Skyrim review

Some misty mountains, though not THE Misty Mountains, obviously, that's another 'entertainment brand'

George got up from his desk, grinning at his final accomplishment.  “There,” he muttered to no one as he closed the tome before him with a flourish.  “Finished!”.  He ran his slender elven finger over the inscription on the front of the book.  The backpacker’s guide to Skyrim, for Bosmer Wood Elves.  He wrapped it carefully in thick woven paper and tied it tight with strong string.  “Time to get you back to Valenwood,” he got up and strode towards the door of his office but froze in horror when he noticed the tall, broad, armour-clad shadow blocking the doorway.

“AH!” he sprang back reaching for his dwarven sword, scavenged from the depths of an ancient dwarven dungeon and improved by his own skilled hands over weeks of crafting.  He looked up to the face of his assailant, ready to strike.  “Oh, it’s you!” he immediately relaxed seeing the face of his housecarl Lydia.  “Can you step out the way please, you’re blocking the doorway.”

There was an awkward pause.  She didn’t move.

“Lydia, do you mind….”

“Hi, George!” she interrupted, “What you doing in there?”.

“Oh.  Well, I’ve just finished the travel guide I was writing.  It’s done!  I can get it home!” he grinned again.

“I didn’t know you were writing a travel guide,” Lydia peered at the parcel under his arm.

“It’s the reason I was in Skyrim in the first place.  Didn’t I tell you about that?”

“Nope, I thought you were sent here by the gods to defeat the dragon menace,” she frowned.

“Oh, well, I guess that too, but I didn’t know about that when I set off from Valenwood to write a travel guide for my fellow wood elves,”  he patted the well wrapped booked under his arm.

“So, what did you say about Skyrim?  Are you recommending it to your elven brethren?”

“God no!  It’s been absolute hell!  From the moment I crossed the border I’ve been abducted by Imperial troops, accused of spying for some Nord rebels, had my head placed on an executioners block only to be saved by the arrival of a fucking dragon.  I’ve been accosted by wolves, hunted by bears, chased by trolls, haunted by wispmothers, set upon by bandits, ordered about by rebels and Imperial soldiers alike, had to bow to countless Jarls, been turned into a werewolf, can’t sleep for nightmares of a terrible black phantom persuading me to join a murderous cult, toyed with by gangster godmothers, invited to a tea party with a mad daedric prince inside the mind of a long dead king…”

“What the…”

“…Don’t even ask!  I’ve had to crawl through fetid skeever tunnels, swim frozen rivers, climb frozen mountains, everything’s bloody frozen!  I’ve had to eat every bug, mushroom and monster anatomy I’ve found to see if it’s any use in potion making,” George paused to catch his breath.

“And don’t get me started on the dragons!  Everywhere I go everyone seems to think I’m some kind of god-born dragon slayer!  Oh look a dragon, they’ll say, don’t worry George will get rid of it we’ll just hide in our houses here until he’s done.  And then when I do finally kill the thing everyone carries on as if nothing has happened.  They leave corpses in the streets for….for forever as far as I can tell!  What is wrong with you people!?”

George wanders how to get his big moon shaped ball out of the tree

Lydia was shocked.  She racked her brain for something positive to mention, “Ok, ok, you are a bit of a special case George but what about the people?  Us Nords are a kind and welcoming sort aren’t we?”

“Oh sure you are.  Very friendly when you need me to go on another bloody quest for you!  Every where I go people are running up to me and asking me for help.  God, I can’t even have a quiet drink in a town Inn without the bartender bringing up endless tasks the town need completing.  The people I do befriend who want to go adventuring with me walk into traps, get in the way of my arrows, bark at enemies when I’m trying to be stealthy, hide when I’m trying to attack and are forever getting stuck in doorways!  Speaking of which could you just step aside Lydia, I need to…”

“Well, you’ve been here a long time and must have met many women in your travels, George.  You must have found… you know, a suitable companion out here in the wilds?” Lydia played with her hair as she asked.

George stared at the butch, masculine figure in front of him and suppressed a shudder, “To be honest Lydia I can’t say I did, what with the dragons and the war and everything.  Sometimes I think I’m happier just crafting a new piece of armour from some rare, dungeon plundered metal.  Plus I never did work out how you marry people in your custom.”

“Oh, I can show you!” Lydia burst with unusually girly excitement.

“NO!  I mean…no…. thank you Lydia.  I’ll, um, work it out if I ever need to.”

There was an awkward pause.

“Look, Lydia, can you just come in this room or go back into that room for just a moment, I can’t get past.”

“Huh?”

“Ok, let me try it this way.  Lydia [I NEED YOU TO DO SOMETHING FOR ME]”

“Oh sure, what is it?” Lydia was suddenly receptive.

“[WAIT THERE]” George ordered, pointing at the floor on the other side of the hall he was trying to enter.

“Sure, why didn’t you just say?” Lydia obediently did her Thane‘s bidding and walked to the other side of the room.

Finally,” George muttered under his breath and made to go through the doorway.

“RAWULLLLLLLLLFFFF!”

“AH!” George leapt back instinctively, “Melko!  Not you too!” he looked down at the shaggy dog whose tail he’d just trodden on.  She sat fully in the doorway staring up with puppy-ish eyes, panting.

George sighed, “At least I can just jump over you,” and with that he leapt over the dog with agile elegance finally arriving in the hallway to his hard-earned home.  Grabbing up his latest crafted armour he packed a sword, bow and arrows.  “You can never be too careful out there,” he said to Lydia.  He paused when he saw her just standing there where he’d ordered.  “I’ll, um….  I’ll see you soon….  By the way….. Thanks for everything Lydia, you’ve been a great…..” He searched deep within his brain for a compliment, “you’ve been great at carrying stuff when I was overloaded.”

“Oh, thanks,” Lydia blushed.

“You too Melko.  You look after each other.” And with that he set off out into Skyrim with his travel guide under his arm.

Home is where the dangerously open fire is

With George gone the two NPCs stayed motionless in the house, staring at one another.  Melko, ever needy, was just happy for Lydia’s company.  Lydia felt lost.  She looked at the warm fire and exceptional furnishings George’s ‘work’ in Riften had been able to afford for the house.  She looked at the kitchen and thought about grilling some salmon.  “Ah, I know,” she thought, “I’d better wash my armour actually.  When did I last do that?”

Suddenly the door burst open.  The daylight that flooded in partially blinded Lydia as she tried to make out the figure at the door.  It was….could it be?  George came marching out of the bloom and plonked his helmet down on the nearest chair.  “Hi Lyds.”

“You….you, came back!” Lydia was overwhelmed.

“Huh?  Of course I did!” George looked at her, puzzled, “I was only popping to the post office!  What?  You didn’t think I was leaving did you?  I don’t want to go home, I’m having the time of my life!  Hell, Skyrim is one of the best places I’ve ever been!”

“But…”

“So, who wants to go on an adventure?  Let’s have a look here,” George thumbed through a thick, tattered journal, “Ah, here’s a good one: Find a way to free Thorald from Northwatch Keep.”

“Who’s Thorald?”

“I forget, but that’s never important. It’s a quest.  Coming?”

THE END

10/10

Mammoth vs. Dragon.  It is hard choosing which to eat first

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Gemini Rue review

Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking: “What’s with all these Battlefield articles?!  The singleplayer story was terrible, I need something to wash the taste away but I’ve only got under a tenner to spend on a new game!  Plus I only class a game as being ‘new’ when it’s released on Steam even though it might have been out for months already.  And on an unrelated topic, why in the great Adventure game renaissance has nobody done something like the Blade Runner game?  That game was amazing!”

My, you do jump around a bit, don’t you!?  Never fear, I understand completely and have the perfect answer to all of your thought questions: Gemini Rue.

Like squinting at Blade Runner

So what is it?  Gemini Rue is a point and click adventure set in a sci-fi, future noir universe.  The game starts you off in control of Azriel Odin, a trenchcoated cop trying to pick up the trail of his missing brother in a rundown city on a planet afflicted with perpetual rain.  The Blade Runner reference is apt with the film’s dystopian style having obvious influences on the look and atmosphere of the game, there are even direct references to the photo analysing Esper machines later in the game and the story covers similar existential themes of memory and identity.  What is so remarkable is how well the game captures that atmosphere using the modest resources of the AGS engine.  It’s clear the game’s creator, Joshua Neurnberger, is a master of this sort of pixel art, and the subtle movement of the rain, characters and background vehicles really add life to the still backgrounds.

The game doesn’t all take place in the rain, though.  Half of your time is spent controlling ‘Delta-Six’, the nameless inmate of an offworld medical facility.  Between completing daily tasks for the unseen ‘Director’, and dealing with his relationships with the other inmates, you help Delta-Six construct an escape plan to get off the sinister prison-like station.

The opening scene is clearly set in my dentist's

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has spent much time with a point and click adventure, with left-click moving your character to wherever you are pointing on the screen, and a right click bringing up a neat menu of interaction options (Eye, Hand, Mouth or Foot) and your inventory.  This is very much a point and click adventure game and not a puzzle game, though.  While there are ‘puzzles’ to solve these are usually pleasingly obvious to bypass after a moments head scratching, and are usually only served up one at a time so you know that pipe you just picked up is probably going to be the thing you need to use to get in that balcony window you’re about to try and enter.  Whilst important items are occasionally hard to distinguish from the pixellated background, the puzzles are generally simple and satisfying to complete without a lot of trudging about to carry out their solution (with one annoying exception).

All that means you can get on with playing through the superb story.  The plot moves at a satisfying pace, with action sequences (yes, action sequences in and adventure game!) breaking up the investigation/escape plan hatching, and genuine twists and turns keeping you guessing until the end.  Planetside there’s a real feeling of playing cat and mouse with the local Boryokudan crime syndicate, with your character flipping from cat to mouse and back again with each bit of plot exposition, and in the cold, bleached confines of the Centre 7 correctional facility the infinitely oppressed Delta-Six slowly takes control back from his oppressors both within and outside the prison population.   It is the best story I’ve played through in a long while, it really is the sort of thing you don’t expect to see in a video game, let alone an indie-title on a shoe-string budget.

Azriel's plot arc summarised perfectly

The only issues with the game are brought on by that small budget.  Locations are reused heavily, and there aren’t any of the branching narrative options that its inspiration so brilliantly included.  The mostly fine voice acting is also let down by awkward pauses between one person speaking and the other, and the characters are strictly limited in their interactions with the world with only plot-specific objects, people and doors rewarding adventurous clicking.  That said there is a raft of appropriate comments from Azriel and Delta-Six when you click on inappropriate items, my favourite being when you try to ‘use’ a top floor window Azriel objects “I’m not THAT desperate” in his deep, noirish drawl.

At roughly 5 hours in length you get enough for what you pay for, and I would urge you to at least try the demo and see if you can resist paying up to continue the story to its excellent, twisty conclusion.  It’s a pleasure to play a well-written, atmospheric and serious adventure game and I can only hope Gemini Rue’s introduction to the Steam library gets it the sales needed to spawn a sequel and more of this sort of thing.

8/10

Even blander than my work canteen

Private Foyle’s Battlefield 3 Multiplayer Impressions…..concluded!

BLA-BOOM!

So, enough with the stories, hopefully they’ve given you a little taste of what Battlefield 3 multiplayer plays like.  If it’s seemed disjointed, manic and difficult to comprehend what I was actually doing most of the time then I’ve successfully described the Battlefield 3 experience.

What do I think of it at this early stage?  I am absolutley loving it.  Compared to Battlefield:Bad Company 2’s (BF:BC2)  brand of anarchic team-based multiplayer, of which I was a big fan anyway, this is a real step up in realism, depth and, through the bigger focus on vehicles, fun.  It’s not a return to Battlefield 2 (B2), and some may be disappointed by that, it’s more of a balance struck between the faster paced BF:BC2 and the more tactical B2.  I for one think it strikes that balance well, capturing the chaotic playground fun of mass brawls where everyone has ridiculously overpowered weapons and the more tactical, careful approach that’s required to really do well and achieve a scoreboard leading points haul.  You can achieve very little on your own in this game, when you do well it is when you’re working with or for your team.

Cool vaulting animation in action

The improvements over the previous games come in the details, and I’m not just talking about the obvious improvement in graphics and sound.  For one, the points system is really well refined.  It’s more forgiving for newbie players as it gives points away like confetti for every little bit of service you give towards your team, so that even on a bad game where nothing goes right for you you will still end up with hundreds of points towards your next unlock or rank up.  Plus the points are even more focused on rewarding team contribution over being the player with the highest kills.

I’m also a big fan of the changed class roles, although it’s not immediately apparent from their basic set ups.  The new assault class seems like an overpowered super class to begin with, with their machinegun rifles, health kits and quickly unlocked defribillator and grenade launcher.  It’s in the unlocks that the balancing begins: If you want to equip that grenade launcher you need to sacrifice your medkits.  And if you want extra ammo for that grenade launcher you’ll have to sacrifice your defribillator, and before you know it you have a classic Assault class player.  Switch that the other way round and you’ll be a Medic.  And either way you’ll have an excellent mid-range machine gun.

This must be one of the peaceful seconds between someone having a lock on me and somebody else having a lock on me

The same becomes apparent for the other classes.  The Engineer has obvious advantages from the off (vehicle repair and rocket launchers) plus a more mid-range rifle aswell, but the seemingly less useful Support class can unlock mortars, C4 explosives, and claymore mines on top of his usual mountable heavy machinegun and ammo refills to become THE defence class, and the only one well equipped to tackle both infantry and land vehicles on their own.

The Recon class is the one that has suffered the biggest cutbacks from BF:BC2 now that they’ve lost their ability to call in mortar strikes and the fact that sniper scopes now give off a glint that makes it a lot easier for your distant targets to spot you when you’re trying to line up a headshot.  Personally, though, I think it’s a fair reduction.  Anyone who spent a frustrated game of BF:BC2 being picked off by invisible snipers on the other side of the map who were earning hundreds of points per kill for the over-generous headshot bonus will probably share my feelings.  It’s still a viable, and occassionally very useful class, but now it’s stripped down to it’s core focus of sniping a spotting I think it’s going to be a lot less popular, so no more teams of snipers to have to hide from.

Ker-SMASH-CRACK!

What it lacks is anything particularly new.  Battlefield 3 has carefully refined and improved the Battlefield experience that already existed, but it hasn’t really added anything.  The game modes are identical to BF:BC2, and although all the maps are cleverly set up to support both Rush and Conquest mode well I can’t help thinking there could have been more.  Inspiration could have been gained from the singleplayer where whole levels are played out in a single vehicle, why not introduce Jet-only modes or Tank-only modes into the multiplayer?  That would be a lot of fun.  Or how about combining Conquest and Rush modes to form something more epic where an area is fought over in a typical conquest style, but when one team wins that section the fighting moves to an adjoining area where more flags must be caotured and held.  That way whole cities could be fought for in a single multiplayer game.

Perhaps future updates will be more adventurous in this way rather than just adding to the already strong line-up of maps.  We’ll see.  For now though, I’m heading back to the battlefield.  Hopefully see you there.

Swwwwwwwsssssssssh-BLAM-BLAAAASTKERSPLODE

 

P.S. By the way, if anyone reading is one of those 3 guys who were in the back of that jeep I drove straight at an enemy tank on Caspian Border, I need to explain:  I’m not a COMPLETE moron, I just figured the last thing he’d expect me to do was drive straight at him and that would give us all the element of surprise when we all leapt out and surrounded him with our RPGs.  In the end it only gave us the element of explosions, death and respawn and for that I am very sorry.