Worst demo ever?

February 5, 2010

The Aliens vs Predator demo is out now, and almost entirely broken. It’s a multiplayer-only demo, offering only 8-player deathmatch quick play games – meaning no way to play any kind of local game. No way of setting up and testing the graphics and controls without joining a multiplayer match and sitting there idle whilst you navigate menus is an inconvenience, not least because the game doesn’t save your key configuration. However, what really kills the demo is that the matchmaking simply does not work! Without matchmaking there is no way to join a game at all, all your 1.2 gigabyte download has gained you are some animated menus and a “searching for games” message. After four 15 minute sessions spent with the world’s most ironic “quick play” button spread over the course of a day I was only able to play on two occasions, managing to get a few 10 minute games in, which mostly ended when the host disconnected. The games were rather laggy: there are no dedicated servers and what seemed like significant host advantage, but I haven’t managed to host a game to confirm. There’s also no way to display your ping.

With all this out of the way the actual game experience underwhelmed. The framework is a basic FPS deathmatch between the three races, the most unusual feature being that non-marine players have no ranged weapons (the predator can pick up a disk or shoulder mounted cannon, but given the short life expectancy in an 8-player game you’ll typically be without). This means that games tend to short, deadly and chaotic point-blank brawls – there are light and heavy close attacks (which can stun), blocks and instant kills via quick time events. Unfortunately these stuns and instant kills, particularly coupled with lagging around each other make the basic combat of the game random and confusing – especially since in the time it takes to execute an instant kill animation someone else will likely have turned up to spray you with pulse rifle fire or instant kill you when it’s over. Bigger melees turn into a conga line of spine ripping.

It’s not all bad: playing as a marine with the motion detector is atmospheric, wall-walking as an alien is good fun (although the pounce feels anaemic), and the look and particularly sounds are pure Aliens. The combat might improve with practice and playing a more sparsely populated round (which only seems to be possible if the host keeps playing and some of the 8 drop out) can give a far more tactical experience where predator cloaks and standing still to defeat motion detectors can actually help you pick up points, and you’re likely to survive long enough to pick up a plasma caster or some grenades for your pulse rifle. However, given the technical problems this suffers from the overall experience can only be called terrible. The sole reason this is saved from a 0/3 review is that playing it long enough to give it a fair shot would require wasting hours on end waiting at a “searching for games” prompt.

It’s really hard to understand what SEGA are trying to achieve with this demo: it doesn’t represent the gameplay, since the single player campaign and team multiplayer are likely to be the most popular modes; it doesn’t represent the graphics and performance, since DirectX 11 support isn’t included; it doesn’t educate people on how to play, since there’s no tutorial or instructions; and it certainly doesn’t show off highlights to impress and sell us the full game. This is the only demo I’ve ever played where random people on my Steam friends list messaged me out of the blue to complain about it. Fixing the matchmaking would help a lot, but really we can only hope a single player and/or horde mode demo will come out ASAP.


Demos available on WiiWare

November 19, 2009

Famously demo-averse Nintendo is now serving up demos for three third-party games on its WiiWare service. Available free from the Wii Shop channel are demos of NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits, Bit.Trip: Beat, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord. Warning screens indicate that you can’t save any progress, and that the demos may “not support every feature of the full version.” The demos are supposed to only be available for a limited time, but we’ll take advantage of the opportunity to bring you our first demo review of a Wii game!

Nintendo’s US website claims five trials should be available, the additions being demos for Pokemon Rumble (not yet out in Europe) and World of Goo (we reviewed the PC demo here).


Left 4 Dead 2 demo 4 a short time?

November 3, 2009

The demo for Valve’s upcoming Left 4 Dead 2 is now available to everyone on Steam, after a while spent restricted to pre-order customers only. After the original Left 4 Dead demo’s limited run of availability it seems likely that the demo will go down when the game launches on November 18th, although Valve haven’t yet made an official statement. Shutting off the Left 4 Dead 1 demo didn’t seem to negatively affect the popularity of the multi-million-selling shooter, positive word of mouth recommendations apparently counting for more than a chance to sample the game and make sure it runs well.

In an unprecedented case of actual journalism, GDR have contacted Valve for comment. The Left 4 Dead 2 demo can be downloaded from Steam.


Micro-review round-up

November 2, 2009

Well, it took a year to build up enough demos to fill a round up. Some of these are brilliant and deserve a full review, but lets save ourselves some time: PLAY THE DEMIGOD DEMO.

Demigod
PLUS Compulsive, strategic, unique (unless you’ve played Defence of the Ancients) tower defence/RPG hybrid.
MINUS The AI can’t stand up to a someone who knows the game, and the multiplayer is very quiet.

Torchlight
PLUS Absolutely huge demo that includes random maps and weapons. Diablo fans will latch on to this and never let go.
MINUS The click-and-hold combat could be more engaging

Men of War
PLUS A lot like Company of Heroes.
MINUS Why aren’t you playing Company of Heroes?

Trine
PLUS Inventive and characterful physics platformer, perfectly mixing puzzles and combat. Local co-op if you have a pad.
MINUS The summoner can only summon boxes.

ArmA 2
PLUS Definitive military simulation. Helicopters!
MINUS If being a soldier was fun Disneyland would feature camoflaged snipers.

Batman – Arkham Asylum
PLUS Good punching, good grappling, and the best swirly cloak physics in any consumer videogame.
MINUS The enemies are easier to outthink and outmanoeuvre than a goldfish in a bowl of glue.

Plants Vs Zombies
PLUS Lightweight and frantic tower defence.
MINUS Locked to 60 minutes, you won’t get past the tutorial.

RACE On
PLUS Being like all the other sim racers is a good thing for a sim racer.
MINUS There are only two cars and one of them corners like someone got engine grease on the tires.

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
PLUS Unique plunging-past-floating-skyscrapers gameplay and pleasantly mad presentation.
MINUS As short as the life expectancy of someone trying it for real.


Micro-review round-up

November 8, 2008

Two lines each for some demos I’ve played yet didn’t review for various reasons, like being too lazy to think of a whole paragraph of things to say about them.

Micro Machines V4
PLUS Look at the tiny cars!
MINUS The most impressive graphics glitches in a racing game since my GPU overheated in Need for Speed. The rest of the demo doesn’t live up to them.

Devil May Cry 4
PLUS Includes one level of hack-and-slash followed by a boss encounter with a time limit in a neat system to encourage replays. Looks great…
MINUS …but feels pretty retro, and has some control problems with a non-360 gamepad. I couldn’t beat the boss so can’t really review it. Maybe it gives you ice cream if you win?

Darkstar One
PLUS Quite a lot going on in the demo.
MINUS The space fighter combat just lacks that TIE Fighter tension.

Laser Dolphin
PLUS I don’t remember any.
MINUS I don’t remember any. Does this make it a perfect 5/10? Or just very bland for a game about a rampaging interplanetary dolphin.

Defcon: Everybody Dies
PLUS A must-try for the apocalyptic atmosphere. Is it good or bad that humanity can enjoy the strategic challenge of annihilating itself?
MINUS Luckily we can dodge that question because the demo is unbalanced and made too simple by restricting battles to 1-on-1.

Trials 2
PLUS Excellent, compulsive physics-based 2D motorcycle platformer. Rock hard and a bit short of levels but don’t let that put you off.
MINUS Your avatar passes out if his helmet so much as brushes the terrain and you’ll wish you could just get off the bike and walk.

Far Cry
PLUS Classic jungle sandbox FPS with tons of replay value from different weapons and tactics.
MINUS Realistic jungle warfare sometimes means getting realistically murdered by some guy who wandered up behind you.

Llamatron 2112
PLUS Awesome Robotron psychadelia.
MINUS It’s from 1992. If you’re familiar with Geometry Wars the controls will make you cry. Or that might be the epilepsy kicking in.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
PLUS Combines Bejewelled and JRPGs, two things I can’t stand, into pure addiction.
MINUS Might have given the Peggle designers some very dangerous ideas.


Left 4 Dead demo – for a limited time only

November 7, 2008

Valve have released the demo for their upcoming co-operative zombie survival FPS Left 4 Dead to pre-order customers, and according to 1UP will be opening it to everyone from the 11th November. Unusually, the demo’s multiplayer mode will be shut off when the game releases on the 18th, giving most players just one week to try it out. We’ll see if this experiment to prevent people sticking with the demo indefinitely causes grief or goes by without complaint; the reaction to the absence of multiplayer in the Multiwinia demo recently caused developers Introversion to relent and release a new online-enabled edition. It’s worth remembering that Valve typically have occasional free weekends for their multiplayer shooters, so other opportunities to evaluate the game should come up.

The Left 4 Dead demo is available on Steam, and the new Multiwinia demo can be downloaded from Introversion. We reviewed the original demo earlier, and found it interesting if not very deep.


World of Goo

October 15, 2008

World of Goo is a physics-based puzzle game, a sequel to the freeware Tower of Goo experimental game. It plays something like a cross between the Bridge Builder/Pontifex games from Chronic Logic and Lemmings; imagine constructing a bridge a piece at a time from living creatures and trying to shepherd all of your construction materials into the exit gate to complete the level. The game is charmingly and slickly presented in a cartoon style and has some great music, some of which is reminiscent of the Michael Nyman’s excellent score to The Piano.

The demo features the first of the four chapters from the full game, as well as the online high score mini-game. The twelve included levels will take around an hour for the first run through; some of them will probably require several attempts. The difficulty is never an issue though, there are multiple paths through the demo and you can skip failed levels if you really need to. By the time you’ve finished most will seem quite simple in retrospect, although first time through a few had me pausing and staring for a minute whilst thinking how to approach them – an excellent sign of originality. The fundamental mechanic of the game doesn’t change as you progress – the triangle is the strongest shape in nature, so you build a lot of triangles – but the use you put those triangles to is mixed up with every level and new mechanics are introduced rapidly, moving you from a basic goo blob that can make two new connections to lighter-than-air and detachable goos. The demo is highly replayable, the physics tends to lead to messy and organic solutions that you can always go back to and improve. Each level has a completion target and an extra, very difficult advanced target that usually relies on exploiting some twist in the mechanics. In addition to picking up the advanced targets you’ll want to ensure you’ve got as much goo as possible to the exit to use it in the high-score mode. Instead of just recording the amount of material you escaped with the demo gives you access to all the goo you’ve saved and tasks you with building a tower with it, and the height of that tower is your high score.

The demo has unusual tactile qualities – at first it’s a bit annoying that when you pick up a bit of goo to move it you have to take it around any obstacles (and can accidentally kill it if you drag it into a hazard) and some levels require speed and precision clicking that are more FPS than puzzle game, although there’s an auto-aim. However, once you start working out how to exploit the physics you’ll love it. World of Goo is a unique, deep, replayable, and thoroughly great demo that will really grow on you. Everyone should play it. It absolutely deserves to be GameDemoReviews’ first 3/3 demo.

3/3 – Drop what you’re doing and play this

Tech Details:

Size: 30MB

System Requirements:1.0 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9 graphics card, 800×600 screen resolution (locked, i.e. no widescreen mode or higher resolutions available) Windows XP/Vista (Mac, Linux versions in development)

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GameDemoReviews in review

October 4, 2008

After two years, 11 demo reviews and a couple of news posts we can come to some conclusions. First, we aren’t very diligent: averaging about 4 words a day – and I hope no-one was waiting for that Micro Machines review we promised in our first post. Second, most demos aren’t that good: we have two 2/3s, eight 1/3s and a zero. Third, not many people are paying attention; despite a fair amount of “how do I know if this demo is worth a 1.5 GB download” comments in places like Rock Paper Shotgun most of the traffic this site gets is people looking for system requirements. Also, not updating for 18 months apparently does something pretty nasty to your search engine ranking. Oops.

So, it’s time for a change. We’ll keep on throwing up demo reviews of games as and when they catch our attention, but we’ll be adding a new format (maybe even two) that ought to address at least some of the problems we’ve had so far. Probably not the diligence problem though, so make sure you have a free half-hour some time in 2011.


Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People: Homestar Ruiner and Strongbadia The Free demo round-up

October 4, 2008

The first thing you need to do is go to homestarrunner.com, watch a flash video, and see if you can stand the voicework. The regular-guys-doing-silly-voices style has a strong potential to grate so hard that enjoying this would be impossible. SBCG4AP is a point-and-click adventure in the classic style, but cut into smaller slices and presented episodically; this is why we’re reviewing the demos of the first two episodes here together. The tutorial, identical in both, is laugh-out-loud funny, particularly where Strong Bad turns his “wit” on the player. It’s a controlled micro-adventure-game, which keeps the pace up, an essential for laughs. The gag density is lower in the later game sections and more fall flat, but there are still good lines and funny moments like Strong Bad checking his email and the included mini-games, one of which manages to be a mash-up of Double Dragon and Brain Age.

The first demo, Homestar Ruiner, follows Strong Bad’s plan to mess with his friend, Homestar, by beating him in a race. There are several locations and characters, but there’s a worrying hint of familiarity already as some of the motifs seem re-used from Telltale’s Sam and Max games (the phone, the shop). The second demo, Strongbadia The Free, admirably mixes up the conventions in the first demo. It starts with a fairly simple escape-the-room section where Strong Bad has to bust out of house arrest, and then moves to a pastiche of a strategy game: every game location has seceded from the tyrannical King of Town and must be won over (via point-and-click interactions) into an alliance to defeat him. The demo ends as you take your first country, meaning that the setup and exploration of the country map is where you’ll spend most of your time, rather than in puzzling.

The normal adventure game niggles are all present and correct in both, there are vital items that look like incidental detail, there are puzzles that make some sense in retrospect but can only be solved by a real leap of logic, and you’re wearing boxing gloves yet have to engage in elaborate machinations to get past people rather than punching them, which might be your inclination if you get frustrated by any of the above. The hint system doesn’t help much, tending to state the obvious rather than give clues about the more difficult puzzle aspects. Neither demo lets you save, although both can be completed in one sitting without too much trouble.

Neither is a stunning demo, but if you like Strong Bad or adventure games both are worth adding to your inventory.

1/3 – For fans only

Tech Details:

Size: 70 MB, 110 MB

System Requirements:1.5 GHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB DirectX 9 graphics card, Windows XP/Vista


Multiwinia

September 24, 2008

Multiwinia is a curiosity. It’s a lightweight RTS that ignores many genre conventions: no fog of war, no map, unusual controls apparently ported from the console version and only one unit type. All of the variety and much of the skill comes from the use of Mariokart-style power-ups, and by default there is strong rubber-band style balancing. The demo starts off well with great tutorials that are fun to play, because they actually are standard games with hints floating above suggested interaction points. Sadly, there’s not a lot past the tutorials, with a handful of skirmish maps covering two gametypes (zone control and a Pikmin-influenced CTF), and no human-vs-human play. There are a decent selection of options ensuring that you’ll want to play each map in a few different ways, and discovering new power-ups is interesting while it lasts. Ultimately, the Multiwinia demo is more of an oddball than an essential. It’s absolutely recommended for RTS fans interested in what forms the genre can take, but a bit too lightweight and self-consciously weird for most.

1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 50 MB (preloads the game)

System Requirements: 2 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, 60 MB disk space, 32 MB GeForce 6 series/Radeon 9600, Windows XP/Vista