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Demos Aplenty

August 7, 2005

Because of shift shuffling, Katie was at work for most of Saturday. I used the time alone to do some game world exploration.

Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict (Xbox)
A GameFly rental, the most recent incarnation of UT on the Xbox is viscerally good. The control scheme has been refined from the original title, allowing for ranged combat that captures the feel of the PC FPS more than just adequately. I specify ranged combat because the big selling point of this game, the hand-to-hand battles, is well worth crowing about. Swirling kicks, stabs, blocks, and slices from the 3rd person perspective add a level of brutality and speed to the game that the ranged combat sometimes lacks. The online play is just what I’ve come to expect from Xbox Live, consistent uptime and low ping while playing against douchebags. These douchebags, though, I can split from stem to stern with a sword.

Psychonauts (Xbox)
The second title I’ve snagged from GameFly is the extremely well regarded Psychonauts. From my understanding, the title isn’t selling so well. *Sigh* Why is it that my perennial favourites, like Ico or Sly Cooper, never get the love they deserve? In any case, the platforming nature of Psychonauts is supremely well developed. The psychically gifted, big headed Zim-sound-alike that is the protagonist of the game is a quirkily designed character whose shoes never get boring to fill. The other characters have their own unique designs, allowing for their personalities to show through before they ever open their mouths. The world maps are imaginatively constructed, with each character’s brain being a wholly different crack-addled puzzle to unlock and the Pyschonauts camp a nature-turned-wacky study in subtle jokes. Everything good you’ve heard about this game is true. It is entirely worth checking out, if even for just a few days.

Dungeon Siege II Demo (PC)
The original DS just never did it for me. The Diablo-like title was interesting in some ways, with additions like the pack mule, interesting character designs, and a fairly interesting story. Just the same, for whatever reason it never really grabbed my attention whole hog. The second game, though…I’m actually looking forward to this one now. Improved graphics that actually make a significant difference, an interesting plot hook at the start of the show, and some improvements to the hacking and slashing nature of the game have apparently made the difference for me. The Demo went by pretty quickly, but my understanding is that the goal is to have a longerish campaign this time around. Here’s hoping they use that time wisely, to spin out the yarn they start in the demo to interesting and battle-filled ends.

Dragonshard Demo (PC)
Since the 90’s, D&D has become a powerhouse in electronic gaming. Baldur’s Gate, Planescapes: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, the list of excellent titles goes on and on. There have been a few less than stellar exceptions, but for the most part the D&D name has been associated with relatively good games. Dragonshard is the first Eberron based D&D game, an introduction for PC gamers to WotC’s newest campaign setting, and the fiction behind the upcoming D&D MMOG. To be bluntly honest, Dragonshard is not putting Eberron’s best foot forward. It’s an RTS in the vein of Warcraft 3, with a primary hero that you can level up through defeating badguys, a base to build support units, and some collectible resources along the way. Unlike War3, in the demo levels the emphasis seems to be on exploration and adventure. Even War3’s minor amount of basebuilding and oversight is discarded in favour of a powerful hero and his minions hunting down evil critters and searching through dank underground caverns. All of your characters can resources collect, scooping up gold and dragonshards like they’re delicious rock candy. These are in turn what you use at your base to replenish your support unit load-out. The whole thing seems sort of…dry. I can’t put my finger on it for sure, but the entire experience left me underwhelmed. I think I’ve got this one coming down the pipe for the full version…mayhap I’ll enjoy the later levels more.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 Demo (PC)
I’m a big dork. Two Tycoon games, for some reason, catch my dork sense. Zoo Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon both instill in me the completely unknowable need to micromanage a theme park full of attractions for the enjoyment of tiny simulated people. I don’t really understand it either. That said, Rollercoaster 3 is pretty cool. They’ve really upped the ante on the graphics, making the entire park experience a visually deep and inviting one. Lots and lots of options abound, for rides, coasters, and decoration themes. The little touches, though, are the features that are making me seriously consider this game. The “coaster cam” which allows you to ride along with your creations, is very well done. So well done, in fact, that I got slightly weirded out while riding along with a particularly hardcore coaster in one of the prefab demo levels. My stomach went “oh noes!” and I had to sit back and realize that I wasn’t actually heading up the big hill. Every ride can have music, and the music can be any musical track you happen to have lying around your PC. They Might Be Giants is a very appropriate band for a swing ride, I’ve found.

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