Thursday, 5 January 2012

Team Fortress 2 Review

 If you have an account with Valve's gaming platform Steam, you probably already have, or have at least heard of, Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer-focused, class-based first-person shooter developed by Valve. Originally released way back in 2007, the game became free-to-play last year and since then its popularity has skyrocketed, becoming perhaps the most-played game on Steam due to its financial ability, well-balanced gameplay and  multitude of weird hats with which players can customise characters. For anyone who doesn't yet own the game, here's some information about the game, as well as why you should download it.

Team Fortress 2 is, surprisingly, a team-based multiplayer FPS. It's presented in a stylised, colourful style which belies its level of violence; characters explode bloodily upon contact with a speeding explosive and body parts litter area. There are a number of game modes, including perennial multiplayer mode Capture the Flag, Control Points, in which teams must fight for control of areas of a map, and King of the Hill, in which players must help their teams control a single point on the map for a certain amount of time, while preventing the opposing team from doing so with the same point. This may sound like a standard multiplayer first-person shooter at first, but one of the main things which sets Team Fortress 2 apart is its class system.

The game includes nine different classes which players can use in games. These include The Sniper, for long-range defending, The Pyro, useful mainly for setting enemy players on fire, The Heavy, the slow-moving, minigun-wielding juggernaut, and The Spy, a stealth-based class which allows players to become invisible or take the appearance of an enemy player, most useful for Capture the Flag games. Also playable are The Demoman, for blowing things up and setting traps using strategically-placed bombs, The Medic, who can heal teammates and speak German, the rocket launcher-wielding Soldier, the fast-running, double-jumping Scout, and The Engineer, who can build sentry turrets and other useful stuff to help out the

Each class not only has different weapons and abilities, but a unique personality. Classes brim with character, conveyed through dialogue, character-specific taunts, and appearance. It's possible to make characters talk throughout games, a simple interface allowing players to say things from useful tactical decisions, to funny lines of speech such as The Demoman's drunken rambling or The Heavy singing happily while gunning down crowds of enemies. Even subtle things like character accents and items of clothing help to make each class unique.

Rather than each class having one set of weapons, there are a multitude of weapons available to pick up, each usable by one, or in some cases, two classes. Weapons can be unlocked either every few hours of playing the game, through trading items with other players (though items can only be traded after spending an amount of money on in-game items or buying the game before it became free-to-play), or by purchasing them in-game. Most if not all weapons can be found in-game without having to spend money, so there's no need to shell out. Some weapons are good value, going for just pennies, whereas rarer weapons are more expensive. Items other than weapons are also available, most notably hats and other apparel with which to personalise characters. These are generally more expensive than weapons, and many can be considered rip-offs, considering they add nothing to the gameplay, unless you're interested in trading them with other players.

Team Fortress 2 is more than just a collect-a-thon, of course, and the gameplay is excellent. There could be a few more game modes, as the official modes, while fun, aren't particularly varied. However, each mode has a number of maps to keep things entertaining, and the team-based nature means that individual games may differ greatly, creating diversity even if you like to play on the same map often. Depending on which class you choose to play as, gameplay can change; playing as The Spy, stealthing around and using a knife to take out enemies undetected is a completely different experience to guarding a point using a sniper rifle or storming into the fort of the enemy team as The Heavy. There's so much scope for replaying Team Fortress 2. There are also a number of community-created modes to really vary the game - tired of Capture the Flag? Why not try surfing, as in another of Valve's PC first-person shooters, Counter-Strike, or racing the opposing team in a giant balloon?

Team Fortress 2 is extremely well-balanced. Each weapon has both positive and negative effects, and there's no equivalent of the Modern Warfare 2 grenade launcher here. Weapons can be switched out depending on what style of gameplay you want to use, but with the exception of some weak weapons, they're all approximately as useful as one another. The only real imbalance is when a Medic uses his ability to make a Heavy invulnerable, making it impossible to avoid being killed for about 20 seconds or so without retreating, but this doesn't unbalance the game too much.

If you like fist-person-shooters and have a Steam account, there's no obvious reason for not at least trying Team Fortress 2, barring a fear of fun. Admittedly, there's no real story to it, but it's arguably the most fun FPS available and is capable of providing dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours of entertainment. Plus, it's free. What more could you ask for?

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse Review

The Sam and Max series, a number of point-and-click adventure games based on a comic first originating in 1987, concerns the adventures of two freelance police officers: Sam, a talking, 6-feet tall, trigger-happy canine detective and his partner Max, a talking, psychotic, high-voiced rabbit, who is also the President of the USA, as they travel around in their 1960's-style DeSoto car solving mysteries. This opening sentence fails to encapsulate the madness of the series, which sees the detectives, among other things, fighting a Eurotrash emo vampire, interrogating a suspect using the ever-hilarious medium of "yo momma" jokes, and helping Satan get his job back after being fired. The games are presented episodically, each "season" consisting of five or six games, each with an ongoing story arc which is resolved in each finale. Gameplay consists of the usual point-and-click tropes of collecting and using items, and talking to people using dialogue trees. In terms of gameplay, the first two series of Sam and Max didn't exactly revolutionise the genre; what sets the Sam and Max games apart is their aforementioned wackiness and excellent comedy writing, making every episode fun to play, even the ones where the gameplay lacks, to hear the laugh-inducing dialogue between the characters of the games, plus plenty of visual humour.

Sam and Max The Devil's Playhouse, as with the last season, consists of five games, or "episodes", each providing around 4 hours of gameplay. It feels much more like a sequel than the last season did; rather than just a few more episodes which look and play the same as before, The Devil's Playhouse is a real update to the series in a number of ways.

The central plot of the episodes of The Devil's Playhouse is that Max, the aforementioned psychotic rabbit, acquires psychic powers from the enigmatic "Toys of Power". These powers include the ability to see into the future, shapeshifting, and more complex powers. It transpires that the toys come from "The Devil's Toybox". Other characters learn of this, and try to gain control of the box for their own motives, leading to some ridiculous gameplay scenarios, such as trying to escape from a alien gorilla's spaceship and raiding an egyptian tomb guarded by mole-people.

The central gameplay is similar to that of previous Sam and Max games, though each of Max's psychic powers add a new gameplay mechanic. Rather than being one-time elements to create some token variation, they are used frequently throughout the series. Some of them are fun to use even without providing any use, such as reading the thoughts of supporting characters to listen to more humourous lines. The central gameplay of talking to characters and collecting useful items is also a lot more fun than in the last two seasons. Every episode of the last two season requires the player to collect three items, and/or do something to raise enough money to buy an item from the local corner shop to aid Sam and Max's quest. It was beginning to get repetitive. Fortunately, The Devil's Playhouse changes that, and the structure is always different in its episodes.

 The game is also graphically superior to the last season. Characters and environments are far more detailed and look considerably better. Voice acting is, as usual in Sam and Max, of a high standard, with only a handful of voice actors for 5 episodes of characters.

The Devil's Playhouse continues the series' traditions of insane storytelling and laugh-out-loud humour. Both of these things are difficult to talk about without giving away spoilers, but The Devil's Playhouse is a collection of some the funniest games on the PC. Arguably one of the highest points is in episode 3, which sees Sam become a stereotypical hard-boiled detective, interrogating people on the street and giving the player the option to hear Sam utter dark, philosophical soliloquies, often to the bemusement of suspects. If the idea of a dog-and-rabbit detective duo sounds somewhat juvenile, fear not - there's plenty of intelligent humour to be found for those of us who watch Frasier, while still containing numerous hilarious low-brow jokes.

There's not very much to criticise when reviewing a game as funny  and entertaining as The Devil's Playhouse. The main villains aren't particularly interesting and reoccur often, but are still funny and well-voiced. The music is still high-quality, but not quite as good as the noir-esque jazz tunes in the first two seasons. Also, there is one thing which happens in the fourth episode which is never explained, and leaves a question unanswered at the end of the season. As well as this, a plot thread in the fourth episode is never properly elaborated; one character tries to kill another, and there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for this. It's not a big problem, it's just mildly annoying. Perhaps the biggest, and arguably only real, problem with The Devil's Playhouse is the difficulty. The series' strange storylines make for some equally strange puzzles; the crazy nature of which often makes it difficult to figure out what to do. It may be advisable to bookmark GameFAQs to check regularly.

This isn't too much of a problem, though, as The Devil's Playhouse is still an excellent collection of games. A few difficulty problems aside, the puzzles are fun to solve. This, combined with hilarious dialogue, likeable characters and highly original storylines make The Devil's Playhouse a highly-recommended download. Go to and pick it up. You won't regret it.

Rating: 4/5

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Sunday, 1 January 2012

Assassin's Creed Revelations Review

Spoilers for the Assassin's Creed series and LA Noire ahead.

Assassin's Creed II was, in my opinion, an excellent game. Its brilliant combination of exploration, thrilling combat sequences and stealthily stabbing rich people in the throat made it one of the best games of 2009. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, released last year, was more of the same. There were no significant changes in the gameplay other than the addition of a decent multiplayer mode, but it was still fun. The main criticism one could give about Brotherhood was that the story didn't really go anywhere, with the protagonist Ezio Auditore mostly meandering around Rome for 15-20 hours before an explosive and dramatic ending, albeit one which could quite easily have been affixed to Assassin's Creed II. Before playing Assassin's Creed Revelations I expressed my hope that its story would not do the same thing, and the ongoing story of the franchise would make a significant advancement towards a conclusion.

Fortunately, Revelations is different to Brotherhood, in that this time Ezio meanders around Constantinople for 15-20 hours instead, a completely different city.The framing device for this is the same as in the previous game of the series: set in the now present-day, generic hero Desmond Miles uses a machine known as the Animus to explore Ezio's memories in the hopes of finding a way of averting an imminent natural disaster and stopping the Templars, a megalomaniacal cult, from controlling the world.
There's not much to say about the story. Desmond's mind is trapped in the Animus, on a virtual island from where he can kill time by delving into the memories of Italian ancestor Ezio, as he searches Constantinople for five keys which will allow him to enter a library built by Altair Ibn La'Ahad, the protagonist of the first Assassin's Creed. This plot thread is sporadically furthered throughout the game. Meanwhile, Ezio becomes involved in a civil war going on in Constantinople while pursuing a relationship with an Italian bird called Sofia. The vast number of different characters makes the story quite difficult to follow; I found myself playing many missions without knowing the reason why despite watching every cutscene which appeared. It does get a bit clearer towards the end, after Ezio pulls an LA Noire and uncharacteristically attacks a load of civillians in a cave, but even then there doesn't seem to be particular reason why Ezio is so invested in finding the keys, or what's happening with regards to the war. Disappointingly, Revelations fails to continue the series' now trademark weird ending, which would in past games continue Desmond's storyline. In Revelations, all that happens is Adam Fenix from Gears of War 3 shows up and tells Desmond something only slightly different to what he was told in the last game, something which Minerva could have told him in Assassin's Creed II and saved a lot of people a lot of money in the real world.

The story may be disappointing, but what about the gameplay? It's still as fun as it was in Assassin's Creed II, consisting of free-running around structures, using stealth and skill to assassinate targets, among other things such as an incongruous mission which sees Ezio picking flowers for his girlfriend two-thirds of the way through the game. A few new additions have been made, including the ability to use bombs, as well as a tower defense minigame which sees Ezio commanding assassins to fight off attacking Templars. The new features add very little to the gameplay, which is basically the same as the last two games. Some missions also see Desmond exploring the memories of Ezio, who in turn explores the memories of Assassin's Creed's Altair in a move worthy of Pimp My Ride's Xzibit. These help to give context to the library storyline and allow players to see what happened to Altair in his old age. The gameplay of them is basically the same as the rest of the game. It's not that the gameplay needs changing dramatically, as it's still a lot of fun, but if the gameplay is hardly different and the story barely goes anywhere, the only reason for Ubisoft making this game is to pad out the series for extra money.

The multiplayer is somewhat different, giving players a more varied wealth of customisation options, as well as a number of new game modes. It's also now possible to enter a game as it's in progress, reducing the amount of waiting around looking for games. As in Brotherhood, the gameplay in multiplayer revolves mainly around being given a player to assassinate, receiving points for killing them as stealthily as possible while using stealth to avoid other players. Techniques such as disguises and throwing knives help to meet these objectives and make games more fun. The multiplayer is laugh, but games aren't very varied and rely too much on luck. It should last for a while for some, but for others it will be a throwaway affair.

Revelations is as fun as the other Assassin's Creed games, if it's the first one you play. For those of you who have played other games, though, it may not be enough to justify the asking price. The gameplay is exciting and the visuals are excellent, but there just doesn't seem to be any point to it other than to conclude the storylines of Altair and Ezio. The series, like its European assassin, is still likeable and interesting, but is starting to get old. Thankfully, it seems like the next game will be better storywise, finally concluding the series. Revelations, meanwhile, is a fun game, but unless you really love the franchise, you may as well just watch the ending on Youtube and save yourself some money.

Rating: 3.5/5