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Friday, March 18, 2011

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl - Being Recreated In Crysis

A group of Russian modders are recreating Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl in Cryengine 2 which Crysis uses. I'm not 100 percent sure how far along they are but what I've see so far looks really good. As someone who really liked the gun play in Crysis and the overall atmosphere of the Stalker games it's going to be really cool to see these two put together into the same game.

The video below shows the mod in an early state. The Zone really comes alive in this engine and these guys are really doing a great job. I can't understand what's being said as I don't speak the language (I'm assuming it's Russian) being spoken but just watching it is enough for me it looks really good.

I just saw this video today and they seem to be further along in the process. The guns look a lot better and more in line with what you'd see in the original Stalker games, we also have a brief appearance of the Scar from Crysis and I wonder if they plan on keeping that in. They also show off the drivable cars which is really cool. If you look when he's driving the hands don't look right to me. I've seen other Crysis mods where the hands are suppose to be flesh and they never look right, like you can still see the Nanosuit under the skin textures. I don't know if that's something they can fix but I hope they do.

I'm extremely excited to see this come out if it does. I know huge mod projects like this can fizzle out and never be released but I hope this one makes it out. I don't even care if it's all in Russian when it's released I will still play it.

I will post updates about this whenever I hear new stuff but I can only go by what I read as I don't speak what I'm assuming is Russian.

You can check out their site too but again it's in what I think is Russian.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Once More Into The Zone - STALKER: Clear Sky (Clear Sky Complete Mod) Review

As I've said a bunch on this blog anyone who reads what I write knows I love Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. I've played SOC countless times, Vanilla and with Mods installed. I absolutely love everything SOC brings to the table but I have never played any of the follow up games, Clear Sky or Call of Pripyat. I decided that was extremely uncalled for and decided to right this wrong and finally play both games.

Just moments ago I finished Stalker: Clear Sky with the Clear Sky: Complete Mod installed. I had previously tried to play Clear Sky but was met with glitches, bugs and other assorted crap keeping me from playing the game. The biggest one I encountered was early on where I just randomly died as I hit the quick save key. Well guess what happened? Yep, the death was in the quick save. I would of lost a lot of progress if I reloaded the auto save so I decided to just forget Clear Sky and go play Shadow of Chernobyl again.

Why did I wait until now to try playing this with a Mod installed? I like to play through games the first time as pure as possible or vanilla as some people call it. Even if I'm playing some really old game that needs a source port to run right on modern PCs I try to get one that doesn't change the base game at all. Complete is a series of mods that does this very thing. You can find a Complete mod for all three Stalker games and I figured if I was going to go through the buggy mess that is Clear Sky I should try Complete with it, so that's what I did. How does this notoriously glitch filled game handle with this mod and how is the game overall? Well read on to find this out!

Clear Sky is the second game in the Stalker series but it's a prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl taking place immediately before the events of the first game. You play the role of a Stalker named Scar. In the intro you see Scar leading a group of scientists through the Zone when an emission hits, killing all the scientists but leaving Scar alive. He's rescued by a group called Clear Sky and after awakening is told he has a connection with the Zone and further emissions will cause his central nervous system to break down and eventually kill him. From the outset that is your mission, to find out what is causing the Zone to lash out and put a stop to it. I won't go into it much more as it can ruin the story of SOC if you haven't played that yet as the two games do go together.

Clear Sky plays a lot like Shadow of Chernobyl which is to be expected but they did change up some of the mechanics, some of these changes are great and some are done so poorly they distract from the overall game. You go through the game in a first person view shooting at enemies and looking for loot to survive. You can access an inventory and equip Artifacts but even this has changed a little.

The biggest game change is the upgrade system, all weapons and armor can be upgraded through NPC characters in the major camps in the game. Weapons can be made to shoot faster, have better accuracy or even accept a different caliber of ammo. Armor can be made to offer better protection, add a gas mask or better night vision and you can increase the amount of Artifact pockets you can have. Unlike SOC in Clear Sky you start out unable to equip any Artifacts. You have to upgrade your armor to hold more and even that number can vary. Some armor while offering a better base protection do not have the ability to hold the maximum amount of Artifacts. The upgrade options for both weapons and armor are actually pretty deep with some upgrades cutting you off from others and so on. I really liked that I had to think about the path I wanted to take while upgrading and it actually made a difference in the type of gun I was wielding or the armor I was wearing.

The next biggest change are the way you find Artifacts. In SOC they were just laying around waiting for you to pick them up, that is not the case in Clear Sky. You have in your possession a detector which helps you find them in the Anomaly fields. You'll come across large fields of various Anomalies and this is where the detector comes into play. You use it to pinpoint where in the field the item is then go in after it, avoiding the Anomalies and trying to get out alive. This was a really nice addition as it makes you feel more like a Stalker having to survive in these dangerous fields to get the prize and make the Artifacts way more valuable.

Faction Wars, what's a Faction War? It's the worst freaking thing in this game and nothing but a pain to deal with. You have warring factions in Clear Sky, The Loners, The Bandits, Duty and Freedom. You can choose to join any of these groups and fight on their side but from the way they always need your help you'd think you're the only good fighter they have. I went with the Loner faction which is just made up of Stalkers and they were fighting against the bandits. At first it was okay just a little fighting here and there, kind of fun and a new addition. Then it all goes down hill. You will be called constantly to help out and if you don't you fail and the other side gains the upper hand. I don't know the breaking point for failing these that will make you get a game over or even if it's possible to get a game over from this but it still sucks. Hold a territory for your faction let's you get through much easier, here's an example. Early on in the game you go to the Garbage. If the Bandits hold the entrance you will get robbed when you enter and loose all your money. If you fight off the Bandits enough in the Cordon the Loner faction will get into the Garbage ahead of you and clear the entrance allowing you go through without paying. Stuff like that is a neat little touch but it ends up just being busy work.

I mentioned two locations above the Cordon and the Garbage. You may remember them from SOC, you'll be seeing a lot of the areas from SOC in this game. It makes sense because you're kind of leading up to the events in the first game and the Zone is only so big. At first I thought it was a little lazy to see so much reused but it adds to the element that Scar knows his way around the Zone and you do too as you've done it all before. I did think it was nice to see these areas like they were before Shadow of Chernobyl, like Freedom holding the Dark Valley and some sections of the Cordon actually inhabited beyond the Army base and the Rookie village.

I really liked what the Complete Mod did to this game. The first thing is the improved graphics. While Clear Sky vanilla is a better looking game than SOC this makes it look even better. All the redone textures are just amazing and help bring the Zone to life. Textures are all new, a new weather system has been added, the lighting is redone and that part just looks amazing. As the sun rises and the beams of light come through the windows or trees it's a really cool effect. The sound has been changed too adding in themes for each area and adding in a lot more guitar and vocal tracks for the NPCs who play guitar. Visually and auditorily this mod makes the entire game a million times better and I highly recommend you use this same mod if you decide to play through Clear Sky.

This wouldn't be one of my normal reviews if I didn't have a bug or glitch to complain about and it's time for that. Most the way through Clear Sky I didn't have any problems but the one bug I encountered was a nightmare and I almost gave up playing because of it. I was near the end of the game. You end up having to go through the town of Limansk to continue the story. Getting there isn't an issue but I was there for about 2 minutes and I was killed. No biggie, I'll reload and be fine. Nope! Crash to desktop, again not a big deal, the first time through SOC it crashed to desktop twice so I can give this "buggy mess" at least one crash. Well when I tried to reload my save it crashed again and again and again. Eventually I went with the beginning of the level auto save and that one loaded but the game crashed and so on and so forth. I looked online and read that this was a problem caused by the Complete mod making the game crash and that it only happens in the first part of Limansk. I was going to remove the mod and play through Limansk without it but then I read it's a problem with the base game and I could get the crash even without the mod. I did read that if you make it to the Construction yard in Limansk without crashing you're okay. After a few more crashed I eventually made it through the level and was able to finish the game without incident. This is a bad place to have to worry about dying as this is when the game get's crazy hard and I went through a ton of medkits and bandages getting to the end of this level so I wouldn't end up dying.

And this brings me to the last thing I want to say about Clear Sky and that's the difficulty. I know Stalker games are suppose to be difficult and I don't mind that but this one just all of a sudden get's super hard near the end, I mean the difficulty curve just rams up. I don't mind challenge but I can't stand when games do this and this one is no exception.

Overall Clear Sky was an okay game. I really liked some of the mechanic changes this game had which made me feel more immersed in the world. Faction Wars and the above mentioned bug almost ruined the game for me and I doubt it will be a game I replay anytime soon. My initial views on the vanilla game are probably still there but the polish Complete adds more than make up for the past issues. If you play this make sure it's with Complete, DO NOT PLAY VANILLA!

Stalker: Clear Sky - 7 out of 10

Link to download Clear Sky: Complete - http://www.moddb.com/mods/clear-sky-complete You can actually follow this link to get the Complete mods for Shadow of Chernobyl and Call of Pripyat also.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hardcore Mode or The Art of Losing Everything When You Die

The basic idea has been something that's been around in gaming for a long time. Going all the way back to the PC game Rogue, you adventure for as long as you want but if you die you lose everything and need to go back to square one. This is something I love to see in games, I look for any game that has this feature to try out and see how hard it can be. Before I even knew these type of games existed I would play many of my old school games in this fashion. I remember playing may SNES games were I would start over if I died and I always play my scrolling shooters in this way.

The game that really showed me other people liked this concept was Diablo 2. It had the Hell mode where you lost you character if you died. I can't remember if this was in the first Diablo as I didn't play a ton of it due to hardware issues at the time. I was blown away they included this mode, it adds a tension that at the time I had never experienced in a game. Yeah I was playing games like that before but actually being forced to lose your character and start over was just awesome to me.

We're starting to see this type of mode in more and more modern games. Torchlight has it and games like Spelunky and Dwarf Fortress take the roguelike approach to them. One big name game coming out, The Witcher 2 has a mode like this. You can save as often as you want but if you die it's game over, I cannot wait to try this mode out it holds so much potential for a challenge.

I want to mention another game that didn't feature a mode like this but it has a following in the "no death run" method of playing and that's Far Cry 2. I loved Far Cry 2 even with it's flaws but this is an interesting way to play this game. Exploring the jungles and forests of Africa never sure if there's someone waiting in the bush to snipe you it adds to the game play. Add to this if you never buy the upgraded weapons and just use the crappy stuff your enemies drop and you have an experience a lot of games can't offer you. Another game series that get's ever more exciting to play with this restriction are the STALKER games. They're already pretty unforgiving so add in the fact that your first death is your last and you get a real sense of how brutal the Zone can actually be. Try playing Shadow of Chernobyl with one of those realism mods on Master difficulty and only give yourself one death, you'll be going through the game at a snails pace just fearing death. It's can be so much fun, I want to see more of this in gaming.

I would like to see more titles ship with this option. I don't think games should only offer this as a game play choice because it will turn off some players but I would welcome challenge and I'm sure there's plenty of other people who would love to see this too.

The Battle of the Bloom - Crysis 2: Multiplayer Demo Impressions

I have to say I was a little bitter when the Crysis 2 multiplayer demo was only released on the 360. Seeing as Crysis was a PC game to shun the audience that put your game on the map seemed like a bad move to me. Then a few weeks later the word came down that Crytek was indeed releasing the demo on the PC. On March 1st I eagerly downloaded said demo because I was excited to see what Crytek had done with the sequel to one of my favorite games.

I'd seen some video of the demo in action so I knew all about the Call of Duty revamp the Crysis multiplayer had received. Gone are the big battlefields, only to be replaced with close quarters combat and the same perk based level up system most shooters these days have.

Getting into my first match I was greeted with the absolute worst thing in this demo, the Bloom. This game is really and I mean really bright. I usually play my games with the brightness a little higher than suggested and this time I had to turn the in game brightness down to zero and it was still to bright. I blame this on Crytek's over use of bloom. Everything is so shiny, it's blinding. I'm going to take a wild guess on this and assume Crytek is using so much bloom because it's covering up some weak textures. Seeing as they need to cram this game onto the 360 the overall graphics are going to suffer and we all know the secret to covering all that up is with bloom.

The controls are not up to par either. They just feel wrong like there's a slight delay or something. It's like they were going for that "weighted" feel like Killzone 2 but in this game it just doesn't work. When you have a fast paced shooter like a COD or a Halo then you put a weighted delay on the shooting it just feels off. I tried both the mouse and keyboard and my wired 360 controller and neither of them felt right. Also with using the mouse the sensitivity wouldn't stay were I put it often resetting to some random number while I was playing. When you're playing a game and all of a sudden the mouse goes all wonky due to the sensitivity deciding on it's own to change it doesn't inspire confidence.

Everything about this demo feels wrong. It's not fun to play and it's always feels like you're fighting with the game on top of the other players. The bloom is a major problem that needs to be toned down in the final game or preferably taken out all together. The controls are garbage and need major tweaking but I don't think either of these will happen. The first Crysis was a great game with amazing graphics (Part 1 looks better than part 2) and super tight controls. I don't see how Crytek could drop the ball this hard on the sequel but it's a real shame. I know it's only a demo but a demo is suppose to help sell the final product and all playing this demo has done for me is make me not want to play Crysis 2. It took a game I was super excited for and made me not even care. Crytek may address some of my issues in the final game but I'll never know as I will never play Crysis 2. Maybe the mod scene can get their hands on this and actually make the game playable, of that we can only hope.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

20 Years of Street Fighter 2

Today marks the 20th anniversary of one of my all time favorite games, Street Fighter 2: The World Warriors. This is a game that completely changed my life. I was so blown away by it, it helped fuel an obsession that you stay with me for almost the whole 20 years.

I had only played a little of the first Street Fighter, in the arcade with those giant rubber buttons you had to beat on to do the punched and kicks and on the Turbo-CD when it was known as Fighting Street. It was a clunky mess and really hard to play on either platform but for the first fighting I had ever played I still put a few quarters in it at the arcade and then I'd fire it up at home on occasion after I owned it. In the end it was just one of those two player games you keep around if you have a friend over and they want to play with you.

So a little while later I ended up going with my dad to Pittsburgh on a business trip. While he was in meetings all day I was free to explore the wonderful outskirts of Pittsburgh and yeah it was as great as it sounds. The only thing near the hotel was a really crappy mall. You know how in most places there's the nice mall with all the stores and food courts and all that jazz, then there's the other mall that you only go to if you need a cheap haircut or knockoff cupcakes or something? Well this was the second kind and it was a pretty bad mall but it did have an arcade. I wandered around the arcade a bit and ended up spending some money on the Simpsons arcade game. After that I went further in and there it was like it was calling out to me, Street Fighter 2.

I instantly recognized the name and I couldn't believe a game that mediocre had a sequel. Watching the demo I saw all these new fighters and they all looked interesting and it looked so smooth in the the way it played. I dropped my quarters in and that's when it all started. I played Blanka the first time I tried it out because he was a monster and I thought he looked cool. I ended up going through all the characters and decided that Guile would be the one I played as. When I went back to the hotel to have dinner with my dad it was all I could talk about surely boring the crap out of him but I was just so into it. The next day couldn't come fast enough so I could go back over there and play some more.

That was the first time I played Street Fighter 2 eventually there was an arcade close enough to me where I could go play it. I would go to the mall early on Sundays so I could have the SF2 machine to myself to practice and practice I did I eventually became pretty good at it.

Then came the greatest thing ever for me at that time, SF2 was coming to the SNES! I think I nearly crapped when I heard that news. That took the obsession to a whole new level, it allowed me as I'm sure it allowed others to get even better at the game without having to blow through quarters. Being able to spend more time with the characters I ended up moving away from Guile and I started using Ken. I liked that Ken didn't need to charge his moves and I just found him easiest for me to use.

Then of course we had the Championship Edition in the arcade which added the ability to play as the four bosses of SF2. Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M Bison and this added a whole new level to the game as you had real people using these guys. Even though I was still playing SF2 at home I spent a ton of time in the arcades playing CE as M Bison.

Next up was Hyper Fighting and then Super Street Fight 2. SSF2 added four more characters, T Hawk, Fei Long, Cammy and Dee Jay while tweaking and adding some stuff to the others. This is the version of SF2 I spent the most time playing as it was in the arcades and on the SNES. I would literally play this for hours upon hours. I knew every character, all their moves and I could win with any of them. It's also around the time I shifted my focus from Ken to Ryu. Since SSF2 I've used Ryu in any Capcom fighting game that has him and I've never looked back.

As with Hyper Fighting before it we saw the release of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. With this came one new character in the form of the hidden boss Akuma and again some more character tweaks. A super meter was also added in that when filled it allowed you to do a super version of one of the basic special moves. This is the version of SF2 I spent the least amount of time with. I only played it in the arcade a couple times as none of them near me had any machines and the only home version to come out was for the 3DO. I was going to get the 3DO version but the system's controller was so bad for fighters I didn't really care.

With the success of SF2 we saw tons of 2D fighters come out and I pretty much played them all. If it was an obscure 2D fighter on the SNES or the Genesis I played it. If I heard an arcade 50 miles away had some new fighter before the one near me I went to play the new game there. Sitting here writing this now I'm flooded with memories of all the crappy fighters I've played. Even though none of them held a candle to SF2 I still searched for them and spent some time with each one. At the time the only other 2D fighter to hold my interest was Mortal Kombat.

Street Fighter 2 for me was the best set of fighting games to ever come out and nothing that's come out since has been able to hold up. Even Street Fighter 4 which is a throwback to SF2, I just couldn't get into it. I'll remember all the time I spent playing SF2 very fondly, it was and still is just simply awesome.