Posts Tagged Flash Game
Do you remember 3d Realms? Of course you do, their name alone has become a form of inside joke among gamers. Their failure to develop Duke Nukem: Forever in over ten years is an hilariously funny caricature of delayed release dates, except it’s real. And what’s the punch line? Duke Nukem: Forever, a game that doesn’t exist, has gotten more attention than a game they actually released while developing the former. I’m talking, of course, about Prey.
Now, while this project managed to hit shelves, it is by no means a stranger to 3d Realms delayment prone management. Prey was first announced all the way back in 1995, with early trailers released in 1998. Considering were talking about a game that was only released in 2006, a close 11 years after the development had started, one could be forgiven for thinking that by the time Prey made its way onto our hard drives, the main mechanics and graphics were already dated. But the truth of the matter is that when this game was first thought up, technology wasn’t ready to bring it’s sheer innovative power onto screens.
Are you familiar with the saying “Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.”? Then you’re one step of Domasi “Tommy” Tawodi, the game’s Cherokee protagonist: He desperately wants to leave the reservation together with his girlfriend Jen, though I doubt he planned to leave earth while at it. He, his girlfriend, his granddad and large parts of the regional populace are swept into a giant spaceship by an alien race that feeds on humans. Luckily he manages to escape and starts searching for his abducted girlfriend all over the alien spaceship. Literally.
At the time when Prey was released, and even more so at the time when it was first presented, there were a couple of distinct rules and forces in the genre of shooters that simply weren’t messed with. Gravity. Space. Then along came 3d Realms and completely distorted our vision of how these things can work. You see, this alien spaceship the game takes place in, is quite unlike any other spacecraft you may have seen before. It’s basically a large, mostly hollow sphere and its workings are so bizarre and crazy that just wrapping your head around them is part of the enjoyment of this particular title. There are parts where there’s no gravity, there are parts where you can influence it and there are parts were you can defy it. And then there’s the portals, seamlessly connecting parts of the game, which can appear out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere and even might start moving around.
Combine all of this, add a large taste of Doom 3 and you get the first few hours of Prey: An experience that is as much spot-on, as it is completely mind-bogginly confusing. There’s eye-opening moments of outright brilliance that will completely change your perceptions of what’s possible for a game to do, like this one: You come into a room and notice a small stone inside a glass box on a pedestal, then a portal opens and upon walking through you find yourself, shrinked, on the small stone you just looked at, running around it Super Mario Galaxy-style. Then a common enemy, now seemingly giant looks at the glass box, screaming, warps in and you start fighting in this pocket world.
But as strange as this sounds, even such events get old after a while. The first few hours of the game are brilliant, but that is mostly based on the fact that everything it shows you is still new and exciting. The core shooter mechanics are functional, and fighting enemies while both of you are upside down, taped to the ceiling is just as entertaining as it sounds, but it does slowly get loaded down with ancillary nonsense. This might really be one of the few occasions were a game has had too much innovation going on, seeing how somewhere between the reality distortion, puzzle elements, supposedly epic story and vehicle sections, it quickly loses sight of just what it wants to be.
Take the story, for example: Initially it seems to be going for a scifi-horror themed approach. If you hadn’t already noticed by the grotesque monsters and man-eating aliens, then the possessed children certainly gave it away. But during Prey‘s progress, it slowly opts for a more spiritual approach, making full use of Tommy’s cultural heritage. Then, by halfway point, most of the things that were established are completely thrown over and a whole new set of plotpoints is brought up without the previous ones being finished (and indeed they never are). I don’t doubt that somewhere in there was the recipe for an enticing plotline, but upon trying to be everything at once, the good parts were buried beneath overambition.
Before release Prey was advertised as a kind of shooter/puzzle game hybrid wherein solving gravity based conundrums would take up the majority of your time, but there’s really only a single occasion in the game where I had to think to solve those “puzzles”. For the better part, they just challenge your perception, since the solution to your problem can be quite literally anywhere: Floors, walls, ceilings. And you know what? That could have been enough. The game could have functioned perfectly just by messing with my head and letting me vent my frustration on the occasional enemy. But then they had to bring out the vehicle sections.
You know, vehicle sections are supposed to allow the protagonist to travel in more interesting ways, not less interesting. Here we have a guy who can walk on walls and ceilings, travel through the very fabric of space, bend and break gravity: How is stepping into a shuttle and using good, old-fashioned flight an upgrade to that? There’s no portals while in the thing, gravity has to stay stiff and downward facing for it to work and there’s no puzzle solving. We’ve just traded an innovation-festival for a generic insipid shooter experience.
But I’m beginning to ramble on. And no matter how much the game lost pace in the second act, I can’t honestly bring myself to dislike it. The first half alone, with all its brilliant design and mind-blowing mechanics is more than enough reason to play the game. In fact, every flaw here is irrelevant: You have to see this for its utter reality-bending factor alone.
Bottom Line: If you haven’t seen Prey already, then you should definitely check it out. It may not be the best shooter out there, or even a good shooter, but it’s unique, it’s surprising and it will have you smack your gob and stare.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings movies are awesome. There, I said it. Put the pitchforks down people, I know what you’re going to say: Yes, they had their flaws. Yes, they omitted Tom Bombadil and plenty other parts of the story we love so much. But on the whole I think we can definitely agree that Peter Jackson’s attempt to turn the fantasy classic into a movie was very successful. Isn’t there something about the battle scenes that makes you want to be there and be epic? Well, the official Lord of the Rings: Return of the King video game allows you to do both, without having to risk your face getting bit of by a Nazgul.
The game’s premise is simple, really: It puts you in the shoes of several characters from The Lord of the Rings and in the middle of those dramatic battle scenes, allowing you the reenact the whole thing yourself. And since I just circumscribed that the game is about hacking and slashing your way through legions of orcs, it should come as no surprise that gameplay largely takes the form of hack’n'slash mechanics, mostly copypasted from previous examples of the genre. It has virtually nothing unique about it, and as functional and inherently entertaining as the mechanics are, they also have this crudeness about them that leaves the connoisseur unsatisfied. Firstly, for the better part of the game, literally all you’ll do is mash blindly away at your buttons. Sure, they introduce combos, but all that means is that you’ll be mashing a different pattern from then on. Perplexingly enough, though, gameplay really isn’t what I should be talking about right now.
Let’s talk about atmosphere people, because this is the one point where Return of the King truly shines. If you’re the sort of person who enjoyed watching both the battle for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, who got the goosebumps during the rousing speeches, who ever found themselves humming parts of the soundtrack, then this game won’t so much immerse you in the experience as completely drown you in it. In fact, every single part of the game experience is geared to make it come as close to the movie as possible. The in-game models, while crude by todays standards, carry a lot of resemblance to the cast, the voice acting is done by the original actors, the original soundtrack makes an appearance and in-game cutscenes seamlessly merge into clips from the movie. This game sure makes no bones about its movie tie-in nature. Once you start thinking about it, the connection to the Lord of the Rings movies is the only thing that keeps the games out of the realms of mediocrity.
That being said, having such a close connection to movie nature also brings a lot of issues. For one thing, on account of following the movies narrative, the difficulty curve wavers up and down a bit too much for my taste. There’s one frustratingly hard boss fight very near the beginning that makes the final boss pale in comparison, while most ordinary battles occupy roughly the same level of difficulty. And once you dribble out just how many times I had to replay the same missions time and again, the game is actually pretty short too. But this is one of the rare cases where I don’t hold it against the developers. Firstly because that’s simply the material they were given to work with, but mostly because it seems they were well aware of that problem and tried to fight it. There may not be a lot of iconic battles in the movies that they could base additional missions on, but at the very least they threw in a couple of interviews with the actors, bonus characters, even two completely made-up levels.
And then there’s this thing with the two player coop. It’s a welcome addition and can make for barrels of fun with a good tag-team partner, but the fact that the balancing isn’t changed in the slightest to adjust for the additional sword involved makes it a bit too easy. About the only downside in terms of balancing is the fact that two players will have to split up the experience and level slower, but that one is easily accounted for by the fact that they can (unlike in single player mode), go back and redo previous levels. Apart from that, two players mean two health bars, plus one respawn, and twice as much attack force easily solving all the tricky situations in which a lone wolf would have had to split his attention between several tricky objectives.
So is Return of the King a good game? I guess that depends on what exactly you are looking for. If you want a hack’n'slash game with great mechanics and satisfying combat, well then the actual game parts of this game might disappoint a bit. But if you’re mainly interested in the title because you liked the movies, then I can tell that it is likely what you’re looking for. And let’s be honest here: Who didn’t like the Lord of the Rings movies? To my own experience, most people who claim it actually mean “I liked them, but…”. If you want a feel of the energy portrayed in some of the greatest cgi battles scenes done to this date, then by all means, grab a copy, a friend and have the time of your life.
Bottom Line: Well worth the investment for fans of either Lord of the Rings, or coop fun. Not so much for fans of the hack’n'slash genre.
I’ll be honest with you here: I didn’t plan to review Elements. In fact, reviewing is quite the opposite of what this game made me do. There I was, three days before my self-set deadline, none of the reviews finished and I continued to waste hours of my life away through some browsergame. And why? Because it’s a really good browsergame.
Elements is, at most basic level, a browser-based trading card game, borrowing very heavily from Magic: The Gathering. The game offers an abundance of cards, split into 12 different colors. You use those cards to fight turn-based battles against either A.I. or human enemies. Upon winning these battles you are awarded a few (in-game) coins you can use to buy new cards. Then you repeat this cycle, ad infinitum. That’s just how trading card games work, and safe for the money-absorbing aspect, that’s how Element works, too.
Now, I can imagine two different reactions to the above paragraph. The first one can be roughly summarised as “A free trading card game? Coolio”, the response of anybody who ever tried their hand at one of them. But if you’re unfamiliar with the subject matter, I guess you’re currently asking yourself “Where does this get fun?”. To be honest, this is less entertainment than it is an obsession. Finding and perfecting a working strategy and cleverly responding to enemy actions are core parts of the experience, as is constantly searching for new cards and strategies that could either be implemented into your own playstyle, or that you need to learn how to defuse. Those workings tickle the RTS-enthusiast in all of us, and Elements very efficiently transports them to browsergame nature. Battles don’t usually last longer than five to ten minutes and, especially when compared to the big players in this market, the amount of cards available is actually pretty tiny. But the game isn’t any worse of for it. In a genre that’s dominated by battles of epic proportions and rule books resembling bricks, Elements‘ quick, straightforward and clever little matches are a welcome change.
So everything’s slinky, right? Well, no. The game is free, and as such I’m inclined to forgive quite a lot, but there’s one thing about Elements that really irritates me, and that is grind. I guess they needed something to replace all the money you’d normally sink into this sort of thing, but the amount of time you’d need to spend on this game if you want to see everything, is nothing short of outrageous. Victories only award minor amounts of cash, sufficient for buying starter cards, but most cards aren’t even available for sale. You have to hope you’ll randomly be awarded one after winning. Then there’s the option to upgrade your cards, an incredibly costly procedure you’ll have to repeat with every single card in your deck, even duplicates.
And to what end? The balancing of the starter cards is great, but once upgrades and rare cards come in, the whole thing is largely askew. There’s only two types of PvP matches, one that doesn’t allow any upgraded cards and one with no holds barred. Wandering into the latter with just a few upgraded cards is close to suicide, so you won’t really have anything of the procedure until you’re close to finished. Why even bother? At best, the balancing at this stage is as good as it was in the beginning and the few additional tactics don’t make it worth your while. But maybe I’m just bitter for all those times I undeservedly lost a match just because my opponent pulled a rare Deus ex Machina card out of their arse.
What’s a little harder to forgive are the few mechanical issues. Luck has always been a factor with this sort of thing, but with Elements, it goes a little extreme. As with most games of the like, your fortune in battle will depend largely on drawing enough resource cards in the beginning. Not doing so will result in a slow starting phase in most other games, but this game is so quick that by the time you make it out of your dry spell, you’ve already lost. Also, the game is perhaps a little bit too enthusiastic about rock-paper-scissor balancing. With every action and tactic in the game there’s corresponding tactics that will reduce you to shreds in a matter of seconds and others that will suffer the same fate at your hands. The problem is that there’s often literally no way to be ready for such events. You can only ever have one deck at a time, you can’t adjust to your enemy before you go into battle, nor can you seek him again once you did. It’s like entering an advanced rock-paper-scissors tournament, with complex rules and around 40 different manoeuvres, but you have to limit yourself to just three for the course of the entire competition.
Bottom Line: All in all, Elements is fun and free, making it a definite recommendation. It’s a nice take on the trading card concept and clever enough to keep me interested. You could do a lot worse, unless of course you discover it when you should be writing a big review project.
Tower Defense. Not only is the phrase a runner-up for the redundancy awards, but it’s also the name of a very specific subgenre of strategy games. For the uninitiated, gameplay revolves around waves of baddies walking from point A to point B and you having to stop them by strategically placing towers (Hence the name). It all started a couple of years back in the mod scene for games like Warcraft III and has since
blossomed well, grown to be one of the most popular concepts for internet flash games. And that’s a good thing too, because those are exactly the kind of games the internet is best at (Tower defense games, not flash games mind you): The kind that don’t constantly need your attention. It’s the great and glorious internet after all, we want to check our emails, watch funny clips and browse The Escapist.
And Tower Defense games leave more than enough time at your hands to do all that, while you wait for a wave to get blown to smithereens by your towers. But since it’s the foul and rotten internet, there’s about a bazillion of Tower Defense games out there and only about a dozen or so are somewhat good. And if that dozen were a team of high school sprinters, then GemCraft would be Usain Bolt.
GemCraft is easily the best Tower Defense game out there, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the concept of deadly jewellry is a pretty aesthetic one in a genre populated largely by crudely drawn cannons and monkeys. But much more important than that, is what the developer Game in a Bottle managed to add to gameplay. The usual amount of strategic thought in a game of this type boils down to the two questions of “What Towers do I want to buy/upgrade?” and “Where to place them?”. GemCraft, by contrast, adds a phenomenal amount of new strategic possibilities to the whole shebang. Not only do you have to strategically place your towers in this game, you also have to create gems to put into them. These gems can be combined to form better ones, or fired at the enemy as a grenade. You can build water trenches, or switch your current gems between your towers to maximize their efficiency. Or you could just save up your mana and spend it on an increase in total mana gain.
That’s the reason each individual level is fun. But the reason why GemCraft as a whole has turned into a massive time sink for me is the inclusion of RPG elements. Your score, you see, doubles as experience points. By racking up enough points you get to level up and spend a few points on some skills to increase your proficiency in certain parts of the game. Not only did this abolish all the bad feelings I usually have in these kind of games for having to start fresh from zero once I finished a level, it also added another layer to the battles past mere survival. Tower Defense games usually include some kind of button to send in additional waves early, but those are normally only used by the kind of people who genuinely care about online highscore rankings. But here, the fact that you get an actual in-game reward for scoring high will make you constantly play the game at the razors edge, sending in just as many waves as you can handle. And it makes gameplay even more addictive, as if that would have been necessary. It turns the game into a massive time sink, but to the game’s credit there’s an ultimate goal at the horizon and the game does have an end and it even gives some conclusion.
Which is incidentally why I’ve always held the original GemCraft in higher regards than its sequel, perplexingly titled GemCraft: Chapter 0. While the new gameplay mechanics work and bring ridiculous amounts of strategic possibilities to the table, its most apparent novelty is bringing possible time-consumption to bizarre heights. Each individual level
can must be replayed a total of eight times under slightly different circumstances, and considering that the amount of levels included actually increased, that’s quite a lot of playtroughs. At the time I stopped playing I had already sunk about the same amount of time into Chapter 0 I had in GemCraft and there was still absolutely no sign of any form of ending in sight. It had turned from a harmless, free pastime into a form of video game cocaine and I found that it slightly put me off the whole experience. However judging by the popularity of similar drugs, perhaps I’m the only one who worries about this side of gaming.
But before this turned into a moral sermon, I believe I had the intention to review something here, so let’s get this sucker back on track. In conclusion, GemCraft is the one statistical success the millions of attempts at this particular concept had to bring up eventually. It’s free, surprisingly complex and will have you busy for quite some time, especially if you want to see the cliffhanger ending. The only shortcomings I could find were no actual flaws but concessions to the oddities of internet flash gaming (like the minimalistic soundtrack and story).
Bottom Line: Either you like GemCraft or you don’t. Regardless, you’re just a single click from seeing for yourself.