Jul 312011
 
About two weeks ago I decided to give Redbox games rental a shot, and rented a game that I felt would be good test in Red Faction Armageddon.   Here’s my attempt at combining my experiences with both products with this dual mini-review.Starting with Redbox, most of you should be familiar with the Redbox kiosks and how their rental service works.  The game rental service is virtually identical, with the only change being the daily price.  $2 a night gets you a game rental for as long as you want.  You have to return the game by 9pm the next day, regardless of the time you rented it at, or you will be charged for another day.  Of course, those charges add up as the days go by, so if for some strange reason you rent a game for 30 days or somehow lose the game, you’ll be only charged a maximum of $60 for a game, which coincides with the actual retail price.  With this pricing model, it’s clear that you want to only rent a game from Redbox if you are ready to play it right now and don’t plan on holding on to it for more than a few days.  A few advantages that Redbox has is that their kiosks are pretty much everywhere, and you can check stock before heading out using their website or even iOS app, and reserve your copy beforehand if you want.  When you want to return your item, you can do it at any Redbox kiosk, it doesn’t have to be the one you rented from.   Right now Redbox’s game library is on the small side, but there are some notable titles.  Check their website for a list of available games.  As a small foot note, Redbox promo codes work for game rentals, and usually a free movie rental code will drop your first night of a game rental down to $1, with it still being $2 for each additional night.  Google search is your friend.

Redbox is great for either doing a “try before you buy” session or playing through a short yet enjoyable game that you wouldn’t want to pay full price for.  Red Faction Armageddon falls under the second category.  For a reference point, I enjoyed Red Faction Guerrilla a fair bit and found it one of the better open world, destroy everything games.  While the story was mostly throwaway, the gameplay was enjoyable, offered a lot of varied missions and content, and did a great job of letting you “play” in an open world Mars where you try to take back the colony for the people.

Red Faction: ArmageddonRed Faction Armageddon does little of what I loved about Guerrilla.  Of course, the open world play is gone, and the destruction is no longer of the massive scale that was found in the previous game.  All that said, Armageddon isn’t a bad game, it is just a step backward for the series.  The single player game is incredibly short and very linear.  I was able to play through the entire campaign in a few play sessions over a weekend that spanned maybe around 5 hours.  The story is, again, mostly throw-away and quickly devolves into what amounts to a bug-hunt.  Killing lots of bug-like aliens in this game isn’t all that satisfying despite the fact that the game gives you some fun weapons to play with, namely, the magnet gun.  The magnet gun is basically the star of the game, which allows you to use destruction as an active weapon and can produce some hilarious results.  Attach one end of a magnet to something, including enemies; attach the other end to something else, even *another* enemy, and watch the two get pulled together with explosive force.  It’s as fun as it sounds.

For the most part, Armageddon plays out like a serviceable third person shooter, and not many sequences stand out, with exception of a few of the mech portions.  When you do get to pilot the games mechs, you’ll get into some of the game’s more satisfying combat since you’re virtually invulnerable (on normal mode) and can deal massive destruction.  Those sequences made me long for a good new Shogo game.  Oh well.

Aside from a few bright spots, Armageddon is very average;  worth playing on a rental if you’re a fan of the series and totally skippable for everyone else.  Now that it’s confirmed that the Red Faction series is now defunct, in part due to lukewarm reception to Armageddon, it’s sad to see it go out on a low note.  I would have liked  to see them build on Guerrilla instead of going into a different, more generic, direction.  As far as Redbox game rentals, since everything is up front and there are no commitments, it’s hard not to recommending giving it a shot, assuming they have a title you’d like to play.  It’s not ideal for games that you may want to play over the course of weeks, but if you want to play through a short game or give a game a trial over a weekend, you can’t go wrong.
Jul 282011
 
Battlefield 3

Yesterday, DICE and EA expanded their BF3 multiplayer alpha test by inviting a seemingly large size of previous BF players (DICE/EA likes to call them “veterans”).  While giving explicit details about the alpha test is strictly forbidden, it’s been widely reported that if you were one of the few who did get an alpha code and invite, to participate in the test, which runs through August 1st, you are compelled to install Origin and link your EA account to the Origin store.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a publisher force a brand new download service and client on gamers just to get a highly desirable piece of content.  Remember Steam and Half-Life 2?

While it’s been confirmed that BF3 will be available for purchase from other downloadable services like Direct2Drive and Impulse, EA and Steam have been at odds which may lead to BF3 not being available on Steam.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen EA titles disappearing from Steam, most notably Crysis 2, the delayed appearance of Alice: Madness Returns and now Dragon Age II.  Both Crysis 2 and DA II were previously available and now have been pulled completely.  EA’s official word is:

“Unfortunately, Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to sell downloadable content. No other download service has adopted this practice. Consequently some of our games have been removed by Steam.”

Valve hasn’t said much, if anything on these accusations, and we’ve yet to hear similar complaints from other publishers or developers (aside from standard Steam complaints).  What this almost sounds like, is Apple’s App Store guidelines for selling in-app content or subscription services.  Is it that Valve has a similar policy in place?  Could it be the DLC has to be made available through Steam, and not link through to a different marketplace which requires a separate checkout process?  You could make an argument that streamlining the experience through a single storefront benefits both the customer and obviously the storefront — but that’s a debate for a different day.

For many gamers, this issue may not matter much.  Steam isn’t exactly a perfect service and has its share of problems.  However, no matter how you feel about it, Steam is the biggest PC game storefront on the market, and as of right now, there is no indication that the one of the highest profile PC games to come out in a while (BF3) will make an appearance on Steam.

Jul 242011
 

For the last few weeks we have have been slogging away at Sanctum. It is developed by Coffee Stain Studios as part of Epic’s Make Something Unreal contest. It is a first person shooter tower defense game.  You can check out a trailer over at YouTube.

I have been playing mostly co-op games lately and CSC added the ability to play co-op on several of the maps.  First off, the game is fun.  It is essentially waved based, monster attacks.  You lay out a maze on the buildable spaces with empty blocks. Then you fill selected blocks up with towers of various types which include guns, mortars, electrical, and anti air type weapons. These weapons can be upgraded throughout the game as you get money to spend on upgrades. You can also select Televators which are blocks that allow you to teleport around as well as elevate you up to the level of the top of the block as you can not jump that high.

You are equipped with three weapons. The first is an assault rifle that has a grenade launcher as its secondary fire.  The second is a sniper rifle with two levels of zoom.  The third is a freeze weapon which can slow enemies down or stop them in their tracks with the secondary fire.  These weapons can be upgraded just like the towers. The weapons essentially overheat, or run out of ammo.  You then have to wait for them to recharge before you can use them.  Weapon switching therefore is essential.  I prefer using my sniper rifle to get some high powered hits in, switch to my assault rifle while the sniper recharges, and then flip back to sniper.  Rinse and repeat.

I do have some issues with the game. First, the only way to really communicate with your teammates is by highlighting one block in the build mode.  So, it is difficult to do any planning.  Essentially, one person has to plan and build out the maze and then communicate what to build after that.  CaGBlight over at the Steam Forums has developed a java based tool that you can use before your game to do some planning.  Unfortunately, it is a little buggy for one of the more interesting maps.  But oh well, it is free. This type of functionality should have been built into the game. The tool outputs images such as this one to show how to build the maze and what towers to build.

 

Second, the difficulty of the game varies too much from easy to moderate.  On the easy level we can practically win a 30 wave game with our eyes closed.  It is boring actually.  However, on the moderate level, we have won only one time.  We needed three people to do it and it was close. With two of us, we usually only last till wave 12 or 13. I would suggest lowering the difficulty of moderate down a tad and then keeping high where it is.

Third, I would bring out some more maps.  Maps for a game like this are not complicated.  You are not designing gigantic worlds with lush flora or anything like that.  They are essentially grids that you can build on.  In fact, several of the maps are just that. Or they should allow third party development of maps. But having more maps with more possible routes would certainly raise the challenge and creativity of defending the core in the game.

Overall, the game is fun.  It was certainly worth the $3 or so that we paid for it from steam.  I am not sure I would pay much more than that for it.  Currently, it is $15.  I would definitely not pay that. Keep in mind, I have not played the single player version, only the co-op.  So, they may be much more playability in the SP. Another helpful resource for the game is the wiki article over at wikia.com.

What are your thoughts on the game? Any dislikes or likes?

Jul 022011
 

The infosec world was a buzz (or a tweeting) this morning with news that the popular file service dropbox has changed their legalese. The key paragraph that is now getting attention is as follows:

We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.

Many professionals have now deleted their accounts.  We will see how the general public reacts to this change in terms of service.  Personally, I never used the service and certainly never will on those terms.

For those of you who need to store data “in the cloud” (in other words, on the Internet), there are some alternatives out there.  Here is a google+ post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/115846783938665223975/posts/LnxqCCTtjVV.  And here is an older article before this issue: http://techpp.com/2010/07/05/dropbox-alternatives-sync-files-online/.

Keep in mind, this is occurring shortly after dropbox had a serious authentication issue which essentially removed any passwords from all accounts for four hours.  There was evidence that that was exploited while the vulnerability existed.