Experimental Reviewing

Here is a copy of the sort of experiential/experimental game review I was referring to in my last post.. this is old and for a game that I so wanted to love - despite its failure.

Taken from the perspective of a character in the game who was experiencing the problems of the game in real-time as he lived.. I think it went over people's heads sometimes... but at least Ron and I loved it. I had done something similarly for my The Matrix Online, and Animal Crossing reviews at the Columbus Dispatch that I don't think anyone got either.. lol.

Today I think I'd take a slightly different path with the approach - there is so much unnatural language here, it does not read like someone from the world really because it is attempting to be both a review and an experience piece.

Hellgate: London Review (Gaming Today)

An exciting discovery was unearthed today. Archaeologists uncovered an entry from the journal of one of the survivors of Hellgate: London:

When the demons came they turned everything we loved into ash and dust. A small sect of religious fanatics, long ago relegated to myth and legends, became very real to all of us that survived. They called themselves Templars, inheritors of a sect of Christian knights, an order believed dead in the middle ages. The Templars took us in, got us organized and taught us how to fight back. Some took naturally to the sword, others began to manifest abilities that could only be described as magical. These magic wielding survivors came to be known as Cabalists, summoners and evokers who seemed disposed to wield the evil magics that the demon invaders brought with them through the Hellgate. A third group soon formed among the survivors as well, collectively known as Hunters they used technology and science to combat the arcane threat. I’m no good with a sword like the Templars, and have no innate magic talent like the Cabalists, but I can turn a pile of junk into a bot in no time flat. I’m a pretty good shot too, so I signed on with the Hunters as an Engineer.

Life in the mean streets of London is a trial by fire. My first training mission I hooked up with this fellow named Murmur and became further embroiled in the Templar organization than I had dreamed of. Since then, I’ve been taking the fight to the enemy. I’m dealing with mutated beasts, demons, specters and even necros, our own dead. We use the London underground stations as staging points and fight our very personal war against the demons in the dim hope that we can push them back through the portals that brought them to our world and destroyed our civilization.

The techs and the Cabalists working together found ways to enhance our weapons and armor. Ancient magics and cutting edge technology give us a fighting chance. We have swords and guns with poison, fire and electric capability. We can also use something the Cabalists call spectral damage. The techs are working on a way to incorporate new types of damage into our weapons, like cold that could stun or slow targets. The better weapons and shields have slots for upgrades to add new effects to them. We can switch out ammo, fuel, batteries, tech components and even magic relics to maximize damage to the different types of foes. Some of our expeditions beyond the safe zones are merely for the opportunity to gather these components and to gain better equipment from the husk of London to use against the dark enemy.

Sometimes I run alone, sometimes I backup my mates. Whatever my mission is, things are bound to get weird in demon infested areas. Sometimes things will disappear, like I can see the mods I integrated into my rocket launcher, and fire the thing, but I can’t see the gun itself. Techsmith 314 says this is a glitch with the modification process and promises he and the other techs are working on a fix but until it comes it’s more than a little disconcerting during combat.

Portals are another hazard. The further you are from a safe haven the worse it gets. When going out as a member of a team, sometimes my mate will disappear completely. I can’t even track them on my scope, but it’s easy enough to follow the trail of carnage he leaves behind. Sometimes it even causes bots to malfunction. I’ve had my bots materialize in the floor on the other side of portals. I’ve also had the bot disappear off my scope although I can see them clearly. However when that happens I can create new ones, but can’t control or repair them once they’re activated. I just have to stop to build a new one when it gets fragged. Techsmith 314 is also aware of these malfunctions and is working on a solution.

He promises a software update in the near future.

Glitches aside, I have the best equipment and armor I could ask for. I’m certainly never bored as my prey changes every time I step through one of those portals.. Whether I’m with my mate or soloing I still can’t wait to get back out there and frag some demons. There are quirks and problems with our little war. The demons see us as food and fodder but we’re determined to fight back and maybe even discover what has happened to the world outside London.

Presentation (9) - Hellgate:London is a respectable spiritual successor to the Diablo series. It provides players with the wide variety of MOBs and random maps that Diablo fans have come to expect and added character customization as well. The multiplayer interface is also much improved. The opening movie does a great job of setting up the story and giving players a preview of each character archetype in action.

Graphics (8) - You get what you pay for with this game. The graphics are detailed with beautifully rendered textures if you have a graphics card that will do it justice. In more populated areas, players may notice NPCs and other PCs look hazy with less powerful graphics cards. I have three PCs with varying cards and there is an significant difference between low end or older cards and the new high end GPUs. I don’t have a system that runs Vista so I can’t vouch for DirectX 10.

Sound (9) - The voice acting for the English version is decent and varied, like the NPC designs, the voices are varied enough to give you the feel that London is populated by people, not clones. A lot of attention was obviously given to sound effects for weapons, foot falls and spells. The many types of creatures you’ll encounter have their own sounds as well. The background sounds are enough to build suspense without being intrusive. The score is decent, although for my taste, I would actually like to hear more of the combat music that seems to kick you into over drive when it does come on.

Gameplay (6) - The game runs smoothly even with systems that meet minimum requirements. Load times aren’t overly long either, allowing players to get into the action. The variety of monsters and the random encounters with rare and elite MOBS keep things fresh by requiring you so switch up tactics and damage types, instead of using the same tried and true formula ad nauseum.

The mulitplayer features are much improved. You never have problems with the up front fighter getting all the loot because each player has his or her own loot from drops as well as chests. Experience is also no longer an issue as everything is shared although this could potentially lead to problems with one team member sitting back and letting another do all the work.

However, at this time there are several notable bugs in the game, some of which like disappearing team members and weapons. I noticed problems with my player controlled bots but none with the Cabalist pet class, the Summoner. I was however extremely ticked off when I was killed 300 yards from the portal to a new safe area by a unique only to find I had to start over three portals back because the game lost my tombstone marker.

Replayability (9) – There are three archetypes and six different character classes to chose from, each different enough to give players plenty of incentive to try different styles of gameplay. The basic objectives of quests are the same, but since all but the boss levels are random, you can stand to play through them again to see how a different class plays. The game also features random level sets so on multiple play throughs you may have vastly different environments – which is a step up from Diablo II.

Overall (8.5) - Hellgate: London looks good, plays well and has something for everyone whether they’re looking for an RPG, an FPS, or enjoy the collecting and modifying of weapons and armor. The main storyline could use some fleshing out but there are enough side quests and individual NPCs to keep the game interesting. The multiplayer subscription looks like it will really pay off; with new story elements, quests, and damage types in the works. Once Flagship works out all the bugs, I believe Hellgate will be every bit as addicting as the Diablo series games.


‘Matrix Online’ lets you choose path
Swallow the red pill, and adventure lies ahead
Monday, April 25, 2005
Shawn Sines

Welcome, reader. I am Morpheus.

You may not know me. You may not know why I’ve chosen this moment to interrupt your reading, but you do know that there is something strange about our world. Other readers will not see this; only you. They see simple words, a review of an online game.

You, however, are special. What you see is different for a reason. You see my words because, unlike most, you see through the facade of reality placed so neatly before you.

You have a choice. You can embrace The Matrix Online or you can continue, half-awake in the world you now inhabit. This reality you subscribe to is merely a shell, a program designed to keep you controlled by the machines that use mankind as energy.

I offer two options. Each is represented by a simple colored pill. Embrace the red pill and the world changes. Choose the blue pill and nothing changes, you forget this article and continue on, unaware.

The red pill offers adventure, excitement and a world of intrigue that most people are too blind to see. Mankind and the machines have reached a truce in their ongoing war — one that is slowly crumbling. We face another threat from the Exiles and Merovingian who play instigators, working to break the truce, hoping war will erupt again. Only by embracing the red pill can you break free of the machine influence and join us in our quest to liberate mankind.

Our numbers grow. Here in the sprawling Mega-City, we face our foes. Embracing the red pill grants you not only freedom but a different perspective on your false world. The sky, the earth, everything around you takes on a shoddy green cast.

But once free of the machine control, you may see the imperfections in the world around you. You see, The Matrix Online is not a perfect simulation of reality. However, only those who know freedom will notice the repetition of the faces around them and communication lag that troubles those who live in this world.

I represent Zion — liberated mankind. Once you awake, three paths to enlightenment will lay before you. I offer you the opportunity to free your mind and embrace them. Be you an operative, a hacker or a coder, you soon will develop skills that will enable you to do amazing things. Learn Kung Fu instantly, disrupt your enemies with virus attacks and eventually demonstrate powers others would consider supernatural. All of these abilities are available as you progress in The Matrix Online. Focusing on one path will make you stronger, but the choice is yours to exchange these skills any time before you enter our simulated world.

There is much fighting and combat in the service of Zion. Joining us means living a dangerous life. Many of your missions will require you to attack or defend others. Once you’ve risen enough in reputation, Zion will offer you more important tasks.

Beware the influence of the machines and the Exiles. They use the awakened as pawns and will entice you with money, power and abilities.

The path you take is your own. Stay true to the path and we will meet in person. You also will encounter a variety of warriors in the Zion elite: Ghost, Niobe and others that are not merely programmed impostors, but living, breathing people, like you.

Now you must choose.


The Prisoner: An Animal Crossing Review

Moving to a new town is hard. Setting out alone into an uncaring, unfeeling world. The lucky ones find new homes with new friends and a nice job. I had high hopes. A trip to an unknown town and the advice of a friendly cab driver sometimes are all it takes to set you on the right path. Then again it also can set you into a seedy world of platitudes, insect genocide and indentured servitude.

Tom Nook seemed an okay sort. He ran a shop in town, helped out his neighbors and always stocked the best furniture and decorations for the town residents. Moving into a new town with no friends, no job and no home leaves you desperate for help. Tom helped all right, but I never recognized the insidious scheme behind the offer of a roof, a job and a modest stipend.

Working for Tom wasn’t hard, his tasks were simple and he left me plenty of time to explore my new neighborhood. I wandered the town gathering fruits and flowers. Fishing became my secondary job when I delivered Tom’s advertising flyers. I did anything the strange Raccoon asked of me. I had little choice you see. The home Tom had given me was no gift. He intended I repay his kindness with labor. Every time I managed to collect enough rare fish, shells or items to pay off my debt the fiend upgraded my home. First he expanded the interiors. Next he added rooms and eventually, when he could no longer improve the property he released me from my forced mortgage.

I’d never had roommates before. Soon after arriving and being saddled with the crushing debt and the dead end job I got my first. It seemed Nook was entrapping others like me - wanderers with a sense of innocence looking for a new home. At least he allowed us to share the debt though we never seemed to be home at the same time. I met many strange animal people in town but my new friends in town seemed to always move away only to return days or weeks later with no real memory of where they'd been. I soon discovered the gates of my new prison could be unlocked and one day after spending hours fishing in the ocean in search of the rare fish Nook traded for cash, I boarded a train and arrived in another town. This new place was eerily similar to the one I’d just left.

Nook, it seemed, was everywhere. The new neighborhood contained one of his stores, and the proprietor was a spitting image of the owner. Exploring the town led to some shocking revelations. People like my roommates and I were also trapped in this town. It seemed out neighborhoods existed in a network and while travel between them was controlled you could never truly escape.
I met my counterpart and traded friend codes, my prison’s equivalent of a phone number so that I could return to this town in the future. Over time we developed a good friendship. Both trapped in the towns we’d come to call Animal Crossing we resigned ourselves to making our homes and lives as productive as possible. When not fishing or collecting the many insect species found in our towns we discovered an underground black market. Nook’s products were nice but the best furniture and patterns were only traded in the dark tent of the wandering merchant.

Eventually I grew weary of my prison home but the need to redecorate, to create new patterns for clothes and carpets consumed me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever escape my gilded prison, but at least I know Nook can’t keep me trapped here alone.


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