XCom – On the shoulders of giants

xcom-enemy-unknown-logoRemaking one of the most universally loved computer games of all time is a dream and nightmare in equal measure  Everyone has ideas on how to improve a classic, but in reality most attempts end up short of the original and often lose the magic somewhere along the way.
Enter Jake Solomon; designer at Firaxis who has always had a love for the original Xcom games. Rather than simply recreate the original in a modern engine Jake and the team distilled down the core concepts and cut out clutter. While some might see this and “dumbing down” it actually adds a lot more interesting choices.

“It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”

Like its predecessor the game is splits your time between the Geoscape & Battlescape; one is focused on a strategic level and the other tactical. More than that though they act as pacing blocks giving you intensity and then refrain. The core of the modern version is the Battlescape, despite striping the points system out of the combat options you are left with are obvious and real choices.

The best choices happen when you can’t quite execute on your plan and play your A team. Being forced to go slightly off script but still giving you enough control that you feel master of your domain. This is manifested on the Geoscape with your squad almost always having some of your key members out of action forcing you to use a rookie which you cannot directly keep the class of. On the Battlescape it is quite common for you to shift your approach when two enemy types interplay causing you to fall back or fan out to avoid being flanked. Each alien has a distinct attack style which require specific tactics to defeat. Berserkers are brutal in melee if left unchecked but they can be kited between your squad members, meanwhile however you may have to also avoid moving out of cover. Knowing how to best use your soldiers, classes and talents is crucial avoiding fatalities.

Story progression is handled much in the same way as the original, plot elements are peppered in to the general missions making it feel organic. A hint of the board game Pandemic can be felt in terror missions which now make you choose one of multiple missions which will otherwise escalate. This is a template that is stamped all over the game; a set of non-perfect choices that the player must live with the consequence of.

It isn’t without its problems but they tend to be foibles that you learn to work around. Kill cams which add flare and tension but eventually you start to pick up the cues as to which outcome is about to happen. Movement can become a chore inside UFOs and bases as camera clips in and out of the ceiling, accidental clicks on the wrong layer often happen at worst time possible. Until you become more accustomed to the traits it is frustrating to cannot mouse over the icons on the Battlescape to get tool tips.

Xcom’s biggest success isn’t the game itself, more its self-contained identity, its ability to stand on its own two feet. Rather than standing on the shoulders of the giant or living in its shadow, it stands tall beside it as its own giant.

Cities in Motion

I’m not good enough at Cities in Motion, this is a hard game even on the easy setting. Currently with 15 hours played I’m on the 3rd level yet, but I’m not frustrated. Cities in Motion plays rides the line between a more classic transport game like Transport Tycoon and a puzzle game. You are given a city to which you must apply your commuting magic through a mix of Buses, Trams, Metro trains, Water Buses and Helicopters. The puzzle element comes in to play in how you links these together around the existing city whilst at the same time avoiding gridlock. I’m amazed by the passengers  who are extremely clever and will happily chain together multiple forms of transport to get to their destinations. In the unlikely event that students want to get to college  you can have small bus systems feeding underground systems or trams. I quickly learnt the fewer stops a single transport line serves the better as passengers will only get off and make room for more passengers at their destination. The mechanics of the little peeps you are carting around is really clever, everyone in the simulation is persist, some days they will go to work, some days they will go to the shops. You really can have a mixed system of lines which feed off of each other, once i realised this the game really came alive and is a huge improvement over the old Transport Tycoon style system.


So when haven’t i finished the third level? Its quite hard to make a consistant profit. All my transport lines themselves are running a small profit but various other profits are dragging me down. Optimisation seems to be the name of the game here and each time i retry it i learn something new. When I do eventually get to the point where I’ve dug myself in to a unescapable money problem it hasn’t been a waste of time because I’ve learnt something in the process. You have to learn to pace yourself and make full use of the different methods of transport.

Two things suprised me about Cities in Motion, firstly was how polished it looked for a fairly small release for an unknown developer and secondly how small the installer is. The graphics are have a slightly grainy classic look to them which fits the game well and the engine is very slick and fast loading. The camera can be rotated round in 45 degree angles and zoomed anywhere between a birdseye view and a building top level.

Generally the laying out of track works very well however there are a few quirks when trying to lay tram lines on existing roads. For some reason you will often have to do small sections at a time, especially when going around corners. I suspect this is due to how the game over lays your tracks on the existing city layout. That said it does do an extremely good job of automatically working out things like high for you as you wind overground metros over buildings and under pipes.

This is 1st class stuff , if you are in anyway inclined to like business or transport genres I would urge you to at least give the demo a try

Game Dev Story or: I actually bought a game from the Android market place!

The much touted and recently ported Game Dev Story caught my eye whilst checking for app updates. I had heard of the game and knew its general flavour. What I didn’t know was what a complete attention hog it would be!

Look at me! it cries, “Your new game Finally Fanny has sold 692,194 copies.” . So I do what any sane person would do. I start on the next project….then another one….then another one. My company Superfuntimes is doing ok so far, I’m currently developing for the Sonny Playstatus with several #1 titles under my belt.

In a nutshell the game is a menu driven business sim where you hire your staff, select a genre and theme then wait it out until you get the results. In a rather meta reviewing way it manages to score highly on its four game attributes. Fun , Creativity, Graphics and Sound. The simple menus are wrapped with pixel art and tones that only a cartridge driven console could make. It sets you tasks you can complete in 5 minutes of play in your spare time that edge you towards a much bigger game and it does it in a way that very original. I haven’t seen this kind of game since the old days of Detroit, the fun but ever so buggy car business sim. Due to its retro yet stylish presentation it also work perfectly well on my HTC Hero

The biggest thing this game has done is made me realise how real a platform for games Android, Windows and Apple phones are. This is exactly what the industry needs more of, portable games, not console games ported to handhelds. If you have any interest in the games industry you need to outlay £1-2 on this right now, you won’t regret it.

Cataclysm in 3D Vision

Planting 3D vision glasses on your face for World of Warcraft is a worthwhile experience. When you fire up the game you will have a couple of extra settings in the Advanced Graphics section in addition to the depth modifier built in to 3D vision.  The two sliders can be adjusted on the fly to fine tune and will probably need to be altered on a user basis to account for taste and eyes.

Once you get it to good spot however, WOW. There is a supurb “model village” effect, all of the models look simply amazing and it really adds a sense of scale to the enemies you face.

All the model, world geometry and spell details work perfectly. The models and the art style come alive with an extra level of detail that as apparent when you view in 3D. Things like floating crystals around weapons become more prnounced when they have depth, in fact many models look different due to their newly imbued chubbiness. Mounts in particular look a lot grander and bolder.

There are several quirks like the interaction between the clouds and skybox which looks like it is being rendered closer that it should be. Also directx 11 mode currently appears to remove the extra 3D options from the game leaving you with just the 3D vision depth slide to play with which removes a lot of the graphical improvements. I suppose i can’t hold it against them too much as it is only their for testing at the moment.  The mouse cursor also takes some getting used to, you effectly have to refocus your eyes to look at the cursor as it sits on the UI level.

The only major graphical problem is the new fluid water which seems to render the edges twice with a small gap between them. This spoils the experience so I would recommend setting the water to either the old animated water or the lowest setting for the new water which renders it as a opaque liquid.

In all the game has some minor flaws when presented in 3D. It does however give you an extremely beautiful and flexible world which feels richer and more alive. This makes me believe 3D has a place in gaming.

Double Vision

Now that I’ve got my new system running its time to start churning out some information about how well various games work in 3D and if it brings anything new to the table. Before I do that however I thought it best to give a quick overview of nVidia 3D vision itself and what is needed for it.

First off this is by far the best 3D experience I’ve seen. Although it changes depending on the content you are viewing you can expect to see models displayed in 3D in a 3D world with a realistic amount of depth. Mileage may vary depending on your eyes but for me I can comfortable sit there with the glasses on for a couple of hours without any problems. I was slightly worried that I was going to be disappointed, this was not the case in the slightest. This might not be the final technology however looking forward 3D is going to be the future.

3D Vision works by rendering each image on the screen from two slightly different angles. Using active shutter glasses it then blocks each eye rapidly in sync with the screen so that each eye only sees the one image. Your brain then does what it normally does and combines the two images in to a stereoscopic view.

Most modern games can be used with 3D vision. Results vary from game to game however nVidia does have a chart showing recommendations. 3D vision ready titles are those which have had special attention to 3D and will often have old school colour based 3D as well, these include Lost Planet 2, Dead Rising 2, Batman: AA and Civ5 . Other games will still work but may have various quirks. The main offender tends to be the cursor or cross-hair. The problem being that you have a targeter on a 2D plain in the 3D world. nVidia has work around for this where it disables the game reticule and adds its own one but this isn’t possible on every single game. If there are any know quirks for each game an overlay will tell you that you should turn off Bloom or HDR lighting.
For 3D Blu-ray playback you will need to buy software separately. The usual company’s like cyberlink and roxio have these for sale however they are currently at a bit of a premium. I haven’t currently got any 3D blu-ray disks to test but I’m sure I will report back in time.


To use 3D vision you need:

  • A modern nVidia graphics card, anything from the 8800 GT onwards. Low end ones will do it however you should take in to account that your computer will be rendering each image twice so there is a big performance hit.
  • A 120Hz 3D Vision ready monitor. You will also need a dual link DVI cable which is normally supplied with the monitor
  • 3D vision Glasses and IR sender kit
  • Windows Vista or Windows 7

Once you have those it should just be a case of setting your refresh rates to 120hz and installing the 3D vision software. The software setup will then guide you through the process. The result…..

Amazing

Review – Final Fantasy 13

Why am I reviewing Final Fantasy 13 now? It has taken me this long to get around to finishing it. It has very little in common with previous Final Fantasy games, I can see why they have don’t this but I don’t think it has worked quite as well as they would have liked. Thirteen is said to be an unlucky number, it probably wasn’t the best choice for Square to mixed up the formula quite so much knowing this.

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Pandora – A few months of finger prints later…

I received my Pandora a few months ago now. I can say without a shadow of a doubt it is still unique, quirky but somewhat troubled. However we all knew that when we signed up.

Receiving the package and opening it up was a bizarre experience. I can only liken it to seeing a Dragon. Everyone knows what a dragon looks like and what it does but to actually see one and be able to touch it with your hands is quite a unique experience….Ok maybe you wouldn’t want to touch a dragon but I hope you can understand the sentiment.

My Pandora was part of the first main batch but after the first few hundred so I don’t have any of the early problems. The case structure itself feels nice and thick, it doesn’t twist or bend, nor does it have any rough edges. This was much better than I expected and is something you can’t really judge without getting your hands on it. Painting the cases at the last minute has worked well as the surface is uniform in colour and has a nice ever so slightly rubbery texture to it, I definitely feel this was the right thing to do. That said it has had a knock on effect with the shoulder buttons which I will come back to later.  The hinge snaps open and shut at the right angles and has a small amount of resistance for the rest of the range, it sits fairly well in a 100 degree laptop style position but it is really designed to be used in the locked open flat position.  I do sadly have a problem the battery cover popping off as the latches don’t seem to clip in correctly, this appears to only effect my unit. I will send it back eventually however for the time being I’ve resolved the problem with some highly technical tape.

The keyboard looks extremely good and is very responsive, I don’t think I’ve ever missed a letter. It does have a slightly odd feeling when you push the keys as they are spongy but have a fairly long travel however you soon get used to it, every keyboard is different after all. The D-Pad and face Buttons are generally very good, again they never seem to not respond or misfire. My A button is slightly raised up compared to the rest of the action buttons however it still seems to work normally and I expect will loosen up over time. The shoulder buttons are…interesting thanks to the slight variation of the Pandora team having to drill the holes after the shoulders where painted. The actual button itself is a nice positive feeling switch which is always works, they remind me a lot of the SNES controller shoulders in that they have a soft click to them. The problem is the plastic shoulder button itself with sits over the switch, it is ever so slightly loose from the manual drilling  (I believe they aren’t painting the shoulders on the newer ones) . The shoulders are good once you get your fingers lined up on them correctly however it often takes a failed attempt to do it.

The nubs are very good in the GUI , by default the left stick moves the cursor and the right stick does the mouse button clicks and as of Hotfix4 you can also do the middle mouse button by pushing down. It sounds a little odd however it works well once you get used to it. I’ve also used them on some Playstation games and all appears to be working well however I real test would be Quake 3 but the last build I used had controls that weren’t quite there yet. There is a small amount of play in the middle the nub then about 3mm radius of active area, they are definitely 10x better than the nubs used on the PSP and PSPGo. You do also get a nice amount of resistance when you push to the side to let you know you are hitting the limits.

The sockets, volume wheel and card slots are all fixed solidly and don’t feel like they cave in unless you really abuse them, certainly much better than my First Edition GP2X. The volume adjustment is smooth and doesn’t suffer from any crackling, there was a software issue that was causing sound crackles but this does appear to have been cleared up in the newer builds. The speakers are generally nice and loud with fairly good range for a device this size, but there is only so much you can expect from speakers that size.

As far as the design of the unit goes would I change anything? Not really, everything is well laid out. I know the keyboard is an issue for some however as a native English speaker without the need for accents and so on I suits my needs well. Having a touch screen on the top is a little odd to use however given amount of buttons needed there isn’t really much that can be done about that without making it an unwieldy beast. Ascetically I think its quite good looking in a KITT from knight rider kind of way, it looks retro yet modern and reminds me a bit of IBM/Lenovo styling.

I also received the official Pandora carry case which is good quality and lined with lovely white fuzz. It is very tight if you try to push the Pandora in to it however I’ve found the best way is to just put it in upside down in which case it goes in and zips up with no resistance what so ever.

The default Angstrom OS does fairly well to sit somewhere between a full OS and a console. It is clutter free and generally stable, I’ve never had a hang whilst using the OS itself only whilst using 3rd party software. There are some nice additions such as having a built in option to set the processor speed with an amusing disclaimer about blowing it up.

There are two built in GUIs which you can set as default or flip between at will:

XFCE Looks and behaves like a standard X window GUI. There are lots of customisation options such as resizing and moving docks, multiple workspaces, generally if you have used or dabbled with gnome or kde before things should be fairly familiar. You can control the menus with either the touch screen, the nubs which act as a mouse or the D-Pad which acts as cursor keys. Generally it is smooth and a trouble free experience.

MiniMenu is designed to be a bit more like a traditional games console and does away with windows in favour of a few tabs.

Both of these GUIs make use of the .PND format which is the method of distribution used for programs on the Pandora. The general concept is that you download and drop the Example.PND file to certain folders on your SD card. The Pandora then scans those folders for .PNDs and depending which folder you put it in the system gives you a shortcut on your desktop or in your games menu. Whilst I don’t know the technical details of the system I do know as long as developer has added them it will also automatically give you other data such as ReadMe files in your document folder, preview images and meta data such as suggest CPU speeds.

Once you have got your head around the quirks of the system like which folders you need to put the PND files in for them to be picked up the system works well. My major criticism of the format is that like many open source standards it is a bit under standardised. For example the location of application files, ROM and BIOS files isn’t standardised. I do think however that the freedom for developers to do things their way is much more beneficial then having a rigid standard.

OS Upgrades and Re-imaging are nice and easy to do. Place the image on your card in SD slot one then hold the right holder button as you power on the machine.

Charging your Pandora has to be done whilst your Pandora is switched on, if your Pandora is switched off it will switch itself on when you plug in your charging cable. Once fully charge the battery does genuinely seem to last about 10 hours at stock clockspeed. The shelf life of the battery itself is very good and doesn’t seem to loose any charge whilst left switched off.

All in all I’ve been very happy with my Pandora and really admire what the Open Pandora team have done. It is quite clear that the project hasn’t been going according to plan for quite some time which has put strains on the community and expect they all now see why GamePark and GamePark Holdings were so resistant to making any design changes no matter how small. Planning something is easy, executing it isn’t. Along the way they have hit a mountain of problems, some of them they would have excepted by people with more experience however they have had a string of bad luck, they even caused the Icelandic volcano eruptions a few months back!

Lastly I’ve been happy to be part of something niché and special. In an age of instant gratification it has been a good having to wait for something.

Review : DeathSpank

Greetings miscellaneous internet person!
I’ve been flowing DeathSpank ever since it was first annouced on Ron Gilbert’s blog GrumpyGamer so needless to say I was very excited when it was finally released. So does it live up to my hopes?

The First question you may ask is who or what is DeathSpank? DeathSpank is the protagonist from every RPG and Adventure game you have ever played, all of his life he has been destined to find “The Artifact” , he takes on all manner of tasks ordinary people give him without questioning why and he runs around cleaving everything in to a fine paste.

The gameplay itself sits between a hack and slash dungeon crawler like Torchlight and an old school adventure game. Generally the game is based around fetch quests, killing certain monsters or dialogue trees. Despite this the game for me at least had a good variety of quests to the point were I have completed all of them including all the side quests. DeathSpank also uses a similar hint system to the recently released monkey island special edition in that if you can’t figure out how to do a quest you can get progressively more obvious clues. You do this by using fortune cookies which you periodically pick up through general play and generally each quest has 3 clues however 75% of them you should be able to figure out without needing to use cookies.

The Dialogue and writing in general is top notch although I can understand it won’t be to everyones taste. It is constantly silly and fourth walling breaking, never forgetting to nod to all the clichés it adheres to. The voice acting is well executed, both DeathSpank himself and the non player characters really come alive. Even the shopkeepers and orphans are truely entertaining, I will certainly never think about felt in quite the same way again.

Combat is simple but I personally never found it boring, you can a equip a different a different weapon to each of your four main action buttons. Whenever you strike an enemy your justice meter fills a little bit. If you alternate your strikes between different weapons you get chain bonuses which give you more justice. When your justice meter is full you can unleash your weapon’s special ability, these include things like chain lightning and spinning whirlwind like attacks. There are also combination attacks later in the game where you can combine two special abilities together but generally i found these a bit too fiddly to pull off given the rapid pace of the combat. The blocking mechanics work surprisingly well, when you activate it you take no damage whilst the shield holds. However if you activate the shield just as a blow is about to hit you get a “Perfect Block” which instantly fills your justice meter, so there certainly is some depth of skill available if you want to explorer it. If you are feeling cowardly (which DeathSpank never does) you can just hold your shield are barge enemies out to way.

The world itself is a well realised mixture of 2D and 3D. The floor rolls round almost as if the world is tight cylinder and most objects are 2D cut outs which gives the game a unique Pop-up book like effect. I have actually had a graphics glitch whilst running around in PluckMuckle where the trees became all garbled, then after about a minute the system froze completely. I couldn’t say if this was the game itself or my PS3 though. Over all the game is visually a treat although it does obviously lean towards a stylised look given with its cartoon visuals and often low resolution textures, however this is never an issue given its subject matter and downloadable nature.

There is probably around 10 hours worth of content here and not a huge amount of re-playability however due to its budget price I think its still great value. DeathSpank was originally going to be episodic, at one point Ron even made a blog post singing the praises of episodic content and explaining why most of the time it failed (in short most people would prefer to to wait until the discounted complete end package is released before buying it). At some point in the design process I think they did a U turn on this, I would like to see the world of DeathSpank expanded however realistically I don’t see it happening now that Ron has left hothead at the end of his contract for DeathSpank as per their original arrangement. This is one of those situations where the game is best remembered as a standalone Masterpiece.

Masterpiece? Yes I think it is, I haven’t enjoyed a game this much for a long time, to the point where I have finished it 100% I don’t think however that everyone will like it. I would say if you like the look of the game and comedy from the trailers you will love the game, if you don’t then you won’t. Simple

Oh and calling the bad guys Orques? Genius

HTC Hero in review

I’m quite forward with my dislike of Apple. The Hardware itself is good…well most of the time anyway. I have a problems with the rest of the customer experience, I don’t like being wrapped in cotton wool. When the time came to get a new phone I decided to get an HTC, I’ve had three HTC handsets in the past for work and found the hardware to be good but the Windows Mobile operating system to be clunky at best. So this time around I chose an Android based Hero. I’ve long been a fan of open source software so I was intrigued to see how open the phone is.

Phone Hardware

The Phone itself is made with nice tactile materials, the white version has a Teflon coating which has kept my hero generally scratch free and has almost a waxy texture to it. The Champagne colour version has a more rubbery texture to it. The handset fits well in to your hand and the button layout is generally good however it could be said that the Search and Back buttons on the phones chin are best positioned for left handers.

The Hero was somewhat of a rarity for HTC in that it actually has a jack socket on the top for headsets however you can also use the mini USB socket in the bottom for USB headsets and both work in exactly the same in terms of quality.

The capacitative touch screen is bright, accurate and has a good depth of colour. As expected it does become rather smeary from the constant fingering however this wipes clean easily. As with most phone screens it does tend to look a little washed out when viewed in direct sunlight but you would be hard pressed to find a phone that doesn’t have this problem.

The Camera suffers slightly from HTCs normal camera problems in that it generally has quite a poor lens. It does well for general day to day snaps and videos however you wouldn’t want to replace a stand alone camera with it. It doesn’t deal very well with low light levels nor does it have a flash.

The Trackball is well positioned and generally a useful addition. It can be used for general movement and things like moving the cursor when writing messages as often fingers aren’t quite precise enough .

Android

Hero ships out of the factory with Android 1.5 (Cupcake) installed , however you can upgrade it either to a newer official firmware or a customised one. HTC have actually been extremely bad about communicating with their customers about the delays to the offical Android 2.1 (Eclair) update, although it did arrive about 6 months overdue. The original Android Cupcake build isn’t bad however it does get quite stodgy at times, lacked support for things like bluetooth file transfer and wasn’t always compatible with some of the newer applications. Rather than upgrade to the official Android Eclair build I chose to upgrade to a custom one called Chocolate Eclair.

To do this you can download the ROM image itself from
http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=723142

and install it by following this extremely straight forward guide
http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=645253

Thank you to the creators of those two posts and all those devoloping at XDA-developers.com

On HTC phones the standard Android OS has a few added features which nicely round off the phone for the social networking generation and the phone really comes alive when paired with your Google account.
All your contacts can be synced with your Google Account, they can also be tied to the persons facebook account which live syncing of things like Status updates, Contact pictures and even telephone numbers and addresses if the person has them on their facebook profile. In fact most of your Google account features syncronise with your phone in real time including calendars. This information can then be used by other Applications on the phone.

For example I could be on a trip to see my friend Sue , she has her address on her facebook profile (secured to her friends only of course). I don’t know how to get to Sue’s new house however I can open Google Maps on my Hero and use the new Sat Nav feature and just select my destination as Sue and it will workout the best route using the built in GPS whilst pulling in the map information from Google Maps.

The main addition from HTC to the Android OS is Sense UI. This gives you a Home Screen that is 7 screens wide, you can then drop Widgets on to these screens and scroll between the screens by swiping a finger left or right. You have a large amount of freedom to customise these screens to your hearts content. If you download applications from the android market place they may have additional widgets for you to drop on to your desktop. For Example if you download the non-offical BBC news application as well as the full application it also gives you a small ticker bar widget.

Away from your home screens your All Programs list can be set as either a grid or list listed in alphabetical order, there isn’t much customisation here however this can be excused given that you can set links to your favourite applications on the 7 home screens you have.

Following the theme of customisation you can easily import mp3 sound files to the phone to use as ring or message tones, in fact there are also applications for editing and cutting MP3 files directly on the phone. This is one area where Android excels over the iPhone, you have access to tinker about rather than play within the framework Apple allow you.

Conclusion

I’m very happy with my HTC Hero , I do have two complaints about HTC though. The first complaint is the massive amount of time it took for them to release android 2.1 in to the wild, especially the GSM version. The Second complaint is the sear speed at which HTC curn out new Handset Models, since I got my Hero, there has been the Tattoo (slightly lower spec) , Legend (slightly higher spec) , Wildfire (Slightly Higher Spec), Desire (much higher spec) , Nexus One (much higher spec) and soon the Evo (Highest Spec) . So at least 6 Android based phones in just over half a year. This makes Apples business model of a new evolutionary model every year seem slow paced.

So would i recommend the HTC Hero and HTC Android phones in general? Yes greatly so. Would I recommend them to everyone? No, they can be too in depth for many users. You have more flexibility but for many this is too much, they want something that “just works”. Due to this I think they won’t ever be the “iPhone Killer” but that is a good thing in my opinion.

Steam Reviews – Doom 3

id Software had a lot to live up to prior to the release of Doom 3, it would be effectively a relaunch of on of the most popular and widely known games of all time. Doom 3 was finally launched in 2004 to a positive reception, how does it stack up today and is it still worth a purchase?

Given the original Doom games were very basic on the story front the third instalment does very well at fleshing out what is going on, this is mainly done by data packs which you pick up as you go along. These contain audio memos and emails of the unfortunate people who have left them behind. The characters are rather two dimensional however its to be expected given the subject matter. The voice acting throughout is very good and also provides a way of playing a meta game of unlocking storage lockers which contain goodies. You will often be told a code for a locker which isn’t directly around you so may end up going round chanting numbers to yourself until you find the right one. Ammo is well balanced, you are never so dry of it you struggle due to a lack of it but at the same time it is limited enough that you feel every round counts and that you shouldn’t waste plasma on zombies when you can take them out with a handgun.

The engine itself holds up very well considering its age , lighting is an extremely important part of the game and is executed well throughout. Compared to more modern games the textures can look a bit a blurry, but this is only really noticeable when you are in a bright environment. NPCs also suffer from all having one of about three faces and sometimes you can actually see a symmetry line running down the middle of people faces, I’m not quite sure why id chose to do this given that there are only a handful NPCs anyway.

Along with the lighting comes your trusty friend the flashlight. You can only ever use your flashlight or your weapon which leads to great feeling of surrounding darkness and fear whenever you are fighting anything. Enemies often light themselves up when attacking with projectiles or sit in the dark with their piercing eyes glowing at you so there is a nice balance with the lighting, it is never needed however its very comforting when you have it on. Compare this to the new Aliens vs Predator where there are several sections where you are in constant darkness areas being attacked by black enemies.

Sound and movement are also use extremely well , especially later on. You are often attacked from behind which leads you to be paranoid about noises from behind you, especially if you are using surround sound. Similarly you keep your eyes peeled for any movement. To keep you on edge often there will be noises and mechanisms moving to mask and distract you from enemies which works extremely well. They have more or less nailed the horror genre , it is a lot more atmospheric then FEAR due to its more consistent presence of evil and it doesn’t relie on things popping out at you ever few minutes to scare you. FEAR also made the protagonist feel at an advantage due to slow motion , there is none of that here, you fly by the edge of your slightly stained pants all the way through.

Who should buy it?

Anyone with an interest in horror or first person shooters