Burn, baby, burn: Just Cause 3 is real

One of the most endearing memories I have from the game Just Cause 2 (I think it was Just Cause 2) is using a grappling gun to attach to the rooftop of a car then deploy a parachute, letting my character just paraglide above all the chaos below.

At least, I think that was Just Cause 2. If it wasn’t it’s a game I want to play.

I suspect we’ll be able to do similar things in Just Cause 3, the next game in the series from Avalanche Studios. You can see at the very end of the trailer – which is more just announcing the game rather than showcasing gameplay, which is a little sad – our hero Rico Rodriques wearing a glide suit (that’s what they’re called, right?)

Oh, the soundtrack to the trailer is a rather cool version of The Prodigy’s Firestarter. Very cool indeed.

Shiftlings: a weird colourful world

I’ve no  idea what the game Shiftlings is about – and the first time I actually knew it existed was when Activision sent this video the other day.

It seems you play two work colleagues tethered together by an air hose and must work together to survive the perils of Zomegacorp. It seems bright and colourful, and a co-op game, but does have “suggestive themes and course humour” apparently. You have been warned.

So, here’s the video. It’s apparently part 4. I don’t even remember seeing parts one to three. Does it sound like your cup of tea?

Grim Fandango Remastered has made me so, so very happy

Update: I thought I’d document any glitches or bugs I’ve encountered playing Grim Fandango Remastered and I encountered my first two last night playing on my Macbook.

It was fairly early into the game where Manny is talking to a balloon artist at a parade near his office and I noticed the shadows cast by two skeleton pigeons were above the ground and flickering. The disappeared when I switched to Original mode.

The second glitch was when I tried to get Manny back into his office from the street and he was stuck on a audio loop from the conversation with the balloon artist. After a few moments clicking and moving around it righted itself.

I’ve made no secret over the years that along with games like Full Throttle, System Shock 2 and Blade Runner, Grim Fandango is one of my most loved games of all time.

Set amongst a backdrop of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the game tells the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent working the afterlife. Sadly, it didn’t sell very well when it was first released, I’m told, which is a shame.

In fact, I’m sure that I bored readers of a video game blog that I did for a New Zealand news website a couple of years ago to tears with my continuous ramblings about how much I loved Grim Fandango and how I wished the game was re-created for modern platforms. Note the photo below of my original disc versions of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2.

Hard to find: I still have disc copies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2. No, I won't sell them to you.

Hard to find: I still have disc copies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2. No, I won’t sell them to you.

Grim Fandango comes from game developer Tim Schaefer and was released in 1998, an era when LucasArts was the king of adventure games and 16-bit operating systems were all the rage, but that means that it isn’t exactly easy to get running on modern OSs like Windows 8 or Windows 7. In fact, trying to get the game to run on a current PC is a nightmare.

Grim Fandango’s minimum specs are Windows 95/ME/2000/XP, a Pentium 133 CPU and 64MB of Ram so trying to get it to work on modern operating systems – both Windows and Mac – is, frankly, a hassle that requires a few hoops and you having to jump through them. You have to use a program like Residual VM to run the install files that you’ve copied from the install CDs – yes, CDs – because modern PCs with their 64-bit operating systems won’t run the stock installer from the game.

Modern PCs also created some inadvertent game play issues for Grim Fandango, as well. If I recall correctly, there was one puzzle involving a conveyor belt under the ocean that couldn’t be completed on a modern PC unless you disabled some of the CPU cores: Multiple core CPUs made the conveyor belt spin too fast!

After years of tinkering and file copying to get Grim Fandango to work on my Win8.1 PC and Macbook Pro, my wish has been granted with the released of Grim Fandango Remastered, a new version of the game which is exactly what it says on the box: A Remaster not a re-imagining.

So what has Tim Schaefer and his company Double Fine done with Grim Fandango to Remaster it? The character models are now sharper and more defined, textures are now high resolution, the lighting is now more atmospheric (venetian blinds cast shadows on characters when they walk in front of them), the audio has been remastered, the musical score has been re-recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the control scheme has been revamped (meaning you don’t have to use the tank controls if you don’t want to. The name tank controls came from the fact that in the original game, Manny Calavera could move forwards, backwards, left and right using the arrow keys within the environment. He did this little shuffle on his feet while he turned left or right, too. Essentially, he moved like a tank does).

The changes to the game are cosmetic. It’s not a complete re-build of the game so if you’re expecting an adventure game with photo-realistic graphics and 7.1 channel audio, then look somewhere else.  Grim Fandango Remastered looks and feels like the original game but with a new control scheme that makes it so much more enjoyable to play.

During the game you can swap between the remastered and the original graphics and essentially the only difference is the character models. The backgrounds are essentially the same, apart from now having higher resolution textures and the game keeps the original 4: 3 aspect ration. You can stretch the 4:3 ration to 16:9 but I wouldn’t: It just looks wrong.

A nice touch is the developers commentary that you can listen to at certain points. It gives a nice insight into the thought processes behind the game and why certain decisions were made (for better or for worse).

One thing that might annoy newcomers to Grim Fandango is its puzzles: They don’t hold your hand and there’s no hint system to help you if you’ve got stuck on a particular section. Some of the puzzles are actually quite obscure and don’t really make a lot of sense so you’ll need to do some lateral thinking (or search for a walkthrough if you really get stuck).   Seriously, though, some of the puzzles are down right confusing so you have been been warned.

Advanced lighting: Grim Fandango Remastered now looks more film noir thanks to the new lighting.

Advanced lighting: Grim Fandango Remastered now looks more film noir thanks to the new lighting.

The game also doesn’t have an auto-save, something that is a given in this modern age and one omission that I wish was included in this remaster. Don’t forget to save your progress regularly if you play it or else you’ll face having to replay sections.

For me, Grim Fandango Remastered remains a classic and while I may be clouded by the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, I didn’t hesitate much to drop the NZ20 or so on buying it. The reason I initially hesitated was I mulled over whether I should get the game seeing as I had the original happily running on my Macbook. What swayed me was that it was only $20, which is four coffees from a cafe, and it meant I didn’t have to muck around with Residual VM to get it running. I don’t regret buying it.

While Grim Fandango Remastered is a piece of adventure gaming history, it creates something of a conundrum for gamers. On the one hand, if you already own the original you might have trouble justifying buying it again, even with the changed control scheme and touched up graphics. But on the other, if you have yet to play this classic and have always wanted to, here is the chance – but the old-school mechanics and puzzles might frustrate younger gamers.

Personally, I think it’s worth it, even if you own the original. Grim Fandango Remastered keeps what made the original game so great while tweaking it just enough to make it worth playing again. Here’s hoping it sells enough to convince Schafer and everyone else involved that a re-master is required of Full Throttle.

Here’s hoping.

The year that was

Well, by the time you read this, there will only be a few hours left of 2014 and it’s been a pretty good year, both personally and professionally.

I can’t say the same thing about the games, though. For me, 2014 was a bit of a flat year for games, mainly because it was the first year since I started writing about video games about 10 years ago that I wasn’t writing reviews for a regular publication, so review copies were far and few between (big ups to Xbox, EA and Ubisoft for sticking with me).  So, a lack of review copies, and not a lot of disposable cash to spend on  games in the early part of the year, meant I didn’t play that many games in 2014. Sad but true.

But before I get into my gaming highs, here are probably the biggest personal highlights of 2014: I started a new part-time job with Air New Zealand, which is a complete departure in terms of what I did for the past 20 years and I started up a new business called Write Angle Ltd where I can indulge my writing passions and write editorial content for websites and publications (www.writeangle.net).

It has been a year of change and growth. Ok, the self-promotion section is over …

OK, on to the games in 2014. As I said earlier, I haven’t actually played a lot of games this year so I’m limited by what I can pick are my favourites but if I had to pick three they would be: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4), DragonAge Inquisition (PC) and Sunset Overdrive (Xbox). I also pre-ordered The Witcher 3’s collectors edition on PS4 (although I’m contemplating changing it to Xbox One. I’ll ponder that one).

I haven’t picked those three games because they cover the three main gaming formats (at least I didn’t consciously). I picked them because these were the games I had most fun playing this year.  I bought Shadow of Mordor myself (yes, with my own money) from NZgameshop.com after reading positive reviews. I’m glad I did: It’s a stonking game that had me caught  hook, line and sinker.

I’m still playing DragonAge Inquisition – it’s a freaken huge game – and I am enjoying it much more than I imagined I would, despite not really being into role-playing games.

And Sunset Overdrive was a highlight for the Xbox One and one of the consoles true stand out titles. There haven’t been many outstanding Xbox One exclusives so the hype was heavy on Sunset Overdrive, but I’m glad to say it delivered.

Apart from those games, I haven’t really played much else this year. Oh, I did play Far Cry 4, and that’s great fun, too. I’ve got reviews of all the games I’ve mentioned on the site. At the moment, I’m contemplating buying This War of Mine from Steam. I’ve been contemplating about buying it since yesterday. Will I, won’t I. Will I, won’t I …

Lastly, I’ve been blessed to have some dedicated readers who have followed me from my stuff.co.nz days to Game Junkie 2.0. I appreciate you all and thank you for visiting my site. I’m hoping to grow in 2015 with hardware reviews but we’ll see how that goes.

Have a great and safe start to the New Year and once I’m back from summer holidays (end of January), I’ll kick into the site and see if I can make an impact this year.

Thanks again.

 

Far Cry 4 review: A land where you’re really just lunch for a wild animal

Far Cry 4: It looks idyllic but I bet there's a ferocious honey badger lurking behind a rock somewhere.

Far Cry 4: It looks idyllic but I bet there’s a ferocious honey badger lurking behind a rock somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Far Cry 4, Ubisoft’s latest in the series which pits a normal guy against a raging loony in a Himalayan principality called Kyrat, I like to think of the player as nothing more than a meatsicle. A tasty treat just waiting to be eaten by a bear, a bengal tiger or … a honey badger.

You see, in Far Cry 4 you’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head so you can see the animals coming in for the kill. I lost count how many times I was standing on the top of a grassy knoll when for no reason, I was attacked by a pack of wolves.

Or the time I was minding my own business and a bloody great eagle swooped down and attacked me. Or the time I was standing on the roof of a shack and something with sharp teeth decided it wanted to eat me for lunch. That’s the proof right there: That Far Cry 4 is nothing more than a game where the wild animals are more frightening that dictator Pagan Min’s thugs. As well as tigers and bears,  you’ll encounter rhinos, yaks, deer, pigs …

Then there’s the honey badger. What the hell is a honey badger? I can’t say I actually knew what a honey badger was before Far Cry 4. They look so cute until they start biting your face. One thing I know: A few honey badger skins make for a nice weapon holster.

It makes it sound like all there is in Far Cry 4 is animals that want to eat you, and that’s not true. There’s a heck of a lot to do as you fill the boots of Kyrat-born but US raised Ajay Ghale as he tries to get his dead mother’s ashes to her final resting place, and if you’ve played Far Cry 3, you’ll recognise the pattern where the more of the game world you unlock, the more side missions you unlock.  Far Cry 4 is like a fancy all-you-can-eat buffet: There are plenty of delights to keep you satisfied for a very, very long time.

I’m going to digress for a minute: my history with Far Cry began when I played the original game on PC, a few years ago. It was a game that would cause your PC to smoke if it wasn’t powerful enough (much like Crysis). Sadly, mine was never as grunty as it should have been.

But back to Far Cry 4 … In terms of open-world games, Number 4 ticks all the right boxes – without really being revolutionary. That said, some of the most serene moments were when I hopped onto a little propellor-driven helicopter and glide across the Himalayan tree tops. You can jump onboard an ATV and blat about the dusty trails, drifting around corners (although I struggled with the controls to start with) You can scale radio towers to destroy the propaganda-spouting machines at the top.

Another great thing was actually using the environment as a means of clearing out enemy outposts. Elephants, wild dogs, bees … In one case, an elephant was being held in a pen. I shot the lock (alerting the guards, of course) but causing the elephant to rampage, trampling the soldiers, leaving me with only one or two to take care of. Once you unlock the ability to ride elephants you get to cause all sorts of chaos.

far_cry_42If you’ve played FC3, you’ll get to grips with FC4 right away, too  – it’s not that much different from FC3 (but now have auto-drive on vehicles if you have a side-arm equipped and there’s a co-op mode) but it’s villain Pagan Min that really shines, here. If you thought Vaas in Far Cry 3 was a brilliant bad guy and couldn’t be beaten, well, think again. Pagan Min takes the crown.

I’ve loved exploring Kyrat and as I often do with open-world games I’ll get sidetracked by side missions and ignore the story missions all together (eventually you’ll have to get back to the main missions, though). As I said before, there’s enough content to keep an open-world fan busy for weeks –  although that can be a double-edged sword. Often games that have too much to do, too much content, can be overwhelming and players might give up because they just can’t do it all.

Far Cry 4 is a great game that is strengthened by its villain Pagan Min.

Just watch out for those honey badgers. They’re not as cute as they first appear.

DragonAge Inquisition: A game that steals time from me – but I’m not complaining

DragonAge Inquisition: Action RPG that is great fun.

DragonAge Inquisition: Action RPG that is great fun.

I’ve been meaning to write something about DragonAge Inquisition since, well, I first started playing it a couple of weeks and 25 hours ago, but every time I sat down, fingers poised over my keyboard, I was instead drawn to the DAI desktop icon, which I promptly clicked and started playing the game.

I think that action in itself says a great deal about what I think about Bioware’s latest action-RPG: That’s it’s good enough to distract me from writing some thoughts about it.

I’ve always liked Bioware’s games – and I didn’t even rage at the ending of Mass Effect 3 – but after playing the first two DragonAge games I wasn’t sure I’d be interested in the third in the series. I didn’t get as deeply involved in DA as I did ME but after a handful of hours with DAI, I was hooked.

dai_review10Inquisition is an action RPG  where the player controls a character of your own making, depending on the class you choose. I chose a mage and if I have one regret about things it’s that I rushed through the character creation menus a little too quickly, getting a rather generic character. If I have one piece of advice, it’s spend a bit of time getting your character just right: You’ll be playing him or her for dozens of hours so you want to be happy.

The game opens with your character appearing from a green rift in time, just one of many that has opened up along DAI’s game world. As you gain the trust of those around you, you’ll face off against demons, templars … and dragons, if you’re brave enough.

While the first few hours of DAI are fairly pedestrian, stick with it as after a while the game opens up and becomes truly stunning, especially once you reach the Storm Coast and recruit tough guy Iron Bull. Don’t rush from the opening Hinterlands, though: Take your time and explore, close fade rifts, do jobs for farmers, collect magical shards. Just take your time.

DA Inquisition is also a game where you can actually spend hours just doing side missions for the people of Thedas before you even tackle the main story missions. That’s what I’ve been doing and it’s a good way to build up your party’s skills as some of the demons and monsters can be quite tough.

It’s also amazing what you’ll stumble across as you explore the land. I came across a giant fighting a dragon while exploring the Storm Coast.  I get too close but I climbed a nearby hill and just watched the incredible feat. The first time I stumbled across a dragon my party was underpowered so was wiped out pretty quickly.

sep_2_-_quiversDA Inquisition’s combat can be as complex or as easy as you want thanks to the game letting you pause mid-battle to survey your surroundings and issue orders to your three squad mates. It’s a nice option but most of the time I just blasted foes in real-time with spells from my staff.

I’ve ready a few people have had problems with DAI – I’m playing it on PC – and have experienced once crash to desktop and a DX Diaglog error when I start a few missions using the war room. It’s apparently an Origin issue, so I’ll keep investigating.

Would I recommend DragonAge Inquisition? Wholeheartedly yes. It’s an amazing game that has set the bar high, as well as issued a challenge to CD Projekt Red’s now-delayed-again The Witcher 3 for the crown of best action RPG.

We’ll have to wait until May to see how The Witcher 3 stacks up.

Thanks to the team at EA Australia for the PC code that was used for this review

Nostalgia made me do it: Why I backed Thimbleweed Park

As a boy who cut his gaming teeth on Lucasarts point-and-click adventure games like Day of the Tentacle, Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and The Monkey Island games (when Lucasarts used to make good games, that is), backing Thimbleweed Park on Kickstarter was a no-brainer.

No sooner had I watched the Kickstarter trailer of the new game from Maniac Mansion creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick  I had my credit card out, pledging $US20, which gives me a digital copy of the game  when it’s finished.  Unusually for me when it comes to spending money on anything, there was no hesitation, no “Umming” or “Ahhing”, no checking with the Home Office:  I just backed the project.

Here’s the trailer that convinced me to back Thimbleweed Park:  

I blame nostalgia (I also blame nostalgia for my backing of Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age, the only other video game I’ve supported via Kickstarter) for my decision to back this as-yet-unmade game.

I blame part of my inner gamer wanting games to be like they were when I was a youngster. My teenage son, who  has been born into an age of games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and GTA, doesn’t understand why I like old-skool point-and-click games. He just doesn’t get it.

I can’t exactly say why I loved the point-and-click adventure games so much but I just did. Another of my favourites was Westwood’s Blade Runner, based on Ridley Scott’s universe. I still have it and its four CD Roms and copies of Grim Fandango and Full Throttle on a shelf in my spare room. When I first started playing games we didn’t have photo-realistic graphics to carry a game that lacked substance. We relied on solid and inventive game play that required a bit of logic.

ThimbleweedanimationGamers of today will probably cringe at the huge pixellated characters point-and-click adventure games had – I know my son does – and many will struggle with the often head-scratching puzzles where you had to combine objects to find the solution, but I loved it. I still do (I think). Yes, Thimbleweed Park could have been remade with more modern graphics but honestly, I love the charm of the way games used to look and be.

Here’s what Gilbert and Winnick say on Kickstarter about the game: “Thimbleweed Park is the curious story of two washed up detectives” called in to investigate a dead body found in the river just outside of town. It’s a game where you switch between five playable characters while uncovering the dark, satirical and bizarre world of Thimbleweed Park.”

“We want Thimbleweed Park to be like an undiscovered classic LucasArts’ adventure game you’d never played before. A game discovered in a dusty old desk that puts a smile on your face and sends a wave of nostalgia through you in the same way it does for us,”Gilbert and Winnick say.

The game is expected sometime in June next year and no doubt once I start playing it there will be times when I’ll start pulling what hair I have left and will curse my nostalgia when I’m stumped by some confoundedly difficult problem that I just can’t solve,  but right now I’m excited to see a game like Thimbleweed Park being made. I really hope Gilbert and Winnick get the funding to make the game.

So, here’s to hoping that Thimbleweed Park puts a smile on my face and I’m swamped by the tsunami of nostalgia that it promises will wash over me.