Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 1 (2008)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Hothead Games

It was probably inevitable that long-running webcomic Penny Arcade would become a game itself. Here the PA protagonists Gabe and Tycho join with the player character in a roaring 20's, steampunk setting as they chase a towering robot that has crushed the player's house. The player joins their detective agency to get revenge and then find out the mysterious conspiracy behind the sudden swarm of smaller robots, murderous mimes, homicidal hobos and other strange enemies.

Gameplay consists of exploring settings like a suburban street and a boardwalk that is very reminiscent of old point and click adventure games using the mouse to move and click on things to interact or just to open a text box describing the clicked item. Combat is an active time battle system with context sensitive button presses used to block and use special attacks. Blocking is done by hitting the space bar at the right time as the enemy attacks (their health bar will flash). A perfectly timed block will result in no damage and an automatic counterattack, but timing is difficult. Otherwise it will result in a regular block that reduces damage, a partial block that lets more damage through or a missed block that lets all damage through and any status effects that the attack may inflict.

Special attacks take longer to charge, but do more damage. Killing an enemy with a perfectly executed special attack results in an Overkill that gives permanent bonuses to stats. Specials can also be stacked between the characters for double and triple attacks for more damage. Unlike most RPG's with throwaway battles for grinding, every battle here has the potential to be deadly, so blocking and item use for healing, buffing and distracting enemies is essential as are the support characters that can be summoned to help. Knowing weaknesses helps too like hobos are drunk and therefore resistant to Gabe's punches but are susceptible to Tycho's bullets.

The art-style is very in-sync with the comic art-style particularly the cut-scenes and dialogue screens and the steampunk setting is welcome, but a lot of the game may not gel with players that aren't already fans of the comic. It is very tongue-in-cheek and the humor might not come across to casual players. They may not understand Tycho's love for deep wordplay (resulting in the mouthful title) and why the robots are fruit rapists. There is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning too as players are walked through about 3 fights and then left to their own devices pretty quick. But the game is solid. Great combat, vibrant art and good humor.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for digital distribution on PC, Mac, XBLA and PSN.

Killer cat hairballs out of 5

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Skate 2 (2009)

Genre: Sport | Players: 1 and Online Multi | Developer: EA Black Box

If you earned your scars in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater school of impossible physics doing fifty foot Christ Airs then you’ll get a shock when you step into Skate 2. You'll bail and bail and bail again. Trying to nail a simple 50/50 grind will have you eating dirt or nursing your nut-sac. Learning the ropes of the game will initially feel as hard almost as learning to skate for real.

You're dropped into a sandbox city called New San Vanelona. A tutorial guides you through the controls, but the difficulty curve is harsh. The controls reflect the actions you’d be required to do in real life, as if the analogue sticks were your feet. To ollie you pull back on the stick and quickly flick it forward. To kickflip you perform the basic ollie manoeuvre but 'kick' the stick out to the left or right. If you've any real life skating experience you’ll quickly grasp the connection between feet and sticks.

Once you've mastered the basics, the directions and motions needed to pull off more elaborate tricks like pop-shuvits or 180 heelflips will register in your brain even before you’re told how. You’ll still bail frequently, but it becomes less frustrating. When you manage to nail something relatively simple you’ll feel like Jesus. That sense of earned smug is what’ll keep you coming back for more.

The THPS games didn't translate well to an open world sandbox style environment, but Skate is more successful in that respect. There's no quick-burst arcade-action. It's a tough physics engine that relies on realism to create a more believable world structure. Eventually, you'll be rolling around San Van, picking up challenges and entering competitions as they become available. If you suck at Vert there are plenty of Street courses or Downhill races to keep you occupied, but you’ll have to hit the halfpipe sooner or later.

Kick some ass, get some sponsorship, earn new threads, wheels, deck, etc. When you make the cover of 'Thrasher' your life will be complete.

3½ pleasurable punishments out of 5

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dead Nation (2010)

Genre: Shoot 'Em Up | Players: 1 or 2 (co-op) | Developer: Housemarque

Dead Nation is a top-down perspective twin-stick shooter like the classic Smash TV; if you don’t remember STV, ask your father and watch his eyes mist over. One stick controls character movement, while the other stick controls the direction of fire. It can be initially confusing, but once your brain gets in the zone it feels as intuitive as scratching your balls while simultaneously changing the TV channel.

You play as a male or female character, but it’s purely cosmetic, they have the same set of skills and firepower. You begin each of the ten levels at Point A and have to make it to Point B alive to advance the story.  hat’s easier said than done, because the game is old-school hard. Pussies need not apply.

The more zombies you kill the more cash you acquire. Get a multitude of kills in a row without taking damage and you’ll be awarded with a multiplier that grants even more cash. Cash is used mid-level to purchase new weapons and upgrades.

It’s possible to use the environment to get kills, but blowing up cars also has the unwelcome side-effect of attracting more zombies to your location.

If you take the time to explore the environment you can find new armour that will aid you by increasing your agility and/or the number of hits you can take before you bleed all over the ground.

The gameplay is polished, and the visuals are really quite beautiful in a dark and dreary way; for a PSN game it’s impressive. However, to really enjoy Dead Nation you’ll need a friend; either online or locally. The co-op dynamic is well-balanced with a surprising amount of depth beneath the surface. Play alone and you’ll likely get bored very quickly, because gameplay is repetitive.

Note: An add-on pack was released entitled Road of Devastation, but I've not played it. I suspect it's more of the same, but can't say for sure. Use comments if you know any different.

Buyers Guide:
PSN only.  A physical release at a sweet budget price would've been welcome.

3 times wondering why Peter Fonda is on the cover? out of 5

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tribes: Ascend (2012)

Genre: First Person Shooter | Players: Multi only | Developer: High-Rez Studios

Tribes Ascend is a Free-to-Play, multiplayer-only sequel in the Tribes series. The titular tribes, Diamond Sword and Blood Eagle, hate each other and do battle which players can do with a multitude of game-types and job classes. There is a story behind the gameplay, but it doesn't matter here.

The job classes are interesting in that they can result in widely varying playstyles. There are nine total, each with a particular use in mind. Light armor Pathfinders are quick and nimble, perfect for capturing flags and chasing fleeing enemies while heavy armor Juggernauts are slow, but deal huge damage, often one-hit kills on anything other than another heavy armor type. I chose a medium armor Technician because I have terrible aim so I got credits for completing objectives rather than kills as they were hard to come by without using my automatic turrets. Which brings me to the weapons.
Each class starts with its own default loadout and new weapons, items, grenades and perks can be unlocked by using Experience gained by playing the game, or by using gold purchased with real money in the store. Though to prevent players simply paying to win, gold can only be used to unlock while upgrades to power and ammo can only be earned through gameplay and great care has been taken to make every weapon viable rather than new ones making the defaults obsolete (with varying success). The variety of weapons also makes the game standout as the Sci-fi weapons are wildly different in application from standard bullet guns.

The maps are huge compared to other shooters, but they need to be as Tribes games have always had mobility as a core part of the game. Here it is jetpacks and little jetboots that let players fly in the air and ski at incredible speeds respectively. Jetpacks have limited energy that constantly regenerates which limits how long players are airborne and skiing is at the mercy of gravity and momentum, but using both in conjunction makes zipping around great fun and makes aiming quite a task as even the most eagle-eyed shooters may have a problem tagging a target going 200mph especially with the slower ammunition of a lot of the weapons. Leading the target is essential. Thank God for splash-damage.

Overall, the game is highly customizable and great fun, but the learning curve is steep which may be daunting to some players. But it's free so there isn't anything to lose by giving it a try.

Buyer's Guide:
The game itself can be downloaded for free from the High-Rez website.
Give it a try.
Real money can be used to buy gold that unlocks weapons and classes or buy boosts that expand experience gained for a set amount of time. Though you can play the whole game without spending a dime there are a few perks to spending money like bonuses to experience gain and something that costs 100,000 experience points to unlock will cost much less in gold.

4 Infiltrators are all fucking cocksucking cowards out of 5