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)


Sins of a Solar Empire UK demo: any differences?

June 15, 2008

Aside from a new publisher splash video, no. Same three maps, same race, same tech and time limitations. It doesn’t appear to be based on the latest patch either. Evidently the UK demo release is purely so the UK publisher could put their fingerprints on it, and there’s no absolutely no reason for anyone who has the previous version to get it. Of course, if you haven’t played the demo before, we found that it’s well worth a look.


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


Coming up

May 10, 2008

In the proud GDR tradition of teasing reviews and never getting around to most of them, you can now begin looking forward to pieces on:

  • Trackmania Nations Forever
  • Crysis
  • Kane and Lynch: Dead Men

in decreasing order of likelihood. Also: a demo scoring over 1/3 that isn’t for a 4X game.


New site for demo downloads

May 10, 2008

Demo fans! There’s a new site for downloads allowing fast, free, no sign-up direct http downloads of demos (so you can easily use a download accelerator). A trial 600 MB download averaged at 700 kB/s for me. This probably won’t last past them getting their first monthly bandwidth bill, but for now bigdownload.com is worth a look next time you want to grab a new demo.


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)


We are on hiatus

September 10, 2006

Back… eventually.


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