March 2006

It seems that no one is oblivious to Oblivion.

Indeed, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion may be the most widely-known, hyped, paraded, and talked-about role-playing game release in history. It is hard to recall another such game that has generated as much hype or press. It is even harder to remember one that has lived up to the expectations surrounding such inflated anticipation. Oblivion, however, does just that, and more.While technically an role-playing game, Oblivion is in truth best referred to as an experience, and it brings with it a level of immersion that is simply not offered by other titles. Of course, its core genre is that of a RPG, but Oblivion is really in a class of its own. The Elder Scrolls series has always been particularly ambitious, always ahead of its time. Beginning with Arena, evolving with Daggerfall (quite possibly the buggiest game in PC gaming history and yet still widely accepted and loved), continuing with the popular and comparatively bug-less Morrowind, and now culminating in Oblivion, the The Elder Scrolls series has seen steady growth and has only gotten better over the years.

The overall engine and mechanics have been streamlined a great deal from those found in Morrowind. Some aspects of the game have been simplified, while others have been given much-needed complexity. Though many gamers will cite widely-different personal experiences regarding their time spent with Oblivion, most will agree that the developers chose to expunge exactly the aspects of Morrowind that were cumbersome or did not work, and likewise opted to expand exactly those elements that warranted extra attention. For instance, instead of choosing major, minor, and then tertiary skills, players now select seven major skills and everything else falls under the category of minor skills. Similarly, there is no more middle-armor class – every armor type in Morrowind that was considered medium armor was shuffled into either heavy or light armor for Oblivion. Additionally, there is only hand-to-hand, blunt, and blade weapon skills, rather than having these abilities segregated into different types.

The combat system has been made much more robust as well. This time out blocking isn’t automatic, as now players must choose when to block and when to attack. Combat was kind of an obligatory chore in Morrowind. Here, it has become the crux of the action, and is actually a joy. Every battle can be won in a variety of ways, and combat is generally much more strategic than deciding whether or not to thrust or slash. In addition, now that magicka actually regenerates without having to rest, spellcasters now have been given a fighting chance. Of course, the game still tends to favor the jack-of-all-trades fighter/spellcaster, but where a pure spellcaster was almost doomed to failure in Morrowind, this is no longer necessarily the case.

Of course, these are just some random differences; Oblivion was built from the ground up, and as such it improves upon many aspects of Morrowind, from mechanics down to the menus. Rather than simply expanding on the previous game’s engine, it instead incorporates the best design philosophies present in Morrowind and builds on them, and in the process has left behind the dregs. For starters, in true Elder Scrolls style, Oblivion is as non-linear as a single player RPG can be. Character creation is a robust affair, and is actually now segmented within the game’s introductory dungeon. Players will choose a race, name, and class, or they can create their own class consisting of two main attributes and seven minor skills. After players leave this initial dungeon, they are given free reign to do as they please. The world, or at least Cyrodiil, is their oyster.

Cyrodiil, the slice of Tamriel upon which Oblivion takes place, is huge. Morrowind was reported at ten square miles, whereas Oblivion adds six more on top of that, with far less water, making for more content-laden land. Back is Daggerfall’s map-driven fast-travel system, though this time around the system is given less detail than in Daggerfall, which makes some sense. Beginning with Morrowind, quests – save a scant few – were not timed. However, every quest in Daggerfall had some sort of time-limit attributed to it, and as such traveling could cost precious hours. In Oblivion, like was in Morrowind, time is usually not of the essence. This is a double-edged sword, however, as time-sensitive quests add an element of reality and tension to the game, and this is definitely something Oblivion lacks when compared to Daggerfall. The reason this was done, though, is obvious – every quest in Oblivion has a feeling of being much bigger than just your average random fetch quests which were the bread and butter of Daggerfall. As such, penalizing a player for taking too long on a customized plot-oriented quest does not make much sense in a game such as this, however the lack of time-sensitivity removes a layer of tension that may have benefited Oblivion.

Still, there are some quests which require the player to act quickly, more so than in Morrowind. There is an unbelievably large variety of intricate quests, which range from locating someone’s lookalike, to investigating local murders, to slaying vampires, to locating precious heirlooms, to…well, the list goes on and on and on and on and on. There are hundreds of quests, many of which do not fall under the main plot line, and are simply present either to fill the back story, serve as atmosphere, or grant the player certain rewards to aid him or her on the main quest.

Players can get lost nearly anywhere in Cyrodiil simply because there is so much to do. It is possible to fast travel to various locations and breeze through elements of the main plot, however it is just as easy to get stuck in one small town doing quest after quest just to experience what the game has to offer. Factions are back, though there are seemingly less than there were in previous series titles. The achievements available for the Xbox 360 track a player’s progress through the five main guild-like factions, as well as plot milestones. These guilds each have their own duties and commissions for members to reach higher ranks. Each guild also now has a clear delineation from the others. The Fighters’ Guild acts like a melee-oriented Fighters’ Guild, the Mages’ Guild’s woes and requests are all magic-oriented, and the Thieves’ Guild actually acts like a Thieves’ Guild for once – a welcome change. Sneaking and thieving has been given a large overhaul now as well, as stealing is much more difficult than before, owing in part to the much more robust A.I. found in Oblivion. NPCs will now follow the main character around, particularly if his or her general presence is known, until he or she is out of sight. NPCs will make certain to keep the player under a watchful eye, most especially once they acquire infamy for misdeeds.

There is so much content that one could literally write a book on the merits of Oblivion – speaking of which, there are many texts to read in the game, all of which matter in one way or another. Some are newsletters, some are the requisite history texts, while still others serve as important plot or subplot devices – such as a diary or a love letter from one suitor to another. There are some that contain hints pointing the player toward a particular puzzle solution, or giving them hazy directions or clues pointing them toward a particular area of interest. The texts are very interesting, overall, and there is a lot less miscellany thrown about them.

From a technical standpoint, playing Oblivion on the Xbox 360 is an absolute dream. The game has one of the most pleasing aesthetics ever pressed on disc, and playing in full widescreen high definition only furthers the immersion of the experience. Audio is done just as well, and the voice-acting is excellent, with the only minor complaint being that many of the voices sound very similar.

The developers at Bethesda have done an amazing job at making this game feel as if it was made to be played using the Xbox 360 controller, rather it feeling like a PC game that has been shoehorned on the console. Playing through the game feels comfortable at every step. Aiming is done with one analog stick, movement with the other, and attacking and blocking are handled by the triggers. The button above the right trigger is for casting the active spell. There is no longer an annoying A

Patch Day

March 28, 2006

It looks like it is Patch Day in the world of PC gaming.

[url=]Here[/url] is the WoW v1.10.0 patch.

[url=]Here[/url] is the Quake 4 v1.1 patch.

[url=]Here[/url] is the Battlefield 2 v1.22 patch.

Enjoy them all.

Please allow me to use a quote from the podcast: “The PSP is like a BMW”. I couldn’t agree with it more. When I look and feel and play on my [i]PSP[/i], I feel like I have been sitting and driving in a luxury car, straight from Germany, with expensive clothes made by…ok, you get the idea, right? Right.

The [i]Playstaion Portable[/i] ([i]PSP[/i] from now on), is the multifunctional hand held made by Sony. Multifunctional you say? Well, what are these things?

The ability to play music. You can convert your music files to the format of the [i]PSP[/i], and you can listen to your music on your handheld gaming device! Too bad that the memory stick the [i]PSP[/i] Value Pack is only 32 MB, and is useless for this.

Play movies! Yes, the [i]PSP[/i] is able to play movies. You can play them via the UMD discs (same discs that the [i]PSP[/i] games are on), which you can buy, but some people might be turned off by buying the discs at a higher price than DVDs, and owning them again. But let me tell you guys a secret: you can convert files of movies or whatnot onto the [i]PSP[/i]! But the problem stands as with the music: the basic memory stick is useless.

Look at pictures in amazing quality. The [i]PSP[/i] allows you to put pictures on it, and while looking at them, you will notice that the quality is much better than on most digital cameras, or even TVs. With the 2.00 software, you can put the pictures in the background of your screen (gotta love my Jessica Alba one). There are numerous sites which make backgrounds specifically for the [i]PSP[/i].

You can surf the web with the machine. Amazing isn’t it? Not many people would have thought after, say, the GBA was released that one day you will be surfing the web on a handheld. Well, you can do it and it’s great. All you need is wireless internet, and the 2.00 firmware. You can also play online with online enabled games, and with games such as [i]Socom[/i]: Fireteam Bravo, it is highly recommended.

The [i]PSP[/i] allows you (with certain softwares and low firmware) to play old ROMs and various homebrew applications. The downside of this is, later firmwares disallow this, and these pieces of software can wreck your machine by essentially turning it into a brick (meaning frozen forever).

Now, these were only the “accessories” to the [i]PSP[/i]. But a “Playstation” wouldn’t be called that without playing games.

The graphics are mind-blowing. Imagine playing a PS1, with slightly better graphics in your hand. Yes my friends, the graphics are that amazing, and I am very sure that many people would not have thought of handheld graphics EVER becoming so great. Cutscenes during games and playing movies look sharper than most TV screens.

Forget the outdated sound that we began to get used to on the GBA and its predecessors. The sound there felt like on systems decades old, and it was really time to move on. The [i]PSP[/i] boasts excellent sound, whether in game (with voice acting and real music in the games), or when watching a movie or listening to it.

At launch, the [i]PSP[/i] was criticized due to the lack of (quality) games. Fear not, a year after the launch, the good games are finally pouring in. [i]Metal Gear Acid[/i] (and its upcoming sequel), [i]Splinter Cell[/i], [i]GTA: Liberty City Stories[/i], [i]Socom[/i], [i]Daxter[/i], [i]Syphon Filter[/i], [i]Tekken[/i], [i]Devil May Cry[/i] and many Japanese RPGs as well as tons of other hot titles too. The [i]PSP[/i] is getting a freaking awesome library of games in the very near future.

I don’t have that many complaints about the system, except the low battery life, price, and the size of the memory stick. Let’s look at all of these in order.

When the battery is charged 100%, it will only last you about 5-6 hours. When playing on the highest light screen, and a fast paced game (Ridge Racer, or Burnout), the battery life will be drained even more. I find this rather unacceptable, as the point of a handheld is the ability for hours upon hours, such as when you’re on long car trips. No matter, as later on the battery life will (hopefully) be improved.

250 United States dollars is a lot of money for some people, and they might not be willing to spend that much money on a handheld. If you can afford it, then it will be a really valuable purchase, and if you don’t feel like playing a game, you can listen to music and watch videos and pictures, as well as surf the web on the machine. In my not-so-humble opinion, that 250 bucks is well worth it.

While it was really generous of Sony to include a 32 MB memory stick, it is utterly useless if you want to do anything other things than play games (which most people will want to do). So, other than spending the 250 dollars, you might as well pick up a 1 GB stick (or the [i]PSP[/i] Giga Pack, that includes the 1 GB stick, which is cheaper than buying them separately). The last I heard, a 5 GB one is on the way (which will cost a heck load too, as expected). But if you just want to game, then don’t spend more for a stick, as the 32 MB will be sufficient.

The [i]PSP[/i] is an excellent little machine, despite the above mentioned problems. You can do so many things on it that you could never do, or couldn’t even imagine to do on a handheld, I say the [i]PSP[/i] is a must buy for anyone. If you don’t feel like gaming, then there are tons of features with the system, so you will never be bored. Trust me, it will be a $250 well spent.

Okay, okay, this is going to be hard to review. I mean, it’s [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i]! If you’re reading this and you have not heard of [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i], I would physically slap you if I could. But anyway, quick history lesson. 1996 saw the release of the world’s first pure stealth 3D game, though I guess the definition of pure stealth has changed over the years, [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i], itself a sequel to two 2D stealth-em-ups in [i]Metal Gear[/i] and [i]Metal Gear 2[/i]. Now, I first played [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] in 1999, since it debuted here in Europe at the end of 1997 and well, I had a Nintendo 64 at the time. It took me a while to get used to the unusual gameplay, but once I knew what I was doing I promptly started to enjoy myself. What I found extremely interesting however was the fact that I was seeing quite an incredible story unfold through the cut scenes of the game, and the Codec screen which it used instead of the usual dialogue boxes for those long conversations. I am fairly sure this was the first time a game’s story had me riveted to the screen, even through some of the extremely long Codec sequences. The second was probably [i]Final Fantasy VII[/i]. But that’s another story.

[i]Metal Gear Solid[/i]’s story stood out more however than almost any other story based game, with a plethora of interesting characters, multiple devious twists, and some truly heart wrenching moments. The Gameplay itself just about kept up, thanks to plenty of interesting set pieces and some amazing boss battles. A few years later Konami came up with [i]Metal Gear Solid 2[/i], which I loved equally as much, perhaps even more as once I made sense of it’s rather odd ending, I realised that the story itself was an accurate reflection of many real world truths, such as the growth of the information age and the polarisation of the world. But now we fast-forward to last year, 2005, which saw the European release of the third [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i], and fifth [i]Metal Gear[/i]. And the one that this review shall focus on, but that background information I just gave will help in understanding just why I feel about the series the way I do.

One of the first things noticeable in [i]Snake Eater[/i] is the change of setting – from modern wonders of industry to the natural jungle. Also, not only has the setting changed but also the time period, which is the 60s. Certainly quite the rewind, which means the Snake you play as can’t be Solid Snake. No, he is Naked Snake, the man who will one day become Big Boss, antagonist of the original two Metal Gears. So it would seem [i]Snake Eater[/i] is going to fill in all the back-story about his character. And what a story! Sent into the Russian wilderness to rescue a scientist defector, Sokolov, Snake discovers that Sokolov’s research is one damn good reason to get him out, as his research entails the building of a Nuclear Tank, the Shagohod. But Snake fails this first mission, thanks to being double crossed by the one person he trusted the most, his mentor, The Boss. Knocked off a bridge and left for dead, Snake barely survives. Whilst he is recovering, Volgin, a renegade General in the Red Army, launches a nuclear attack on the Shagohod Facility, causing an international incident that could bring the Cold War to a fiery halt. Left with little choice, the American Government sends in Snake again, this time, his mission to kill Volgin, the Boss; her unit and to destroy the Shagohod. A tall order, but if anybody can do it, Snake can.

Okay, so that’s the basics of the plot covered. I’ll leave it up to you to discover the rest of what is bar none one of the greatest thrillers ever conceived. But now, onto the gameplay. [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] has always been quite unique to play. Utilising an above the head camera system reminiscent of its 2D ancestors, [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] has always been about paying attention to radar, using equipment the right way and looking for weaknesses in enemy patterns. [i]Snake Eater[/i] is for the most part, not that different. Except owing to the change of time period you can no longer rely on the technological wonder of your radar, and instead must rely on more archaic forms of navigation in order to avoid or defeat the enemy. Also, the addition of a stamina bar, which must be kept, topped up in order to heal Snake’s health and allow him to perform physically exerting acts. Hunting animals and plants, and consuming them can top up the Stamina bar. This of course adds a layer of realism to the game, creating a far more natural experience to the game, in line with the change to a much more natural setting. Another addition is in the form of physical injury, which must be physically treated using a specific menu. These injuries, which include bullet wounds, broken bones and burns, must be treated as quickly as possible as they hinder Snake’s ability to combat enemies. And many of the bosses are capable of inflicting these unpleasant injuries on Snake making his job all the harder.

However, where I personally believe the biggest changes and improvements to the old [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] formula introduced by [i]Snake Eater[/i] is to the combat system. Not only is there a greater variety of guns, including for the first time ever in Metal Gear, a Shotgun, but also a major addition to Snake’s close range weaponry, a knife. You see, The Boss taught Snake Close Quarters Combat, a fighting technique that allows for the quick neutralisation of enemies at point black range. Mastery of the stealthy approach followed by the quick CQC takedown can make the game a breeze, but then so could master gunplay. That’s what I love in particular about [i]Snake Eater[/i] – the variety of combat approaches, which do work in the game. And the boss battles with The Boss’s Unit are incredibly memorable. My favourite was the 100-year-old Sniper, The End. My battle with him took close to 30 full minutes, in which I made the conscious choice not to try and engage the old fox, a master of camouflage, in a pitched sniper battle but rather I would discern his location and sneak up behind him, leaving him open to an attack. Speaking of Camouflage, I totally forgot. Camouflage is the crux of [i]Snake Eater[/i]’s stealth gameplay. Again, keeping in line with the game’s natural setting, the game shows a percentage onscreen which indicates how well hidden you are. It’s a simple system that works perfectly, but does result in a lot of crawling through grass.

Cutting straight to the chase, [i]Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater[/i] is an incredible game. Offering variety and depth of gameplay above and beyond any of its predecessors or competitors, and continuing the great Metal Gear tradition of having a story that is rich and exciting beyond compare, it’s the perfect action game. The graphics and sound are of course top notch, but hell, do I even need to confirm that? It’s [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i]! Now that you have sat here and read me blabbing on, I expect you to go play [i]Snake Eater[/i] if you have yet to experience it, or better yet wait for Substinence which will contain Metal Gear’s first attempt at multiplayer. If it’s anywhere near as good as the solo game, the PS2 has its online [i]Halo[/i] killer, but of course that won’t be known until it’s out. In finishing, play [i]Snake Eater[/i]. You will not regret it, and if you do, well I’d be shocked.

American Football is a sport founded upon lies and trickery. The foot is not used in the game predominantly – no, the hands, they are the main weapon in this game of human chess. And yet you hear them scream A