Archive for the 'demo review' Category

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.

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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.

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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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

Spore Creature Creator demo

June 16, 2008

The Spore Creature Creator is part of the upcoming Spore game. It allows you to create alien species which you will manage, play with, share, and perhaps use to conquer the Spore galaxy. A demo version of the standalone Creature Creator is now available, it comes with a fraction of the parts used to put together creatures and no online functions – although you can easily export pictures, video or creatures for sharing outside the game. When putting together your cartoony creatures you start with a spine and can attach various limbs, heads, sensory organs and miscellaneous bits like spikes or nubs. You can follow this up with a paint job and a choice of a few skin texture themes. The whole thing then comes to life in a test arena, where you can order your creature to jump, dance or emote whilst you admire your new pet (or are disturbed by its too-close legs clipping through each other when it walks). The lack of anything to really do with your creatures is unsatisfying, there’s no game here aside from testing the capabilities of the tools. Still, as a simplified and nicely presented 3D modelling program it makes a fun toy until your imagination runs dry, but only people looking for a creative outlet yet willing to stay withing Spore’s enforced aesthetic will really get much from this.

1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 200 MB

System Requirements: 2 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM (768 MB for Vista), 128 MB Video card with pixel shaders 2.0 (GMA 950 requires a dual-core CPU), Windows XP/Vista (OS X version not yet available)

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One

May 21, 2008

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness: Episode One is a hybrid RPG/point-and-click adventure game that follows the characters from the Penny Arcade webcomic as they take on a Lovecraftian quest. The demo is limited to the tutorial section of the game, and consists of a handful of fights against repetitive enemies, plus a few cutscenes and some dialog “trees” (actually, all the branches arrive at the same place). This is coupled with the standard adventure game pursuit of clicking on every available object, which rewards the player with funny dialog or descriptions, occasional bonuses like concept art, and items like heals and potions. These latter objects are useless in the demo, as the enemies are too weak to be a challenge, particularly since the real-time combat system allows blocking their attacks. Not only that, but the demo refuses to let any of the characters die, healing them if they take any significant damge. Only the final fight is at all interesting, managing a party of three against a full gang of opponents can be enjoyably hectic. The presentation is great; fans of Penny Arcade will get some laughs and appreciate seeing the characters and style in another format. Non-fans won’t get anything from the demo.

1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 210 MB (preloads the game)

System Requirements: 1 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, 64 MB GeForce 5200/Radeon 9500/GMA 950, Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Linux, OS X 10.4/10.5

Kane and Lynch: Dead Men

May 11, 2008

Do you like clich├ęs? If so, then we have the demo for you. Kane and Lynch ticks the standard third-person shooter boxes; it has a standard loadout of guns and grenades, a cover system, AI team mates, regenerating health, and waves of generic enemies to gun down. The four combat scenes are based on a Heat-esque assassination mission, and are scattered with pillars that fly apart Matrix-style under fire. However, the game shows some sophistication between the swear words, even if the demo doesn’t allow time for it to develop: rappelling down a skyscraper neatly foreshadows the gun battle in the street below, and the characters at least have a hint of originality – putting a bald spot on the player character in a third-person shooter is a brave idea, and getting mortally wounded brings your character’s subconscious to the surface for a few seconds and lets you hear their inner turmoil. If you do get brought down, your teammates will revive you with a shot of adrenaline, and only dying repeatedly will overdose you and end the level. However, those team mates will gun you down if you’re not careful, and the enemies will also often behave oddly – failing to react to being flanked or set on fire. There were even several full-on animation glitches, overly re-used character models, and the controls and cover system are flaky. Despite all this there’s some fun to be had here, getting your team together and charging through gets the adrenaline going, and leaving them behind and beating the level solo using only your pistol gives the game some challenge (needed, as there’s no selectable difficulty, and it’s pretty easy). The demo also offers split-screen co-op, but it requires an Xbox 360 controller – my Dualshock 2 with a USB adaptor doesn’t work – so I wasn’t able to test it.

This demo is basically nothing special, and has some problems with the controls. If you have the kit and the companion required for co-op it’s probably worth a go, otherwise only fans of third-person shooters or cinematic pretension should bother.

1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 600 MB

System Requirements: 2 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB GeForce 6600/ATi X1300, Windows XP/Vista, Xbox 360 controller for co-op

Audiosurf

May 9, 2008

Audiosurf is closer to an interactive music visualiser than a game. You load up a track from your MP3 collection, the game converts it into an undulating pattern of slow rises and downhill rushes, and you pilot a spaceship along a Rez-inspired abstract path populated by blocks to dodge or collect; it’s rather like playing F-zero along a Guitar Hero fret. Collected blocks accumulate at the bottom of the screen in a simple colour-matching puzzle game, with a few variations depending on which of the 4 ships you picked. This all fits together to create a basic music game. The controls are too floaty to suit most high score chasers, but there are online per-track leaderboards if it grabs you that way. The trouble with the Audiosurf demo is that as soon as you’re getting a sense of all this and beginning to enjoy it, the demo’s ridiculously low 4-song limit kicks in. To top it off, the limit is poorly communicated, it’s not generally mentioned on download pages (Steam or otherwise) and in-game the song countdown is not as noticeable as it should be. Based on the very limited experience it’s hard to even tell if the game is fun, certainly the demo is so short that there’s no entertainment here.

Score: 0/3 – Waste of pixels

Tech details:

Size: 64 MB plus ~60 MB post-install update, or 375 MB via Steam, which preloads the full game

System Requirements: 1.6 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, 32 MB GeForce 2 or higher, Windows XP/Vista

Sins of a Solar Empire

April 29, 2008

Sins of a Solar Empire is an attempt to meld the RTS and 4X genres; to provide the empire-level strategic management of a turn based game in real time. And it works. You control your planets, build fleets of spaceships, and send them out to expand your empire all whilst the universe is ticking away.

The demo consists of a handful of dull-yet-informative tutorials, and a choice of three skirmish arenas in which to conquer or be conquered by AI. Each skirmish map is small, containing 12-20 planets linked by warp lanes and 2-4 players, all the same race, around a single star. When you jump into an easy skirmish for the first time the initial impression you’ll get is “where’s the game?” Fleet combat is fairly simple and the ships control themselves so well that in most scenarios you can happily leave them to it, so the game’s not there. Planet development is also simple, with only a few options most of which are no-brainers – yes, I do want to mine metal, no, this isn’t where the game is. The scenario is so small that there’s not much possibility for strategic maneuvering, you’ll colonize the planet next to you and probably stop there, until you’ve researched the necessary technology for inhabiting harsher environments. The tech tree has a lot of branches (with the highest-end equipment locked in the demo), and finally here is some of the meat of the game, with different play styles expressed by separate civilian and military research pages. When you start to crank out research you’ll quickly run out of resources, and here is a little more game for you, but keeping your economy running and growing is again very simple and nearly automatic, with bad decisions hard to make. You’ll then amuse yourself with trying out the various ship types from fighters up to capitals, have some back-and-forth skirmishes with the AI, and hit the time limit. The Sins demo has a 90 minute limit for every skirmish game, and you’ll hit it a lot. On the plus side, it solves the old 4X problem of drawn-out, un-challenging endgames, which is present in Sins to some extent. On the minus side, whilst it throws you loads of statistics, it doesn’t actually give you the satisfaction of telling you who was likely to win if, say, you have a technology and metal advantage but they have more planets and credits. And on the minus side, this is an RTS, and reversals of fortune are a lot more likely than in a turn-based game – a time limit is less appropriate here. And on the minus side again, it means you’ll have real trouble achieving a fully teched-up and cannoned-up empire. In short, it’s a big negative.

However, once you jump back in with a bigger scenario, more enemies, and, critically, the game speed options set to fast, you’ll find a bit more to do and a bit more to like in Sins. With the speed higher managing everything takes a little more attention. However, it never gets to the point where organizational skill is a big factor, because the interface design is excellent (including the Supreme Commander style strategic zoom), the automation is almost all perfect (and, of course, the AI uses the same automation, so even the flaws balance out if you choose not to micromanage at all), and because even in the largest scenario you won’t have more than half a dozen planets and as many fleets. This leads to an interestingly chilled-out game of universal domination, a nice change of pace from more frantic RTS games or focused 4Xes. With more enemies the diplomacy options open up; you have a reputation with each AI which you can improve by fulfilling “missions.” These either come down to bribing them or attacking their opponents, neither of which are really recommended since in the limited time of the demo it’s quite hard to satisfy their irrational demands enough times to get to an alliance, and you’re more likely to find that bribe money spent on a capital ship and pointed at your home world with guns blazing. Unfortunately, you can’t make demands of the AI in the same way, so it seems a bit lopsided. Similar to the bribery missions, you can enter a mutual trade agreement with an AI, and enjoy the spectacle of their warfleet attacking while their trade fleet is unloading goods in your port on the other side of the planet. Three- and four-way fights also lead to more interesting combat scenarios, although they’re a lot more likely to end in a stalemate at the 90 minute mark even at maximum speed. The planet and warp lane arrangement lends itself to some funny faster-than-light peekaboo, as your fleet can jump into a vulnerable system at the same time as an enemy looking to claim it – the situation looks bad so you turn tail and jump back, but your last ships out see that the enemy had also seen a costly battle and fled, so you jump back to claim the now-undefended prize to see a familiar enemy fleet coming out of warp…

Along with the combat, diplomacy and economics in Sins there are pirates to contend with. The interesting thing is the bounty system; hits can be placed on enemy players, with pirates or other AIs claiming the money that’s put up by doing damage to the empire under threat. The “most wanted empire” will be the recipient of a full-on pirate raid every 15 minutes or so, but, pirates being untrustworthy allies, this can backfire; whilst badly losing a game I’ve had a pirate raid show up above my home world at the same time as fleets from the enemies that paid for it, resulting in the enemies and the pirates battling it out. Still, the pirates are a nice way to let economic and defensive players keep up with the militarists, as are the broadcast towers – a means of spreading your culture and causing rebellion on enemy worlds without having to fight.

Ultimately, this demo is crippled by the 90 minute game limit, and it really comes down to how much this will aggravate you. The relaxed pace of play meant that it didn’t disturb me enough to prevent me enjoying finding all the different mechanisms of this unusual game, but it also ruins the long term appeal. Still, even with that caveat, 5-10 games of 60-90 minutes is a lot of entertainment for a demo, and it deserves a recommendation.

2/3 – Play the demo

Tech details:

Size: 536 MB

System Requirements: 1.8 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM with Windows XP, 1 GB RAM with Windows Vista, 128 MB video card (GF 6600/Radeon 9600 or better)