A few super-brief computer game reviews

In the year about to end, I got quite a lot of computer games. Many (actually, most) of them via steam. And most of them at a reduced price. So here’s a bunch of super-quick reviews of some of them.

Need for Speed: Shift

Type: car-driving action/simulation

Price paid: €5

Short comments: Read the detailed review here. While it does not live up to its simulation goal, it’s a fun racing game in the traditional, nice cars on racetracks genre. Fancy environment graphics of the tracks!

Am I happy? Yes

Assassin’s Creed II – Deluxe Edition

Type: medieval GTA

Price paid: €10.20

Short comments: A very nice, new take on that sandbox thingie. The setting is worth the game alone. Great jump-and-run elements, and nice close combat. Very much recommended!

Make sure to switch the language to Italian (possibly with English subs). Hearing those guys speaking English with a fake Italian accent is unbearable. Italian, on the other hand, is such a beatiful language.

Am I happy? Yes, a lot!

Audiosurf

Type: music-playing action-tetris

Price paid: €1.25

Short comments: You drive in a gilder over a multi-lane track, collect coloured blocks and assemble them in rows. What makes this interesting is that the track/block layout is generated according to the music you supply. Great for some quick recreation!

Am I happy? For the price – yeah!

GTR: Evolution/Race07 + GT Power Pack

Type: car-driving simulation

Price paid: €25 (+€5 for the power pack)

Short comments: Got this by recommendation from my chassis development colleagues as the only proper driving simulation on the Win platform. Graphics are not state of the art, and I am not happy with the tyre squealing nose. Apart from that: if you want to take a real car over a real racetrack on a windows machine, this is what you have to get. Recommendation: take a BMW E30 M3 over Nordschleife to see what driving is all about.

The power pack adds a few cars and tracks – whether it’s necessary can be argued with.

Am I happy? Yes

Wheelman

Type: car-driving/smashing action

Price paid: €6.70

Short comments: Something like hitman for car drivers. Most of the money for making this seems to have gone into hiring Vin Diesel to play the main character. Unfortunately, nothing was left for proper development. Graphics bugs and stupid controller behaviour. Crap. Stay away.

Am I happy? No. What a waste!

The Longest Journey + Dreamfall

Type: oldskool graphics adventure

Price paid: €6.25

Short comments: I originally had played a lot of those – think back old Sierra stuff. With a metacritic score of 91, I thought I’d give it a try. Got some kind of Japanese take on Disney versions of old European fairytale aesthetic. Played for like ten minutes, and forgot about it. Boring.

Am I happy? No – but some people might like it

X3: Gold Edition

Type: space trading thingie with a spaceship

Price paid: €6.25

Short comments: You fly around in a spacecraft to different planets and ship goods around etc. If that sounds like Elite, it is like Elite, but more with a strategic twist. Better graphics – yes. Boring – yes. Unless you like that kind of thing, then you’ll have lots of fun visiting thousands of planets.

Am I happy? No – but again, some people might like it.

Supreme Commander II

Type: tactics/strategics realtime warfare

Price paid: €5

Short comments: Something like Command & Conquer of Starcraft with a slight SF touch (not too much, you still got your land, sea and air units, only with some slightly SF tech, and you’re sometimes changing the planet). Got a nice storyline, where you alternate between the three different races in a cohesive, sequential plot. Nice, but nothing fancy. Since I played through the campaign, I have only played a small selection of single missions. It seems to predictable.

Am I happy? Well…for the price, it’s ok.

Portal 2

Type: first-person whatever

Price paid: €25

Short comments: A metacritic score of 95 for a game coming from the HalfLife legacy – can you go wrong here? Yes, you can. It’s some kind of first-person jump’n’run, which is based on a portal gun with which you can create two kinds of holes in things and then jump into one and reappear from the other. This thing would somehow have some radical influence on gas drift in the room, but that is not simulated. There’s a stupid story, and it gets boring very quickly. That would be ok for, say, €5 perhaps…I never played through it. Enough said.

Am I happy? No. Not at all. How this got the 95 metacritic score is beyond me.

GTA IV – Complete Bundle

Type: third-person sandbox criminal – it’s GTA, man!

Price paid: €8.50

Short comments: I’ve been a huge fan of GTA, especially the 3D variants, and spent a huge amount of time exploring the countryside of San Andreas. I expected GTA IV to be a huge improvement, as GTA III was over GTA II. Well, it isn’t. It isn’t even on the same level as GTA III. You only got one town. You can’t buy nice houses and businesses. The choice of clothes stores is limited. Only thing nice is that you character, Nico Bellic, is really funny. I also played the two addons (Gay Tony and Lost and Damned or something), and stopped after some time.

A good game no doubt, but in comparison to Vice City/San Andreas? A step back.

Am I happy? Comparing it with the prequels, I was disappointed. Still, not a bad game.

Far Cry Complete

Type: first-person shooter

Price paid: €7.50

Short comments: Two parts: part one, you’re on a (carribean?) island trying to protect a journalist from someone. Straight storyline, you get to fly a very beautiful flight with a hang glider. Difficulty varies quite randomly throughout the game – I got stuck at one point and then fed up.

Part two, you’re coming to a typical African country to kill an arms dealer, then fall sick with malaria and spend the rest of the time in a sandbox-style trying to find him and at the same time supporting two groups of assholes in organizing their civil war. The driving behaviour of the cars is a joke, which is ennerving because you spend lots of time driving around in cars and getting attacked by assholes. Well, not bad, but I’ve seen better games in that category (such as GTA).

Am I happy? Comparing it to other games in that genre – no, rather not.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Type: sandbox third-person killing with a storyline

Price paid: €2.50

Short comments: They took up the idea from Half Life where you weren’t a special ops guy but a physicist. This time, you’re a mining/demoliton engineer. That gives you a big sledgehammer which is equally great at taking down building and enemies. Doesn’t sound spectacular, but I liked it – perhaps because of the sledgehammer? You got other weapons, too. Great bang for the buck! Although you won’t be that motivated to continue playing after you’ve finished the storyline.

Am I happy? As said: great bang for the buck.

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II

Type: 3D tactics warfare

Price paid: €5

Short comments: I did play DoW and its extensions quite a lot, so I had to get it. Gameplay has changed vastly. Now, you play a max of four small squads (1-4 people each), each with a leader, which discuss things during the storyline. You need to accomplish something, but I forgot what exactly.

The single battles are not as much fun as the campaign, as the difficulty and joy in the campaign lies in the often very specific requirements of each mission. For that reason: it’s fine, but they shouldn’t have called it “Dawn of War”.

Am I happy? Stupid name. Nice game.

Street Fighter IV

Type: 2D beatemup

Price paid: €20

Short comments: For quite some time, I had wanted something like this: a classic two-person beat-em-up for the windows machine. Seems SF4 is your only choice here. So I got it.

This is, like all of those games, something you need to play with a friend. And as such, it really shines. The characters are well-balanced; while there isn’t one übermonster or a nerd (with the exception of Dan), all of them have their individual strengths and weaknesses, and yes, you can also win without using any super special monster death combos (and lose using them).

I happen to have only one gamepad, and found that some characters are hard to play on the gamepad, while others are hard to play on the keyboard. This is a little of a disappointment, but apart from that – hours of great fun with friends are guaranteed!

Am I happy? Yes – finally I got a nice beatemup!

Test Drive Unlimited 2

Type: car-driving with social networks

Price paid: €5

Short comments: TDU 1 had offered lots of nice cars, and so I got this. Seems the main improvement is some kind of ingame social network integration. And it had problems to properly work with my steering wheel, which required me to plug it in, unplug, start the game, hook up the wheel, quit and restart the game and pray. So I stopped using it.

Am I happy? No. Assholes. “Beta testing” should be a required subject for software people.

Mass Effect 2

Type: SF adventure/roleplaying/third person shooter

Price paid: €5

Short comments: From the description, it seemed like a Starflight with the trading removed and infantry combat added. I liked the idea. Metacritic gave it a 96 score, and they couldn’t always be wrong.

The game consists mainly of combat with three-person teams (which have special powers) where you kill or get killed, and conversations where you advance your character development down the asshole or pussy (or “renegade” and “paragon”) path. While it’s a sandbox universe, you spend most of the time recruiting new crew (which makes up ca. 80% of your storyline missions) and collecting resources on planets via probes to finance research (which is boring). Non-storyline missions are few and boring. You also choose a race for your character and then advance that with special powers. Sometimes, you need to mediate troubles in your crew, which always include female crew members (aka bitch fight). And all alien races look humanoid (boring), and one of them seems to be a band of eastern-European gypsies who all suffer from AIDS. Apart from all those (bitch and English with stupid accent) shortcomings: a great game. I played through the story already three times.

Am I happy? Yes. A lot. Fun!

Blur

Type: car-driving/smashing action

Price paid: €3.70

Short comments: Anyone remember Deathtrack? I wanted something like that for a long time. Blur seemed to be that.

You get to do races in more or less normal cars. While driving, you pick up offensive/defensive powerups. You get lights (?) for winning races, or for getting fans, and you get fans by fancy driving and damaging other players, and for the fans you get new cars, and for the lights you get access to new competitions, and then there’s driver demands which you do to get one-on-one races.

The career system is too strange. And the driver demands get on you nerve quickly. Apart from that, it’s a nice leisure car action game. You even can play it in split screen. However, you can’t control cars one with a keyboard and one with a gamepad, and you can’t freely assign you key mapping. No option of a wheel whatsoever.

Am I happy? It’s ok. The lack of proper controller support is the biggest drawback.

Summary

So, while writing through this, I got into writing longer and longer comments towards the end, for which I’m sorry. Apart from that:

Online distribution means have made it possible for sellers (and thus for gamers) to sell slightly older games for only a fraction of the original price. And that gives you the possibility to get games for the proverbial handful of dollars which only some time ago had cost around 50 bucks and which, if they were great, are still great.

I made use of that a lot, as you can see. From that huge list above, if I was to pick a few to recommend wholeheartedly which are at or below €5, this would be Mass Effect 2, Red Faction, Audiosurf and Need for Speed: Shift or, if we don’t count in the “bang for the buck” aspect, replace NFS with GTR Evolution, Red Faction with Assassin’s Creed and add Street Fighter IV.

Computer games have come a long way. The really great ones are still an exception. But if you get those mentioned above (and the four recommendations together were less than €14!), endless hours of fun are guaranteed!

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