DELVER

Still very much so in alpha development, Chad Cuddigan’s Delver is a Minecraft-esque roguelike that has a huge amount of potential for the future. Currently running on both Windows and Android, the beauty within this release is its simplicity, applying very minimal, easy to learn controls through each level of its descending dungeons.

Atmosphere is definitely a key feature within Delver – often leading you through dark, claustrophobic tunnels, each holding a selection of unforgiving beasts and baddies intent on your demise. At this stage there are only three varieties of weapons: daggers, swords and wands – however, that isn’t such an issue, with each holding its own power, ability and design. Wands are the only ranged weapon currently implemented, but hold a lot more effectiveness than the average blade, allowing you to take out oncoming enemies from any distance in a satisfying explosion of pixel blood. Each wand has a limited number of charges, however, and so must be used sparingly in combat. Armour throughout the game also relies on much the same principle as the weapons, increasing in defence depending on its style and class.

There is a colourful selection of potions to be found, however it would seem that all but one heal your character – despite each description declaring an unknown effect. This has no real downside on gameplay, but it would be nice to see a bit more variety in how each colour corresponds to your character – especially if there were overall attack/defence stats included. Each potion could perhaps carry its own positive/negative effects, allowing for you to focus more heavily on a certain style of play – for example, using speed and attack, but lacking in defence.

Another feature that I would love to see included would be durability. With a lot of low grade armour and weapons scattered about each level, it seems a little bit of a waste to ignore a use for them. If each weapon, in the same sense as the wands, had a certain number of uses – or hits, in the case of armour – there would most certainly be a much more increased sense of difficulty and desperation – especially on the lower levels, where gameplay can be pretty comfortable at this current stage of development.

All in all, I highly recommend trying Delver out – It’s a nicely made, fun little game that takes little knowledge or computer power to run and I will most definitely be following with each future update.

Download Delver for PC here

Buy Delver for Android here

Follow Delver‘s development blog here

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FALLOUT 3

Bethesda, a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, is widely known for their ability to create stunning role playing games. They have created fan favorite games such as The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. But in 2008, they amazed the whole of the gamer community by releasing a game that to this day, is considered one of the best there is.

The Fallout series is set in the future, in a world that instead of focusing on improving its society, focused on technology. This fast advance in technology caused weapons to improve, and weapons mean war. A war between the United States ended in a nuclear conflict and left the world ravaged by nuclear power (hence the title). Set in the capital of the US, Washington D.C., you start off the game as a dweller of a vault, a bunker built for withstanding the bombs.

Fallout 3 is a spectacular game. Not only because of its story, but due to the hundreds of features the developers decided to include. I’ve always been a fan of the Fallout series, and let me be honest: I was nervous when I heard Interplay wasn’t making the next game in the series. But when I finally had the controller in hand, venturing into the wasteland for the first time, I fell in love with this game.

It is rare when you get to experience a story such as Fallout’s. The creators manage to get you attached to certain characters through dialogue and without any cut scenes at all. With a stellar cast in voice acting (Liam Neeson, Ron Perlman and Malcolm McDowell) the game transmits feeling like no other game. And let me tell you, when you hear Liam Neeson’s impressive voice acting in a specific cut scene (no spoilers here) it will surely bring a tear to your eye. And even the secondary characters, such as your companions (I’m pointing at you Fawkes) are written so well, that you will start being cautious about what you do as to not upset them.

Being a first person shooter (although you have the option to change to third person, more on that later though) Bethesda decided that they needed to introduce something innovative. And so, V.A.T.S. was created. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System will help all players getting through the game, as well as making them chuckle when they see their enemy’s head popping in slow mo (or is that just me?).

Although the graphics are not top notch, they do hold up, and in 2008 they were pretty impressive. Again, they provide a fun perspective when you kill an enemy. But the soundtrack does make up for it. When you are exploring a cave or the run-down subway, a    creepy track will play, and will tense you up. Or when you’re wandering the wastes, and all of a sudden the music turns from peaceful to threatening. This is what makes the soundtrack great.

The game also has a bit of comedy, which is perfect to break up the tension. I remember chuckling often, as a companion made a remark about the surroundings. Or when listening to the radio, as Three Dog made his PSA’s. The franchise’s fantastic mascot gives a light feeling to dark things, such as blowing people up.

So far I have only talked about the positive things. But lets take a look at the negative, shall we?

Big terrains can be a good and a bad thing. Although it gives the player much more to explore and scavenge, it also creates a few problems. Let’s face it, you get bored when you have to walk too much (although the quick travel feature really does help) and usually that means that you start fidgeting around. Many people tend to start jumping, for example,  and sometimes, if you’re unlucky enough, you might get stuck between two rocks. And since Fallout is such an immersive game, the player forgets to save. Thats not good at all.

Being such a big game, it takes a toll on the console’s systems and will often freeze. Adding on to that, if you disabled Autosave or perhaps you haven’t gone through a door yet (autosaves when you do so), it can be quite frustrating. Also, to be honest, the third person system just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because your bulky body will often block your view, giving the enemy the perfect chance to kill you.

It is a shame that the developers did not put as much effort as they did with the music, dialogue, writing and combat in the animation. The way that the people walk can sometimes be quite ridiculous, but well, thats just about any game.

But overall, Fallout’s positive aspects outgrow the negative by far, and this makes it a great game. Even though it is nearly 4 years old at this point, if you haven’t, you should definitely give it a try.

GURK II

I had to make a long journey by train the other day, so the first thing I did was scour the Android Market for a suitable travel companion. What I discovered therein was too good to not share…

Larva Lamp’s Gurk II is an extremely simple 8 bit rpg, with full levelling and a variety of spells, weapons and armour to loot along the way. Despite being far more finished than it’s predecessor, Gurk, both are great examples of how less is more; hours of entertainment can be found within this very cheap, very cool little game.

Following in the footsteps of the classic RPG titles, Gurk II is turn based, allowing for random monster attacks and battle tactics, as you choose which strategies and paths to take. Also included are stat rolls for characters, boats, summoning and advanced spells – a whole lot more features than other games of this size on the Android Market.

The main downfalls within Gurk II lie in its resolution. As the images above show, the actual play screen is really not that big, meaning that only tablet users will ever really experience the game at a normal ratio – however, this isn’t a massive issue and I found I could play quite comfortably after the first few minutes.

But, be warned – this game is challenging, and an understanding of its mechanics will be needed if you want to progress at a good rate. In my first attempt, I found my players slaughtered constantly, ever pitted against larger and larger swarms of higher powered enemies. It was in my second try, though, that I began to pay attention to the items and potions and their effects, where I instantly found myself playing at a much better standard with no deaths recorded so far.

Overall, Gurk II is a great game with a lot of content. I highly recommend purchasing this – or its free prequel, Gurk – as it will kill the boredom of any RPG fan.

Get Gurk for free from Google Play here

Buy Gurk II from Google Play here

Visit developer Lava Lamp’s website here

DARK SOULS PC RELEASE ANNOUNCED

With over 93,000 signatures backing a cross-platform release – the biggest petition of such a kind to date, Namco Bandai have finally issued a statement promising fans the arrival of Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition for PC on the 24th August, packed full with a variety of new bosses, enemies and content.

Universally praised for its ruthless gameplay and intense battles, Dark Souls also contains a sophisticated level of tactics and logic, making it a perfect addition to the PC canon – developed by Japanese veterans, From Software. This is one release I am definitely excited about, having backed the petition’s sentiments since its initial conception in January. However, another issue has also risen out of the announcement, but for a very different reason entirely: the use of Games for Windows Live over Valve’s popular Steamworks platform.

Games for Windows Live is notorious within the PC gaming community for its bad online support, intrusive menu and quite frankly ridiculous security, forcing players to have a constant internet connection to play each game. Many a time have I been stung by this over-enforcement, which has too been mirrored in the recent release of Blizzard’s highly awaited Diablo 3, which has had a giant backlash for its own implement of always-online gaming.

Either way, this is one to look forward too and we can only hope there is a future Steam release for this phenomenal title.

Visit the games website here

COUNTER-STRIKE: GLOBAL OFFENSIVE BETA

The fourth (kind of…) installment in the Counter-Strike franchise, CS:GO has a lot of expectations to live up to – not only as a professional sport, but for being one of the most played online games since its birth as a humble Half-Life mod in 1999.

I’ve always been a big fan of Valve’s many titles and rarely do they disappoint. I don’t care that we’re all still so eagerly waiting for Half-Life 3; I don’t even care that I had to euthanize the Weighted Companion Cube in Portal – Hell, I don’t even care that Team Fortress 2 has become the world’s biggest hat parade! Valve just make good games and I have a lot of trust in them to keep doing so. Hopefully, by that logic, Global Offensive will follow suit with its full release.

Excitedly starting up the Beta – which was a full 4Gb, I might add – the first thing that caught my eye was the improved graphics. CS:GO has a very smooth, finished look to it that far surpasses its predecessors and most definitely compliments its gameplay. Much the same treatment has been handed to the audio, giving each gunshot and footstep a much rounder, fuller sound as compared to previous sharpness – a great improvement on all accounts and, twinned with an arsenal of refurbished weapons and maps, looks to be a strong competitor in today’s markets.

With eight new guns and throwables (including molotov cocktails and firefight decoys), this is certainly more than just a Source rehash. The most useful feature I noticed lay in the ability to jump into control of any active bots in play after your initial death, allowing for extended play whereas before you’d be forced to sit and watch the AI run in circles blindly, helpless. While this will not be so important after release, it’s definitely an advantage to the Beta, where it is still short of human controlled opponents.

I did still manage to find a few criticisms, however…

The movement feels artificial. Not to say that Counter-Strike has ever tried to be the most realistic of games, but there was something about the player control that just felt strange – almost as if I were gliding across each map as a disembodied gun, rather than a physical entity. Although the same could definitely be said of CS:Source, there’s just something very different and fluid in the new character movements, as well as the sensitivity in aiming.

Your lifespan is a lot shorter. More a skill-based problem than development, but Global Offensive seems to be a lot more ruthless than its previous incarnations, resulting in a lot of surprisingly quick deaths from surprisingly few hits. Some would maybe deem this an improvement, as there has always been a lot of frustration with Counter-Strike‘s hitboxes in the past, but Valve are implementing a match-making system to balance out the difficulty.

The ‘Buy’ menu feels a bit err… clunky. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I want to convey, but it’s the closest word I can think of to express it. Although the aesthetics of it all are very nice, modern and stylish, there’s a sense of slowness and entrapment, forcing you to retreat frantically back through its pages to meet the start of each round in time. This could very possibly be a sensitivity issue, however – as I touched on briefly with the movement. There doesn’t seem to be an equal point between finding the perfect mouse speed for aiming and menu use, which is causing a love/hate feeling every time I play. CS:S felt extremely responsive in both aspects, whereas CS:GO appears to be lacking a little in this respect.

Where are all the player skins? Anyone already familiar with Counter-Strike has a favourite player model for each side – I can absolutely guarantee this. It wasn’t such a matter of giving variation and diversity in a team, it was personalisation; a way to distinguish yourself from an army of clones! As a Terrorist, I will always be an Arctic Avenger; Counter-Terrorist, SAS. Sadly, Global Offensive has removed this feature completely, and thus the feeling of independence – something I had never even considered or thought about until it had gone.

We must not forget that CS:GO is very much still in Beta, however, with both Valve and its co-developer, Hidden Path Entertainment, quickly and efficiently addressing every problem the community has brought forward as a serious issue. Especially so as a new chapter in Counter-Strike history, Valve will understandably be trying to change the game dynamics, so as to create a whole new level for its competitive gaming – as Blizzard similarly set in motion with StarCraft 2.

Overall, this game is looking seriously good so far and is expecting a full release sometime this summer, boasting a variety of different game types and an exciting new range of all our favourite guns and equipment – not to mention the inevitable community mods, which have always come in a wide variety of form and style.

CS:GO is currently a closed Beta, but has plans to extend its audience very soon. If you do not have it available for download in your Steam Library already, it will be made so soon.

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Developer update blog

THE FUTURE OF INDIE GAME DEVELOPMENT WITH JONATHAN LAVIGNE

In a society suffocated by franchise and corporate hegemony, the gaming world has become swamped in sequels and re-releases, all looking to control the largest market share. However, there is still a single lantern shining within its murky depths, as independent developers have begun to regain a foothold across the console spectrum.

I spoke with ex-Ubisoft Game Designer and co-founder of Montréal-based Tribute Games, Jonathan Lavigne, to catch a glimpse into the future and the workings of Indie game development.

Where do you see Indie game development in the future, as opposed to the bigger franchises and established companies?

Indie game development is getting more and more support. There are competitions like the IGF or Dream Build Play, portals like Indievania to sell your games, and first party companies and publishers are being increasingly more opened to indie developers (like Microsoft with XBLIG, Steam with its wide selection of indie titles, and Sony with the recent release of the Playstation Suite).

That being said, indie game development won’t overthrow big traditional game franchises and larger companies. It has its own niche market and it’ll soon (if not already) generate enough money to allow passionate developers to be able to make games on their own rather than be forced to work for a big studio.

 Ninja Senki, Lavigne’s highly praised 2010 action platformer, was heavily influenced by classic NES formats, such as Mega Man or Metroid. Click the above image to download the game for free!

Is there an increasing audience for this market of games – and if so, is there enough to actually support a company?

– I think that game journalists reflect the increasing interest of gamers for indie development, and they’ve been really supportive and willing to talk about them in the last few years. So yeah, there is definitely a market and it potentially can be enough to support a company – however, a lot of people are still unaware that independent game development exists, so there’s still work to do to promote indies.

Why  do you think so many recent Indie titles been so heavily based upon nostalgia in terms of graphics and style?

– A lot of indie developers are in their late or early twenties, so they want to share the love they have for the games they grew up with. Also, with actual technology and the development tools available, it’s more convenient for small teams to work with 2d graphics and 8-bit sounds and music rather than go full 3d HD and have to hire an orchestra.

Are the older, classic genres destined to resurface over modern game types?

– Maybe not, but there are definitely many genres that were simply lost in translation from 2d to 3d back in the 90s. I believe that a lot of new ideas can come up from old 8-bit or 16-bit generation games. Indie developers are already making it happen and it’ll keep going for sure.

Jonathan Lavigne’s work can be found at Tribute games, Or at PIXELTAO, his personal blog.

Tribute Games’ Wizorb review here.

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE, AND WHY IT’S JUST NOT ENOUGH

Ever since the release of Morrowind in 2002, I’ve been a truly devout follower of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, completely immersed within its intricate detail and complex story lines in which every small book, item, town or character can have a significant effect upon the way in which the game can be played. Each installment has revealed its own carefully crafted world, ripe with culture, politics, adventure and sweet rolls – Skyrim even introduced dragons, fully displaying the extent of Bethesda’s abilities and catapulting itself into the mainstream. However, with the announcement of a planned MMO for 2013 from Zenimax Online Studios, has the legend finally come to an end?

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

For me, The Elder Scrolls has always been about escapism: with each new character you are given absolute freedom to shape the future of Tamriel in whichever way you please, interacting however you feel fit and ultimately forming a bond with the many races that inhabit it, using a combination of different skills – which range from sneaking to destruction magic – to aid you. The addition of other players scares me, to say the least – no longer will this be my journey, but merely a fragment of something larger, louder and much more obnoxious, as Blizzard so perfectly demonstrated with its wide-spread release of World of Warcraft in 2004. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of ebay traders and exploiters, as any form of chat box will become swamped in spam and hopefuls looking for free handouts.

The sad reality is that, whilst The Elder Scrolls has been solely confined to single player in the past, this has also acted as a barrier against all the things which could potentially ruin the experience. The second everybody else has access into the game, all that atmosphere and immersion that has been so carefully put together will be lost.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

At the heart of the series, however, are its fans. Housing an extremely dedicated modding community, there are thousands of additions, fixes and complete recreations available for each game, at absolute zero cost. However, there won’t be any kind of opening or freedom of this kind with an MMO and a divide will quickly form: those willing to join up, and those opposed to this new restriction and breakaway from the style and formula that has shaped The Elder Scrolls since its conception. Some have even been working on their own multiplayer versions of Skyrim, with mods such as Skyrim Online already emerging for public use.

But, it’s not the lack of mods or the decline in quality that I fear the most – it’s the use of the map.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

With every new game, we have been granted a window into each diverse section of its world. From the grotty dungeons of 1994’s Arena, to the wind-swept mountains of Skyrim, Bethesda have gifted us with a stunning selection of vibrant, awe-inspiring landscapes and cities, tailored to each race and culture that inhabits them. Could so much detail and time be spent creating these areas in an MMO? Of course not. The very structure demands for repetition, respawned enemies and recyclable quests – otherwise no player could have an equal chance. To deny us that intricacy we have come to love and swear by would be a serious dismissal to those who have invested so much time and support into the series, immersed in each new scenario. I still want to see the barren stretches of Elsweyr, or the swamps of Black Marsh – these lands that we have so often read about in many a book, yet have always been so shrouded in mystery…

I know that Bethesda’s decision to condone and support the making of Elder Scrolls Online is in answer to years of requests from its fanbase, and it could quite possibly be a great success on release, but, for me, it will never truly fit into place as the logical next step for the series, nor will I consider it as such.

Whatever happens, just please let there be an Elder Scrolls VI – you owe that much to the people.

Some preview shots of Elder Scrolls Online:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Buy ES III Morrowind on Steam here

Buy ES IV Oblivion on Steam here

Buy ES V Skyrim on Steam here

Visit The Elder Scrolls website here