Yesterday 5punk.co.uk was ten years old and I wrote about some of the games we’ve played and peoples’ memories of them. In celebration we played some games last night – lots of us did, maybe twenty at one point. In order to get all those people together we had to find games we all had, and it comes as no surprise that those games were all first person sh0oters. Maybe it’s because they’re easy to pick up because they’re mechanically similar, maybe it’s because they’re convenient to drop in and out of with any number of players. Either way, shooters are so popular among 5punkers that today they get their own article.
Today 5punk.co.uk is ten years old. What began as a function for likeminded people to organise gaming sessions has, in those years, become a very close community in its own right. Many members, many games, have been and gone through the forums. Even the forum has died and been reborn. But the constant which makes 5punk the place it is remains true. The members, whoever they may be, their puerile but good natured sense of humour, love of gaming, and penchant for bumming horses.
For the last few years Anery has run a not bash. Which is to say it isn’t a bash, but a few of us get together to have drinks, play some board games, and wag some chins. Only three 5punkers made it this year, Anery, Pnut and I, but there isn’t the room for more than four or five anyway and Anery’s better half stepped up for some of the games. For those who weren’t there but were interested in the games we played or the rubbish we talked, read on.
Ben There, Dan That is and old school point-and-click adventure, similar to Lucasarts’ SCUMM based games from the 90s. For those too young to remember, SCUMM was the engine used to develop such classics as The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Day of the Tentacle. For those too young to remember those games, this could well be your gateway into a wealth of great and almost timeless games.
The posters on the wall in the screenshot above are telling references to the inspiration for Ben There, Dan That. The focus here is heavily on the humour, but it has a strong character of its own courtesy of the game’s titular characters, Ben and Dan. Much of the dialogue in the game is between the duo, a witty back and forth falling generally into the well tread comedy trope of straight man and funny man. The British developers upon whom the game’s characters are based also bring a dry slant to the comedy which is somewhat unique among its peers. That could well be a matter of taste, but it hit the right notes for me.
There’s more to a point-and-click than jokes though. Puzzles form the main challenge, and for the most part the desired result is well communicated. It isn’t flawless in that respect – I had to resort to an online guide on a couple of occasions – but for the most part the difficulty is in working out how to do something rather than what it was I needed to do. Those familiar with the genre will have undoubtedly reached a point in other games where you, in desperation, use each item in your inventory on the others in an attempt to find out some obscure combination. I won’t claim I didn’t to that here also, but I can declare that it didn’t work.
The story centres around Dan and Ben trying to get home after being abducted by aliens, which takes them through various alternate dimensions, each a warped version of Earth. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, with alternatives such as a world where Britain is ruled by America, one where dinosaurs are still the dominant race, or the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. All of this is rendered in low-fi 2D, and if beautifully painted mattes or complex 3D models are your thing then the doodle-esque art style may not be for you. The style fits the tone though, and while I expect something more detailed could well have added some nice incidental detail to the benefit of the game, the lack of it doesn’t detract. The sound is similarly basic but fitting, with cheerful and unintrusive chip music plinking away in the background.
Ben There, Dan That is the funniest point-and-click I’ve played since the early 90s. It’s not particularly long or difficult, and other modern adventures (Machinarium for example) can provide prettier backdrops and cleverer puzzles, but if you like your games with a sense of humour then this is the one to choose. And if you haven’t played those games I mentioned in the introduction, and you do play this and enjoy it, get yourself ScummVM and have a go at some of the old classics.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was commonly regarded as one of the best games of 2012, and I can’t disagree with that. Played on Ironman mode it was tense and emotional as each mission could spell death for one of your carefully nurtured and unique soldiers. Indeed, on a number of occasions it did. I didn’t feel guilty about that though, I always felt they had the best chance I could give them, even if it was only by luck that none died to my bad judgement, only by unfortunate circumstance or bad luck. The expansion pack, Enemy Within was harder, tenser, and did make me feel guilty though. Terribly guilty.
Broken age is the result of Double Fine’s pioneering Kickstarter project which set out to allow point-and-click maestro Tim Schafer to resume work in this neglected genre. This is significant even if it doesn’t directly affect Broken Age, because most gamers will have at least heard of the likes of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, or Full Throttle. Expectations are there, and I don’t plan on ignoring those even in the spirit of being objective. Is that fair? Possibly not, but the Kickstarter was built on those expectations, the game was funded on them. It doesn’t change my opinion of the game, but I will be referring to past glories.
That was an ominous start, I admit. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend four paragraphs slating Broken Age because it isn’t as funny as Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle (it’s not), or as stylish as Full Throttle or Grim Fandango (it’s not). It’s a departure from past glories, and quite rightly so since a long time has passed since this kind of game was last made.
So what is it then? Well, it’s a clever and imaginative point-and-click, refined for the 21st century rather than re-invented. At its heart it’s comparable to the best of the old guard – the puzzles are often obtuse and a little bizarre, but rarely to the point where you’ll be hunting down the solution online. It also has a very distinctive art style which, while not quite up there with Grim Fandango, is both appropriate and attractive. The GUI is similarly well designed, hiding away until you need it, although personally I preferred the convenience of the old SCUMM system. From a technical and aesthetic perspective it’s very good.
The writing is where it falls slightly short for me. Again, this is certainly influenced by prior experience of Schaeffer’s other games. The story takes place in two narratives told in parallel – you can flip between them at any time, but they remain distinct from each other. Neither try to be funny like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, so you can forgive them for not being, but they didn’t quite make up for that by grabbing me in other ways. Both are quite twee, rather like weird fairy tales.
I’ll start with the boy’s story. Waking up on his spaceship you spend the first act learning about his past and how he comes to be living comfortably in space. It’s cute, a little surreal, and kind of dull. It does liven up later, but for me it was the weaker of the two. It also had the better puzzles, so was enjoyable despite my lack of engagement.
The girl’s story is much better. Hers is a quest for salvation, and she’s a far more likeable and interesting character. Rebellious and intelligent, she is trying to save herself and her people from a monster from whom they have no particular desire to be saved. This is also the stranger of the two environments, and while her motives and character are clear the same can’t be said for most of the people around her. The more obtuse puzzles reside in this part of the game and could be a little frustrating when paired up with the bizarre settings.
Overall Broken age comes out well. It has its ups and downs, but taken on its own is worth playing. For someone looking for the humour of the old classics though, I’d recommend looking up Size Five’s Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please.
It’s difficult to judge Warlock 2 on its own merits. Obviously as the sequel to 2012’s Warlock: Master of the Arcane it will draw close comparison, but even a cursory glance at the screenshots will put many in mind of Civilization V too. Before weighing it up against the competition though, we should examine the game on what it presents.
The meat of Warlock 2 is a turn based strategy game where you build cities in order to dominate the land and produce units with which to explore and conquer. This is no simple task – the world is full of unpleasant monsters which must be cleared out first, and many of them will be more than a match for your troops. Fortunately city buildings and experience will allow you to empower your units with skills and upgrades which can balance the odds for a while, but the whole game will be an arms race against the monsters. On top of the fauna, there are a number of other mages – the off-map overseers of each empire – making their own designs on the world.
The world itself is divided into shards of various sizes and environments, linked by portals. The variety is impressive, ranging from the mundane but productive pastures and tundra, to the more spectacular death or elemental lands. Each has its own flavour of hostile creatures and useful resources. The type of terrain isn’t quite as important as it might be in a more conventional setting – among your book of spells, containing the usual damage, healing and buffs, are terraforming spells that allow you to pretty much configure each city as you like given enough time and resources.
The option of tailoring your cities is essential to the running of your empire, due to one of Warlock 2’s most interesting departures from the strategy norm: Your empire has a maximum limit to how many cities you can have at any given time. At first this is frustrating, but once you abandon the mindset of conquest through unfettered growth it becomes liberating. That isn’t to say you can’t dominate the map with cities though, the limit only applies to those under your direct control. Other cities captured or settled can be assigned to specialist roles and do not contribute to the cap, although they don’t expand or produce units. The limit isn’t a hard ceiling either, you can go over that limit at the expense of population happiness. This allows you to capture cities and take the happiness hit while you re-purpose them. The most significant impact on the game, though, is that it forces you to consider exactly where to position each one you do maintain, what strategic resources it will give you, what units it will produce. Decisions must be made whether to abandon a potentially valuable resource to an automated city, or abandon an established city and take the production hit while you build up the new one. In the later stages of the game it isn’t as simple a choice as it may sound, because to survive against the more powerful roaming monsters you will need those resources and advanced troops.
In contrast to the grand strategy of the core game, there is a light element of RPG to it. At various points you will be able to recruit hero units, powerful (but not invincible) individuals who can be equipped with magic items and will likely form the core of your armies. The main campaign is quest based, setting you objectives with the ultimate goal to overthrow the United One and his henchmen. It’s an interesting journey – each of the bad guys will interfere with you in different ways by casting spells or summoning monsters until you complete the quest to stop them. This interference swings between interesting diversion to irritatingly distracting, but in either case it breaks up the constant push of conquest.
So how does it compare to its contemporaries? Warlock 2 may have some longetivity issues when compared to Civ V. The game isn’t as complex and suffers from a lack of victory conditions, and while it isn’t designed to be an empire builder the wargame focus doesn’t quite fill the gap. Compared to Warlock it improves in almost every way, but loses the grand wargame feel due to late game being deadly to all but a handful of the highest powered units. The improvements aren’t huge or significant though, and owners of the first game could be forgiven for feeling like Warlock 2 is a full priced expansion, but anyone who played Civ V and wanted more war, or anyone who’s been hankering for a new Master of Magic, could do far worse than to take a look.
9pm and I get to sit down at the comp for play not work because it’s Friday, bits PMs me – ‘games?’ I umm and ahh for about a minute then jump on TS.
But what shall we play? With an initial bunch of only five of us, it should be easy to find something we all have, right?
Today’s diary is late, you may notice. This is a sign of things to come. This week a new player will spawn in the game which is my life and that will put pays to both Frigames and diaries for a while. I’ll be back though.
In writing a review of Chivalry: Modern Warfare I have a few issues to deal with. It raises the question of what makes a game good versus what makes it enjoyable. Surely they’re the same thing, some may say. Well okay, ‘good’ is a subjective word so maybe they’re right, but in terms of quality they don’t necessarily sit hand in hand, and this is especially true. When it comes to the games 5punkers like this is even more true. Allow me to explain.
Chivalry is a fairly simple first person, round-based, multiplayer combat game. That’s nothing unusual, and it follows in the footsteps of many greats like Team Fortress 2 with various game modes and no particular overall metagame. Of course there are many not-so-greats in this somewhat oversubscribed genre too.
So why am I reviewing Chivalry and not one of the many others? To begin with, it narrows down its field of competitors by being all about melee combat. There is a ranged class, but combat is centred around swinging heavy and often sharp pieces of metal at your opponent. There aren’t too many multiplayer games around for that, and before I fall into the trap of trying to make comparisons I’ll admit that I’ve not played any of the others. Something I have noticed about the odd single player game I’ve played which tries to handle this subject though is that the controls are usually akin to jousting with fork-lifts.
The rounds come as the usual fare: free-for-all, team deathmatch, capture the flag. There’s also a popular objective mode based on medieval sieges, which is quite good. It doesn’t add up to a huge amount of game though. The variety of classes and weapons, along with even more class-specific weapons via unlocks, is good, and each weapon has a slightly different feel, but it all pretty much boils down to hitting the other guy with something.
The actual act of doing that is a pretty tactile experience. This is in part from the very intuitive controls which map both mouse buttons and scroll wheel to different ways of swinging the weapon. They vary in the specifics, but always come down to a compromise of speed, range and power.It might not sound a lot but it really makes if feel like you’re handling a weapon rather than just clicking to poke a stick.
On top of that, parrying will slow your opponent’s next attack and leave you with a slight speed advantage, so every combat is a little tactical exchange of blows, and every blow counts when it only takes two or three for a kill. Visually too, the combat will jar your view and disorientate you. Your weapon will connect satisfyingly with the enemy, and if you get a kill there’s a fair chance the limb you hit could come off or shatter in a spray of gore and bone.
The combination of a creative game mode and a fun combat system isn’t quite enough to make a great game. This is where the 5punky review deviates from what I would write were it a straight review for Joe Average Gamer. There are extra little touches added to Chivalry which bump it from a brief distraction to a 5punky classic.
The brutal combat and slightly silly physics is satisfying but also very amusing. You can’t fail to grin and the goofy flopping corpse of your opponent when you get a kill. There’s also a key bound to scream a war-cry, which adds another layer of ridiculous to the whole thing as knights charge and clash to the constant backdrop of “YEEEEEAAAAAAARGH!”
The real deal breaker for us though is the discovery of low gravity servers. I don’t know if it’s a mod or a mutator, but either way it is howlingly funny. The game automatically plays a terrified scream if you fall a certain distance, but in low gravity this happens every time you jump. The effect is that you find yourself in the middle of an acrobatic ballet of screaming, flailing knights. Limbs arc away trailing bloody sprays and people jab desperately at each others’ crotches. It turns the ridiculous into the sublime, and for that it won 5punk’s Game of the Year 2013.
It might not be a game that gets played every week, and when it does we might not play it for more than an hour or so, but Chivalry is so side-splittingly funny to play that it will be a 5punky classic for years to come, up there in the hall of fame along with Call of Duty: United Offensive and Burnout Paradise.