Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Peggle Extreme

Peggle Extreme was offered up as a free download once I activated my Steam account to play the Orange Box so I figure, what better to play over morning coffee than a free casual game.

Peggle meets Half-Life

Starting this Pop Cap Games release, I discover immediately that it's a Half-Life branded version of Peggle. Some cute unicorn informs me that Peggle land is under attack from evil critters from another dimension (head crabs and whatnot) and the only way to repel them is to, well, play Peggle.

Peggle it seems is some kind of pinball type game where you fire off balls and they bounce around except in the Peggle world, the things you hit are usually destroyed.

In the case of Peggle Extreme, the object is to take out all the orange pegs.

The gameplay is pretty simple: point a nozzle in the direction you want to ball to shoot, fire it and watch as it ricochets, hoping it takes out as many orange pegs.

You've got 10 balls and if you run out while there are still orange pegs, you lose. It's not that hard to score free balls by landing them in some kind moving...crater, I guess...thing at the bottom of the screen.

And...that's pretty much all there is to the game. Where, in this version there is one power-up. If you nail a green peg, you get some kind of fancy aiming ability where pointing your hose at a target will get you a line showing where the ricochet will go.


Just as I felt the game was getting repetitive, it gets broken up with some Portal branded levels.

I've already written about the awesomeness that is Portal so I was pretty happy to see levels that involve shooting balls through Portals, complete with taunts from GlaDos, the passive aggressive computer.


Though before I knew it, the game was over. There were only ten levels, really making this more of a demo.

Actually, I think it might be a little more sinister than a demo.

See, Pop Cap Games already has everyone's mom hooked on their products, I suspect this was an attempt in true drug-pusher fashion to get Half-Life fans to try a game they probably wouldn't normally touch and then get them hooked, thus getting them to buy the whole thing.

So will I keep playing? Really not sure, I'll need to shell out the money for the full version which I'm just not willing to do at the moment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Serious Sam

I'm gonna open this review by saying straight-out, I'm not really a fan of most first-person shooters. Personally, I find most of them insanely repetitive and the worst of them always seem to degrade into more of a maze game than a shooting game. Basically, I find them dull.

So, with my bias out of the way, I will now discuss time spent playing Serious Sam.

Starting out

Like many older games, upon launching Serious Sam, you're presented with a demo watching the computer play a bit to get a feel for the game.

However, upon hitting a key to stop it and actually play the game myself, it loads another demo instead. Strange. Hitting the escape key fortunately brings me to a menu where I can start a new game.

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

The game opens with a shot of space and Earth with text explaining the plot so far scrolling up the screen. Apparently the universe is under siege from evil aliens from another dimension and Earth's armies keep losing the battle to them...it's discovered that the only way to stop them involves going back in time. The person they choose to send is an strong soldier named Sam "Serious" Stone.

And with that, the game actually begins with this Serious Sam fellow dropping into an ancient civilization armed with nothing but a .45 revolver and a combat knife.

I feel kinda unequipped, considering I'm supposed to be Earth's last hope, but whatever. It's standard FPS fare to make you gradually get better and better weapons.

Oh well, time to start shooting. The first enemies seem to be some kind of head soldiers that fire beams of yellow light towards, but they're quickly dispatched and then....

You've Got Mail!

As soon as I've killed my first baddies, a message pops up in the middle of the screen informing me that I have an e-mail. Huh?

I go into some computer type system where the e-mail contains an analysis of the bad guys I just took out. It seems that they are revived soldiers who carry their heads around and fire magic missiles...I thought this was serious FPS, not Dungeons and Dragons.

These analysis e-mails pop up every time I encounter a new enemy and frankly, it's kinda annoying. But so is watching e-mail pile up. I never thought I'd have to apply Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero methodologies to a first-person shooter...

Moving through some temple like area, I finally score a pump-action shotgun...only to find out getting it triggers a scripted sequence where a crap-tonne of aliens come rushing at me.

I'd use this as a jumping off point into a rant about scripted sequences in action games but I shouldn't be surprised. Why else would there be a shotgun sitting around in 1300B.C.? Clearly, it was a trap.

Wisecracks and Kamikazes

The second level opens with a massive pile of shotgun shells being available for the taking.

I'm scared.

I've played enough action games to know that when you're given a shitload of ammo, it means you're gonna need it.

As it turns out, I'm right. One kamikaze dude comes running over a hill and I blast him before he can blow me up. After Serious Sam makes a wisecrack (and I get an e-mail explaining the kamikaze character) a whole slew of them comes running over....AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

Wait a second...first-person shooter...evil aliens...male protagonist with too much testosterone who keeps making quips...I've played this game before. Except it was called Duke Nukem 3D last time.

With that realization out of the way and having been killed by the horde of suicide bombers a few times, I figured out that the trick is to shoot one of them in the middle of a group. The way when he explodes, he takes a bunch of his buddies with him.


I continued playing a little while longer and ran into more new baddies followed by an e-mail and more scripted sequences that triggers large groups of these bad guys to come rushing after me...this is the repetition I find so annoying about these games.

So will I keep playing? Probably not. It's definitely not a terrible game but since its release in 1999, there have been so many FPS games that are significantly better, many of which I still haven't had time to play.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I recently picked up a copy of the Orange Box and have to admit, Portal was the game I couldn't wait to start playing.

With the all the hype this one received last year, I went in with pretty high expectations. Well, it's a good thing I that I couldn't wait until my morning coffee to fire this guy up, because there were some hurdles to jump through first.

Getting the game to work

I realize that my main PC at the moment is a laptop with an integrated graphics chip, far from ideal for gaming but everything in the system requirements indicated that I should be able to get this guy running.

Well, it runs but it took a lot of work.

At first, the game would start, opening in some kind of glass encased room with a radio blaring some kind of mariachi sounding music. Then a computer starts talking. It's about to give safety advice while at the Aperture research center then suddenly sounds like an old cassette tape being eaten. I guess this is the sardonic humour I keep hearing about. I'm then informed that the portal will open in 10 seconds.

Ten seconds later, a portal does in fact. A few seconds after that, I'm greeted by the dreaded Blue Screen of Death.

Playing Portal: Take two

After about an hour of reading forums, I finally find some command line options to make Portal playable (it turns out I needed to add an option to force DirectX 9.0) So, on to the real review.

Moving through the portal, I'm led into another room with an exit and a button. Standing on the button opens the exit, but it closes as soon as I step off the button. Clearly I need to put some weight on it.

Fortunately, there's a large cube nearby that I carry over to the button to get out of the room.

First-person puzzle game

As it turns out, this is a puzzle game based on the Half-Life 2 engine. It plays like a first-person shooter, but it's all about the puzzles, which is unique and rather cool.

The first few rooms are rather easy to solve, which each adding a new element in order to introduce it. Plus, there's usually a bit of getting through portal involved.

Eventually, I score myself a cannon that creates portals, so now I control where they go and where they lead to. This leads to some rather unique solutions for some rooms, forcing me to think in odd ways. So far, this is really fun.

Plus, there's that obnoxious computer that warns me about things like impending death in a completely monotone voice. I can't decide if it's just the fact that it's a computer or if it's really passive-aggressive.

In one level, it keeps apologizing for the broken room which has no solution. But considering that I refused to accept that this game wouldn't run on my integrated graphics chip equipped laptop, I definitely wasn't accepting a room with no solution.

Fortunately, I figured it out (without a walkthrough - I'm proud of myself - I can be a total wuss and turn to them pretty quickly sometimes) and I'm off.

Motion Sickness

Oh man, moving through, some of the solutions to the rooms get weirder and weirder. One involves using forward momentum through portals (as the computer puts it, 'speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out') to propel yourself across the room but the way the camera twists around while flying through the air...I swear, I thought I was gonna throw up.


It's not a very long game, by the time I stopped to write this, I had almost completed all the test levels.

That said, it kept me going that long and never got boring. Which weird, since I'm not usually a fan of puzzle games (nor am I usually a fan of first-person shooters for that matter.)

Do I even need to both answer the question as to whether I'll keep playing or not? Between the dark the humour and the unique game play, it would be insanely difficult for me to NOT like this game.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sam and Max Season 2 Episode 3: Night of the Raving Dead

Ah, it's a new month which means a new episode of Telltale Games' revival of Sam and Max: Freelance Police.

In the third episode of season two, the talking dog and psychopathic rabbit-type-thing find themselves up against fruity eurotrash emo zombie and his army of the undead....what follows is the usually first-impressions played over morning coffee.


This episode opens in the middle of the action with the German emo zombie ready to kill Sam and Max before unleashing the classic evil MAWHAHAHAHAHA laugh. Sam curses the laugh as it becomes clear that he now owes Max five bucks over it.

But before the doom machine crushes the pair, Sam enters into a flashback as to how they got there....beginning the game.

Following the credit sequence, the crazed duo are back in their office where Max is meditating, seeing visions ("a goat born with an HDMI port") but gets interrupted by an uninvited zombie.

"You'll have to speak up commissioner, we're experiencing a zombie attack."

As with the opening of every Sam and Max game, there's a call from the commissioner, this time informing the freelance police that there are zombie attacks all over and they have to shut down the Zombie Factory to deal with it.

And so the game begins, finally giving me control. There doesn't seem to be anything worthwhile in the office at this point, but the streets are full of zombies wandering about.

Unlike the most of the other games in the series, there's no obvious puzzle that needs solving right away, so it's mostly just talking to the cast of characters.

Sybil, having broken up with the reanimated Abe Lincoln in the last episode is looking for a new boyfriend...and insists that the zombies have a right to gather and should be left alone.

Abe Lincoln is over in Stinky's Diner moping about his break-up. So far nothing useful, until a visit to the C.O.P.S (Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society) where they announce that they've set up a new online service (S.O.L.) for zombies. They've also developed some kind of super-powered WiFi antennae but won't fork it over until you complete one of their now standard driving mini-games.

Old-School Flashback: Paperboy!

Frankly, I'd already grown tired over the C.O.P.S' drive around and hit things mini-games this season (I miss the car chases from Season 1) but this one is actually pretty cool. They recreate the arcade classic Paperboy (you know, where you ride around on a bike whacking stuff with newspapers?)

Though, this time you need to fire S.O.L. CDs from a cannon to potential customers (zombies) - the humour in these games kills me.

Fruity Eurotrash Emo Zombie

Following the mini-game, I can't see much else to do but head off to Germany to confront the zombies. Upon arriving, I quickly discover that the Zombie Factory is in fact some kind of club...with a line to get in. This leads to the game's first puzzle.

Without giving too much away, I'll say it involves distracting the line-up with with gushy foods (a zombie's favourite.)

Oddly enough, there's also a pack of garlic clove cigarette's lying around.

Inside, I find dancing zombie's and the villain who, in true emo fashion, whines that no one understands him and manages to give away his plan of an undead army (who at the moment are too busy doing The Robot to care about much else.)

I'm free to wander the dance floor and even drop some phat beats at the DJ booth. I'm certain this area requires a little more fiddling to move on, but I figured I should take a break and write this up.


I'll admit, I'm biased going in because I think this series ROCKS but whatever. So, am I gonna keep playing? Damn straight, I only stopped so I could write this up.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bonus review: Ego Orb in Space

I've been considering myself lucky if I manage to do one write up every morning, but today, I'll throw in a little bonus after discovering this little homebrew gem: Ego Orb in Space.

It's a space shooting game based on EarthBound (one of my all time favourite games.)

Admittedly, I was kinda hoping for an RPG but this is still fun. You control the Ego Orb, one of many strange baddies from EarthBound, flying around in space shooting at other bad guys from the EarthBound world.

It's a pretty straightforward side-scroller. Just keep shooting at everything that isn't you. There are a few power-ups: extra lives, bottle rockets and something that causes a flying saucer piloting Mr. Saturn to come to your aid.

Each level ends with a boss fight (I made it a point to save my bottle rockets for these) and then you're on to new terrain.

There's really not much else to say since this is a demo that only has two playable levels, but still, made my morning a little more interesting.

Ego Orb in Space is available as a free download here.

Also, thanks to Destructoid for bringing it to my attention.

1914 Shells of Fury

I'm going to play another Strategy First game today. This time a more recent title called 1914 Shells of Fury. As far as I can figure it's a WWI game where you're piloting a German sub and blowing up British boats...

Starting off

I figure the best place to start with most games is the tutorial, so I fire it up. The first tutorial mission, I'm surfaced and staring out at the sea. According to the mission objectives, I need to go to two check points then return to point.

This is simple to do. Open up the map screen and draw the path then put the sub on autopilot. And I'm off...veeerrrrry sloooooowly.

Okay, I realize the point of the game is to simulate a submarine from the beginning to the century but does the simulation have to be so accurate as to emulate the exact speed early subs moved? I keep opening the map screen every few minutes just to see if I've gone anywhere at all. Even with the engine set at full speed ahead, it still takes forever to get to the first target destination.

I finally arrive, and what's there? NOTHING!! I dunno why, but I was expecting there to be something to blow up once I arrived. Nope, just go to these points on the map and return to port. Yuck.

Campaign mission

So, thirsting to make something explode, I start a new campaign mission. My orders, written on a parchment are to patrol for incoming British ships.

Once again, I start over staring at water and nothing else. Pull up the map, make a patrol route and follow it...to....nothing. I end up diving and firing torpedoes in random directions just for something to do. End up back at the port and the mission is complete. That's it?

Start the second mission. Objective again is to patrol for the British...and I think there was something about the French in there as well. Begin the mission by...staring at the empty seas. Patrol around, firing off random torpedoes at nothing since I still haven't found anything to blow up.


So, I've been playing this for more than half an hour haven't blown ANYTHING up!!

Am I gonna keep playing? Um, NO!

I realize the point of this game was to simulate the way a vintage submarine ran (though I'm pretty sure you didn't set your depth by clicking a mouse cursor on a valve...) but come on! The game is called SHELLS of FURY! With a title like that, I expect to be able to FIRE SOME FURIOUS SHELLS!! If this was called "Submarine Simulator" my opinion might be different but as it stands, this just feels cheap.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Uplink Hacker Elite

I was trying to figure out what to play this morning, so hit up GameTap's massive library in search of something I'd never tried before. A 2003 game by Strategy First caught my eye: Uplink Hacker.

The beginning

The game opens with an old-school terminal looking screen where you're asked to create an account with Uplink, a company that seems to employ freelance computer hackers. I go through the sign-up process (with something like a quarter of the web sites I visit these days requiring a sign-up, what's one more? Even if it's not a real web site..) and I'm ready to start hacking.

The first one to be done is a tutorial mission...

Hacking tutorial

For some reason I get the feeling that if any real computer hacker played this, they'd probably laugh harder than they did at Swordfish but it's time to hack Uplink's test computer.

The first thing I'm told to do is download some software - a password cracker and and a trace tracker to see how close I am to getting caught. The tutorial mission is simple: get into the test computer, break the password and download a file before they complete a trace.

And so I'm off. Using a map screen, I route my connection through three other computers around the world I can access to slow down the trace and then load the password cracker.

The cracker uses the brute force method of just trying combinations of letters and numbers to get at the admin password. Never mind the fact that this wouldn't have even worked in the 80's since most online machines kick you out after three wrong passwords, but whatever, it's just a game.

Of course, the second I start cracking, they start a trace on my connection which sets off my trace tracker. It beeps to warn me that I'm being traced and the closer they get, the faster and louder it beeps adding a nice element of intensity to game with otherwise dull game play.

Get in and go for the file...of course, I got a little bit ahead of the tutorial that was giving me step-by-step instructions and could no longer go back but whatever, this was easy enough.

Hack the planet

Now it's time to start taking some assignments. The first ones are relatively straightforward corporate espionage. I've got to break into a competing company's computer and either steal or erase files. Made some quick in-game money like this and my rank increased. Now it's time for something a little juicier.

Ooh. An identity fraud assignment. Hack into social security records and change someone's status from "deceased" to "employed." This should be interesting.

...and kinda difficult.

Even with my connection routed through multiple proxy sites, I only get 45 seconds before the government has traced me. Will have to work fast on this one. Crack the admin password and search records for the name of the person I'm after. Find it, but I've got 10 seconds before the trace it done - crap! Disconnect before it's completed.

Now I have to log back in and crack the admin password again and...almost get caught before completing the assignment AGAIN!

After a few tries, I finally figure out that I can crack a non-administrator account and won't have to re-do when I go back in, yay!

Finally get the record changed and e-mail the person who hired me. Yay monies!


It's a fun little game if you're willing to go for the suspension of disbelief when it comes to the method of hacking. There's a good chance I will keep playing this one since I'm interesting in seeing where the assignments go and if perhaps any kind of plot works it's win (a story element seems to get hinted at on the hacker's message board.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Typing of the Dead

So I make the discovery that there's a typing tutor that includes zombies, um how could that combination possibly go wrong? I need to try it.

As soon as I loaded it, I realized what could go wrong: It's the horrific House of the Dead 2 (complete with quite possibly the worst voice acting in any video game ever made) but modified so that you kill the zombies by typing words instead of shooting them.

Alright, why not? This could still be interesting...

Start it off, same bad intro with the squeaky voiced flying critter I wouldn't be able to understand if it weren't for the subtitles...then the zombies start coming at me. There are words floating over them and the idea is to type the words before the zombies get to you.

Basically, type fast or die. Shouldn't be a problem for me, I mean I've been clocked at 120 words per minute...

But sadly, there are issues. The biggest pain being sequences that involve zombies that throw projectiles. See, there will be a full sentence over the undead monster to type, but as soon it hurls a knife, you have to hit a different letter to shoot it down. The problem there is that if you're halfway through a sentence when the knife gets thrown, you can't hit the letter on the knife to knock it down.

Getting through the first level is pretty easy - though I do feel bad about the woman that died because I typed "U3" instead of "U2." There's no room for error when there are hostages involved.

Oh yeah...and the government agent type characters who are the good guys are rather amusing to look at since instead of having guns, they have keyboards mounted in front of them that feed into what looks a PlayStation with a battery pack attached to their backs. Um...well, it is a zombie game, so I guess they were going for total cheese.

Anyway, first boss fight is pretty simple, just keep typing sentences as they pop up.

Later levels mix up on the boss battles, though. In the second, you can only type at certain times. For the third level, questions appear at the bottom of the screen and you have to type the answer as fast as possible.

After screwing up too many words in the fourth level and getting the dreaded "GAME OVER" screen, I decide to try the game's typing drills.

These are actually interesting. It starts off as a normal "survive the zombie horde" scenario...but with typing.

At the end of each round, however, it shows you your problem keys and asks if you'd like to work on them. I say yes and now have to hold back a new zombie horde who all want me to type in words with the letter U to stop them (that was my problem key.)


Much as I'm loath to suffer through House of the Dead 2 yet again, the concept of typing fast to kill zombies is far too cool for me to not keep playing this one.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

ToeJam and Earl

As I mentioned in my review of Phantasy Star 2, there were very few games for the Sega Genesis I was interested in. Along with PS2, there was ToeJam and Earl. It's probably the weirdness factor that drew me to this one.

See, through the long intro you learn that ToeJam and Earl are extremely funky aliens from the planet Funkotron who crash land on earth. The idea of the game is the wander around until you find the pieces of the space ship in order to return. Funky.

Starting Out

First, this game already has one impressive feature: the game levels are randomly generated every time you start a new game, in a sense offering plenty of replay value. I really wish more games would do this, as the Genesis pulled it off in 1991 with 1/100th of the power today's consoles have.

Anyway, I chose to play as ToeJam, the weird skinny red alien with three legs. I start off on a small island area surrounded by water with presents scattered around. Once the presents are collected, they're accessible from a menu, but there's a catch. There's no indication whatsoever as to the contents. And as I so quickly learned by dying from ripping open a present, the contents aren't always good.

After that unfortunate lesson learned, I find an elevator that takes me up another level. Upon leaving the elevator, I'm informed that there's a piece of the spaceship on this level. Cool.

Finding it's not entirely easy though, since there are fat little devil characters wandering around who seem to like the jam pitchforks into me.

Fortunately, I do find a present with tomatoes in it to throw at them. Apparently this is the only real weapon in the game.

Some brief exploration later and I've found the top fin for the ship. Time to get in an elevator and head up again.

Elevator Going Up

After heading up a few levels, things start to get complicated. See, every level is an island and it's entirely possible to fall off and land on the previous one which can get a little annoying. On the plus side, some presents allow you to bounce back up to the previous level. But then there's the issue of not being sure which present it will be in.

I had yet another unfortunate incident where I opened a present that contains rocket skates which SHOULD have been cool except they rocketed me off the edge...leaving me to fall right back down to the first level.

Witness the Weirdness

Going up higher and higher I begin to encounter more hostile characters and they're probably stranger than the three-legged creature I'm controlling. I get attacked by some kind of mad doctor, shot by a cherub and have invisible boogie men chasing me (they scream BOOGIE BOOGIE as they attack.)

Tomatoes seem pretty scared in the random world I got, too.


Overall, this game is really about exploration, finding your way around the randomly generated islands in the sky. What little combat exists is pretty dull and it's far easier to just avoid bad guys than to fight them.

That said, the characters and power-ups are amusing and having the maps generate randomly at the beginning of each game is brilliant.

So will I keep playing? Well, it's probably not a game I'd gravitate to immediately but if I could see firing it up to kill time.

Now if only I had some of that...time, that is.