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Man, I'd love to give this a shot... but it's 200 bucks just for the glasses, and on top of that you need a monitor that can run at 120hz... which then means you need enough video card power to run at 120fps I am guessing. According to their system requirements, my 8800 comes in right at the very bottom of their "cards badass enough to do this" list... but something tells me it wouldn't work quite right.
Ah well. C'est la vie de la technologie.
Hah... "That's Bullshit!"
It's on sale for 7 bucks this weekend at GOG.com.
Last weekend, I took part in the Champions Online free weekend and played my brains out on it. Coming away from it, I can't quite say that we have a true sequel to City of Heroes ... because generally, things are supposed to change and/or get better from the original, in a sequel.
This is the second time a de facto "spiritual successor" has let me down in recent memory. The first is when Mythic Entertainment forgot everything they learned when making Dark Age of Camelot, and took RvR in Warhammer Online a step backwards (but with prettier graphics and a popular Intellectual Property). Now, despite adopting the IP of the Champions tabletop game system, Cryptic Studios (and the similarities in the naming conventions of the two companies here blew my mind) has basically remade City of Heroes... except they forgot to put in all the neat stuff they added in later. That's right.. they've recreated City of Heroes as it was at launch.
Now, I didn't expect to be able to play a villain, that's not what I'm talking about. But it would have been nice to be able to do randomly generated missions like CoH/V, and the best thing going for CoH/V were the bank robbery missions. But none of that sort of thing is present here. The entirety of your gaming experience is doing quests (oh, excuse me, missions) which always consist of "go here, kill this, get that, come back." There IS an occasional escort mission, about 1 every gaming area it seems. There's also no player-created "lairs" either. And you can just forget about the player-created missions that are keeping CoH/V going. Champions online did hop on the "public quest" bandwagon that WoW ripped off from Warhammer Online, but being 3rd to the party, it doesn't feel new and fresh, it feels expected at this point, and fails to earn any bonus points, if only because it's a paltry replacement for the missing safeguard/mayhem missions.
There are, of course, new features and tweaks that make the game slightly different, but in essence we have all played this game before. In fact, we played it before and there was more TO it. It's like going to a restaurant, seeing they have a new dish on the menu called "Steak 2.0," and you order it to find that Steak 2.0 (despite costing the same as regular steak) uses less seasoning, is a smaller cut, and comes with no sides.
To make matters worse, the champions online engine feels exactly like the City of Heroes engine that is almost 10 years old - despite removing a lot of the good content, they've kept a lot of the bad tech. The movement controls are just as clunky and laggy. The camera controls are just as jittery and painful to the eyes. And frankly, the most visible change in the graphics is a huge step backwards - all the postprocessing (including the impossible-not-to-notice "comic book outline" effect), in my opinion just make the game harder on the eyes. Turning all that crap off made the game look SO much better.
Speaking of new things that don't improve the experience, let's talk about the new "block" dynamic. Holding shift makes your character block. Blocking makes you more resistant to damage and status effects such as knockbacks and such. I can appreciate that they're trying to make a more action-oriented experience, but here's the thing about MMORPGs - the reason they took all the "action" out of them is because when 40,000 people are all fighting at once on an MMO server, there tends to be a little more latency than when there's 10 people on a FPS server. The reintroduction of gaming elements that still depend on timing (and that timing has to be validated at the server level) just draws attention back to that latency and ends up being an irritation rather than an enhancement (because if you DON'T block when you're supposed to, you risk total annihilation). So, even if it looks like you blocked in time on your screen, you'll still take full damage because the server didn't know you were blocking when it rolled the dice on the attack against you. Nice try, but I'm afraid no cigar there.
The good news is, if you liked the costume design and character customizability options from CoH, they're back and better. There are still irritating little things about it - like, for instance, if your superheroine wears a corset for some reason this precludes her from wearing a cape. But, on the whole it is still the same robust character design system, and your ability to customize your powers is also improved. There is nothing stopping you from "multiclassing" this time around.. IE, if you want to be both fiery AND magical, you can! Want to have wolverine claws AND guns? Why not! Super strength AND ray guns? Go wild! Your ability to take powers from each power pool is only limited by the fact that some powers require you to have a certain number of powers in that pool already, so it's more like splitting your spec in other games, but it is still possible to do so. It also seems Cryptic remembered that people like to be able to choose what color their powers are, and that is brought over intact. Travel powers are also cosmetically improved, allowing for multiple flavors of flight, jumping, speed and such. Rocket Boots, winged flight, fire flight, ice bridges, super speed, even tunneling... you name it, they pretty much got it. And you're allowed to "try before you buy" every power, because there's an in-house "danger room" type simulator that lets you fight simulated baddies (for no exp or money of course) to see if the power you are looking at is really what you want. Definitely a good thing there.
But the problem is, all the fun is in the creation of your heroes and not in the playing thereof. As previously mentioned, the missions get very repetitive very quickly. Another design decision that got carried across from CoH/V is the "the higher you level, the weaker you feel" dynamic - IE, my munitions hero could kill 3 henchmen his level without running out of energy at level 5, but struggles to finish 2 at level 15 despite having triple the energy reserves and having specced completely for damage (and energy)... and it takes much, much longer to do so. The game also does not refill your "energy" (stamina, mana, whatever) while you are in combat - you have to do that by using whatever your chosen power pool's "energy refilling" attack is - which is almost always a low damage channeled attack that replenishes energy over time. Healing is an absolute joke - you'll spend an entire bar of energy to heal perhaps a quarter or half bar of health on a single target... and because there are no dedicated support power pools, that means your group is out the damage you would otherwise be doing. So it's really a much more effective use of your time and energy to try to kill the enemy faster rather than to support your allies with heals. Also, the targeting system is absolute balls.
And of course, we come to the great achilles' heel of every MMO - the other players. It even manifests at the costume level. Just like in CoH, pre villains, you still get people whose costumes consist of a giant, horned, demonic, batwinged, black-on-black-with-black-smoke "hero" named "Dark Lord Deathdark of Evil Darkness." Bwuh? And, it's easy of course to tell who the fat kids or middle aged men with small penises are - they generally have the super-ultra-massive strong-guy heroes whose shoulders require a two car garage and have more ridges on their muscles than the entire Ruffles potato chip factory. And then there's the virgin comic book nerds, all playing their scantily clad plastic sex puppets. Never has such a robust and customizable character creation system been (yet again) so abused in such a predictable manner. Though, it makes the awesome costumes feel that much more awesome when you come across one. You should have seen this one guy who was a dead ringer for George Washington, I kid you not.
Animosity between fellow heroes is also exacerbated by another great step backwards in the mission design - in open world missions (and the vast, vast majority of them are open world, remember), only one hero (and his teammates) can do a quest or start an escort mission effectively at the same time, and sometimes it's even so badly set up that even being on a team together doesn't help. This just encourages people who all want to do the same mission to be dicks to each other and try to grab the macguffin or whatever before anybody else.
There is a crafting system, and once you figure out how it works, it IS pretty well set up.. until you start to realize that very little of the stuff you can make is of use to you. Generally, most gear you find (or make, for that matter) raises contradictory stats... like they were trying to make "one size fits all" hero apparel and accessories that suit (or more often, don't suit) tanks or blasters in equal measure.
All in all, I was highly dissatisfied with the playing experience in Champions online. I loved the character creation experience... but I'm not willing to pay a subscription fee just for that. At any rate, after playing one weekend up to level 20, and trying a few different archetypes, I can honestly say I have no desire whatsoever to continue with the game... which, from what I read on CO-related forums, is just as well because (as was the case back in the early days of CoH), the endgame content is rerolling a new character. Le FAIL.
Grade: D+. That plus is for the character creation and customization options... the D is for, well, everything else.
From over at kotaku
From Friday October 30th to Monday November 2nd, Cryptic is opening up Champions Online to any and all who want to come try it out. Simply head over to the free play promo page, sign up for an account, download the client, and then wait. Perhaps you could make a sandwich or something.Read Full Article
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There's an article up on Kotaku where one of the contributors talks about his early 2000s addiction to Everquest, and how he ruined his life with it (thankfully not irrevocably). The article is here. It really struck a chord with me, because I, too felt the narcotic tug of Everquest in 99-01, and I'd be lying if I said my time spent in Norrath didn't affect my job performance and severely hamper my relationships with people I knew in "real life."
So take it as an all-too common cautionary tale for the generation of 20 and 30somethings today - Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to play MMOGs.
"Power doesn't corrupt people, people corrupt power." - William Gaddis
I often thought I might like to play the first two Tropico games, but I never got around to it. When Tropico 3 came down the pipe, I snagged the demo and was immediately hooked. So I had to get the full game. It's right up my alley - an economic/political simulator with a sardonic flair for depicting Caribbean banana republics with a tongue that never strays far from the cheek.
The game places you in control of a small island nation in 1950, and depending upon the map you are playing and the difficulty options you have set, you have until anywhere between 1980 and 2000 to turn a small collection of huts and farms into a thriving modern city-state. Along the way you will be beset by rebellions, military coups, worker strikes, earthquakes, hurricanes, political unrest, humanitarian crisis, imperialist foreign superpowers, assassins, elections, protests, national debt, slovenly tourists and lazy workers. A multitude of variables will affect your play session, ranging from the selection of natural resources on your island to the particular aptitudes and personality flaws of your avatar Presidente.
You can choose from a list of famous historical presidents and dictators, or you can custom design your own. I recommend designing your own avatar, because then you get to pick the bonuses and penalties you get that will most compliment your playing style. Every Presidente has an "origin story," two positive traits and two flaws, which will affect the productivity of your citizens and alter their view of you as a leader - for instance, the "Administrator" trait will increase productivity in your factories, the "womanizer" flaw will decrease your popularity with educated women and those of a religious nature, and the "Generalissimo" origin story will increase your popularity with the militarist political faction.
The duration of your administration will be a balancing act between the financial needs of the island, the various political factions of the residents, and of course your own need to pad your retirement fund in a swiss bank account. An easy and cheap investment early in the game would be to build a lumber industry, later maturing with addition of a furniture factory, but this would upset the environmentalists in the population. Agriculture is, of course, an important component of feeding your populace but the financial allure of exporting tobacco, sugar and fruit makes for a compelling option as well, and being on an island you have very limited space in which to conduct agriculture. The communists in the populace want cheap housing and health care, the capitalists want upscale entertainment and high wages, and your appeasement of one or both of them will affect the attitude of the two global superpowers, governing how much foreign aid money you receive from them... or how likely they are to invade!
Space on the island being limited and the ground not always being ideal for construction make building and expanding an often challenging prospect. Everything you do takes up space on the map, and some endeavors (such as farms, ranches, logging camps etc) even need to be in proximity to a large amount of undeveloped territory which is suitable to their purpose, further limiting your ability to build. Additionally, you have to plan and construct roads between distant parts of the island, copiously supplied with parking garages - because time spent travelling between buildings is time not spent being productive.
You can also spend money to issue edicts that alter the variables of the game. These edicts can run the gamut from providing social security to the unemployed and retired, to promoting literacy, to enacting martial law or instigating book burnings. You can also praise a superpower, garnering goodwill from the one while hurting relations with the other, organize trade missions to increase revenue, or even allow nuclear testing around your island for a payoff. Every edict has its cost and its payoff, with those with the largest beneficial effects also incurring the largest costs or penalties in other areas.
As for the little people, the citizens themselves, you can micromanage them as much or as little as you care to do so. Each individual "Tropican" has their own priorities (some want a good job, others want good housing, others still think access to good health care is what is most important, and some even cannot be happy unless they have a leader they can respect, etc). You can click on any person living on the island to see "need" bars, much as if this was a sims game, to gauge how well his needs are being addressed. You can fire or evict people from any building you choose, you can listen to the thoughts of your citizen in real time for clues about how to make them happier or more productive... or you could just ignore them like the ants they are and continue to govern from an ivory tower, because sod the plebes, YOU know what's best for them.
I do, however, have a couple gripes about the game, as enthralling as it is. I don't know if it is because the game is supposed to simulate dictatorships exclusively, or if it is satire, or if the designers just didn't know any better, but the entire game's mechanics function in a manner that belies a hard leftist's understanding of the world around him. Even though everything else about the game is configurable and has a price, food, health care, higher education and transportation are all provided free to the people, entirely at government expense. While you can set wages for individual buildings, entire career types, or entire levels of education, you can't actually set wages individually or based upon merit, effectiveness, experience or productivity - it doesn't matter to the game whether the people working in your factory are new and untrained, or 20 year veterans with triple working speed, everybody in the building gets paid THE SAME. Setting wages is really only used to incentivize people applying for jobs that are vacant or to increase general happiness. Every depiction of communism is that of championing the people (they want housing and health care, remember?), while every depiction of capitalism is of excess or misanthropy - they want fancy houses, expensive entertainment, and high economic disparity (though no mention is made of the capitalist benefit of high economic MOBILITY, which is so taken for granted in our culture that even in this game it exists as a matter of course which has no bearing or influence on anything else in the game).
There are other less abstruse annoyances in the game as well - and at the top of the list of "things that will irritate everybody" is the grating repetitiveness of the in-game radio announcer. If you go more than 2 games without going into the options to find out how to shut Locutor Juanito up completely, I'll be surprised. Another source of displeasure is the shortsightedness and seemingly limited attention span of the two most crucial workers in the game - the construction workers and teamsters. If a building site isn't within easy walking distance of your construction office, often it will often go untouched by your construction workers, even though the office has a built in garage for driving to distant construction sites. Often the only way to overcome this is by either micromanaging to raise the priority of the job (though, if EVERYTHING is top priority, doesn't that really mean NOTHING is?), or building extra construction offices until you have a triple redundant workforce... that STILL often enough won't drive a quarter mile to build an apartment without it being micromanaged into "top priority" status, and sits around soaking up wages when there's no construction work going on. Teamsters suffer from much the same problem. They have a garage in their building, so they should be able to drive to anywhere quickly, yet often enough materials will not get hauled from one place to another, or finished product won't make it to the dock in time for export, which directly hurts your bottom line.
And speaking of problems with driving around, the representation of vehicularized transport in Tropico 3 is downright surreal. Nobody actually owns a car, they are just all communally supplied at no charge from parking garages or from the attached motor pools of specific buildings. Furthermore, every trip by auto is one way - a teamster traveling to a factory to take a shipment of goods to the dock will be driven to the factory by a truck from the teamster's garage... but the truck will drop him off there and head to the nearest parking garage (or if one is not built yet, just go right back to the teamsters office). It is, for some reason, incapable of waiting the 15 seconds it takes for the teamster to walk into the factory and come back out with a wheelbarrow full of stuff. He then has to either go to a nearby parking garage to pick up ANOTHER one-way-trip vehicle to the docks, or just walk there overland with his wheelbarrow. Even more confounding is this also happens at buildings with attached garages - the teamster getting ore from a mine will not be able to get a car from the mine's attached garage, presumably because those vehicles are only usable by miners. So really, a mine may as well not even HAVE an attached garage because you're going to have to build a parking garage near it ANYWAY for the teamsters to use.
And I have one more peculiar observation of perplexing paradigms - gender identities in Tropico 3 are a little arbitrary. Sure, only women can get pregnant and have children... but for some reason, the game enforces certain gender roles for certain jobs. Despite the fact that either men or women are capable of being construction workers or work in factories, only women can be high school teachers, journalists, engineers (who work at oil refineries and power plants), bureaucrats or cooks. Meanwhile, only men can be teamsters, police officers, or college professors. Why can't a woman instruct at a collegiate level? Why CAN a man, despite his inability to teach at the high school level? I could see being indiscriminate about gender in the name of political correctness I suppose, but this just seems random.
Speaking of arbitrary, there's an overlay in the game that enumerates the "scenic beauty" of every square inch of your island. This "beauty" variable is important to many buildings intended to cater to tourists (beach resorts, botanical gardens, etc). But confusingly enough, this "beauty" doesn't seem to have any actual connection to the topography of the island. Oh, certainly heavily wooded areas are always very beautiful, and crowded urban areas are always ugly, but the most bewildering thing happens on a beach. A certain square meter of beach can be rated absolutely gorgeous, while it sits immediately adjacent to a square meter of beach that is apparently the most hideous thing since cystic acne, despite that with the overlay turned off there is actually no discernable difference between the two spots. And frankly, I think the whole "beauty" dynamic is overdone. Any tourist who lays eyes upon a poor tenement on your island is apparently going to burst into flames and write scathing letters to every travel agency in the world - but I've been to a couple Caribbean places myself, and despite the proliferation of ramshackle huts and dirty tenements I saw in, say, Progreso, I would still rate it an extremely enjoyable place with a great tourism industry... though perhaps that is because of the copious amounts of extremely cheap booze available there.
All that aside, the game is still very addictive to people who like economic or political simulators. Replayability is very good, as there are both sandbox and campaign modes, with the "campaign" consisting really of a large selection of islands, each of which has its own permutations to the game's setup to make it a unique challenge (island A has no farmland, and has to rely on fishing and mining, island B is oil rich but politically turbulent, etc). Multiplayer doesn't really exist, but there is a "challenge" mode where you and others online can compare scores against each other after playing identical scenarios. The graphics are detailed, bright and colorful, and the game's soundtrack consists of 15 jaunty latin tunes that really set the atmosphere (though you may get tired of them after a while).
All in all, despite its flaws the game is an enjoyable addition my collection, and one that ranks up there with some of my other favorite economic/management sim games such as Startopia or Dungeon Keeper.
A guest review this time, once again from occasional contributor Psyclone -
If there is anything both incredibly sad and unfortunately common in the gaming world, it's wasted potential: games that look promising only to be ruined by rushing towards a deadline, ideas that sound good on paper but just don't translate well into an actual game or developers that have great ideas but not the talent or resources to create a game that does those ideas justice. Darkest Of Days, the debut game of Iowa based developer 8monkey labs, seems to be all three of those things; a game with an amazing premise that manages to fail on pretty much everything else.
You play as Alexander Morris, a soldier fighting in General Custer's army in the Battle of Little Big Horn. After you get an arrow to the leg, witness Custer's death and are just about to bite it yourself, a portal appears and a guy in a fancy space suit "rescues you" (it's kind of confusing: the guy gets an arrow himself, tells you to hurry and you suddenly go into the portal despite being paralyzed a few moments ago, but never mind), whisking you away to the 22nd century. You awaken in the (apparently one room) HQ of an organization called KronoteK. See, due to a paperwork issue concerning an early transfer, Morris was considered an MIA in the conflict, and KronoteK seeks out these MIAs due to their "recruitment" having a minimal impact in history and thus can be given a second chance at life researching and protecting history. As soon as Morris in brought up to speed by KronoteK higher up "Mother" (shown only as a pair of eyes in a computer monitor); the latter informs him that the organization's founder, Dr. Koell has gone missing and at the same time, disturbances has been appearing all over history, placing vital individuals in harm's way, requiring Morris and his new partner/mentor, Agent Dexter to aid in resolving the situation. It is also quickly established that said disturbances seem to be connected to another group of time travelers, known only as "The Opposition"...
Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, that constitutes about 70% of the story and the rest goes downhill from there. While the premise would allow immense variety by featuring several individuals to save all across history, the vast majority of the game (about 3/4 to be precise) involves you rescuing TWO guys, one from WWI and another from the American Civil War. Apart from two missions in Little Big Horn, one in World War II, and one in Pompeii the entire game (consisting of X missions) takes place in these two time periods. The plot justifies taking so long to rescue these two idiots by throwing an enormous amount of plot bullshit your way, ranging from beaming in several kilometers away for some reason, the two guys being needed to deliver vital-to-the-success-of-the-war stuff, to mistaking the person you're meant to rescue for his twin brother. To make matters worse, until the very end, we are never even TOLD what significance to history these guys have, making you feel like you're going on a wild goose chase.
And then there are the endless illogical elements in the plot, of which the arrow thing in the beginning is only the first: if KronoteK is so worried about preserving history, judging by Mother's reaction to the Opposition's first attack, why do they allow your mentor to give you several future weapons, going so far as leaving one in a farmhouse full of hostile soldiers? Morris was rescued by having the time bubble appear ''right in front of him''. Why can't we do the same with the other guys? Why does no one pay attention to the Union soldier who seems to appear out of nowhere from time to time and obviously isn't part of the unit mow down Confederate soldiers with a weapon looking, sounding and firing like nothing ever seen before yet panic at the sight of people with the same weapons yet wearing space suits? Why is there a mission where you're accompanied by two redshirts who go missing after the zeppelin they are piloting crash and are completely forgotten about once Dexter tells Mother a fib about them being fine and sure to come back soon? Why does the leader of the Opposition occasionally kidnap you between time trips to tell you that KronoteK are the bad guys yet sends you back every time to mow down his flunkies by the dozen? Finally, why does all of this culminate in an ending so abrupt, pointless and anti-climactic that it makes you shout "What was the point of all this?" The mind boggles.
The core mechanics of the game are standard FPS stuff: no fancy cover system, you can only carry 2 weapons at a time along with grenades, and each one has a (rather weak) melee attack for close quarters combat. The first gimmick the game introduces is the use of weaponry appropriate to the time period of the mission you're on: therefore you'll be using stuff like the Mosin-Nagant rifle and the Mauser C96 pistol in WWI; and the Springfield Musket, Henry Rifle and Colt revolver in the Civil War, amongst other weapons. While the weapons of WWI and your brief jaunt in WWII (more on that in a bit) are pretty decent, for most of the Civil War portions you'll be stuck with the nightmare that is the Springfield single-shot musket. Yes, running around with a gun that only fires a single bullet before having to go through an excruciatingly long reload process is fun for a while but it gets old VERY quickly. And yet that is the gun that 95% of all enemies are carrying so you'd better get used to it. Add that to the terrible AI of the game and you have some hilarious moments, such as enemies standing in the middle of an open field shooting at you, then reloading for about 5 seconds while you take out your sidearm and shoot them in the head. Or, if you have no other weapon handy, get involved in the Civil War equivalent of a quick draw gun battle, where you try to reload before the other guy does. It's as ridiculous as it sounds. Then there's the future weaponry: every so often Dexter will give you a future weapon whenever there is the need to perform "numerical adjustment" (as he puts it) to opposing armies. As fun as this sounds, most of the time he'll give you the futuristic shotgun or the futuristic assault rifle, which despite looking flashy are your typical FPS shotgun and rifle. In certain missions you do get access to cooler weapons (such as a weird rocket launcher/artillery cannon hybrid, an auto aiming machine gun and an awesome sniper rifle), but these are few and far between.
Speaking of reloading, another thing the game introduces is an "active reload" system: every time you reload your weapon, a circular meter indicating your progress starts filling up and if you press the fire button when it hits a green section along the meter, the reload process is immediately completed. However, if you miss, the gun jams making said reloading longer. This mechanic ends up being a godsend for most weapons (especially the musket) yet appears to be slightly buggy: every so often, instead of getting the "jam" animation, your character simply holds the empty weapon making you having to switch weapons and back again to be able to fire, in a matter that is clearly a bug, not a feature.
The final gimmick is blue aura enemies. These are people that while not apparently as vital to history as the (gold aura) people whose rescue is the focus of the mission, are still important enough to keep alive. What this means in gameplay terms is that they must be taken down by either shooting them in the legs or using a bunch of pebble-like devices called "chasers" that when thrown seek out these special enemies and give them an electric shock that knocks them out. Unfortunately, every so often these chasers, despite being supposed to come back when thrown will get stuck or you'll be forced to run away from the place where you threw them so there may be times when you have none available. Not to mention they have some trouble seeking blue auras when not in a specific range, so you may have to throw them several times.
But what happens if you kill these people? Well, sometimes (this was probably supposed to happen every time judging by the trailer. Yup, yet another bug) this causes a bunch of Opposition mooks to warp in, which, due to their better weapons and body armor, often cause your survival chances to drop. Not killing blue auras also gives you a bonus to upgrade points you receive at the end of each mission to upgrade your weapons (in clip size, reload speed, accuracy and rate of fire). Why these upgrades carry to every weapon you pick up is never explained but whatever. Time travel.
Now you must asking: is all this stuff placed inside a decent game? The answer is no: 80% of gameplay resumes to "Go here" and "Kill these guys". Sure, every so often you have to protect those ever-so-important NPC characters, but since they seem to be not only bulletproof but also have the ability to teleport near you if you go too far away, those "escort missions" end up being exactly the same as the afore mentioned "Go here" and "Kill these guys" objectives. Apart from a few decent set pieces (such as a jaunt on a zeppelin and a really atmospheric mission in a Nazi POW camp, the game's definitive high point), you have one of the most barebones shooters ever.
And if that wasn't enough we have some utterly bizarre design decisions: in one mission in WWI, mustard gas is released and you put on a gas mask. The mask ends up covering more than half the screen and judging by it's placement, you'd think they either didn't put the eye holes in the right places or that Morris is a cyclops. And then when you bring up the map, said map ends up being almost completely covered by the mask. That caused me to wander blindly for at least 5 minutes before realizing that the place where I was supposed to go to was the opposite direction of the way I was facing initially, which I could have easily verified if I could look at the map!
And then there's the invisible walls. Not only is there a game developer with the audacity to use invisible walls in this day and age, said walls are all over the place: not just the borders of the map, there are invisible walls around lakes, invisible walls around cliffs (despite the game having both swimming and fall damage), invisible walls around cliffs that you could easily climb otherwise, invisible walls in the middle of nowhere, etc. It seems that the only way to get around without bumping into an invisible wall is to strictly follow what the map defines as a road, in essence reducing the area show in your map to about 1/9th of the size.
And in the moments where you're actually shooting people? Most of the time it's pretty standard until the several times when the game throws a crapton of enemies at you, all of whom are capable of shooting you from really long distances without you knowing where the hell they are. Sometimes it gets so irritating that it just makes you give up and try running towards the next objective. And it works too, though it can bite you in the ass sometimes (one particularly embarrassing incident occurred when I, armed with only a Colt revolver and facing off against 30 Union soldiers made a break for it...only to face off against two armored Opposition members armed with machine pistols). As you can imagine, all of this makes for a very aggravating gaming experience.
There's really not much to say here. The soundtrack is pretty generic and repetitive, and the weapon sound effects at times make you feel as if you are firing BB guns or lighting firecrackers. instead of actual firearms. The voice acting is all over the place: the NPCs have pretty flat dialogue, Mother's voice keeps changing between accents, Dexter does a good job but his voice is COMPLETELY wrong for his character: he is supposed to be a New York firefighter who went MIA on 9/11, but he sounds more like a cowboy mixed with an Army veteran.
The developers have bragged in press releases and the like of their "Marmoset Engine", which allows them to render "Hundreds of enemies at once". Well, I can't fault them there: we do get a lot of enemies on screen at once and without any slowdown even on a mid-range machine. Of course, when the rest of the game looks like a PS2 title and all the enemies look the same with only a few different models here and there, that isn't much of an achievement. The textures are high-res but really repetitive. The level terrain looks incredibly dull and with hardly any points of reference, so you'll be stuck looking at your map most of the time (usually only stopping when someone is about to shoot you). The only exceptions to this are the aforementioned POW level and the final level set in Pompeii, which look rather neat but that ends up being too little too late. And even those levels end up being ruined due to the repetitiveness of the models: all of the great ambiance of the POW camp goes straight to hell once you find the guy you were sent to look for...in the middle of a crowd full of models looking exactly like him.
Darkest of Days has some high points, but its merits in no way outweigh its flaws. It's quite simply a terrible game. It's so bad it's not even mock worthy: if there was an MST3K for games, this game would be the equivalent to Monster a Go-Go or The Beast Of Yucca Flats, in the sense that not even riffing can make it bearable. I know this is a debut game, but there is such a thing as aiming your sights too high and this what happens when you do. Recommendation: stay the hell away from this game. Darkest Of Days, indeed.
Psyclone has, in the past, also reviewed Burnout Paradise for GBG.
Until the end of the month, Dell is selling 22 inch widescreen monitor E2210H for $169. If you need a bigger/wider monitor or have been looking to upgrade from a CRT to an LCD, THE TIME IS NOW! This is the best deal I've yet seen for a monitor of this size.Read Full Article
Warhammer Online is currently the best PvP-oriented fantasy MMO on the market today. So why is it doing so badly? Why have subscribers been leaving it in droves, forcing server merge after server merge, still failing to solve the population problem on some servers or realms?
The biggest problem is they forgot the lesson of their greatest design triumph: DAOC's 3-faction system. Warhammer uses a 2 faction system, like WoW. And, like WoW, this led to horrendous amounts of problems with population imbalances that got ever worse because the side with the most soldiers would win, and winning sides would attract more players while losing sides would lose players faster. Thus, the 2-faction RvR paradigm is doomed the moment one side starts to eke wins over the other. Conversely, the DAOC 3-faction RvR paradigm is self balancing rather than self-imbalancing. In the 3 faction system of DAOC, it was shown that when one faction started to gain dominance over a server, the other two factions would almost always call a "truce" with each other and focus their efforts on bringing down the top dog of the moment. The effect wasn't immediate, but it was much more balanced.
That this lesson was either forgotten or abandoned during the design phase of Warhammer Online is absolutely astonishing, to say the least. To abandon a successful dynamic in such a way shows a colossal failure of planning and/or judgment. They can't even blame this one on the lore of the Intellectual Property - Warhammer has always emphasized conflict between numerous factions. In fact, it was Mythic's design which shoehorned 3 factions which fought each other as often as not (Greenskins, Dark Elves and Chaos) into one faction for the sake of having a 2 - faction paradigm. Even that aside, it would have been simple during the planning stages to conceive of a third faction consisting of, say, Skaven, Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings just as an example. Unfortunately, such decisions were not made in early development, and Mythic remained committed to the 2-faction paradigm. The reason why it is important that a decision such as this be made in early development is that because once the decision is made and development proceeds along those decisions, it becomes exponentially more difficult, time consuming and expensive to change paradigms with as each stage of production is reached. It costs nothing to change an idea while simply a concept, but now changing to a 3-faction paradigm is as good as impossible, since every zone of every tier of the game is designed explicitly around combat involving only two factions. To add a third faction now would necessitate not only introduction of new content for the third faction, but the complete re-design almost from the ground up of all existing content to support a possible 3-way fight. Thus, Mythic has painted itself into a corner and has no option but to remain committed to the 2-faction paradigm, as the time and capital no longer exists to go "back to the drawing board" with a title that is a year past launch with the rest of Electronic Arts standing over their shoulder wondering why the WoW-esque profits aren't rolling in as planned.
Another reason Warhammer is floundering so badly is because of another design element that WAR developers mistakenly believe is one of their greatest achievements: the "open party" system. This comes from a fundamental misconception about group dynamics - Mythic thinks that any tank, DPS class or healer is pretty much interchangeable with any other tank, DPS class or healer. The open party system is a breeding ground for PUGs (Pick-Up Groups, groups that were formed from whatever random people were available at the time, as opposed to "Pre-made" groups of people who know each other). PUGs are always at a disadvantage to premade groups because players of the same class are NOT interchangeable. A healer isn't a healer isn't a healer. Some players, frankly, are not as good as other players. And even the good players have wildly different styles of play - where they like to stand, how far they like to charge, who they guard, etc. No two players are alike, and an effective, cohesive group comes from players learning to play with each other as a unit, supporting and assisting each other to make the group better. But when the dynamic of your group, and the playstyles of any given member in it, can change at any given moment without warning or planning, party dynamics go all to hell. Melee classes that like to push into enemy groups to assault enemy healers first suddenly find themselves alone, unsupported and unhealed because, unbeknownst to them, the others in the group prefer a different tactic. Groups who came to rely on a "back-line" healer constantly healing from relative safety are suddenly knocked off balance by having to adapt to a new Warrior Priest who prefers to "front line" heal. "Assist train" enthusiasts grate on "AoE grind" enthusiasts and the whole thing just falls apart.
The Open Group element also discourages the community building that comes from forming guilds. Since anyone can find or start an open group at any time and have a reasonable expectation of grouping (though it probably won't be a GOOD group, as noted above) causes many to feel they don't need a guild because they can always find other people to play with. But what does not occur to these people is that the main advantage of having a guild is the organization and coordination they facilitate. Indeed, even many extant guilds already formed in warhammer forget this too, leaving guildmembers to their own devices (and the not-so-tender mercies of the various Open PUGs) rather than emphasize the cooperative benefits of doing things together as a guild. Thus, the already manifest performance difference between PUGs and pre-made and "Guild" groups becomes even more pronounced, leading to further discouragement among the majority of players (because let's face it, there's usually 10 PUG prey to every pre-made predator), leading to less subscribers.
People resent other players who run in pre-made or guild-only groups. Because (among other reasons) I want a fighting force that is familiar with the styles and tactics of its own members, I have a policy in the guild for which I am leader in WAR - we always run in a guild warband, whatever we do. I've seen the results for myself. Running in a guild warband means there's always a place for guildmates who come online to join the activity and enjoy the added effectiveness of teaming up with other players with whom they are familiar and comfortable. As a result, I've led keep defenses where a half warband (~12 players) of my guild has successfully repulsed attacks on keeps we were defending when the attackers were fielding four times our numbers. But our own realm-mates resent us. They call us elitists, or selfish, and accuse us of not being "team players." I respond that anyone who wants to join our guild can do so, and they'll be welcome in our guild warband, which is about as non-elitist as you can get. No matter your skill or background or class or level, my guild will welcome you and give you a try, and even share the fruits of our crafting and gear-farming labor with you. This is elitism? Apparently it is, since the default is the "open group," which the rank and file of the server feels makes them entitled to riding the coattails of a more effective group of players who practice and play with each other without having to put in the effort and commitment to also contribute to that group of players. It makes me feel like a woman who has been called a bitch because she won't engage in casual sex. If you want in my metaphorical bed, I want to know you're going to be there not only in the morning, but for the foreseeable future.
Yet another reason for Warhammer Online's troubles has been the absolute abandonment of the player economy and the crafting sector. In DAOC, mythic created a very robust and versatile crafting system which, when taken to its very end, produced the best gear in the game, absolutely customizable to your needs and your playing style in a straightforward (if time consuming) manner. It wasn't perfect, but it existed. In Warhammer, Crafting is the unwanted stepchild of the game. The methods of crafting items was intended to be new and original, but worked out being arcane and unintuitive as well as largely unhelpful. There is no way to craft one's own armor or weapons, though you can craft items that enhance dropped or quested items to a degree. Consumables are also craftable, but investment in creating them seldom matches return and most players consider the process to be more trouble than it is worth. Add into this problem that there is no real money sink in this game (the last major investment you make in Warhammer is at level 20, when you buy your mount for a paltry 15 gold which is easily earned before you need it), and you are also presented with hyperinflation combined with oligarchism - the longer you have played, the more money you have lying around doing nothing, which causes the price for higher end items to skyrocket because money becomes more and more meaningless... but meanwhile, the newer players who have not yet hit the point where their money is growing faster than the US federal debt find themselves unable to meet the ever-multiplying asking prices for the gear that is considered "standard minimum" at the upper levels. 500g+ for a single piece of level 40 set armor is not uncommon, and prices from there go up into the multithousands. Thus, the good gear generally gets sold back and forth between the longest-running players, with none of the money really finding its way down into the hands of the newer players. Even the seemingly exorbitant costs of castle ownership (often costing guilds dozens of gold per hour) does not seem to fight the inflation. Prices of "green" gear usually stays around a stable few gold per piece, but in the neverending arms race of RvR, where the oligarchs are ever increasing their destructive potential with better and better gear, stepping one toe into combat with green or even blue gear will usually spell your instant annihilation.
These are the three major reasons Warhammer Online has gone from one of the most anticipated titles to being practically on life support, even as it celebrates its first anniversary of launch. And that doesn't even include the myriad of other problems that are innate to any MMO - the bugs, issues of prompt response from customer service, controversies of class balance, etc. Warhammer's subscribers are being wooed away by the latest flashes in the pan (Champions Online even managed to catch my eye, despite its lack of meaningful PvP... and of course, Aion has been hyped beyond all measure even though it promises to be yet another unimpressive Korean grindfest). It's a pity that the company which created the best PvP MMO to date - Dark Age of Camelot - has now been unable to replicate that success, even when bolstered by one of the best and most prolific fantasy IPs in existence.
And it's a shame, because RvR is still the best PvP MMO experience there is in the world.
And that's the word from Bandit camp...
Give you one hint. Well, two.
That's right.. sixaxis motion control for Ayane's boobies. I guess it's safe to label NGS2 a "DOA" game now.
But what happens if you shake the controller REALLY FAST?
I don't know if the rest of you are having the same trouble suddenly seeing all the previous ones, but here goes nothing.
Happy 100th show, Yahtzee. You liked COJ-BiB better than I did, but that's probably because you played the console version where the controls make sense.
I had a bit of a soft spot for the first Call of Juarez. Well, at least for the parts where you played Reverend Ray and not Billy Candle, because I liked playing as the aging ultimate badass bible-verse-spouting invulnerable gunslinger and not so much the stealthy weakling. This game is really a prequel, not a sequel, focusing on the earlier lives of Ray and his brothers, Thomas and William.
Despite having heard bad things about my old nemesis "unlockables" showing up in the multiplayer, I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this title because the "western" genre FPS is such a rare thing. Unfortunately I was a bit let down by this one. I'll just go down the list of gripes here -
1) The Control
CoJ1 had some issue with control, but Bound in Blood makes it worse. Clearly the game was written with console control sticks in mind, which is a terrible thing because there's no worse control for an FPS than a console stick. Yeah, that goes for Halo, too. Well, I take it back.. the only thing worse than controlling an FPS with a console stick is trying to control an FPS that was designed for a console stick... with a mouse and keyboard. The pinnacle of this annoyance is in the "boss fight" showdown sections, where the mouse movement is so divorced from the onscreen effects that it becomes infuriating. You have to move your mouse down and to the left to move your hand close to your gun.. but not TOO close or else you'll suffer a penalty. If you stop moving your mouse, though, the hand will also drift slowly away from where it needs to be. When the churchbell rings in the distance, you're supposed to quickly complete the down-left movement with the mouse to grab the gun and then shove upward to unholster and aim it, and the whole mess is just so counter-intuitive that often it almost made me just give up on the game in disgust, even when I got it right and won the shootout on the first try.
2) The Graphics
Maybe this looks a lot better on console, I don't know, but on PC, the creators of Bound in Blood have accomplished something amazing - they took the beautiful sweeping vistas and rolling wilderness of the american southwest and made them painful to look at. Playing this game for more than a couple hours made my eyes cross and my head hurt. I couldn't quite tell if it was the watery postfiltering, the industry-pervasive abuse of bloom, the impossible to miss mutation of polygons at a moderate distance (even on the highest settings available), the mannequin-ish rigid quality of the models (especially during cutscenes)and their unfocused, soulless eyes, and the overall clutteredness of every level where it becomes hard to distinguish one polygonal construct from another. There's a lot of that going around these days too, CoD:WaW was chock full of it.
3) The Level Design
Even apart from the eye-stabbing quality of much of the scenery is the fact that every bit of the action in the game is linear, if not scripted. Feels almost like a rail shooter at times. There are never multiple solutions to an obstacle, and you can forget running around to flank someone. It gets kinda old. Also, like the first game, it involves a lot more stomping about in caves and the wilderness than gunfights in towns, which goes against my personal preference.
4) The Paradigm Shifts
As part of the console-tardification of the property, Bound in Blood also starts heavily relying on aim auto-correction. It's not even subtle. Often your crosshair will just move itself for you to center on your opponent's head or something. It is at one both disorienting and insulting to the PC FPS player who is used to doing all his own aiming, thank you very much. Additionally, the dynamic of "concentration mode" (also known as bullet time) has changed; before, you needed only holster your weapons for a few seconds for it to become available, and then when you clicked you would invoke bullet time and be able to shoot with both guns independently. It worked very well in the first game. Now, that "independent gun slow motion" bullet time is reserved only for certain scripted events that happen 3 or 4 times per chapter that involve the brothers kicking in a door simultaneously. Two NEW concentration modes have been foisted upon the player (one for each brother), both requiring little to no skill in execution and also irritatingly limited. See, in order to earn a concentration mode, now you must kill multiple enemies within a short span of time to fill your concentration meter, and then you have 60 seconds to use your concentration mode before the meter falls back to half again. This means that whereas there were multiple perfect opportunities in the first game where you got to use concentration mode to awesome effect, in the second game concentration mode often goes to waste by being used on only one or two enemies, or by not being used at all. Also, the new concentration modes (as I said above) require no skill to use. Once slow motion is engaged, Ray's new concentration mode simply involves you dragging your cursor (no clicking required) across every enemy in sight, and when the timer is up ray will simply automatically kill every tagged enemy. Thomas' concentration mode is even worse... invoking it simply guarantees every enemy in view will die because you don't even have to target them, you merely have to shove the mouse forward and back to repeatedly shoot them all. I think this was because in console controls this would translate to someone holding their controller like a gun and strumming their whole hand across the stick as if it were the hammer on a 6 shooter. A perhaps clever gimmick that is entirely lost on the PC version.
I was, of course, also disappointed in the unlockable aspects of the multiplayer, which is a shame because the multiplayer part of the first Call of Juarez was a fun-as-hell casual experience all in itself.
Now, it's not all bad. I do like the genre, I do like the shootouts, and I like the story (especially the origins of characters we came to know "later" in the first game, such as Calm Water and Billy Candle... though it never does give you the story on how or why Ray came to wear an iron conquistador's curiass with a huge cross on it, which apparently far predates his Reverend Ray days). I also REALLY like that they got rid of the "gun takes damage until it blows up from normal use" mechanic, allowing you to spend money to upgrade your weapons to suit your taste as the game progresses. I also like very much that it gives you a choice of which brother to play as in each chapter, letting you decide the dynamic of the level (Ray is tough and slow, best for direct confrontation, while Thomas is quick and nimble, working best with "finesse"). Maybe the problem is that they wrote a western screenplay and then tried to turn it into a game, and we all know how games based on movies usually turn out.
Grade: C-. I want to like it, but it's too irritating to ever play again.
It's been out for console for a while, but it just recently hit the PC, so it's new to me!
Street Fighter 4, which unintuitively enough is actually something like the 10th Street Fighter (and that's only if you don't count the puzzle fighters or the marvel/snk crossovers), continues the somewhat annoying tradition of attempting to inject plot into a game where the only REAL plot is "I'm this guy and I have to beat up everybody else." Of course, sometimes it's fun to check out the backstory of what fighting game characters are up to, to try to learn their motivations... but any such inquisitiveness is quickly bitchslapped right out of any casual gamer who isn't looking to spend hours decoding the temporal mishmash which is the street fighter release order vs chronology. See, First there was Street Fighter, Then Street Fighter 2, which then had 2 "revisions" of itself, then the third street fighter series was Street Fighter Alpha which actually is set BEFORE Street Fighter 2 (I shit you not, I did not know this until today when I looked all this mess up, because frankly the art design in the alpha games turned me the hell off, not to mention I got tired of having to listen to unwashed teens at the arcade creaming their jeans over whatever the hell this "Akuma" thing is), which then had a revision and a sequel. Then came the fourth trilogy, Street Fighter 3 and its revision and sequel, which came after Street fighter 2, so at least they were trying to maintain the numeric progression. But then they had to go and muck THAT up as well by having Street Fighter 4 happen BETWEEN 2 and 3!
Trust me, just forget the plot. The plot is "You are this one guy and you have to beat up everybody else." I should have stuck with that.
Alright, mindscrambling plot-knots aside, the game is actually fun as hell. The last street fighter game I tried was Capcom Vs SNK 2, which made me want to murder people because SNK refused to port capcom's control scheme into their gaming system. Don't even get me started on the retardation that ensued with multiple "grooves" available for characters, ugh. That could be its own article right there.
I was immensely relieved to be able to pick Ryu and find all his moves and buttons exactly right the hell where I expected them to be. It felt like slipping on an old, comfy pair of gloves that fit your hands perfectly. The controls feel like Street Fighter 2 but even more natural and smooth. Of course there were one or two little learning stumbling blocks, like I had to figure out that throws are now accomplished by hitting both "light" attack buttons at once, instead of just being automatic when you get close. There's also a new "focus attack" ability (both medium attack buttons) that seems to be some kind of DOA-esque fake opening with a counter attack, but I can't quite get the hang of it. They've also got buildup guages that have come to be standard in the fighting game industry nowadays, divided into two meters, one for supercharging normal attacks and a "revenge" gauge that lets you unleash "ultra combo" type moves which builds up by you getting beat on. For those of us who have forgotten (perhaps voluntarily) their childhoods, there's also a built in list of moves available for you to peruse at any time.
The developers of the game took an interesting approach - in a world where games are making ever more and more strenuous demands for more polygons, higher resolution textures and arbitrarily incremented shader models, SF4 has opted for a reasonable amount of polygons, fairly low resolution textures that are then run through an industrial strength post-processing routine a half dozen times that actually makes the whole affair rather pleasing to the eye when it's in motion (but makes screenshots look a little like ass warmed over). Many of the more powerful attacks also cause graphical effects reminiscent of brush strokes or ink spatters. Really, it all feels halfway to being cel-shaded but still retains the depth of the third dimension, and framerates are easily maintained very high, which is important in a game that relies so very much on reflexes. You can also tell the model designers and motion coders had a lot of fun with what they were doing and were not just going through the motions like that other set of 3D street fighter games that we all agreed never to speak of again 10 years ago. It should be noted, as well, that while everything is rendered in 3D, the gameplay is still limited to a two-dimensional plane, so there's no dodging to the sides and whatnot a-la Soulcalibur.
The game features 27 characters to choose from (though 10 or 11 or so have to be "unlocked" by doing the funky chicken dance at midnight on the south side of a spruce tree or whatever the hell passes for "reasonable expectations for unlocking requirements" these days), and contain a good number of old favorites as well as a handful of newcomers - a mostly grapple-based MMA fighter named Abel, a business-suit bitch with a wierd uniboob named Crimson Viper, a spastic luchador-come-gourmet-chef named El Fuerte, and my new favoritest character in the whole wide world, an extremely obese kung fu biker named Rufus.
Rufus is just awesome in a can. Or rather, in an oversized yellow spandex biker's jumpsuit. I love the character design, the unconventional attacks, and I especially love how they chose to wobble his belly. Mai Shiranui and DOA's breast physics have got NOTHING on Rufus' belly wobbling. It makes me laugh until I cry. The writing on his dialog (especially his meandering, stream-of-consciousness victory quotations) is just hilarious. There's no "You must defeat sheng long to stand a chance," here. No, you get to hear about this one crazy time he put bananas in his peanut butter sandwich and was like "whoa."
The standard Arcade mode doesn't take that long to beat, consisting as it does of 6 random matches, a "rival" fight, and the boss battle. Playing by yourself you'll probably be ready to play something else in 2 hours or less, but you'll come back some other time. As with every other fighting game, the real joy is in getting some friends together and beating the snot out of each other in versus mode. And since the PC version supports Windows Live, if you really want to you can subject yourself to playing against random sugar-injected 14 year olds around the world.
All in all, I found it a very enjoyable game worth owning, particularly if you game with friends who also like fighting games. It also makes me salivate for a potential Marvel vs Capcom 3 written with this engine, which if they can take the custom tie-ins from MVC1 and the incredible number of characters from MVC2 and combine them with the artistry and control scheme of SF4, I am fairly certain would constitute the most incredible thing to hit the fighting game scene since Mugen.
Grade: B+ Also, is it just me, or do Chun Li's thighs get bigger and bigger with every single game? I swear, her hips are like 3 feet across now.
Surprise, Mechwarrior fans! That teaser from yesterday was indeed for a new Mechwarrior title, which is in development at Piranha Games, who worked on the latest Transformers title.Read Full Article
So at least you know they have experience with giant robots! Then again, it also means they have experience with making crummy games based on giant robots.
Though, let's give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. They only helped develop Revenge of the Fallen. And being a movie tie-in, it had a deadline to meet. Something they won't have to worry about with Mechwarrior, what with Battletech being 25 years old and all.
This new game is called simply MechWarrior, and will serve as a reboot of sorts for the franchise. You'll still be piloting mechs, but the developers reckon that current console technology will for the first time let you feel like you're really behind the sticks of a giant fighting robot.
They're also shooting for a "dynamic battlefield", and rather than feature a food chain of mechs, instead want to let players choose a style of mech and then upgrade that to suit their tastes as they progress through the game.
MechWarrior is coming to the PC and Xbox 360, with no details yet on either a publisher or a release timeframe.
I enjoyed Overlord 2 more than I did Overlord 1, for a number of reasons. These days it seems a rare thing that a sequel genuinely improves on the original, but this one does in a number of ways - which, given that the original Overlord wasn't all that shabby to begin with, is all the more pleasing.
For those of you who missed it, Overlord is a game franchise about being evil, doing evil, and inevitably, overcoming some other evil that is getting in the way of you exerting your own evilness. You're a hulking, muscular brute with demonic glowing eyes and a suit of armor copypasted off of an artist's concept sketch of Sauron. You have dozens of little impish minions who you send to do most of your dirty work, though you yourself aren't bad at chopping and stomping either.
When Overlord 2 begins, you are put into the boots of Overlad, the 6 year old progeny of the previous Overlord and his tower mistress, who then fled the tower and abandoned you in a sleepy snowbound northern village. Called "witch-boy" by the locals and cruelly ostracised by most of the other children, Overlad is then discovered by a small handful of evil minions who were part of a large, scattered effort to locate him after the untimely demise of the previous Overlord in a mysterious magical explosion that destroyed the Dark Tower and most of the surrounding area. They help him put paid to his squabbles with the local kids and escape to the netherworld.
Fast forward through 13 years of being raised by demented goblin henchmen, and Overlord Jr. is now ready to settle old scores and claim his father's birthright.
The first and most obvious improvement is also probably the most expected one - with the increase in available graphics horsepower out there now, Overlord 2 has more visual complexity than the first. There's more dynamic foliage, the fur lining your armor wafts in the breeze, many more destructible objects in the environment that shatter and crumble in a much more spectacular fashion, more particle effects, and so on and so forth. It still abuses the hell out of bloom, but what doesn't, these days?
The second, and most needed improvement in my eyes, is the "be evil" paradigm got an overhaul. One of my larger gripes with the first overlord was that there were far too many chances to be good, and the evil that you did do was very "saturday morning cartoon" type evil, which made it really just mean-spirited slapstick and not really any kind of dark humor. While you're still not exactly peeling people out of their skins and hanging them by their entrails or anything, the evil has gotten more Darkseid and less Gargamel. For instance, your first task as a grown overlord is to slaughter 25 baby seals to harvest their life force for use in summoning minions. There's no retrieving a lady's lost freaking baggage here. There are still choices to be made, but rather than choosing "good" or "evil" like in the first game, now the choices go between enslave and dominate, or kill and destroy. The ending of the game changes as well, depending on whether you enslave everything, destroy everything, or use a mixture of both.
Just for the sake of one-upmanship as well, Junior does not share the same "one tower, one mistress" limitation that daddy did. Over the course of your rise to power you will aquire not one, not two, but three mistresses. Which of course leads them to squabble over who is your harlot-in-chief, which of course gets you out of the netherworld and doing nefarious things more often.
Another new addition is the ability of your minions to obtain mounts which improve their performance. Browns can ride wolves which increase their fighting ability, reds can ride salamanders which let them toss fire on-the-run, and greens can ride spiders which let them climb vertical surfaces. Your enemies have some new tricks as well, particularly the new human "empire" which uses phalanx formations that are hard to break up and require much strategy to overcome. There's also fun catapults and ballistae to play with, new weapons and armor to forge (as well as some of the better items from the first one... the helmet that gives you double life energy for each orb you collect is my favorite), and new spells to use. I particularly like using the "evil presence" spell to dominate the minds of local civilians and using them as cannon fodder when I confront the military that is supposed to be protecting the town. Delicious irony.
Sadly, the control scheme did not improve from 1 to 2, and we're still left trying to emulate thumbstick movements with the mouse. However, they did improve the camera angle a little bit, making it easier to see what's right in front of the overlord instead of being blocked by his body. There's also new fighting moves associated with holding down different directions while swinging.
All in all, the game improves on the first one in almost every way, and is an enjoyable experience to play through once and revisit once in a great while.
Grade: B+. If they could get more replayability into this game via dynamically generated content or something, rather than everything being married to the in-game plot, it'd be an epic game.