Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Transformers (PC), Quick Review

Fantastic fun if you use a trainer to circumvent the ridiculously difficult gameplay and impossible mission timers.

Hidden underneath the impossible difficulty of Transformers is a free, open city (such as seen in the Grand Theft Auto [GTA] series) with fully destructible buildings, throw-able buses, police cars, billboard signs, and of course, climbing up buildings like a monster in Rampage (or a Transformer in the recent movie). It's wild fun to run amok or collect brightly colored cubes to unlock content. Like GTA, the missions suck donkey hair.

If I were to use metrics, this game flip flops between a solid "8" and a solid "5". Every mission where the trainer works (cancels out nigh-impossible timers or makes defeating 10 Decepticons in 2 minutes doable with 1 hit kills) is good, mindless fun. Every mission where the trainer doesn't affect the clock, or can't combat the task at hand (speed out of a tunnel before it blows up a-la Return of the Jedi's Deathstar death throes, do it 6 times in one mission), inspires me to yell unpleasant words at my 32" TV.

Unfortunately, by default (without a trainer), Transformers: The Game doesn't let you do enough of what you really want to do -

  1. run around, battling Decepticons
  2. saving the day
  3. possibly as a team with more than one Autobot.
The first two options are in the game, but hidden behind implausable time limits that are automatically set to "Expert." To get them right, you cannot make an error. Hit a barrier while you're racing in car form? Transform into a robot, move the stick left to turn your heading a bit, and transform again and hit the gas and the boost, because you don't have time to back up, turn, and go. That is stupidly difficult.

Still, the game has good graphics, shadows, effects, and the environment is highly reactive. In each "city" area, you can earn bonus content by making a super long drift, drive fast without being interrupted, throwing something high, high into the sky for maximum air time, etcetera (5 achievements total, I can't recall them all). Melee attacks and using heavy or light ranged weaponry are separate, blocking is easy - these things are fun.

Aside from the insane difficulty of the missions, there are only three things wrong with this game:
  1. The camera isn't smart, but doesn't get in your way. Controlling it yourself when you're in robot mode works fine, but it'd be nice if it auto-snapped better. There's a setting for sensitivity and I haven't tried "maximum," just "low" (default), and "medium."
  2. The automatic "lock on" is jumpy. You need to keep the target fairly close to your reticule, and that's difficult when you're not in a flight simulator, but a driving simulator. Robot mode isn't so much of an issue.
  3. The sound effects don't understand what should be loud and what should be - nearly inaudible or not played at all (that seems to be the range). I've had plenty of car crashes where I barely hear a thing beyond my own engine.
All in all, I am surprised at the quality of this game - Traveler's Tales really put some love into it. I'm having great fun with it, as are my brother and my kids.

Overlord, Full Review

Fun game hindered by its control scheme; running amok with goblins in town, collecting slave women & being evil is fun.

Overlord is a 3rd person 3d action-adventure game with RPG elements set in a fantasy world.

It's notable features are controlling a small horde of goblins (up to four kinds, each set with special abilities), rebuilding your Dark Tower, customizing your gear, and choosing to do benevolent or malevolent acts, which ultimately affects how much content you see and the ending.

Stylistically, the game looks like Fable 2 might if released today. Rolling hills, some narrow paths, townspeople wandering about; counter to Fable, Overlords areas usually loop back to one central point and are much larger, letting you traverse the world easily. Other areas are more open, and some complicated enough to get lost in (explorers rejoice).

The game starts becoming un-fun once you find yourself battling the control scheme more than the actual game. The control scheme worked fine until the creators equated difficulty handling the key/button combinations with game difficulty.

For example, you can't create control groups with your minions, nor easily separate a certain number of goblins from their color group. This would be fine unless there weren't sequences where controlling disparate groups are required in the middle of a boss fight, with little margin for error. To move a group set to guard a banner, you have to aim at the banner and target lock it (if something else targetable is nearby, you might lock onto that instead), holding the target button, you then can sweep that group around like the rest of your horde. This is trickier than it sounds once you add in the fact that you are currently being attacked by a boss.

However, the majority of the game isn't filled with such instances.

There are puzzles which flip between testing your understanding of how to use your minions to solve the puzzle, and your ability to control them well enough to do it (example: boiling hot geysers that erupt and having to navigate your goblins through their timed sequences - it's obvious what to do, it took me far too long to actually get it right, and that's annoying).

There isn't much reason to play the game through again unless you like playing from both "good" and "bad" angles, the first of which is made difficult by your goblins defaulting to doing bad things whenever they can.

Rampaging though town, collecting slave girls, making the populace tremble at your presence and looting everything that your goblins can loot doesn't get old. (Unfortunately the slave girls are a single mission and they just mill about your throne saying the same catch phrases.)

While you can be "good", the game offers more to the "bad" player. It's difficult to keep your goblins from doing evil acts while moving about a city, or coming across a lonely shepherd and his sheep, so you'll find yourself reloading to keep your "good" status. Evil is definitely better, by design of the game.

Mixing up what goblins you bring changes the difficulty of your quests - coming across a horde of zombies (about 30-40 individuals) is difficult without "melee specialist" brown goblins up front and "fire throwing" red goblins in back. Green goblins can stealth at a guard marker you set and leap and pounce on any enemies that come near, surprising them. Blue goblins can resurrect fallen goblins, but die too quickly even when making a corpse run.

If this sounds appealing, buy the game. If not, try the demo, but be aware that the un-fun sequences are later in the game.
[original version]