Category: games

Pokémon ‘NO’ – launch issues and first impressions of Pokémon GO!

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Pokémon GO

How do you mess up the launch of a huge franchise like Pokémon? It’d be hard to, really, it’s one of the most popular gaming franchises out there and when a new game is out, all people want to do is pick it up and play.

Which is exactly how Niantic and Nintendo screwed this up.

As we speak, it still seems like the servers are down. There are thousands of third-party installed APKs on Android, and the rest are clamouring in fear of bans, bugs and of fearing being left behind in a persistent world, being the have-nots in a world of haves.

I put the blame for different parts of this diabolical launch with each of the respective companies. Firstly, Niantic really do know better than the server issues suggest; they have experience of Ingress and the millions of consecutive users that it entails. I put the blame here firmly on Nintendo, who have historically had low quality server capacity for online games and been criticised for this in the past. The giveaway for me is that it’s no coincidence that the Pokémon Trainer Club login is also down, leading me to the conclusion that the game, whilst running on Niantic servers (probably sharing Ingress data, really), the authentication goes via Nintendo, and its here that I expect everything has fallen over.
However, I’m not giving Niantic a pass here either; you guys grew out of Google, and have experience here – why the hell did you allow Nintendo to go with a phased rollout by region? That was NEVER going to work, in 2016 is a flawed business model, AND you know that APKs on Android can easily be extracted and sideloaded. It was inevitable that those outside the regions would install it, and if you wanted to keep it to particular regions you should have just GPS locked the game. Which is why I think all this talk of banning those early adopters is baloney. Paranoia is rife when the servers are so unreliable; you may think you’re banned because you can’t log in anywhere!

Pokémon GO
Not really going yet – but has promise!

No doubt, in time, the game will be playable. Right now, it isn’t; just too many server issues going on. I tried a gym fight and got locked in the battle, unable to leave it, to finish it, nothing but able to attack and attack. The CPU got bored with even trying to hit me and just stood there. There is significant lag, and the battery drain is obscene, even by Ingress standards!

So let’s talk about that a bit; Ingress. To me, it’s like when you have an Android phone. Underneath is Google’s Android, but Samsung etc. always slap their skin over the top. Such is the case here – this is Ingress with Pokémon layered over it. Colours are brighter, graphics updated, augmented reality is here, and the factions have been upped from 2 to 3, to represent the three legendary birds. Portals from Ingress have been torn in half, a mix of Pokéstops and Gyms. The former is what you use to gather resources, the latter are the places you are vying for control of in your faction. The evidence clearly shows that the same source data from Ingress is in use here; portals in Ingress match up well with the stops and gyms, although the frequency of them has been dialled back – probably because in urban areas Ingress was more like In-‘mess’.

So, how is it to play? Unsure. Its fun, I enjoyed walking around, and anything that gets my lazy ass moving isn’t a bad thing. But it has a while to go. It has made tweaks to the Ingress formula, and we all know there is a pay model in the background (hopefully not too much ‘pay to win’ but I wouldn’t be surprised…). Plus, you get to throw pokéballs at things, and battle, I haven’t had a good enough experience of battling to give my thoughts yet. I’ll definitely be playing more of it as it goes on, but I hope it grows a bit beyond the Ingress model.

But come on, Niantic / Nintendo!!! Release worldwide, and buy some extra servers!!! It’s 2016!!!

Best games of 2015

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As far as gaming goes, 2015 has been an interesting year for me. More and more I lack the time for the triple A, big budget games, and find myself drawn to the simpler and more innovative games.

So my list of games of the year are the following:

This game is amazing, very Earthbound-style and meta, exploring morality, relationships, flowers, skeletons… It has a killer soundtrack, very NES but with a modern flair. Replayable at least a few times,  if you can count it as a replay!

– Axiom Verge
Wearing the Metroid influence very much on its sleeve, this retro styled action exploration game has a sorta cyberpunk theme. It’s fun to play, lots of cool weapons, story and theme, enemies, bosses, and yet again, an outstanding soundtrack.

– Downwell
A great little pick-up-and-play game, you are falling down a long deep well bouncing on enemies with your gunboots, building combos and going deeper. Very recommended for casual play, when you have 10 mins!

– Rocket League
I unexpectedly loved this! Simple concept but a crazy one – 3-man team football with rocket-propelled cars. Glorious 5 minute fun, with some serious competitive play going on.

– Super Smash Bros 3DS
I don’t have a WiiU so don’t get me wrong, I love playing it on the big screen too, but it’s great to me to be able to play on the move and in my palms. A steady stream of great, though pricy, DLC characters has been particularly tasty.

These are my top 5 of 2015! Let me know yours!

Valve and the Steam Universe

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Steam logo

So, the triple-play week of announcements for Valve is done, and we have some things we expected, and some we didn’t. Still no Half-Life 3 though!

I must say, I’m intrigued. SteamOS, combined with a hardware platform (Steam Machine) and an innovative controller, Valve is making an interesting push into the console market. And it’s the right moment, too. I’ve been commenting for a while about how disappointing the “next-gen” consoles are, and how their decision to go with an x86 architecture (except, our outcast, the Wii-U) will lead to almost every game being ported to PC. This is great for me, as I prefer PC gaming, and means I won’t need an XBone or PS4. I’ll stick with my PS3 as 3D blu-ray player and Xbox 360 thanks!

Valve have taken advantage of a weak play by Microsoft and Sony, and can capitalise on something both lack – a great release line up. They’ve clearly been plotting this move for a while, with their gradual move to Linux support and creation of Big Picture mode. It’s all been steps on the way, and quite clever too. When they launch, they’ll have all of their exclusives, Portal, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike and more, as well as the Linux titles. Admittedly, the Linux titles are lacking, for now, but clever collaboration with nVidia have resulted in proper graphical support incoming (see, and with this announcement, all the major players are porting or soon will be.

I’m excited to have an opportunity to beta test the console, controller, or both. Whilst I think that I’m not the target market of the Steam Machine (having a PC already) I’d love to be able to tweak it and play around. The controller looks like a proper development, and it genuinely could be the controller us keyboard+mouse wielders have been waiting for.

Check it out here – – Busy week for Valve – what do you think, worth the go?

– Zuki

Antichamber – You are not here

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Antichamber - Sometimes condescending
One box or two?
One box or two?

Not since Portal have I had this much fun playing a puzzle game. And there is a distinct feel of Portal going on here, with the clean whites, the clever puzzles, a strange gun, and the outlandish physics.

Is Antichamber just another Portal?

I sound dangerously close there to doing Antichamber a disservice – it’s also got its own unique feel to it, quite apart from Portal – no voices at all for one. In fact, for me it almost gives me a retro feel of sitting with a 2D Amiga puzzler; the days where back story and plot, celebrity voices are gone. This game is just puzzle and BGM, and very nice BGM at that. OK, so graphically it isn’t retro – it uses some kind of cell shading on top of the powerful Unreal Engine. It looks superb. All whites, blues, reds, yellows, greens. Bold block colour that stands out well.

The puzzles range from easy as pie to fiendishly difficult, and the game doesn’t give you clues in as much as it taunts you with a kind of “here’s what you learned” quote after each puzzle. It’s a nice touch – and I’m thankful for a puzzle game that pulls out the difficult mind benders, I know that I’ve often been frustrated that puzzle games just didn’t challenge enough to be satisfying. I’m still working out a few of Antichamber’s 😉 and i guess that’s why they can afford to throw in the difficult ones, because you don’t need to solve them all to reach the end.

Forcefields tend to eat blocks

Progress is through upgrading your ‘gun’ through the colours, in order for you to manipulate blocks. The degree to which blocks can be manipulated increases with higher colour levels, meaning that hard blue puzzles might become really easy with green powers, but that some puzzles must be solved to reach the new colour guns ensures you don’t get too easy a time. You don’t get too these new powers either, at one point I got stuck just because I never realised I could DO something.

The game suggests that it is a deeply psychological exploration game, and it feels it sometimes. The goal of the game isn’t really the ‘end’, its to solve all the puzzles, and in that sense, as I’ve said, I haven’t completely done it all.

Sometimes condescending
Sometimes condescending, these messages are your ‘completion percentage’

You can track your progress in this regard by the number of little pictograms / “what you’ve learned” / taunting messages you’ve seen.

The real standout is the non-euclidean nature of the game – the map just doesn’t obey the normal rules of the world. You might turn a corner, look back, and the corridor is gone. You can go up a set of stairs forever. A box open on one side might seem like a Tardis.

Atomic ‘things’ are a recurring puzzle element


It’s mind-bending, but very fun. There IS a map, but it’s not as useful as you might think!

All-in-all, if you enjoy puzzle games, it’s highly enjoyable, cheap on Steam, and will definitely give you those frustrating but ultimately rewarding moments. I think I ‘finished’ it in <5 hours, which interestingly raptr was telling me (at the time, close to release I guess) made me only an hour’s playtime from number 1 player on the service, which I guess meant at first it snuck in under the radar. Good job, Epic. No real flaws, good difficulty curve, good total time, graphics, sound, style. If pushed, I’d struggle for a firm reason to dock the final point, but it feels like a 9 out of 10 for me.

– Zuki

I now officially have too many video games

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Star Ruler - The game in question, the cover grabbed me cos I'm a sucker for these kind of games!

I did something that finally made me realise I think I have too many games 😛 No “I told you so” please James!

So, I was in town, buying a present for my dad’s birthday, and also killing time because I had an appointment at Specsavers to go to. So, I call into Game, see if there are any bargains, and for the first time in a LONG time in Game, I look at their PC collection, paltry though it is. And I see an interesting looking space game – a soft spot of mine is space games in general.

The game in question, the cover grabbed me cos I'm a sucker

I barcode scan it with Google Goggles, to get reviews and price comparisons; no better online prices than £9.99 which is the Game price… and the reviews are average, 6 – 8 out of 10, so I decide to take a chance on it. I go home, and start playing Baldur’s Gate II again, without even opening it. “Aha!” you might be thinking. You might think that the fact I didn’t open the game immediately and try it as the sign I’m talking about. No. That is a bad sign 😛 but it isn’t what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is, the next morning when I go into uni, I have one of those weird brain moments where, for no reason, you think of something suddenly. And my sudden thought, “Hey, see that game I bought yesterday? Isn’t that one I bought on Steam a while back?”

Yup. Right there. There it is. “Star Ruler”

Aw crap. It was even installed, like I'd planned to give it a try sometime soon.
Aw crap. It was even installed, like I'd planned to give it a try sometime soon.

So, the good thing is I have the receipt, and haven’t broken the seal, so I can and will return it; I want my £10 back! However, it highlights a problem I’ve been having with Steam for a while now. I feel less like a gamer now, and more a game collector. Like stamps. Only for me it’s games, and the collector book is Steam. Take a look at this shit: 158 Steam games with a total value of $1746.43. Now, granted, most of my games were not at the price that calculator uses. Between free games, Indie Bundles, 75+% off deals on Steam, my real ‘spent’ total would be a lot less. But that is 158 games!!! And I assure you, a good half of those I have probably never played through!

I need to stop responding to these Steam sales 😛

Categories: featured games

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