save point with 5% health (the minimum hp at which the health ceases to degenerate while in sand wraith mode), due to the fact that i actually had to spend time planning a route through the thick layer of traps and puzzles. The game was finished in a bit of a rush, since i really didn't have the patience to go through the huge number of traps and just wished it would be over sooner. Still, overall the nice soundtrack, the storyline, the main antagonist (did i mention she was also a chick) and the moments when the combat was pretty cool outweighed the bad parts, and the overlooked flaws.
Finally, The Two Thrones. This time, the prince puts on some white(r) clothes and stops being so pissed off at the world. He's got the chick, he didn't die, the Dahaka stopped chasing after him, and...
And his whole kingdom is being raped by a merciless army of armored goons at the command of the Vizier, who was now alive since the prince prevented the making of the sands of time back in the second game. So the Vizier takes his kingdom, and soon manages (by a weird coincidence) to take his girl as well. And he throws the prince off a cliff. But hey, at least the prince gets the dagger of time back.
Well all this screwing around with the poor prince can't possibly have a good impact on him, so he develops... a double personality, which talks to you through the whole game. And with this, he also becomes some sort of sand monster which is like the Return of the Sand Wraith, but even more annoying: your health decreases like crazy, you kill enemies like you were a hot knife and they were butter, sand replenishes your life (coincidentally, most enemies you kill will leave a drop of sand behind, giving you full hp), you die if you wait too long, and whenever you see water, you turn back into the prince again (turning into the sand monster guy seems to happen only in fortunate circumstances, when you can benefit from his chain-swinging abilities). Somewhere around here is a picture of him, courtesy of google.
Now Two Thrones introduces a new combat system, named Speed Kill. Basically it tries to introduce some stealth into the game by sneaking up on enemies and killing them with a sequence in which you need to click the mouse button at certain (short) periods of time. If you miss one, the enemy suddenly kicks you off or something. This also introduces positioning, as you will need to jump some more ledges before you place yourself behind and above an unsuspecting enemy, in order to initiate a speed kill. It's fun, and a nice touch, but the combat system STILL is as flawed as the other games. Still no manual target. Still abusable, perhaps even more abusable as now most enemies will not resist the jump-on technique. So you basically do that 20 times, and voila, dead enemies. To not get bored, might as well do some 2-weapon combos in the meantime.
The fights get outright stupid at the end of the game, when you get the greatest ultimate offhand weapon the world has ever seen and every off-hand swing with that weapon causes instant death to all except the last boss. Speaking of boss fights, they introduced another new element to Two Thrones: boss fights + jumping puzzles. It's not enough that you need to wallrun, jump and swing on poles the whole freakin' game, you need to do that in some boss fights too now. Still, it's surprisingly fun when you do it and position yourself nicely enough to get a speed kill on the boss.
Far from the dramatic moments of the first, Two Thrones has much more depth and many moments where the prince needs to question his thoughts and actions.... obviously enough, he sorts them out in the end, therefore gaining the strength required to defeat the vizier and bla bla bla, we heard it all before. The chick in the second one dies, and you meet the princess whatsherface again. This time you don't need to protect her (thankfully) since you don't really travel at the same height. At the end, we come full-circle to the past, the prince starting to tell his story of how he owned stuff back in Sands of Time (which was narrated by him), therefore giving you that "oh, so that's when he told it" feeling.
Final thought... if you haven't played any of these 3 games, then go and play them. They're not the best you'll ever encounter, but if you want to call yourself a gamer, you should at least go through them once. They offer new experiences (the slow and rewind time features, the speed kill) combined with an interesting story and a pretty acceptable fighting system (did i mention the awesome soundtrack in pop2?) which no true gamer should miss.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gaming Masterpieces: Fallout

A glorious year for gaming ended ... and another promising one started. Despite all the good titles available so far i decided to give replay a classical : Fallout, Fallout 2 to be precise, but this time with the Fallout 2 Restoration Project mod/patch. Surprisingly this patch managed to complete the post nuclear experience and also adding new encounters/locations and a lot more. More details about the patch can be found here, also you can download the patch from here.
But what is Fallout ? Fallout is seriously one of the BEST RPGs ever. A quick history lesson : Fallout was developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay. Though way ahead of it`s time Fallout managed to redefine the idea of an excellent RPG, mostly because no one in that time expected an RPG about the future, a few years after a nuclear war which destroyed most of the world as we know it ... to be precise. While the average RPG expects his character to be a random adventurer sent into random dungeons and so on for various artifacts and shit like that Fallout 1`s character is a randomly picked Vault dweller ( as the storyline goes in order to survive the nuclear holocaust humans had to live in large Vaults ) who is sent into the cruel wasteland to find a Water-Chip. Instead of killing endless mobs in endless dungeons like in most of the "other RPGs" Fallout`s character explores the remains of the human civilization finding numerous "locations" which can be from tribes-villages-cities-military bases, also, while traveling from place to place the Fallout character may experience numerous "encounters", some of them fill up the story line, others simply show of what the wasteland has to offer, and others are just for FUN... yeah ... your read right ... FUN. When it comes to fun Fallout (as an RPG ) is the unchallenged King of Fun, I for one always had a smile on my face while playing this game and from time to time I would laughed my lungs out. Since I`ve gone on and on about the character... here is a little something about it`s creation.
Starting the game you can either select a pre-made character or build your own. Fallout presents the classical stats, each and everyone one of them counts at one or more points in the game:
Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck.... (SPECIAL- lol). For example when i maxed out the luck stat, at a point I encountered a crashed UFO with a picture of Elvis in it and a nice laser gun. Next to the stats there are of course the skills : Small Guns, Big Guns, Energy Weapons, Unarmed, Melee Weapons, Throwing, First Aid, Doctor, Sneak, Lockpick, Steal, Traps, Science, Repair, Speech, Barter, Gambling, Outdoorsman, one for every taste :). But it`s not over here ... The Fallout character also has traits ( 2 selectable ) , perks ( one every 3 or 4 levels ) and ... the best of all : KARMA, ooo yes ... you`ll be regretting the click on that kid`s head when you gain the child killer perk, or gain bonuses, discounts and so on for the good deeds you did. The great number of possibilities when it comes to character creation and the fact that most of the choices have their own effect makes the game replayable.
Despite the fact that Black Isle managed to create the perfect postnuclear experience, the game is poor when it comes to graphics and a few troublesome bugs. Though the game is 2d and the player can barely distinguish an item on the floor from the floor itself it compensates with the nice feeling you have while playing it, the sounds are good , the combat system is easy and enjoyable making the game .. simply great!
On the other hand the bugs or lack of features can be really troublesome. A party member will cause a lot of trouble mostly because you can`t trade with him ( if you want to give him/her a better weapon/armor), also .. he will often block the exit if you enter a small room/house/tent/etc. But the most annoying part was for me at least was the fact that, during combat, if a party member got zerged by the enemy or crowded i couldn`t distinguish him from the enemy.
After saving the your vault and probably human kind you`ll enjoy a quite original ending, but hey ... life goes on.
A few years later gamers all over the world enjoyed a new Fallout, the sequel to Fallout 1, Fallout 2 to be more precise :)
Not surprisingly the story goes on, but this time your character is a "tribal", one of the members from a village the Vault Dweller had created. This time the game was perfected, less bugs, more weapons/armors/perks/traits/locations/encounters/etc. Following the storyline you have to find a technological artifact ... the G.E.C.K. also knows as the Garden of Eden Creation Kit. You don`t get guns and ammo from the start and also, you can enjoy a somewhat boring test ( Temple of Trials ). I did say that the game has been perfected but, it`s still the same game, same graphics, same music, but still, perfected.
As you explore the wasteland you can find some of the old locations and even an old NPC, the little Shady Sands turned into New California Republic and even Vault 15 turned out to be populated ^^
But here is where the Restoration Patch came in handy, changing the game, completing it.
Simple words can`t describe perfection, so ... if you didn`t play this game it, shame on YOU !