Recently, a friend of mine made a series of posts about his favourite tracks from video game soundtracks. As a fan of game music myself, and a bit of a collector of game soundtracks, since I have over 150 of them, I thought I'd post a few of my own favourites. I won't be saying that much about the music as I don't really want to rabbit on that much, but have a listen and see what you think.
Morrowind was a great game in its own right, an open world RPG that was staggering in its beautiful landscapes and scope for adventure. While a lot of the music didn't really stand out to me, this theme tune in particular did - it speaks of a vast, spectacular adventure filled with tales of heroism and glory. The new Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim harkens back to this game with its dwemer ruins and I'm sure some of the music for Skyrim has been taken from Morrowind. Credits to Jeremy Soule, he's da man.
Dungeon Lords - while the game may have been the worst RPG of all time, and led me to buy a new computer, this theme tune is ultimately what drew me in. It lures in the adventurer with the promise of clashing weapons, dark dungeons and high adventure. Pity about the end results.
I have yet to finish Dungeon Siege, as I was playing a borrowed copy, but this music, speaking of a vast journey across a land filled with danger, makes me wish that one day I could return to the world of Dungeon Siege. Composer - Jeremy Soule again.
Vast, sweeping fantasy soundscapes such as this is part of the reason I love fantasy games. Guild Wars: I wish I'd played it more, but I just couldn't get it into it. Perhaps that will change with the upcoming MMO Guild Wars 2, which promises to revolutionise RPGs. The music however is the fantastic stuff of legends. Oh by the way, guess who composed this - that's right Jeremy Soule again.
Speaking of MMOs, this song from MMORPG King World of Warcraft proves why WoW is one of the greatest RPGs of all time - not only does it have the great gameplay, the high sales, the awesome presentation, the really good people fanbase, and the creative talent but also the composers to make a truly epic masterpiece.
Another massively awesome theme tune from a great RPG. These songs are all fantasy by the way. I am a fan of fantasy games, so naturally most of my soundtracks are fantasy or science fiction. Like Dungeon Siege, I never got to finish Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, this time it was something to do with having to control more than one character. The music however, is epic, its from Jeremy Soule - again. That man is a LEGEND AMONG VIDEO GAME MUSIC PEOPLE.
Dragon Age (a review of it can be seen elsewhere on this blog) had two sides to it. The good side was its presentation, of which it was epic. The music is classic fantasy adventure but this theme in particular was awesome, telling of a dark world beset by a rising evil.
Now THIS song is truly epic fantasy action adventure!!! This song makes me want to seize up a sword and charge into battle - FOR GLORY!!! While the music of Castle Crashers is pretty awesome on the whole, the main theme really does give the impression of a mighty adventure filled with heroic battles and sweeping landscapes.
Soul Reaver - this has some of the best music out there. This main theme gives a sense of darkness, of danger, and wild adventure in a land corrupted and wasted by one man's greed. This is definitely one of my fave tracks of any soundtrack, game or otherwise. Halfway through it also tells of a fall and redemption and ultimate revelation at the end. This is a masterpiece, composed by Kurt Harland, of the band Information Society.
So that's a look at some of my fave fantasy video game themes. Hope you enjoyed listening.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
A Night To Remember
With the release of Bethesda’s latest Elder Scrolls game Skyrim, I, along with many other adventure-hungry gamers have set out into the northern, snow-clad province of Tamriel. And it was here that I had quite an interesting experience.
It all started one night in the Bannered Mare tavern in Whiterun. I was looking for a mercenary to hire, my previous bodyguard having fallen in battle against a vile Falmer in the bowels of Shimmermist cave. I was approached by a man offering a drinking contest, and, though I’m not usually one for the ways of alcohol, I begrudgingly accepted, thinking what harm could this do. After all, he said something about a magical staff as a reward if I could beat him. Next thing I know I’m waking up in Markarth, the city of stone on the far western side of the map. I’d never even been here before. Apparently, after winning the drinking contest, I’d been drugged and tricked into doing some rather unwholesome things that I couldn’t remember doing. One of which included fondling the Nibella statue (but when you look at the statue of her though and how much she’s showing how you can blame a man.)
So I set out into the city and soon hired a mercenary by the name of Vorstag for the return trip to Whiterun. Unfortunately, things soon heated up – I was approached by a man needing help checking out an abandoned and haunted house. So, with my new hired muscle at my side, I agreed – only to find out that it was all a trap planted by the Daedra Molag Baal to get someone to retrieve his axe from far in the north. Agreeing to go on the mission at a later date, we left the house and soon, by accident or design, got caught up in something called the Forsworn Conspiracy. Basically we were set on the trail of a group called the Forsworn – men who had ruled Skyrim before the Nords conquered them and who ‘champion the downtrodden.’ Though I highly doubt they actually champion anything except their own bloated egos. After a rather intriguing set of clues, threats and blackmailings, we were cornered in the temple of Talos and told we were being arrested. I now know that the city of Markarth is full of corruption and injustice and this was a prime example of the bastard guards in action. In a swirl of blood and steel we fought against the guards. I managed to fight my way clear of the temple – but with even more guards closing in I was forced to flee the city. Fortunately I escaped but I feared that Vorstag had fallen.
So I found myself in the middle of nowhere at 3 AM, trudging down a road that would take me across the many miles between here and Whiterun. I was stopped by a thief – but I was in no mood for negotiation. He said something about gutting me like a fish, but my blood was up, and in a few short moments it was he that ended up being gutted like a fish, blood spattering the cobblestones. Another thief stopped me and the same thing happened – I was hating the world at that moment, having all the bad luck of Tamriel dumped on my doorstep, and all because of some bastard and his drinking contest. And then I came to a crossroads. There was an abandoned cart with a body nearby. Of course it stank of a trap. And unsurprisingly I found myself surrounded by four thuggish bandits. Blood rising, I drew my sword and hacked and slashed, one, two bandits down. The others were shooting arrows at me, but I rushed one of them and soon her body was tumbling down the mountainside. The last one tried to run but my sword found itself plunging between her shoulder blades. Exhausted, battered and bloodied, I took what I could loot from the bandits’ corpses and trudged on.
And then, just when I thought I’d reached the town of Rorikstead, I heard a terrifying roar and a giant shadow passed across the stars. Yep, it was a dragon. I’d fought dragons before; the dragon battles are pretty epic. This one had cold breath and soon huge blasts of freezing ice were smashing into the road. Engaging a dragon in battle is one of the most satisfying moments I’ve ever had in an RPG. Shooting flaming arrows at it, trying to avoid the breath, slashing at it with my magical sword when it was on the ground while getting a face full of ice breath, and even using my own Shouts, it was truly an epic battle. I had to constantly heal myself as well, switching between my heal spell and my shield. Without that magic I probably wouldn’t have made it. When I finally brought the dragon down, I absorbed its soul and unlocked the ability to breathe fire (the latest Shout I’d learned.)
And so I trudged into the sleepy village of Rorikstead. And after a good night’s sleep I awoke to find a man in armour standing nearby.
It was Vorstag. He’d survived the attack from the corrupt guards of Markarth, escaped the city and tracked me down. Now that’s what I call commitment to service.
In the few hours since I’ve discovered that while I was drunk I stole a goat, gone with Vorstag to beat up a giant and retrieve said goat, battled bandits and wild animals and finally arrived back in Whiterun. Well I can definitely say having a merc like Vorstag around is certainly welcome. Next I’ll be setting out to Witchmist Glade in the east of Skyrim to find a ring that I borrowed from this chick Ysolda during the intoxication...
What have I learned from all this? Never enter a drinking contest. I look forward to the adventures to come.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
When I heard all the hype about how Duke Nukem Forever was on its way, I was mildly intrigued. This was a game that had been in development for 14 years, and supposedly would be groundbreaking when it was finally released. Now it’s here, and is groundbreaking in only one way: it’s possibly the worst console game ever made. To be completely honest, this game is crap. To say Duke Nukem Forever is fun is an enigma. This is my review of the Duke Nukem Farce, for that’s all this game really is, a complete and utter waste of gaming time when you could be playing something else. Anything else, actually, because chances are it’s not as bad as DNF. This is such a shockingly bad game, I’d rather watch grass grow. Seriously, it’s that awful.
Starting with presentation – on the back cover of the game it says “Duke Nukem is pure, unadulterated FUN.” On the contrary, it’s actually pure, undiluted crap. It’s as if the game is trying to force you to believe its fun, when it’s truly just rubbish. There are the usual screenshots, and a retarded looking idiot wearing dark sunglasses. There is also the quote “You’ve got yourself one awesome thumb-sprainer – Zoo Weekly.” The only thing you’ll be spraining whilst playing DNF is your wrist as you wrench the disc out of the drive and hurl it ferociously across the room. On the front cover is a rather unflattering picture of the Duke, which is automatically a turn off. Something also has to be said for the vulgar humour in DNF. I don’t find it funny at all. Rather, its childish, tasteless, amateurish crap from a bygone era, which may be a result of the game’s prolonged development. It fails to amuse, and it fails to entertain. It’s not good material for a video game, it makes for a terrible game because it’s not entertaining and worse, it actually harms the reputation of gamers as this is the sort of game that appeals only to single, male teenagers and young adults who still live in their parent’s basements. I doubt many women would be interested in this game, as girls are depicted as nothing more than sex objects to be exploited by the Duke at every possible opportunity. The game also promotes binge drinking, smoking, and American patriotism, reinforcing the belief that Americans are better than everyone else.
Now to the story. Hang, on, did I say STORY? What story? There isn’t a story at all in DNF. Aliens attack and it’s up to Duke to “kick their ass.” That’s not a story, it’s a scenario. And a pretty lame, unoriginal, cliché one at that. The people developing this game have absolutely no imagination whatsoever. The characters are forgettable in an instant, and even the Duke himself is not a hero in the normal sense of the word. A hero is someone people look up to, someone who does heroic deeds because it’s the right thing to do – Duke Nukem kills aliens for the kicks – for the glory, he does it because it’s COOL. He drinks, smokes, womanises, is narcissistic, self-centred and sexist. He is quite a contemptible character. He is no “hero”, and has absolutely no personality and no redeeming qualities – he’s just a dickhead and doesn’t deserve the title hero at all, let alone the King. Why would anyone look up to such a violent, unintelligent loser?
The graphics of DNF are pretty poor quality. Due to the game being developed in the Triassic Age, most of the game’s graphics are painful to look at. Water coming from a shower head is a prime example. Jumping in pools of water causes no splashes. Statues and rockfaces look like heaps of angular lines filled with blandness. The sky is rife with pixelizations. Characters are blocky and don’t look realistic at all. Some graphics are OK, particularly the alien tentacles which look pretty wet and slimy but most of the graphics are still pretty bad compared to the standard of video games made in the 21st century. Overall, rubbish. Level design is pretty bland, suffering from a total lack of creativity, ranging from Duke’s typically luxurious mansion, underground installations and smashed up cityscapes. The only two that really struck a chord with me were the Alien Hive, which was suitably wet, slimy and dark, giving a really threatening and horrifying feel, and the sandy, blasted wasteland of the Ghost Town, which was pretty much a western setting. These levels still however were not really anything new or different, and have been ripped straight out of other games. There really has been no effort put into the levels, which is just plain slack. There is no map in DNF so sometimes it’s confusing where the hell you’re meant to go, although overall the game is an incredibly linear path – you’re simply travelling from one fight to the next (and you’re doing more of this than actual combat.) There’s one senseless night club level that is just plain ludicrous, where your job is to hunt down a pack of popcorn, a vibrator and a condom. Maybe this is supposed to be a side quest. Put popcorn in the microwave. Fun. What a load of pointless shit.
Audio in DNF is utter crap, definitely one of the worst aspects of the game. The voice acting is terrible, with dull, lacklustre NPCS and the Duke constantly spewing his clichéd one-liners. The dialogue is so bad a child could write better material. As for the music – what music? Constantly looping, poorly synthesized guitar and other forgettable sounds are not what I call music. I have no respect for a game in which the developers have spent next to no time at all writing a good script and getting decent actors to record the voices.
The gameplay – the heart of any game. Even if it doesn’t have a good story, if the gameplay’s good then its fun, right? The gameplay, sorry to say, is so bad I’m surprised I got over half way through the campaign. It is shit. The controls are clunky, the jump is so poor Duke feels like an overweight hippopotamus and the long, boring sections between the fights are often populated with bizarre puzzles which are confusing, simplistic and frustrating. There is also a lot of platforming in the game, which is some of the worst platforming I’ve ever seen. You’ll see better platforming in downloadable, 2D games (not that they’re bad in any way nowadays but if there was going to be some in DNF I would’ve expected it to be at least average quality.) One of the most horrendous levels sees Duke jumping from shelf to shelf around the edges of a kitchen. The pathway leads to a stove top, where burgers are cooking and you have to jump from burger to burger. This is appalling for a first person game. It’s hard to see how much room you have to either side and because of the poor controls one move slightly in any direction means you die and have to start over. Speaking of starting over, the game has a dreadful save system, relying on a series of checkpoints. This must be because that’s how it was made early in the development, but today such a system comes across as primitive and results in much frustration in having to replay entire sections just because of one mistake. Punishing the player is never welcome, and DNF does it all the time, with little reward.
There are some levels in DNF that puts Duke in control of a vehicle – first a remote control car when he gets miniaturized. The handling on this is positively ghastly. Also the question must be asked: why the hell does this car have a hand break? Later Duke drives around in his monster truck, which handles a lot better and is slightly reminiscent of the vehicles in Borderlands. However, the Borderlands vehicles are much better, being equipped with weapons. Duke’s truck has nothing, and in one level must swerve from side to side to avoid explosive barrels being thrown from the back of a truck by a pig-man. The truck also runs out of gas every now and then, and Duke has to go find a bottle. When he finds one, he finds not one but three, yet you can’ take the others for the next time you run out. This is shit in my opinion, as that would be logical course of action. Why even bother having the other bottles sitting there at all?
As for the combat, some of the shooting sections are OK and there are usually various guns littered around the place. You can only carry two guns, which I guess makes sense. Sometimes there are these large crates that have unlimited ammo inside them. However the guns themselves feel incredibly inaccurate and lack any sense of punch. In addition the game often puts guns in the most absurd of positions – for instance early in the game I just got hold of a new, better gun only to be confronted with waves of enemies and have to use a turret instead. The reliance on turrets and explosives is endlessly frustrating – the bosses in the game can only be harmed by these weapons which is just plain stupid. The Boss fights are extremely exasperating affairs, especially the Octoking, in which you are blasted constantly by Octobrains and given no cover to get your health back. This is a broken boss fight and it’s this point that I rage quit in disgust. The Ego bar (your health bar) is very short and is depleted very easily, but to make it worse it takes an incredibly long time to recharge. In an age where regenerating health/shield bars are increasingly popular for shooters, DNF’s version is crude and ineffective. There are various items littered throughout the game that increase the length of the Ego bar, but it rarely makes a difference in combat due to the horrifically overpowered and imbalanced enemies. I tried this game on easy, and still had a hard time in every battle.
Duke Nukem Forever deserves its nickname Did Not Finish. It deserves to be spat upon in contempt. It’s a terrible game, seeming like an old piece of crap which was rushed with minimal time, little skill and almost no effort. I do not recommend DNF to anyone, and I hope game companies don’t waste any time or money on a sequel. The gaming community don’t deserve to be insulted like that and frankly, with a loathsome, unlikeable character such as Duke Nukem as the protagonist, there shouldn’t be another game. If you think any part of this game would be fun you’re better off looking elsewhere. DNF is a boring, broken experience. I’m giving it a miserable score of 1.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Halo 3: "One of the greatest video games of our time." - Andy Lex Bain, 2011.
Before I’d played any of the Halo games, I’d actually purchased a copy of a Halo art book. Paging through, I was stunned in awe of my first glimpse of the ring, fading off into the distance with the surface of Halo in the foreground. From that moment onwards a mental note was stored in the back of my head to one day investigate the games of the Halo franchise, and to find out what the hype was all about. Since then, I have researched and played the first two Halo games, discussed them with other gamers and written reviews on Halo Combat Evolved and Halo 2. I’ve had many things to say, and I have to admit, despite a few frustrations, I’ve had a damn good time playing these games. And this was all before I got to Halo 3.
Halo 3, simply put, is a masterpiece, a true work of art in the world of gaming. From the very first logo screen to the credits this game is a phenomenon, and I can finally see why the Halo franchise has grown into such a massive beast of gigantic proportions, why Halo has rocked this world, why Halo is definitely one of the most successful game franchises of all time. As soon as I was plunged into the cut scene in the jungle with the Arbiter joining forces with the humans, quickly followed by the first mission, I knew I was in for a ride. Once again the presentation of Halo is excellent, with brilliant visuals, absolutely stunning graphics and a ridiculously huge amount of detail. There is such great diversity in the landscapes, from sun-dappled jungles, to sandy deserts and gruesome flood-infested spaceships. Although the voice actor cast has changed slightly, it is still a shining example of what can be done when stellar talent add their voices to one of the best loved games of our time. The soundtrack of Halo 3 is another great addition to the game. Though I’m not sure it can beat the glory of Halo 2, having not heard the soundtrack independently, it is still an example of masterfully composed orchestral excellence.
While Halo 2’s story was a little confusing, the story of Halo 3 is once again gripping, compelling stuff. It is the material legends are made of. Bungie have put in the time and effort to not only make a great game for the fans, but also tell a really good story. It is one of heroes, and courage, of strength, and of nobility. Like any good story, it has its epic conflicts, awesome battles and heartfelt tragedies. It is very fast-paced, and it is here that my only real criticism of Halo 3 surfaces. The campaign is much too short, and while this doesn’t detract from the game as a whole, I can’t help but feel that the game would’ve been so much better by having a longer campaign. Still, the story is a beauty to behold regardless, and I wasn’t going to let Halo 3’s only flaw ruin my experience. Not to spoil anything, but there is a satisfying ending too, which is essential for the last chapter in a trilogy.
Halo 3’s gameplay is just as good as it was in Halo 2, if not outright better, as it builds on the controls of the previous game. It is still that tight, smoothly transitioned first person shooter you are used to from the previous game, with dual wielding, and vehicle combat. However this time there are a few additions to the weapons and vehicles that really ramp up the Halo experience. The Brute Spiker is truly an awesome gun, spitting out rapid fire, blood-red thorns making it my equal favourite along with the needler. There is also the Spartan Laser, a massively powerful super laser that takes a few seconds to charge up but when it fires, it unleashes hell. Plus there are also several large support weapons. While very cumbersome they do pack one hell of a punch in terms of firepower. Additions to the vehicles include the Mongoose, a light, unarmed vehicle that allow a second player (or AI) to get onboard as a gunner. Although it doesn’t have weapons I very much enjoyed driving the Mongoose around letting the AI do the shooting; this is probably just me but on that note the AI is still at its best, some of the best in video games it has to be said. This time the player also gets to use a Hornet, which was sweet! It would’ve been good if there had been more opportunity to use it though. But of course these additions pale in comparison to the Brute vehicles. The Chopper is a massive, brutal-looking bike which is a pleasure to ride, if a little unwieldy at times due to its huge, bludgeoning size, which is not really a bad thing. And then there is the intimidating and deadly Prowler, which seats no less than four characters – driver, gunner, and two side carriages. Once again the other vehicles are also present, and once again I loved driving the Ghost, I guess I have a thing for anti grav craft.
The really new addition to Halo is Equipment. This is great addition to Halo – there are various different pieces of equipment available, and although you can only carry one at a time, some of them are really neat. Among them are the Bubble shield which gives you complete safety from fire for a limited amount of time, and the Flare which sets off a flash of light that temporarily blinds enemies. Multiplayer again is excellent in Halo. Sadly I have not had many opportunities to play in multiplayer, but what I can say is that there is a great variety of exhaustively detailed arena levels and also included is a greater range in the customizations to your character.
And so ends my review of Halo 3, one of the legendary games of our time. With a great story, excellent gameplay, awesome visuals, a ton of new equipment, weapons and vehicles, brilliant multiplayer and impressive sound and audio, Halo 3 tops its predecessors in almost every way. Bungie have certainly succeeded in their goal of dominating the universe, and my response to that is: congratulations, Halo 3 rocks. I’m giving it a 9.5.
So finally I get around to writing another review for one of the greatest franchises in gaming history. This time I will be reviewing the successor to Halo. Unsurprisingly, its called: Halo 2. Does it meet the level that Combat Evolved did? Well I have to say yes it does, and then it beats it. Halo 2 is one of the most thrilling and exciting games I’ve ever played. At first I was struggling to get some content to this review; mostly I was just thinking this is an awesome game, there’s nothing bad to say about it. But thankfully I now have a decent amount of points to, well, point out.
The presentation and graphics of Halo 2 are absolutely phenomenal. I cannot emphasize enough that Halo 2 is a superb game. It is excellent. From the incredible landscapes you fight in to the highly detailed character models this game pulls out all the stops. The level designs are some of the most beautifully rendered levels I’ve seen in a video game, though I have to admit they don’t look that much different from Combat Evolved. Once again there’s nothing quite like seeing the ring rising on the horizon and the landscapes look very realistic and believable. The cinematics are excellent and are complemented with some great voice work, including the talent of Ron Pearlman and Julie Benz. I also think Jen Taylor does a really good job as the voice of Cortana. Cortana consequently is one of the strongest characters in the Halo universe; this is great as it is the case that there is a lack of female characters in video games. Cortana isn’t the protagonist but she is actually more of a proper character than Master Chief so its good that this character has been well scripted and voiced. It’s also good to hear the Australian voice actor there, adding his accent to the mix. From the level in space at the start of the game all the way through the game has far more variety and many fantastic visuals. I especially enjoyed using the Arbiter against the Brutes in the mix of jungle-temple terrain, even if at times it did seem somewhat like predator vs a whole bunch of chewbaccas.
The story of Halo is one of the best in science fiction. Whilst the story for Halo 2 in particular may be a little weird and confusing to some people, I was able to follow it pretty well although, as criticized by many, the ending is indeed disappointing and all too sudden. Switching back and forth between Master Chief and Arbiter is also a criticizing point, although I personally enjoyed the alien point of view – after all Master Chief isn’t much of a character himself since you don’t really know much about him. Its good to see what the Arbiter is going through during the exodus of the Elites from the Covenant, and proves that Halo isn’t just about ‘humans vs aliens.’ Its also good because it fills in some details about the Covenant and fleshes out the Halo universe.
The gameplay of Halo 2 once again is impressive. The controls are tight, movement is very smooth and the new addition of dual-wielding is brilliant. Added to the fact that like the first Halo you could pick up basically any weapon in the game, this makes for some cool combinations if you like to use different weapons or use two of the same to pack that extra punch. I really enjoyed dual-wielding two SMGs with twin needlers as my second preference. Oh and this time around you can actually wield the energy sword, which is a really neat weapon. You can hack and slash with it or slay your foes in one fell cut. A very welcome addition to Halo 2 is in fact not an addition but a cut – that of the health packs. The shield regenerates much faster and not having to hunt around for health spurs the game back towards the action. The vehicles handle pretty much the same as before; though I think the Warthog is slightly better than its nightmarish counterpart in Combat Evolved. In addition, you can attempt to board enemy vehicles which adds an extra level to the combat. I remember once I boarded a ghost, knocking the Brute off, and then he did the same to me, before I finally wrested control back and mowed him down. It was a memorable experience. Having said that, the enemy AI is very good and is definitely a highlight in Halo 2; if you play the same level twice chances are you’ll play it out differently each time due to the enemy AI. The multiplayer on Halo 2 is very entertaining, especially if you have more than two players. In addition you can customise your character to an extent – you are able to play as the Arbiter and choose from a whole selection of symbols and colours for your avatar (this of course is updated further in Halo 3.)
Finally, the sound and music on Halo 2 is truly a masterpiece. Just like Combat Evolved the world resonates with the sounds of birds in the trees, the chattering of gunfire and the incredibly good AI banter of your fellow teammates. But its the score by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori that really is the best aspect of Halo 2’s audio. This is cinematic music, and is very uplifting and powerful, and at times, highly emotional. There is good variety there, from Gregorian type chanting to fast-paced beat, a rather sad lament and also the sort of music movies play during heroic battles. I would definitely recommend playing this music out of game, so if you can get hold of a copy of the Halo 2 soundtrack and you’re interested in game or movie soundtracks, then do so.
So there you have it: a great and robust game that may not surpass the first Halo’s story but despite of that, pretty much outshines it. I’m giving it a 9.