My problem was that I skipped the extended tutorial. How much tutoring could I possibly need? This was just another MMO, only this time wearing the togs of a Mad Max or Fallout universe. I'd been sat in my pants playing MMOs before this game was even a twinkle in the designer's imagination, and there was nothing, nothing, I couldn't figure out for myself. Right? Well, half right. I hadn't realised that the end of the extended tutorial delivered a free horse.
A sandbox fantasy MMO seems an unlikely prospect in today's landscape. And it is. Nevertheless, Mortal Online has wandered over the horizon without a second glance at current trends. It's an open-ended fantasy MMO where player interaction - not PvE - is at the forefront, powered by Unreal 3, talking about the good old days. It's a strange sight.
It's fair to say that RUSE feels like a boardgame, but it's also taking place in real-time, in a way that could only really work on an electronic game system. Boardgames, by their nature, tend to have trouble not being turn-based, and so the experience of RUSE is an unusual one. It is about deception, observation and, well, clever ruses. The central conceit of the game is that you can employ intelligence and counter-intelligence powers to fool and fox your enemy, just as you might in some militaristic card game. Of course, the real decision about who wins will still come down to firepower: this is the Second World War, with all the planes, tanks, artillery and men with guns that such a setting implies. RUSE is an unusual hybrid.
The moon has exploded. Needless to say, that means only one thing: astronaut deathmatch! Shattered Horizon is set in the not-quite-possible near future in which humanity has been plundering the moon for its cheese, and the resulting accident ends up blasting billions of tonnes of rock into orbit. This means that thousands of space workers are trapped up in the sky, with just a broken moon and the remains of Earth's by-then-extensive space infrastructure to live on. Two factions who were feeling a bit grumpy with each other now see this as an excuse for open hostility, and fighting in zero-gravity commences.
City-building games are, for some reason, always welcome chez Rossignol. I'm not sure quite what it is about them, but the idea of constructing a vast, smelly metropolis somehow grips me, every time. So approaching Cities XL was definitely done with some enthusiasm: a fancy-looking city-builder with some new ideas, it fills a lot left vacant for some time now.
The shooter genre needed this. Elements of role-playing games have been creeping in all over FPS games in the past few years, but in Borderlands it's a wholesale hybridisation. Not, I should point out, in terms of choices, story and consequences - that remains with the likes of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - but with loot, levels, stats, skills and fiddling about in your inventory to max out your character. Gearbox says it's created a role-playing shooter, an RPS (which sounds strangely familiar to my ears), and that means you'll be playing a shooter that feels a lot like, well, like an MMO.
It's odd. I feel like I shouldn't be enjoying the Shattered Horizon beta as much as I am. The reason for that is the game is based on one of those kind of ideas that shouldn't really work. The idea is this: astronaut deathmatch.
Quake III - the multiplayer FPS that was arguably Id Software's greatest achievement after Doom - has been reborn. It's been reincarnated as Quake Live, an online shooter from your web-browser. The game has been in a public testing phase for a while, and currently still bares its "beta" moniker. Nevertheless Id inform us that the resurrected Arena is fully launched and primed for action.
Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl - let's drop all the dots - seemed to divide people. For every person I know who would enthuse and OMG about the atmospheric shooter, there would be another for whom the game had been a horrible mistake. This article, I suspect, isn't going to be for that second group of people. They've tasted this peculiar Ukrainian experience, and they won't be going back. For those who know the game, accept its foibles, and still find something worth spending time with, this will be a story they understand rather well. They'll probably be nodding along at the most salient points. Hopefully, however, we'll also have a third species of reader: the one who has yet to give it a try.
TimeGate Studios has a habit of doing things differently. The developer's real-time strategy series, Kohan, was greeted with a mixture of glee and puzzlement by the gaming community: it was good, but it was somehow unfamiliar. TimeGate hadn't bothered to ape what everyone else was doing and had created something mechanically unusual, if thematically stuck within the same old fantasy tradition. The same seems to be true of Section 8.
I get this feeling quite a lot: enjoyment in spite of my better judgement. Ultimately, I know that Battlefield Heroes is an uncomfortable experimental mess of a game, but I can't help enjoy rambling about in its four brightly coloured maps, shooting the dudes, and trying to figure out how best to use the points I've earned to bolster my armoury. It's free via the website too, which skews any critique of value I might be inclined to make.
Vibrant colours aren't usually the first things that spring to mind when you visualise a space combat game. Our science-fiction heritage has left us with an image of space that is grim and murky, and full of people screaming but not being heard. Jumpgate isn't like that. Visually, Jumpgate is almost the interstellar equivalent of World Of Warcraft's cartoon fantasy: colourful worlds with unlikely spaceships whizzing between warmly-lit asteroids to unleash unsubtle lasers upon their evil-hued enemies. It's similar in a technical sense too, since your cranky old laptop is going to be able to run this game quite merrily. Jumpgate will have one of the lowest system spec requirements of any mainstream MMO to launch in the past two years.
The latest iteration of Nintendo's popular handheld arrives with a bunch of downloadable software designed to show off its capabilities. Here's a look at some of the first titles to be offered via the DSiWare service, from the latest instalment in the Warioware series to the much simpler and self-explanatory Paper Plane. Read on to find out which ones are worth snapping up.
Hmm. We're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing, aren't we? Standalone expansions that don't even have a retail version at all. Nothing but online content. Uprising is a pure download beast, just on PC, and it's pretty cheap to boot. It's about a third, perhaps even a half, of the length of Red Alert 3, with four short campaigns, and it's all single-player. So that includes a gaggle of further missions all delivered by the same colourful cast of actors, models, plasma-ejecting mecha-troops, transforming robots, and psychic-death schoolgirls. That seems like reasonably good value, after all, why wouldn't we want to play another stretch of the Command & Conquer series' wackiest RTS offshoot?
Occasionally I just forget how impressive certain games look. Perhaps it's information overload and I just have to delete the brain-file, but coming back to them I am appalled by what I've been missing. World in Conflict is a case in point. My screenshot-memory pegged it looking okay, but when I went back in last week and started to watch tank battles across the distant sunlit farmlands of North America, I was taken aback. This is a game that that doesn't even seem to be showing off. It's faultlessly, effortlessly beautiful. It was a little like meeting an old flame years later and thinking: "Oh. Damn." Memories revised.
Apocrypha is almost upon us: the EVE Online expansion which actually expands the game's galaxy via wormholes goes live tomorrow, March 10th. Exploration will no longer simply be about spawning missions across the existing star systems; instead it will be a plunge into the unknown, and a battle against previously unseen enemies. In conjunction with this new frontier, Apocrypha is laden with improvements and enhancements designed to make things smoother for the veterans, and more exciting for the newbies who will inevitably arrive via the new retail box version of the game.
This strange Siberian action effort had the potential to be one of the most interesting first-person games of 2009. It's potential that it doesn't quite fulfil, but it is packed with ideas, and its wall of weirdness and mystery mean it's a breed apart from the corridors shooters we've all grown up with. Perhaps what's most immediately obvious about the game - which is set aboard a derelict ice-breaker ship in the far reaches of the Arctic - is that it puts its strange concept puzzles, such as they are, before combat. A moment where you use brains over brawn comes late to most shooters, but here it's one of the primary conceits. The fights that punctuate the rest feel like an afterthought, as if this was primarily an adventure game, and only secondarily a game about killing ice-zombies.
What do Space Marines talk about? Dawn of War II's campaign answers that pressing question in its excellent tale of a handful of 41st-century hyper-squaddies. Between missions the muscular mega-men chat amongst themselves, explaining the story and making decisions about how to proceed. They even share some personal gossip. At one point, the long-haired scout character says something like: "Tarkus, Avitus, there's something I've wanted to ask you for so long, but I've been reluctant..." I couldn't wait to find out what he was going to ask, but I'll leave you to discover what he's talking about for yourself.
The Independent Games Festival awards in 2008 made it seem like the sky was the limit for indie gaming, and so this year's IGF contenders face impossibly high expectations. They are competing with our rather recent recollections of Audiosurf, World of Goo, and Crayon Physics. All brilliant concepts that made fantastic games. How can they hope to match up to that?
The battle report is an age-old rite of EVE Online. Because of the open structure of the game world, player-versus-player battles happen in all kinds of contexts and situations, and the sheer number of variables means they can make for a great story. Explaining who did what, and how, and where, makes EVE a constant source of one of the best things about gaming: stories you can tell your mates.
Late last week we got a chance to speak to NetDevil's Hermann Peterscheck about the development of the company's reborn space MMO, Jumpgate Evolution. The project is intriguing: it's essentially a remake of the company's first game, the action-shooter MMO Jumpgate, which was released in 2001 and is still pottering away today. Evolution sees the concept expanded, extended, and pumped up with all the pixel-shader hormones of a brand new current-gen graphics engine. The core concept, however, remains the same: a space combat game where you fly your ship in real time and do damage in real time. It is closer in its genetics to Elite or Freespace than it is to EVE Online, and is one of the most interesting MMO projects currently on our radar. Let's find out more...
It must be a kind of developmental karma: for every few dozen generic, predictable games that are created, there's always an oddity that crops up. Like a strange pixel in the sky, these esoteric instances snatch our attention and make the world of gaming just a little bit more interesting. In the MMO world this weird singularity is Love, a small-scale MMO being developed by a single person: graphics guru Eskil Steenberg. What's most striking about this project is its distinctly stylised, abstract visual theme. This isn't about realism or even functionality, but rather about artistic endeavour. Steenberg's talent is in both technology and artistic vision, and Love is an MMO that folds into both an intriguing package of graphical innovation, and unusual game design.
For those strange people who are interested in crafting, trading, and other non-violent MMO activities, there is no finer or more complex game than EVE Online. Part of EVE's principles of human interaction is that it's the players who have to produce most of the traded goods in the game world. Rather than relying on NPC spawns and loot drops for the majority of its weapons, ships, and ammunition, everything in the game world has to be manufactured by players. There are still some rare item drops, of course, but the day-to-day ship construction and the general shopping done by the masses has to be provided for by the, er, masses.
If it's the job of soldiers to fight wars, then it's the job of politicians to start them. EVE Online has no shortage of leaders and demagogues in its ranks, particularly among the ranks of the player-driven alliances. One of CCP's biggest achievements in designing EVE Online was to give the players free reign in running their own affairs. Corporations recruit as they see fit, and set allies and enemies as they see fit. Everything is decided by the leaders of the player corporations - who to trust, who to declare an enemy, who make peace with, and what part of the galaxy to call home. They even get to set their own tax rates.
This is the second of a series of articles about the arcane world of player-versus-player combat in EVE Online. The first covered the basics; this month, we look at the large-scale battles that break out between player Alliances.