Solid State Romcast: The 8-24-14 Show

This time around on the Romcast… The gaming community is up in arms over the Zoe Quinn scandal! The Romcastic crew weighs in on this breach in journalistic integrity and talk about censorship of people who are trying to have this important discussion. Switching gears, the guys cogitate about the notion of Nintendo making a smartphone platform aimed at gaming including perfect emulation and revitalizing older franchises in a meaningful way.  Lastly, friend of the show and PC building enthusiast Alex joins forces with the trio to talk about custom PC building with fluid cooling and all that jazz. Get yourself one… only on the Romcast!

 


Solid State Romcast – Solid State Romcast 8-24-14 Show

Be sure to drop us a line at our E-mail address: solidstateromcast@gmail.com. As always, thanks for listening and stayed tuned for the next installment!

 

Solid State Romcast Crew:

Jon “San Juan” Rivera – Host

Matt “Off” White – Cohost

Richard “Durrty” Hunt – Eastern Connection, Background Noise / Foley Expert

 

Music Credit:

Introduction Theme – Car Jack [2011 version] by Electric Children

Interlude No. 1 – Unknown Track A by ???

Interlude No. 2 – Unknown Track B by ???

Roundtable Theme – Pumped by RoccoW

Resolution Theme – Skip Sandwich DX By Electric Children

Solid State Romcast: The 8-17-14 Show

This time around on the Solid State Romcast, the crew take a gander at evil Lee Pace doppelganger Andrew Wilson and try to figure just what the heck he is talking about with actually listening to us gamers. Will EA be able to distil video game entertainment value right down to the dollar?? After that, Jon, Matt and our Eastern Connection Durrty wax nostalgic about the Wing Commander franchise as they break down Chris Roberts’ latest 52 million dollar project Star Citizen. Will Mark Hamill make a return performance?? Will Durrty forgo buying a used Mazda Miata to buy the highest tier battle cruiser for Star Citizen?? We can only hope. Lastly, the tantalizing trio talk mobile gaming and the current struggles Candy Crush Saga creator King Software faces in this frontier. Will Matt “Off” White get over his traumatizing memories of working for Apple customer service?? Will King Software became the Deep Silver of mobile gaming?? Find this out and much, much more on this Solid State Romcast!!

 


Solid State Romcast – Solid State Romcast 8-17-14 Show

 

Be sure to drop us a line at our E-mail address: solidstateromcast@gmail.com. As always, thanks for listening and stayed tuned for the next installment!

 

Solid State Romcast Crew:

Jon “San Juan” Rivera – Host

Matt “Off” White – Cohost

Richard “Durrty” Hunt – Eastern Connection, Background Noise / Foley Expert

 

Music Credit:

Introduction Theme – Car Jack [2011 version] by Electric Children

Interlude No. 1 – Unknown Track A by ???

Interlude No. 2 – Unknown Track B by ???

Roundtable Theme – Pumped by RoccoW

Resolution Theme – Skip Sandwich DX By Electric Children

Game Review: Alan Wake (360)

Alan Wake Cover

Alan Wake Cover

Name: Alan Wake
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: X Box 360
Genre: Survival Horror Third Person Shooter
Release Date: May 18, 2010

 

(Editor’s Note: This game was covered using a retail copy of Alan Wake and played to completion on a stock North American X Box 360 console both owned by the reviewer.)

 

Alan Wake is a long awaited survival horror thriller adventure game starring a professional novelist with severe Writer’s Block. It has taken more than seven years for this game to finally see the light of day. If one takes that into account and melds that with what one expects for this game then it would be near impossible for this title to live up to such expectations. With that addressed, if one takes this detail out of the picture then Alan Wake comes off as a decent survival horror experience that has some great concepts that are polished compared to past implementations. This and a great tension riddled atmosphere are what help to make this game shine. Unfortunately, the inconclusive story, lack of a completely original soundtrack, and the sheer linear nature of the game hold this one back from being an instant classic.

Enter Alan Wake, a writer specializing in the crafting of suspense thriller novels who currently suffers greatly from Writer’s Block. He goes on vacation along with Alice, his wife, to the quaint town of Bright Falls. Here, Alan tries to rest his mind and temporarily leave writing behind and avoid being recognized by fans. Within the same day Alice goes missing and Alan wakes up in the wake of a car accident. Alan receives aid from various people in the town along his journey like the Sheriff, and even his editor Barry. Suffering from memory loss, Alan attempts to find Alice and piece together the events that transpired in a place where evil lurks in the darkness and strange forces possess people and things. The story has a good premise that most can relate to.  It offers enough clues and expands the narrative enough to keep the player wanting to play on. The pacing is simply perfect in-game and the chapters are broken up into manageable episodic chunks that offer moments of closure while still enticing players with opportunity to find out more by playing on. It is unfortunate that this is sullied with an inconclusive resolution to the story. To be fair, the end is a well told one, but it only explains what happens to both Alice and Alan. You never actually find out what happens to all the other folks that aided Alan during the core conflict. This may be a matter of taste over ambiguous endings to a story, but it is only so with peripheral characters and not with the main protagonists which is puzzling.

On top of a well paced story, the game play in Alan Wake is well implemented. At its core this title is a third person shooter with some proven elements from past entries in the survival horror genre. Most of the enemies that confront Alan are people possessed by the darkness. Sometimes inanimate objects will become possessed and attack as well. The two biggest assets to Alan’s survival are guns and light. The use of light to weaken and incapacitate enemies is the area where this game shines during play. Alan starts out with a basic flashlight that he can shine on enemies to weaken them. Doing so makes them more susceptible to damage dealt with a gun and offhand items like flares and flash bangs. By doing this you will drain the battery, and in this game replacing spent batteries is just as important as keeping your firearms stocked with ammunition. Not using this method will lead to death pretty quickly.  The flashlight gradually becomes more and more necessary in advanced levels where six to eight enemies can jump Alan at once. A neat ability that Alan can use is the quick dodge. When enemies swing at him, Alan can perform dodges that barely miss that attack and is accompanied by a slow motion camera effect. This, like the combat, is absolutely essential for survival. The combat is very satisfying and the entertainment is heightened by the dynamic camera movement. The camera is constantly moving to reveal enemies trying to get the jump on the player, during quick dodges, and during in-game cut scenes. The presentation of the game play experience rarely disappoints and though it can get a bit rough it never feels like there are any unfair or cheap deaths. The AI of the enemies is also well realized. Some will wait for others to join in and will try to rush the player in an attempt to overwhelm him or her while others will play it safe by hurling objects at Alan. If in any case Alan gets injured he can replenish health and checkpoint-save progress by approaching a safe haven or the light of a street light. Street light poles can also have a cache of supplies to use.

Aside from combat there are some enticing diversions for Alan in Bright Falls. Hidden in all areas are cache boxes, Thermoses, and pages of a manuscript. Cache boxes are interesting because of how one can find them. They can only be located by revealing invisible signs only seen by a flashlight. These signs are usually arrows ultimately leading you to the cache’s location. The manuscript pages that are littered throughout the game are part of a novel that Alan Wake was working on before he started wrestling with Writer’s Block. These pages, when found, can be read in a separate menu where Alan himself reads any desired page aloud. It is a great touch that makes the overall experience deeply engrossing and keeps the player wanting to find out what will happen next.

This game can be genuinely frightening at times. Enemies will literally come from nowhere and will try to take you down as a pack. This survival driven tension is magnified by the scarcity of supplies at your disposal which has been a staple of the genre for years. However, after most levels Alan will lose everything in his inventory and this will force you to start collecting supplies from scratch. This may sound unnecessary, but there is always an explanation in the story as to why this happens. There are even some game play segments where you must survive without any firearms and have to resort to avoiding violence or use auxiliary items like flares and such. These sections are not impossible, so you will not find yourself dying through these sections; it is intended to simply make you feel defenseless and insecure indefinitely and it succeeds with flying colors in this respect. The detracting factor in this is the fact that every level is deplorably linear. Even with certain goals being in certain locations there could have been branching paths that lead to this one spot. Instead, this game unfortunately took the same approach to level structure as Final Fantasy XIII, where the path to the end goal is nothing more than a glorified line. Some areas have sections that require some puzzle solving skills, but none of them are terribly challenging or require the player to exhaust every possibility in order to move on.

The lack of music sort of adds to the tension as the only sounds to be heard generate from the environment mostly. There is some music, but most of it consists of licensed music from known artists. The original music is fine for what it is, but will most likely be forgettable once you have finished the game. It is unfortunate that Alan Wake is lacking in this aspect, but for the sake of the game being grounded in a realistic small town setting this feels like a necessary evil for a story in a believable setting with believable people. The voice acting is pretty well done and writing of the dialogue is mostly vernacular and shies away from having more advanced vocabulary, which again, holds up well with the believable setting. The graphical style focuses mostly on capturing various moods that can accompany a dark night thus making the atmosphere dreary and dismal. Both the environment and the evil darkness feel completely alive and it is always easy to be sucked into the experience when those unnatural forces blow through the forest trees like an omen forecasting something terrible to come. It is simply beautifully terrifying. There are some quirky graphical snafus that are revealed at awkward moments. This mostly has to do with the car models in the game and how they move. They tend move along in an unnatural rickety motion.

It is fairly easy to state that Alan Wake is nothing new, but it is everything well done from a horror survival genre perspective. The atmosphere achieved is amazing in its own right, the game play has such a polish to it, and the pacing is impeccable. However, the story’s resolution may disappoint and may come off as bittersweet depending on your taste in horror. The linear nature of the levels can also be a turn off to some. Nonetheless, this is a solid survival horror title that is easily equal to the sum of its parts.

 

 

Rating IV-V

Solid State Romcast: The 8-10-14 Show

The Romcast crew is at it yet again as both Jon and Matt “Off” White welcome the ever so jet lagged Durrty back from his European tour. The reunited trio dives right back into Crytek deathwatch duty, exploring the festering financial woes and how the Home Front IP has once again changed hands from the troubled company to the ever so lucky and well managed Deep Silver. Will Crytek survive?? Should it drop its delusions of MMO grandeur?? Next up, they take a deeper look into the true successor to Bullfrog’s real time tactics classic Syndicate and they are not talking about the FPS. The crew mulls over the technical and aesthetic details of this successor called Satellite Reign and waxes nostalgic about the original Syndicate. Lastly, They close out the Romcast with a retrospective discussion on the true Atari of yesteryear and its place in gaming history as both a part of a golden age of gaming and as a reminder of what not to do in terms of conducting business in the video game industry. You had better be ready to… ROMCAST!!!!

 

Be sure to drop us a line at our E-mail address: solidstateromcast@gmail.com. As always, thanks for listening and stayed tuned for the next installment!

 


Solid State Romcast – Solid State Romcast 8-10-14 Show

 

Solid State Romcast Crew:

Jon “San Juan” Rivera – Host

Matt “Off” White – Cohost

Richard “Durrty” Hunt – Eastern Connection, Background Noise / Foley Expert

 

Music Credit:

Introduction Theme – Car Jack [2011 version] by Electric Children

Interlude No. 1 – Unknown Track A by ???

Interlude No. 2 – Unknown Track B by ???

Roundtable Theme – Pumped by RoccoW

Resolution Theme – Skip Sandwich DX By Electric Children

Game Review: Mirror’s Edge (360, PS3, PC)

Mirror's Edge Cover Art

Mirror’s Edge Cover Art

Developer: Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
System: (360, PS3, PC)
Genre: First Person Platformer
Release Date: November 12, 2008 (360, PS3)/ January 13, 2009 (PC)

 

(Editor’s Note: This game was covered using a retail copy of Mirror’s Edge and played to completion on a stock North American Microsoft XBox 360 and Sony Playstation consoles and a PC, all owned by the reviewer.)

 

When most game players think about games that take place in the first person perspective, the first person shooter will likely come to mind. It is such a familiar and popular concept to the point where it is almost inconceivable to imagine a game in this perspective without the inclusion of shooting mechanics or having them as a core focus. While it is true that most of these titles follow the broad appeal and status quo of the shooter mentality, Mirror’s Edge is a game that tries to break free from the shackles of convention. The mechanics, visual graphics, music, sound design, and environmental design are exquisite and well implemented in this title. However, glaring issues with technical problems and a poorly told story hold Mirror’s Edge back being a masterpiece in a genre of its own creation. This game may not be perfect, but it succeeds in being a unique experience that simply cannot be had from any other title to date.

Mirror’s Edge takes place in a city that is never graced with a name. This utopia is a pristine, lawful and safe city. Unfortunately, this security has come to the expense of the citizens’ freedom and has given birth to a totalitarian regime that monitors and spies on everything that happens in this city. Those of the people who remember the past and care about the freedom they had lost rebel against this government and do so by transporting delicate information using clandestine means. One of these methods includes hiring a runner, an on-foot courier, to safely transport correspondence. The runners use the art of parkour (also known as free running), in order to traverse the rooftops of the city’s civic structures to avoid the law on the ground.

Mirror’s Edge focuses on Faith Connors, a runner who works for a small scale organization made up of a handful of individuals. The game is quick to throw the main protagonist into a near impossible struggle against the law enforcement of the city over the mysterious assassination of an incumbent candidate for the mayor of the city. Apparently, Faith’s twin sister Kate was at the scene of the crime during the time of the murder, making her out to be the culprit when she was actually knocked unconscious before the murder. It is up to Faith to put her job aside and find the true killer in an effort to exonerate her sister’s name before she is given the ultimate punishment for a crime she did not commit. While this is a premise that hits home for anyone who would do or sacrifice anything order to ensure the safety of family and loved ones, it comes off as being a little too contrived. This is due to the story’s conflict being shoved at the player nearly at the start of the game. There is no lead up to this, so none of the characters are given enough screen time for the player to understand or grow attached to them resulting lacking of caring about what happens to these strangers who are supposed to be the heroes of the story. There is little depth to be found in most of the characters in the story.

Another problem with the story has a great deal to do with the dialogue and cut scenes used to move the narrative forward. The cut scenes in Mirror’s Edge take two forms; one form implements the game’s real time in-engine graphics along with the first person perspective and is used during levels. The other form uses highly stylized two dimensional animations that are used between levels. Even though these animations are well done and have a nice visual style to them, they simply do not fit with this game. While this is an issue that can debated on a matter of personal taste, It is puzzling that some cut scenes are done in this style while the rest use the same lush and gorgeous visuals of the game play segments. It is an inconsistency that does not help and detracts from the overall experience. The dialogue is fairly generic and mundane for the most part. It is not to the fault to the voice talents or the quality of the audio, for the voice actors did a great job with what was given. The main offender in the dialogue area is most likely the writing. With all this, the story of Mirror’s Edge is not terrible because of its premise. It is because of little issues and choices made with each aspect of the story and the narrative the hinder the overall premise from having a sense of significance.This game’s story may have issues, but the same does not apply to the game play, which practically goes beyond any issues that the story has.

Something interesting that sets Mirror’s edge apart from most other games is its lack of a conventional heads up display, as nothing obstructs your view. The only display display aid element that is present is a reticle in the center of the screen. This is merely for aiming with guns, to gauge distance and lessen spacial disorientation. Another feature that aids the game is an optional fixture called Runner Vision. This feature, when turned on, paints certain objects of interest in the environment with the color red. This feature is useful, but as the game progresses farther along, the less often Runner Vision helps intentionally in order to wean the player from relying on it. The health system is also displayed in a unique fashion. As Faith takes on damage, the color displayed on the screen will loose its saturation. If Faith dies the screen becomes completely monochrome before fading out and loading the last checkpoint.

Mirror’s Edge is a single player first person platformer and it is important to note that this is the one of the first of its kind in history. There are other games in the first person that may contain elements of platforming, but never before has a game in this perspective ever used this type of game play and put such emphasis on it. The platform traversing mechanics are heavily inspired by the art of parkour and are at the forefront of what this game is about in terms of game play. The controls of Mirror’s Edge barely resemble the control scheme of a first person shooter. While the game uses both joysticks for movement and camera rotation, jumping and other platform moves are confined to the the two left shoulder buttons. Pressing the upper right shoulder button makes Faith turn about face quickly and the lower right shoulder button is mapped to combat. other controls include a slow motion button, the ability to disarm armed adversaries and a guide feature that will point Faith in the right direction in any level. On top of these mechanics Faith’s ability to gain and lose momentum also plays a large role in the game play and complements the simple and intuitive controls. It does take a while to properly acclimate oneself to these vastly different controls, requiring the player to unlearn how he or she used to play a first person game.

When Faith is confronted with a piece of the environment she can interact with she can either do a upward or downward action. Upward actions include and are not limited to jumping, wall running, climbing up walls, grabbing onto ledges, vaulting over obstacles, and using cables as zip lines. Downward actions include crouching, rolling, sliding, and dropping from ledges. While all of this happens the camera moves, spins, and gyrates with the actions as if you are truly there experiencing this first hand. All these moves are context sensitive and happen when certain circumstances and conditions are met, again making the controls very intuitive. However, the fun and genius of Mirror’s Edge is learning how to combine and string together all of these acrobatic moves to wrought a fluid and continuous flow of visceral movement while traversing canopy of a sleek and contemporary urban jungle. There is such an implied sense of speed when running, jumping from walls and using zip lines that it is an absolutely exhilarating rush.

On top of the fast paced platforming sections the game features unique puzzles that are meant to challenge your ability to use the moves at your disposal. They start out easy enough, but get exponentially harder as the game progresses. These puzzles usually go in between segments where you normally get to the destination at a faster pace across the rooftops. They are also areas where Faith can easily meet her untimely demise from a botched jump or a failed attempt at wall run jumping. In other cases, Faith can get hurt from falling from too high of a height. While the game play in Mirror’s Edge is exhilarating, it is also unforgiving and difficult. This is a game that demands a clear understanding of the mechanics and how they can apply in various situations. If you do not understand then be prepared to retry sections until you have a grasp on the controls and mechanics. There is no ‘trial and error’ to this game; only immense difficulty that is intended to grow progressively. Though the challenge is persistent, so is the automatic checkpoint system that saves at particular points in any given level.

Another aspect that makes Mirror’s Edge a challenging experience is the combat. In certain areas Faith will be confronted by lightly and heavily armed members of the city’s police force. Unlike other first person games Faith is not armed or armored. She is not as strong as the police, so she has to resort to either running from them or engaging them with unarmed combat. Like the controls for platforming, the combat is very intuitive and offers a variety of actions. If hand to hand seems unappealing to you Faith also has the ability to disarm her opponents. When you get close enough to an enemy, he will attempt to bludgeon you with his gun. At some point, the enemy’s gun will flash red. Pressing the upper most face button will make Faith dexterously  disarm her opponent while incapacitating them afterward. After disarming an opponent Faith will have whatever gun the opponent had in her possession. Weapons range from handguns to fully automatic machine guns. Even though Faith is able to hold and fire gun in the game, it is not the central focus. This being said, Faith can only hold one gun at a time and she does not collect ammunition. Once the gun’s magazine is empty Faith will simply toss it aside and push on. Also, when holding anything other than a handgun or sidearm Faith is unable to run or do anything in terms of platform game play because she is overly encumbered by the weight of the gun. This helps to bring a great deal of balance to the combat and platform segments of the game at the same time it promotes platform and me-lee combat game play over using guns. When forced into combat situations with armed officers it may seem as if fighting is the only solution. However, there are only a couple of situations where violence is even necessary. All the other combats situations can be avoided. The combat in this title is challenging and mostly leaves it up to the player as whether to fight head on or rather to avoid trouble.

A couple of the higher points in Mirror’s Edge are the graphics and the audio. The only colors used in this entire game are red, blue, yellow, green, orange, black and white. This sounds like a bland color palette, but the dynamic lighting used in the game adds so much more depth and detail with colors refracting off of surfaces and reflections from distant elements of the environment. Also, the color scheme is such a refreshing change from a lot of other first person  games that are dingy, grungy, brown and gray. All the environments are well designed and have a fantastic sleek and contemporary look that is very reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s civic architectural works. It is perhaps a little difficult to appreciate just how beautiful this game is when moving across rooftops and doing so in a quick fashion. It is probably for that reason that the game tries to slow the player down a bit during combat. All the characters in game have high quality of detail polish that is rarely seen in other games. The greatest graphical achievement next to the dynamic lighting is the perfect portrayal of full body consciousness. There are a few games that implement this concept to a limited degree, but Mirror’s Edge represents the most realistic first person in-body experience to date while there are still other games in the same perspective that still feature only a pair of floating arms. The music and sound design are both the melodic icing on the cake. The soundtrack goes against the grain of many other games that have orchestrated by going for an ambient and electronic techno score. It goes well with Mirror’s Edge given the near futuristic aesthetic and setting. Every track has a tone as well as a melody fits with each level and matches the level of action as if it is dynamic.

While this all sounds great, one of the bigger issues with Mirror’s Edge is that the game is quite short. One could venture the statement that it can be finished in roughly eight hours on its toughest difficulty. It is a fun action packed joyride, but it is also a short one. To add to what little replay value there is with the main single player experience the game has a time time trial mode and a speed run mode. Time trial level use chunks of the environments in certain levels. This mode also has a ghost feature that uses the players current fastest run as an aid and point of reference for the player. The speed run mode allows the player to play through a whole level from the main single player mode and rank in timed runs of it. The only difference there is from speed run levels and the main levels is the timer and the ranking system. It is pretty fun to tackle chunks of levels and perfect the traversal of these sections because there is no real pressure or urgency like in the main single player mode.

There are some minor differences between the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and the PC versions of Mirror’s Edge. The PC port has support for anti-aliasing as well as the Nvidia supported middleware called Physx. Between the two console versions, the only noticeable difference is the sharpness clarity of the dynamic lighting. The Playstation 3 handles this a bit more efficiently than the Xbox 360 version. However, two issues that are universal across all iterations are frame rates  and in-level load times. The frame rate almost always dips down significantly during the cut scenes that are in-engine, but never do during game play and is a lesser evil in this case. Unfortunately, the in-level loading periods happen at times the game play is at the peak of its potential. This sometimes even occurs twice within a single level and makes it hard to understand what is happening when the game loads in the two dimensional cut scenes. These issues are not crippling to the game, but they do slightly detract from the immerse qualities of the game.

Making the statement that Mirror’s Edge is a unique game that has redefined the first person platformer genre would be a gross understatement. There is such a sense of excitement to be had from the visceral and intense game play derived from an art that uses movement as a means of expression. Almost every aspect of the game play requires the unlearning of first person game conventions. It is a very challenging experience that begs of any gamer’s attention. It is not perfect and may simply be too difficult for for some, but its uniqueness coupled with its aesthetic style make Mirror’s Edge by far one of the most refreshing games to come out in this past decade.

 

 

Rating IV-V

Solid State Romcast: The 8-3-14 Show

After much delay, the Romcast is back. Jon and Matt break down the current state of the console arms race and comment on Microsoft’s finagled numbers and Sony’s restructuring of assets and how these two factors figure into the business equation. Next up, the duo dives right into the socially irresponsibility that is the faux retro RTS indie game Slave Driver. Are these developers aware of the sensitivity of this?? Should they address this?? Lastly, San Juan and Mr. Off White bid the animation company Studio Ghibli a very fond farewell as they recollect the movies the studio made, social awkwardness of high school anime clubs and how Jon is behind the times without cable television.

 

Be sure to drop us a line at our E-mail address: solidstateromcast@gmail.com. As always, thanks for listening and stayed tuned for the next installment!

 

Solid State Romcast – Solid State Romcast 8-3-14 Show

 

Solid State Romcast Crew:

Jon “San Juan” Rivera – Host

Matt “Off” White – Cohost

 

Music Credit:

Introduction Theme – Car Jack [2011 version] by Electric Children

Interlude No. 1 – Unknown Track A by ???

Interlude No. 2 – Unknown Track B by ???

Roundtable Theme – Pumped by RoccoW

Resolution Theme – Skip Sandwich DX By Electric Children