Every iteration of Norco, from the game’s initial demo to the release of the first act, has clarified its weird, haunting voice that little bit more. That’s an obvious enough observation, but it was a voice that promised more than most. And as each iteration expanded the art’s dimensions, that voice’s potential was amplified. Still, I was uncertain of its reach. Now Norco has arrived, having deliriously flung open its doors, and my first trip down the rabbit hole is over.
Thinking about it some hours later, I’m pretty sure it’s one of the best games ever made – or at least a fresh direction of travel for the medium.
I see a mustard yellow sky with stars like snowdrops as I climb. Scaling the peek, I sprint across terracotta sand to the next rise. Ascending towards an angry cloud lashed with gold lightning. Dust or ash or both tumble from the cloud. I don’t know what’s up there, but there’s lots of transparent, crystal-like forms in the area, each one percolating with gold particles. Presumably the cloud and the crystals are bonded. A sense of foreboding builds the closer I get. A similar feeling hit me half an hour earlier, as I stood beneath a set of interlocking stone platforms rotating far above the ground. Ashen ground that spewed endless plumes of smoke, dashed here and there with red.
But there’s nothing to fear. This is Sable. No evil needs vanquishing nor villain confronting in this gorgeous, cel-shaded land. Even the giant beetles don’t bite.
I live in the UK. It would be underselling the political situation here to say the past few weeks have been an exudation of shit. My instincts are to follow such events with bloodshot eyes. To shower in the shit. Throw in January and February, where it’s eternally wet, cold, and grey, and you’ve got an especially exhausted, probably blubbering, Ross.
A pair of like-minded friends retreated to Barbados. Unable to afford such an extravagance, I stepped into Scarf. Admittedly, it’s not quite the same thing, but stay with me.
I do enjoy it when a mod reaches the big time and launches as a standalone game. Think of Counter-Strike and DOTA2 and you have two genre defining games that were born from mods. I’m not going to make an outlandish claim that The Forgotten City is going to be a genre defining release, but for something which originated as a Skyrim mod, it is an extremely impressive adventure.
Hit the break for some thoughts, but watch out: spoilers lie below.
The dimension of Quake’s evil has the power to possess. We see its dark influence in the corrupted soldiers of fallen portal stations and the Eldritch structures that blot a netherworld beyond space and time. That dark influence has now taken possession of Machine Games, and they have channelled it into the game’s fourth official expansion, Dimension of the Machine.
During a camping holiday with your family, your wife and two young children vanish into the darkness without a trace. With no help on offer you head towards the only source of civilization for miles around – a mysterious old mansion nestled at the edge of an equally mysterious lake. …
Attempting to get away with homicide in the presence of a detective is pure folly, but that’s never stopped Agatha Christie’s villains, has it? Still, they all stumble in the end – Poirot and his fellow sleuths are just that good, ain’t they?
Overboard! has no such detective figure (well, not quite), so the plan to push my broke, fascist-sympathising husband into the ocean and claim his life insurance ought to be a doddle. But it turns out – can you believe it? – murder just isn’t that simple.
Call of Duty: Black Ops looks as though it may go on to become one of the best-selling games of all-time. This is a worrying statistic.
Black Ops is not a disaster, it’s not the searing exposé of Treyarch’s failings as a developer many thought it would be. It’s well put together, slick and at times accomplished. The core package offers you a 6 hour single -player campaign, Easter eggs, zombie modes and the latest instalment of the ever popular multi-player component. But there is nothing exceptional about it. If the Modus Operandi of the early COD games was excellence, immersion and realism, then the MO for Black Ops was to insert enough explosions and cool shit like people bursting through windows on a grappling rope to make a bad-ass trailer. Consequently the single-player feels a bit like a Michael Bay film, with eye-candy, over the top set pieces and about as much depth as a toddlers paddling pool. The same criticism could perhaps be levelled at last years Modern Warfare 2, where a wilfully controversial level did much to mask the lack of any real substance. One of the main problems is that the core game, the shooting section has remained exactly the same for several years now. So much effort has gone into the set-pieces and even the story, that the actual first-person shooter section of the game is beginning to feel dated and neglected. Instead of being the glue that holds the package together, the shooting is beginning to feel like the dull bit between the set pieces that has to be endured.
The early game has enough variety that you may not immediately notice these problems, you’ll find yourself throughout the course of the game doing things like escaping a prison on a motorbike, piloting a heavily armed riverboat through the treacherous waters of Laos or flying a chopper around blowing up oil pipes. These sections don’t last long, which is probably a good thing as they are more about spectacle and the thrill of doing something new than actually being fun and interesting in their own right. But the very last part of the game is back to basics – run, take cover, shoot the bad guys, proceed ten meters, rinse, repeat. It’s here you’ll notice just how dumb the AI is, never surprising, never being much more than slightly an annoying roadblock that must be cleared before you proceed. You’ll get plenty of different tools to dispose of them, but each is as good as the next and the combat lacks any urgency or tension. Even the obligatory stealth scene in the game feels like little more than an interactive cut-scene. The story is marginally better than recent entries in the series, using a more personal tale as an excuse to visit various cold-war locations and blow them up. There are recurring numbers, crazed Russians, jail-breaks, torture scenes and a big twist at the end that is nicely foreshadowed, if a little obvious. All in all the story gives you enough incentive to keep playing through the campaign, but it would be nice if the game-play was reward enough.
The multi-player is probably the strongest part of the game offering a number of tweaks from Modern Warfare 2 that make it a worthwhile proposition. If you ignore the zombie mode (you should, it’s rubbish), what you’ll find is a mode filled with options for how you want to play, how you want to look and what kinds of games you’ll want to take part in. Choice, customization and one of the best multi-player arcade shooters out there make for a satisfying and long-lasting experience. With 15 levels of prestige to be attained, there’s always something willing you to keep on playing and there’s always something to unlock. Although the mode initially released on the PC with a horrible CPU issue that caused masses of lag, the problem seems to have been patched out now, although some people with lesser PC’s may still want to give it a miss. Guns have proper recoil now, kill-streak rewards are slightly harder to earn and you can slap a picture of a unicorn on your gun if you so choose, a feature sorely lacking from most online shooters. Perhaps the best new feature of the multi-player is the inclusion of wager matches. Forget the pretence of playing to earn cash, you’ll earn enough through normal play that it will never be a great concern. Wager matches are essentially mods to the core game that ignore your level, weapons and perks and place everyone on a level playing field, each with some fun conditions. My personal favourite is Sticks and Stones, which gives everyone a crossbow with explosive bolts, a tomahawk and the ballistic knife. You earn points through getting kills with these weapons, the person with the most points at the end of the game wins. The twist is that tomahawk kills, hard to pull off but immensely satisfying cause your opponent to lose all their points. The game becomes a tense show-down where skill and timing is everything, you can’t camp or sit still for a moment in case someone comes along and sticks a tomahawk in your vertebrae. The Multi-player segment of Black Ops can be a genuinely good time, but it will still feel overly familiar to players of the last three Call of Duty installments, if you’re not interested in more of the same with new maps and weapons and gamemodes, this isn’t for you.
The Call of Duty series seems to be at a point now where it has transcended criticism. Activision are not a particularly popular company. Their CEO is something of an internet hate figure . Yet this seems to have little impact on their record-smashing sales figures even with a series that runs the risk of becoming mired in mediocrity. The worry is the message Activision and other publishers must be getting from those figures. A yearly release, churned out with a good trailer and a celeb-studded launch party are fast becoming more important than a game being any good. Black Ops is not a bad game, but it’s not the greatest of all-time. But why strive for greatness when middle of the road reaps better rewards? If you don’t care for multi-player you’d be better served avoiding Black Ops, it will leave you reminiscing of the days when the Call of Duty name was a seal of quality.