Archive for the 'mini-review' Category

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 clichés? 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

Bad Day LA

August 16, 2006

What if all the media scaremongering about disasters and terrorism came true? This is the premise of Bad Day LA, the story of one man caught up in a string of natural and man-made disasters. A half-insane, homeless man at that. The protagonist of Bad Day LA has more character than a dozen generic videogame heroes, and the demo is slick and funny, mixing political humour with crazy characters and some gory slapstick. The demo is sadly short, just one level with some tutorial elements and a handful of mission objectives. In the demo level terrorists have crashed planes loaded with zombifying bioweapons into LA, causing chaos. Your tour through the wreckage includes healing injured people (most memorably by jumping up and down on the chest of a heart attack victim), putting out flaming pedestrians with your fire extinguisher, using the extinguisher to dezombify people by blowing away the clouds of toxic gas, shooting terrorists, zombies (if you don’t fancy saving them) and crazed dogs, and escorting a conveniently immortal sick little boy. Varied, well executed and fun (aside from the invisible walls), but ends much to soon.

Score: 1/3 – For fans only

Tech Details:

Size: 270MB

System Requirements: 1.6GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 64MB DirectX9 video card (Radeon 8500/GF 5200 or higher), Windows 2000/XP, 1024×768 screen resolution

Lego Star Wars 2

August 9, 2006

This time Lego Star Wars takes on the original trilogy, with the demo taking you through the outskirts of Mos Eisley and the cantina. The poor camera and loose controls make the combat frustrating, but never deeply so as you have infinite lives, and the puzzles are very simple. Most of the fun comes from collecting items and unlocking new characters for the free play mode, and the humorous retelling of the Star Wars story. For fans only – but almost everyone’s a fan of Star Wars.

Score: 1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 437MB

System Requirements: 1GHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 32MB video card with v1.1 shaders, Windows 2000/XP

Gamepad recommended