Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Byte: Second chances

I woke up this morning and it was cold, dark, wet, windy and chucking it down with rain. Not surprisingly, I didn't want to get out of bed. But here I am, stranded at my desk yet again for another nine hours. Sigh.

There's been a bit of a Bark/Byte imbalance so far this year, thanks to the usual post-Christmas lull, so I guess I should talk about what I'm playing to fill in the gap until Spore comes out; which is the only game I really have any substantial enthusiasm for this year, other than the obligatory World of Warcraft expansion. Speaking of WoW, I have been playing it rather a lot since Christmas, putting levels on my Blood Elf Hunter like they're going out of fashion ("Level 25 was *soooo* last season, darlink..."), and generally having fun with the mid-level Horde quests, which I've never done before. I've got Aeriwyn up to Level 28 in a little under 40 hours, which isn't bad, considering I'm soloing (as usual). Keeping with the Blizzard theme, I also picked up Starcraft (Rednecks in SPAAAAAAAAACE!)for £3 in HMV's sale at the weekend, which has been good value so far.

I've also decided to give a couple of old games in my collection second chances. The first being Freedom Wings on the DS, which I picked up for about $20 when I went to Seattle for the Supreme Commander preview event back in September 2006. I think first time around I played it for about half an hour and then put it straight back in the box and didn't touch it for over a year. Having played it for maybe six hours now, I think I can judge it a little more fairly, though my overall conclusion would still be "rubbish". An endearing rubbish, rather than an annoying broken rubbish, however. It's a flight simulator-cum-RPG hybrid, a concept intriguing enough for me to buy the game in the first place - almost a MechWarrior with wings. Unfortunately, it looks like it, too. The graphics are appalling - like a flight simulator from 1990 - and the flight model is so twitchy you're actually better off just letting the AI fly your plane, except perhaps in some of the "boss" battles where you're going up against multiple air and ground targets when you're trying to liberate airfields. The story isn't really up to much, so it's more a game you can spend time grinding enemy planes for cash rewards, with which you can buy new weapons, performance upgrades and armour, etc. So it pushes a lot of the right RPG buttons, it's just that the game looks horrible, the script isn't particularly well translated (my, that's a common theme lately) and you spend more time sitting back watching the AI kick arse than actually interacting with the game. But it is mildly compelling and to be fair, the touch-screen functionality is implemented pretty well. A 6/10 would be generous, but it's a nice little time-waster if you've got nothing better to do. And it does have the virtue of being cheap.

The other game I'm giving a second chance right now is Forza Motorsport on the Xbrick. I've been tempted back to it thanks to a little demonstration I did with my friends Mark and Chris on New Year's Day, showing them the differences in track and car modelling for the Nurburgring between Forza and Project Gotham Racing 2. On my new TV I found it was much easier to judge how the car was handling, particularly from the bumper camera, so despite my continuing gripes with the stupidly punitive time penalty system for going off track, I'm giving it another go. It's definitely a better simulation than Gotham, but is it as much fun? The jury is still out on that one - though I will be playing it with the traction control and stability management systems turned off. Otherwise it's just not doing it properly...

I'm also mildly tempted to go back to Fable, though I can't really say why. Maybe it was Yahtzee's retrospective review that piqued my interest again.
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