Monday, July 21, 2014

Diary Entry #38: PC Prospects and GOOD GOD MY GIRLFRIEND IS AWESOME!

             Brace yourself: my girlfriend's awesome artwork that is strewn about my blog is also now featured in Game Informer magazine as the art contest winner for this month!

             This is awesome! Note the picture of Henk Rogers and that Tetris creator guy on the bottom left. I'm honored that my girlfriend's artwork is published on the same page as Henk, author of the early JRPG The Black Onyx. Evidently we're supposed to get a box of goodies from the "GI Vault", which I'm guessing means they'll throw in a bunch of review copies of random games. Suffice to say, I'm totally giddy with anticipation.
Christopher McKenney sucks
             After finishing Inindo: Way of the Ninja, I had no idea where to turn. I felt like I needed something epic, so I undertook a PC gaming odyssey the likes of which have never been seen. Through the dusty meadows of sleazy Russian tactics games and into the dystopian wastelands of licensed first-person shooters, I found some goodies and some stinkers that I'll outline, in alphabetical order no less!

Earth 2150: Escape from the Blue Planet

             Developed by Polish company Reality Pump, this game has the distinction of being one of the first 3D real-time strategy games, although Homeworld precedes it by a year. Unlike Homeworld, it plays exactly like every other 2D real-time strategy game except with a lot more options for perspective. The camera can move anywhere, and as you see above, you can have three camera viewpoints on screen at any given time.

             The game plays alright, but it sort of winds up being much more tedious than even Dune 2. Many missions are all about slowly gathering resources until a random objective is posed. For instance, the very first mission starts with one simple goal: collect a few thousand in ore/gold/whatever. Seemingly out of nowhere, the game tells you to start running around killing enemies you didn't know were there. They don't even have a base, so you have to simply slog through the entire map until you slowly pick them all off. Forget this crap.

Heroes of Annihilated Empires

             This game has one of the coolest names of all time. From the title alone, you can tell it's an RPG made by some random European company, this time from the Ukraine. GSC Gameworld has created several prolific series, including S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Cossacks. I really want to try a game from the latter series, which offers up an interesting take on the real-time strategy genre.

             Heroes of Annihilated Empires itself offers an interesting genre-blend: an RTS/RPG hybrid. You control one dominant unit, but many other units will fight alongside you as well. It's not really like Warcraft 3 or the Warlords Battlecry series because there's little resource management and barely any troop management, instead focusing on almost a solely RPG approach. Your main characters equipment and abilities are really the only factor determining success.

             Not only does it play like an RPG, but the grandiose presentation makes it feel much more faux-epic than it really ought to. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it makes everything feel a little too sleazy for comfort.

Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green

             Being a horror film junkie, I'm surprised I'd never even heard of this game. I'll play anything that's supposed to be scary, whether it's The Beast of Torrack Moor for ZX Spectrum or Bram Stoker's Dracula for NES. Or y'know, Dead Space or something stupid.

             Regardless, I really enjoyed the Land of the Dead movie, being more of an action film starring John Leguizamo than anything else, so my hopes were high going in. Little did I know what lurking horrors awaited me in this unremarkable game. Lurking boredom is probably more accurate.

             First off, you're this guy. A guy who sits in his dark house eating two slices of white bread and some yellow glorp for dinner. What is that supposed to be? Scrambled eggs? Corn? Yellow Jello? I already don't like this guy based solely on his dietary habits, and I'm supposed to play as him for the next several hours.

             Checking the fridge, I find...more white bread and yellow glerp, accompanied by some beers. Couldn't they have left that out? Cinematic games require just as much suspension of disbelief as an actual film. Half-Life would not have been such a tour-de-force if every fridge Gordan Freeman looked in had such a carb and slime heavy entree.

             I'm not even going to show any shots of the action. It's little more than run ahead and shoot the zombie in the face, although you have to be at point blank range to actually shoot their heads off. Instead, here's an awful picture from the corn maze sequence of the game. This is what I had to look at for ten minutes of my life. I don't care who made this, it's terrible.

Rage of Mages

             This game is awesome! Russian-based company Nival developed this RTS/RPG classic back in 1998, long before they made other real-time classics like Heroes of Might and Magic V and Silent Storm. Not only that, but they made the great turn-based Kings Bounty: The Legend, my personal favorite RPG of this millennium.

             This game's far more basic than any of those titles: it plays like an RTS, but it's really an RPG. There's no resource management, no base building, and a lot of inventory management and stat-building. Sometimes you'll need to hire troops in town to easily accomplish a mission, but they disappear after a single battle. 

             I picked the warriors character, who is always accompanied by a healer. For the most part, as long as I keep my healer close enough to heal my main hero without being anywhere near the enemy units, my hero will slay everything with little consequence. A cool game, but I already broke it. Next!

Return to Krondor

             This game really sucks. A point-and-click adventure game pretending to be an RPG. Although there's a certain charm, it's difficult to tell what that charm actually is. I intend on returning to it sooner than later just to experience something a little different.

Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood

             Real-time stealth goodness, sort of like Commandos if it was all about melee combat. Armin Gessert's Spellbound Studios made this back in 2002 and it hasn't aged a day since. Just look at that swash-buckling action!

             Again, most of the game is stealth-oriented. Here, I cling to a vine-covered wall near two castle guards. If one of them turns around, I'm toast, but I fully intend to knock one of them out and quickly dispatch the other in more honorable battle.

             Check out that sweet knock-out fist. I probably could play the entire game sneaking up on guys and punching them in the back of the head.

             But what fun would that be? Here, I battle three men at once in an effort to save the poor knocked out fool on the bottom right. Although the battle system is incredibly basic due to the automatic blocking, the real challenge comes in working through these scenarios. Through careful side-stepping and well-placed attacks, I am victorious!

             The guy I saved sort of runs away without any thanks. When I eventually make my way to the village, he rewards me with some nice equipment. Only in a video game.

             Of all the games I played, Robin Hood is easily the most fun. Spellbound made a similar game called Desperadoes, which is sprinkled with tons of spaghetti western references and some satisfying gunfights. I need to play that some more, too.

Star Wolves

             Not really good or bad, this Homeworld-meets-RPG title by X-bow Software is fun enough for me. The interface is simple and the core idea is solidly executed. You pilot a giant spaceship known as a Star Wolf, which has lots of little units that come out of it to attack enemies. Each unit represents a character that you can upgrade as the game progresses. Probably the least complicated space-RPG of all time. 

Sword of the Stars

             And this is one of those complicated space-RPGs that you do see all the time. I like 4X games that are fun, not ones that have twelve options for the planet Mongo. Evidently this game is a 4X/RTS combo, but I never would have been able to tell that from my experience. I couldn't even figure out how to move my ship!

Zeus: Master of Olympus

             I'm familiar with some Impression Games software, most notably their weird ass strategy games Lords of the Realm 2 and Lords of Magic. This is part of Sierra's City Building games that Impression Games developed several titles for. This title is really big on giving you tangible objectives from the get-go, such as defeating a Gorgon or getting prepared for a possible invasion. SimCity never spoon-fed me this much.

             In my first go around, I struggle trying to figure out how to succeed. Trading ports aren't easily opened, and I waste the majority of my cash on trying to perform well in various Olympic games. I was hoping my prowess in Metropolismania would lessen the learning curve, but then again, maybe not.

             Eventually, I figure out that I need to build city walls and beautify the city enough for my people's dwellings to naturally improve. Only after I've reached the second tier housing can I develop and army and defend my town. I eventually am tasked with defeating the Gorgon, although I'm required to summon Hercules by building a large shrine in his name and getting more followers. I stopped caring around that point.

             And those are my PC adventure! There's a game or two that I might have skipped over, but forget 'em. 

             Currently, I'm back on my PS3, this time playing Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. It's got a killer battle system that totally rips-off Quest 64 in more ways than one, but it is incredibly embarrassing that my three must-play PS3 RPGs are this game, Time and Eternity, and Record of Agarest War 2. Don't tell anyone.

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