Mega games get mega reviews in a megaly disordered fashion.

Monday, 23 April 2012


A workmate told me to do a retro review, so I am. Yeah, it's not Sonic or Mario or some other figurehead game, but it is the best game series that Bioware ever released AND it first appeared 14 years ago. That's before the games market became focussed on prepubescent kids playing the gaming equivalent of paintball on crack, and also before consoles even had the opportunity to go on the internet (apart from the Dreamcast. God bless you Sega).

If you think of RPGs nowadays, you'll no doubt think of games where overpowering is a familiar problem. Games where content is so deep that by the time you've explored for a while the storyline quests become these rediculously easy, offhand kind of occurences. This wasn't always the case. BG was one of the original cadre of point-and-click, "fine, go level up then, I'll still bust your balls" kind of games. This is mostly due to the fact that it's a direct port of the Dungeons and Dragons rule book and is set within it's universe. I know, at this point you're probably thinking it's a nerdy as shit game that involves 20 sided dice, elves, orcs, dwarves and bullshit like that. Not going to lie, it does. And you will fucking love it. If you like RPGs, then this is like the mother, father and cousin of all of them and without it you haven't lived. Can't juggle hitting an healing? autopause after every round of attcks. Not sure if you can hit an enemy? Click on it. Where are you going? Open up the detailed, excellently rendered map. What can you equip? CHECK THIS:

Arrows go to quivers. each type of armour gets put on each type of symbol. Weapons go on weapons. 16 slots in your inventory for items at the bottom and the current weight/weight limit is over/under the bag. EASY. (note: for old gamers: I am aware that Minsc should have Boo the miniature giant space hamster in his quick items, yes.)

This game laid down so many conventions that haven't been beaten in over 14 years. I for one have never played a game with an inventory system as easy to manage as this. Fuck, you can even quick change the colour scheme of your gear by clicking the brown/black squares on the right. It's just fucking glorious. None of this "just put a dot next to the item" that leads to you going: "Wait, so can I wear a robe AND trousers? And can I wear multiple rings/necklaces?" ONE SLOT, ONE ITEM. DEAL WITH IT. Each item has a description for you to read that includes everything you need to know, for those who don't know whether to equip a halberd or a flail.

Now, there is a nerdy, maths heavy area with equipping things too. You have an armour class that lowers depending on the equipped gear/class, and it also affects other things as well, but essentially: the lower number in the banner on the mid-right of the inventory the better. And once I got it to -27. When you've played this game you'll understand why that's a big thing. 

Enough about the decididly excellent user interface and more about the actual game. The story is good, not Oscar winning, but good. With your father murdered you have to leave home to get help from your father's friends and end up saving the world. Standard affair. But the it's as deep as you want it to be thanks to it being set in the DnD universe. Hell, for those of you geeky enough to have read the Dragonlance Chronicles, you get to meet a knight of Solamnia who was accidentally teleported from another dimension. There's just the right touch of humour as well, such as a character who whenever you meet him will scream in terror and dissapear in a puff of smoke and who's identity only becomes apparent in the final expansion pack (in a cruel and hilarious twist of fate). Or Biff the Understudy (look it up). Or the Big Metal Unit (again, look it up). On top of that they pile on suspense, engaging NPCs, perfect companions, romance options, a pretty decent reputation scheme that actually allows you to benefit from staying neutral and personal moral choices that will always cause someone to be upset. 

Obviously this game isn't perfect. The first time you play it you WILL spend a large amount of it going: "what's a critical miss? I spent hours to get one level up and that was all I got? How do you fail to copy a spell to your spellbook?" but it's just one of those things that you need to plug at. In the end they become a critical factor to this games success. If you play the core rules then checking speed factor against dice rolls becomes natural and the gambling system of "will the spell be memorised correctly" is tense. You don't have the money to spare to make mistakes, unlike modern games where you could buy the country you're playing in by the end.

An important thing about this game is how it rewards the gamer who plays the entire series. Items and people you meet in the first game will crop up in the second game and even the second game's expansion pack. Of course, it's not necessary to play the first game first, but once you have you start to appreciate the game for what it is worth and understand the characters and why they join with you, and it will have you coming back to play the game in a different way each time. It's this kind of thought out approach to the games that has cause Bioware to be one of the forerunners of RPGs today, and they even use a lot of the same story mechanics and multiple-game-spanning choices as they did back here in the nineties.

So yeah, it's not for beginners and it's probably not for very casual gamers, but if you want a genuinely rewarding game where completion is an achievement and levelling up never loses it's boredom then this is for you. Just get used to tapping Q to quick save otherwise you will regret it. Especially when you go into a vampire coven and your only Cleric gets level drained. Every. God. Damn. Time.

Cliff Notes: A true RPG that isn't rushed and can't be rushed through. Requires thought, practice and effort but is far more rewarding than a lot of modern Action RPGs.
Rating: 9/10
Would I recommend it to my friends: If you're my friend, then chances are I've already told you to play it. And you should.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Continue? 10...9...8.....

Remember that? Remember when you used to go "Oh man, I hope I got enough points for a continue otherwise I am fuuuuuuucked!". Remember when the weight of a dozen enemies or a giant mecha-boss would bear down upon you and you'd go: "Pah! I have a continue! Trollololololol!". Or the "I...I did it. I finally defeated Robotnik! What year is it?!" This is about that.

There was a time before downloads, before CDs, before memory cards when all you would need to play a game was the console, a cartridge, a D-Pad and two or three buttons. And it had the hardest fucking games in the world. Seriously: take any five of your favourite childhood games and think about how many of them you actually completed. Hell, I know I never completed Batman Returns/Mercs/Toejam and Earl/James Pond (without cheats, anyway). The only one of the five that I did was Sonic, and only because I played it hundreds of times. And that's my other point: how many times did you play a game that you got for the Mega Drive or SNES? Each of those times you weren't bored with it, either. You just perfected each level until you got closer and closer to beating the last boss. Take that through to nowadays and count how many games you haven't completed. Not through boredom, or because you put the controller down, but just through sheer difficulty. I can only think of one: Dark Souls. This isn't a review of that game, but I will say that it's worth a look in: genuinely challenging, not because the enemies have a bajillion HP but because it requires hard work, finesse and preparation. Fuck, I know it's joining the "never completed, badass, oldy" game group for me.

But here's the problem: each game you pick up nowadays is designed for you to complete it. There's no: "have you beaten the last boss?", just "have you beaten the last boss YET?" and it's caused the whole gaming experience to change. If you start a game knowing you will finish it then the challenge is partially gone. You are essentially just playing an (incredibly) interactive film and it's caused the game designers to have to make games more interesting or better designed to accommodate that. If you compare retro games with modern games,then modern games have incredibly deep stories and excellent cut scenes that you can immerse yourself into so that you get more satisfaction from playing the entirety of the game. Retro games had none of that. Take Sonic vs Mass Effect: Sonic 1 has zero storyline, it's purely just "run forwards, hit Dr Robotnik/Eggman til he flies away". That's it. But managing that was hard, and each time you beat Robotnik you gave yourself satisfaction with no need for the game to do it for you or for a super cutscene to appear and make you go "shit, that's cool, I want to carry on".

I'm not saying that modern games are bad or easy though, just that it's a completely different experience nowadays, and that's probably why a lot of gamers are disappointed with modern games. If you take away the joy of finishing a game being special then you've taken away a core mechanic of games that needs to be replaced. Bioware has this down good with their personal, tailored, choice based story systems, but apart from that most other games have got achievements and trophies. A lot of reviews ignore these when reviewing the game, but they can make or break some game experiences. All your achievements are logged, so proudly displaying the fact that you completed Dead Space 2 on hardcore (3 saves, no checkpoints, minimal items) setting is something to be genuinely proud of and is an excellent replacement for the old "I won!" purely personal achievements. Where most games go wrong, though, is that the majority of achievement points are given to you on completing various chapters of most games. That's not an achievement, that's just playing the game, just give one achievement for finishing it. But if achievements are done right they bridge the gap between the modern cinematic gaming experience and the butt-fuckingly hard and rewarding retro games scene and give you a rewarding (and challenging) gaming experience. Want to try  some? Go and try to finish off the achievements for Dead Space 2, Super Meatboy, or Portal 2. It will be hard, but fuck: you will feel like an absolute fucking boss if you manage them.

Just saying.

Also, buy Dark Souls. Then sit there and cry while you try to kill the bosses. No amount of grinding will help you here. Dark Souls is to Skyrim what childbirth is to a hug.