Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stone Age Conqueror


Because zombies and stickmen sniper simulators were already a dime a dozen, somebody had to come along with a different angle on our favourite Flash titles and it seems Stone Age Games are the first ones to take a crack at it. It's a shame, then, that their games so far have largely sucked giant pulsating donkey balls, Stone Age Conqueror being no different.

You take on the role of a Stone Age general who, at the beginning of the game, finds himself behind enemy lines and far from his army. So it's up to you to kill anyone who gets in your way and make it back to your soldiers so you can mount your own attack. First of all, it looks great, with simple stylised animation - there's no jerky or clunky animation, and the game even begins with a really nice animated intro. But as far as gameplay is concerned, I have my issues. The first one being:

OK, so why is the attack key the left mouse button? At first I thought it must be because you have to line your weapon up to each target, but that isn't the case. For one thing, your weapon is a big bone club - hardly the sort of thing you need to worry about aiming. Then, of course, there's the fact that you can't aim - you just swing right in front of you. So could someone at Stone Age Games please explain to me what's up?

You have two separate buttons to pause and unpause the game, yet you can't programme, say, the Space key to swing the weapon? Someone at Stone Age Games has stocks in wrist guards and wants to make sure we all buy one before we get carpal tunnel syndrome from playing their stupid game.

Anyway, you run back and forth across an enclosed area, whacking giant troll-like cave men with your bone (stop sniggering.) There are literally dozens of these bastards, and naturally their weapons have a much longer range than yours. Add to that the small problem of your character pausing between strikes and you're pretty much asking to get killed. Fortunately, regular jumping and running should keep you alive long enough to finish the level.

Then, in level 2, we hit a little snag. Actually, it's a really big friggin' snag that will kill you in thirty seconds if you don't run very far away. This monster is completely invincible, and as well as him you have thirty-five of the regular enemies to defeat.

I mean, come on! He's got a range of about twenty feet! I kept running up to this guy, swinging and doing no damage, taking a pounding, and eventually died an agonising death. I had no idea how to beat him, so I had to check out some hints and walkthroughs to figure out what the hell I should do.

And then I found the answer - nothing. I'm not supposed to attack him in any way, shape or form. I'm supposed to let him pound away on the ground while I kill the other warriors. Once I've done that, he'll die.


Anyway, in the third level you've made it back to your soldiers, and this is where a formerly difficult game becomes piss easy. Once you've built up a few experience points, you can call on up to ten soldiers to help you defeat your enemies, meaning you can hang back, occasionally whack a bad guy, and let your army do all the work. This comes in handy when you come across 300 exhausted, unarmed enemy warriors and slaughter them mercilessly.

Lest we forget, this is our hero.

Anyway, as the army moves on towards the enemy encampment, Stone Age Games strike a blow for creationists everywhere when they announce that the guardian of the settlement is a dinosaur!

Look at that thing - it looks like Godzilla's retarded brother Frank Zilla. The only way to defeat it is to keep throwing soldiers at it until they kill it. Considering how many soldiers that takes, it's pretty obvious that your character commands a lot of loyalty.

Then again, they did just watch him butcher three hundred people.

And then we enter something called Nightmare Mode, where all the enemies are those big monsters (not invincible now, it seems) and your soldiers are now coloured red and only interested in fighting the last guardian. I don't have any pictures of this guardian because my army killed him off screen.

That did not stop me from taking all the credit.

Stone Age Conqueror is that rare game - one that manages to be impossibly difficult and ridiculously easy at the same time. Once you know how to kill the second level boss victory is a simple matter of calling on as many soldiers as possible to help you win. And I'm still at a total loss as to why I have to use the left mouse button to attack. Surely tapping it five hundred times in quick succession can't be doing it any good!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Made This

It took me a couple of hours to finally decide on what game I should review this week. There were certainly a few potential candidates, but the problem was that I'd already reviewed games that were quite similar in the last month. I wanted something different, and in the end found a game more different than anything I could have imagined: I Made This, or to use its full title, I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies.

Consider the possibilities of a game with a title like that. Consider the artwork, both crude and wonderful at the same time, a mix up of sketches, collage and digital drawings. I Made This is an art game with a big capital (pretentious f)ART. The developer is either an idiot savant or a stone cold artistic genius, capable of making a game both utterly frustrating and totally alluring at the same time. Boil it down to basics and it's a platform game, but it's unlike any platform game you've ever played. Your character is some kind of wheel or ball or messed up eye - it's hard to tell because it blends so easily into the background. You roll around, jumping on platforms and collecting... things. Lots of things, off all shapes and sizes. And every time you do so, the screen goes BATSHIT INSANE!!!

Stuff just piles up on top of stuff, scouring demented images into your memory forever. And there are ten levels of this (or eleven; even the game itself isn't sure.)

Occasionally you get the opportunity to watch videos spread across the game - you know, just in case you were still able to deal with this bad acid trip in Flash form. I'm sure there's something being said here, but I'm not culturally tuned in to whatever that is. All I know is, the more I played the more I felt this would be the kind of thing Dick Cheney would like, because it causes pain and suffering to his fellow man.

Things just get more bizarre and more bizarre, though if the point of this game is to leave me asking profound philosophical questions it worked to a certain degree. The phrase "Why do I do this to myself?" crossed my mind more than once.

We're not even half way through when the tigers show up. We still have to pass through the level that promises "Death by Dalmatian!" - then delivers. And I haven't even mentioned the mid-game intermission, where the developer talks about his powerful ice cubes from Australia and adds credence to the "idiot savant" theory.

The second half actually plays a little more like a proper game and not just an excuse to prod your frontal lobe with a metaphorical ice pick. It's still crazy, of course, but at least the platform elements get to come out, for a few levels anyway.

The truth is, you'll probably have gotten used to the random imagery and ridiculous sound effects by this point, and if you can block them out and focus on the gameplay, you might actually enjoy yourself. Of course, you might also be in the middle of a total brain shutdown, but either way you won't care anymore.

I Made This has received a lot of bad feedback by the majority of online gamers. And while I know the point of this blog is to rant about terrible games... I just can't hate this. Part of me wants to hate it, but another part of me can't help but applaud anyone with the balls to make something this completely mental, then stand back and watch the sparks fly. And if nothing else, you can at least concede that it's different.

So, I Made This - strange. Scary. Weirdly compelling.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Buggy Run 2

As I've written before, I'm a big fan of "tilty" games - 2D titles that have you drive a vehicle across a bumpy terrain as quickly as possible, doing your best to keep your balance throughout. It's a simple concept, and maybe that's why I enjoy them so much; in order to screw up a tilty game, you need to be really dense.

Enter Buggy Run 2: Operation Blizzard. This is an "exclusive" to, and it's not hard to see why. God knows I'd be embarrassed to put this on my site (unless, of course, it was only to say how crap it was, which I am, so that's all right.)

Apparently the creator of Buggy Run 2 thought the game needed more of a plot than "Drive over there" so we're granted a story of espionage, intrigue and dropping small thermonuclear devices out of your car before driving away very quickly. All right, so it's not Final Fantasy, but then what is? And besides, isn't a story sort of superfluous to a game like this? People don't play tilty games for the exciting cut scenes; they play them because they're cheap and cheerful time wasters.

But then, Buggy Run 2 might be compensating for something, as it's neither cheap nor cheerful, and while most games of this type allow you to drive, this one feels you'd have a lot more fun if your vehicle spent most of its time lying on its roof with its wheels spinning in the air like some metal tortoise. I can't tell if the controls are too sensitive or not enough, as I never really got a chance to check, usually flipping head over arse if I bumped into anything more than three inches high. Of course, you have the ability to jump and right yourself, which comes in handy, but not if you use it at the wrong place or at the wrong time. I actually managed to flip 360 degrees three times in a row before my buggy finally exploded.

To help you get through the levels there are power-ups scattered throughout. These floating wrenches will replenish some of your health. And that's certainly a good thing, because they're usually preceded by a big red mine that you can't avoid, no matter what you do. Oh, and the mines are pretty much everywhere.

When you're not trying to avoid running over mines, you're trying to avoid getting blown up by Apache helicopters dropping bombs. As is often the case, they'll show up just as you're stuck between two tanks and can't escape.

Why the hell am I driving over tanks, anyway? How can my buggy charge over nuclear warheads (curiously half buried in the snow, as if people had forgotten they were there)? Wouldn't it make more sense to drive around these things?

That's one of the elements of tilty games that I've never been able to figure out - why throw other vehicles in the way when bridges, holes and bumps in the road do just fine? Unless I'm driving a monster truck, how much sense do these obstacles make?

Anyway, back from that aside and into Buggy Run 2, which clearly doesn't like me, as the developer saw fit to place a bloody mine at the very start of level four. So I've been playing for precisely two seconds when I lose a third of my health - gee, thanks.

To get through these levels requires reflexes far surpassing that of the average human being. Or you can go slowly over the terrain, which kind of defeats the purpose. So, because I'm a stubborn son of a bitch I endeavoured to do my very best and get through the game as quickly as possible.

And the results, as you can see, speak for themselves. If you play Buggy Run 2, expect to blow up. A lot. You have infinite lives, so you get to endure the frustration of crashing on the same spot again and again and again without the benefit of a Quit button. Yes, there's a "Stop" button, but that just pauses the game. Fool - you can't stop Buggy Run 2 from ruining your coffee break!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hero on the Hudson

By now I'm sure you're all very much aware of US Airways Flight 1549, which was attacked by a vicious flock of birds and forced to make a crash landing in the Hudson river. You've read all the reports, seen the interviews with passengers and learned all about pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. You might even know that the entire flight crew received the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators because "This emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement."

Personally, I'd like to think performing an emergency landing that didn't result in anyone dying wasn't a "unique" achievement - maybe pilots could try not killing anyone more often? But I'm not here to write about that. I'm here to tell you all about Hero on the Hudson.

It's a very, very straightforward game. You take on the role of Captain Sullenberger just as the engines have cut out. As the plane hurtles towards the Hudson, it's up to you to keep it level by pressing the left and right arrow keys.

As you get nearer and nearer to the earth, this becomes more difficult, but liberal button mashing will usually keep you right.

Keep the plane level and you'll make a safe crash landing. People will congratulate you, the passengers will climb out onto the wings and applaud you, and NBC will plaster your face across their news reports for the next week.

Fail and, of course, none of those things will happen. You and your plane will simply sink into the mud of the Hudson river (which is surprisingly deep), where you will no doubt disintegrate long before anyone can brave the sewage laden riverbed long enough to pick out your incompetent carcass.

Aaaaand... that's it. I suppose I shouldn't expect more from it - I mean, should I be looking for a second level where Sully tackles gang bangers in the rough streets of Manhattan? It's a single event that is condensed into the simplest game possible, and I know I shouldn't really rag on it for that. But...

But it's just so simplistic! Surely landing a plane into a river is harder than this!

And I'm pretty sure this defies the laws of physics! Shouldn't the wings be breaking off at this point?

The story of Flight 1549 was one of the few happy news items to come along in recent months (well, it's happy if you're not a goose.) It's a story of the best kind of heroism, when a guy who knows his job and knows what to do in an emergency doesn't panic or worry, but stays calm and professional, saving his plane and everyone on it. It deserves more than this!

Sully deserves more than this! It was cooked up quickly in an attempt for the folks at Tasty Play games to look edgy and hip. Well, it's not hip, God damn it! And what the hell does "Tasty Play" mean, anyway? Aww, who cares - I've played games on a website called Booty Arcade, I can deal with Tasty Play.

Regardless, Hero on the Hudson is a poor game. Too short to hold your attention and too boring to be a time waster, it resides in that no man's land of games you'll play once, think, "Well... that was all right" and promptly forget about until someone points it out to you at work and you say, "Yeah, I played that. It's kinda rubbish."

Yep - that particular no man's land.