Thursday, March 16, 2023

First Play Review: God Of War [2022]

Note: This game was originally released for the PlayStation 4 in 2018. It is not to be confused with the 2005 PlayStation game God of War. 

God of War wasn't the first title that peaked my interest when Sony PlayStation announced it's push into the PC game market in 2020 but it was something that I saw a lot of media about and felt it was worth investigating. Now as you may know, I really hate starting a series of books, TV shows, movies or games that have a serious 'history'. I need to start from the beginning of anything. However in this case I was advised by multiple sources that while the previous God of War games are referenced in the story, the new game presents it such a way that newcomers to the franchise are served the lore well. In fact some argue that not knowing the saga beforehand is actually an advantage as you learn Kratos' history alongside Atreus, Kratos' son. 

What I did know was that the God of War franchise in the PlayStation had three main games which detail the story of Kratos, a Spartan soldier tricked by Ares into killing his family. So Kratos killed him in revenge becoming the new 'god of war' in the process. He had another two games where he fought both The Titans (who betrayed him) and  The Olympians (with a special beef with Zeus) and eventually bogged off somewhere in in 2010. It was not until 2018's soft reboot that people learned that he went to Midguard of all places!

The new setting of Norse legend as opposed to Greek serves as a soft reboot of the series making it accessible to me as a new player. You're quickly introduced to Kratos and you discover you have three things going for you: you're voiced by Christopher Judge (Teal'c from StarGate SG-1), you have a stunning red beard and you have a "Leviathan Axe" that is part tool and and part weapon and returns like Marvel Thor's hammer! However a lot of this is instantly offset by the fact you also have an annoying whiny son and you have to tolerate him because his mother Faye just died and you're forced to give him attention now.

The game's intro prologue which sets your quest to bring Faye's ashes to the peak of a nearby mountain, served as a pleasant hand-holding exercise which was most welcome as this is the kind of game that wasn't originally designed for a mouse and keyboard. At the end of the tutorial prologue you are suddenly thrust into a major boss-battle with Baldur, Thor's half-brother, brilliantly portrayed by Jeremy Davies (for which he won a BAFTA to add to his Justified Emmy). It hammered home the point that your otherwise simple-sounding quest would be wrought with challenges and adventure.

God of War is played over the shoulder third person which is best for melee combat, and there sure is a lot of it. The Leviathan Axe is the main weapon for the vast majority of the game and in the hands of Kratos it is as powerful as Thor's Mjölnir hammer and can be thrown about just like it. This results in deeply satisfying combat with enemies that while are not overall as varied as I'd desire, are nonetheless fun to do battle with. Your skill with the axe increases as you gain XP and spend it on powers and moves, and you can even upgrade it with runes and materials you collect along the way. Gathering these materials to enhance your weapon and armour isn't a chore (unless you want to deliberately take on the higher level challenges outside the main game narrative) and you collect them as you follow the main and side quests.

God of War is not a game you can get lost in, your main path/goal is ever present but you are rewarded for exploring unknown areas of the the open-world map that becomes littered with icons as you unveil more tasks to complete. Most of these are optional but the more you complete, the easier combat becomes as you gain XP and equipment as well as flesh out the story and the world which is admittedly more interesting if you have even a passing interest in mythology. Some of the extra tasks are not unique in scope but are completed in different environments making it different enough to not be tedious. I was particularly happy with the puzzles which can only be completed after you've gained certain abilities. The rewards from such puzzles are appropriate to the level you have to be to have the feature to solve the puzzle - but so are the enemies you encounter as a result, if any!

As the game progressed I found that I began to get used to my "son" which ran parallel to Kratos' 'acceptance' of him. Atreus gains some moderate powers and abilities as Kratos actively levels up and the boy can be used as a passive companion in battle and can be ordered to use an active component by shooting arrows at targets designated by you for combat or puzzles as the situation demands. Atreus goes though his own character arc and emerges a much more tolerable and stronger character then in the beginning. In fact he gets far more character development than Kratos himself who barely progresses from grunting and shouting "Boy!" for the game's duration. It was however the relationship between father and son and their interaction with the ancillary characters of the story that made it matter much more than the purpose of the main quest.

Final Verdict: God of War is a masterclass into what a visually cinematic, well designed and polished adventure game is. It's progression systems are carefully calculated. It's environment, although fiercely linear for the main story, still takes place in a majority of an open world which begs to be explored. The performances from the games actors elevated the game's average story and making it more about the relationship between the characters than the achievement of a goal. It's only left for me to say that God of War soared above any expectations I had of playing it.

Technicals: 43.5 hours playtime through Steam. Full UW support granted 3440x1440/160FPS. Used Balanced DLSS 1996x836 to render 3440x1440/120FPS for greater stability. Custom settings favouring high end options with RTX3070Ti. DX11 renderer under Windows 11 and impressive HDR enabled though Windows implementation.

Bugs: Some instability occurred at 160FPS+ causing crashes. One bug workaround required full game reinstallation (with no loss of progress).

Availability: God of War is available from Steam for €49.99. Review copy purchased from Fanatical for  €39.42 in Feb 2022.


God of War series:

God of War [2005] PS2
God of War II [2007]
God of War III [2010]
- God of War: Origins Collection [2010] PS3
God of War: Ascension [2013] PS3
- God of War III Remastered [2015] PS4
God of War [2018] PS4
- God of War [2022] PC
God of War Ragnarök [2022]

Monday, March 06, 2023

Obituary: Troubled actor Tom Sizemore 1961-2023

From the time of this blog's inception as The Colonel's Eagle in 2005 until 2007, actor Tom Sizemore was a regular subject to be reported on, so much so that he even had his own link-label. It wasn't so much for his acting prowess but rather his colourful and nefarious antics that ended a stellar Hollywood career after some 40 major film roles between 1989 and 2003.

Sizemore's first credited movie role was in the Sylvester Stallone starring prison movie Lock Up. From '89 to '91 he expanded his portfolio in movies such as Born on the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise and Point Break with Keanu Reeves

I first distinctly recall Sizemore in 1992's Passenger 57 where he plays Wesley Snipes' wisecracking boss. He furthered his career considerably over he next three years by working with some of the greatest directors of the day such as Tony Scott in True Romance, Laurence Kasdan as Bat Masterson in Wayatt Earp, Oliver Stone in Natural Born Killers and Michael Mann in Heat.

After recovering from the 1997 flop The Relic which was also his first leading role, he portrayed one of his best and most memorable roles as SFC Mike Horvath in Saving Private Ryan which would also become his most financially successful project.

Sizemore had a string of flops at the turn of the century with the disastrous misstep Red Planet, narratively flawed Pearl Harbor, and bomb-disposal thriller Ticker for which the director has publicly apologised for.  He had one more hit in 2001 when he played real life U.S. Army Lt.Colonel Danny McKnight of the 75th Rangers as part of an award-nominated ensemble cast for one of the finest war movies ever made, Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down

The last movie I recall seeing him in was 2003's Dreamcatcher but it was by this point that Sizemore's Hollywood career had crashed and burned at the foot of his conviction for domestic violence against "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss and repeatedly failing drug tests while on probation. He continued his substance abuse and domestic violence tendencies throughout the following twenty years despite appearing in some 150 low-budget, direct-to-video or short film projects.

After his exile from Hollywood, Sizemore did make a number of Television appearances including CSI: Miami, Crash, Entourage, Hawaii Five-0, Law & Order: SVU, Lucifer, Shooter and Twin Peaks, Season 3. His TV roles ended in 2017 however, following allegations of sexual assault against an 11 year old girl on the set of a movie in 2003.

While my respect for the man waned and turned into morbid curiosity as the 2000's went on, there was a time when I would have wanted him to portray me on screen should there ever have been a movie of my life in the Corps. Few actors could spin from the intensity of my battle-hardened death-stare to my charismatic lady-killing smirk on a dime like Tom Sizemore. That dream was permanently laid to rest on March 3rd when he passed away following a brain aneurysm at 61. 

May he find the peace in death that he clearly hadn't in life.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Console exclusivity is slowly coming to an end

Console Exclusivity! The phrase evokes pride in your console of choice - if you get the exclusive but sometimes envy in those who devote themselves to a rival console. I mean PlayStation users would probably like to play Gears of War and Xbox players yearn for God of War? Right? I wouldn't really know, I'm a PC player and can play both like a boss!!

Console exclusivity is practised to varying degrees by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to maintain interest in their respective console offerings. Super Mario is only available on the Nintendo's consoles. Sony keep Gran Turismo firmly on PlayStation. No Halo game has has a red or blue box, it's always Xbox green. Console exclusivity usually means exclusivity to that particular console however; it doesn't always mean that the console itself is the only platform the game is for; there is of course the PC port.

Console games getting a PC port down the line isn't anything new. I first obtained a PC port of the PS1 title The Die Hard Trilogy as a present in 1997. It was awesomely shit and barely held my interest for a day. It was such nonsense in comparison to any real PC game I ever played that it put me off console ports for years. It wasn't until 2003 when former Xbox exclusive Splinter Cell was released that I changed my mind as it was awesome and unlike any game I played before.

I pretty much dismiss Nintendo as the "kiddie console" but it's a moot point as Nintendo have always completely ignored the PC. Microsoft has obviously continued to support the PC by supporting Windows versions of the majority of their Xbox games (ensuring that gamers stick to the Windows OS of course) so I have access to the vast majority of Xbox "exclusives". My only real source for any measure of console envy was really for PlayStation. I'd have liked to have played some Metal Gear Solid or SOCOM games back in the day and I remember being dismayed that Quantic Dream announced their future output exclusivity with PlayStation back at the beginning of the 2010's. Times have changed though and it seems now that the days of hard PlayStation exclusivity are coming to an end.

In 2019 Quantic Dream released PC ports of it's PlayStation game catalogue. A year later 2020 Hideo Kojima's Sony funded PS4 game Death Stranding's PC port was released. While both were welcome, and they were not the first games to be developed in conjunction with Sony to be released on PC but they were signalling a massive shift in Sony's focus. Also in 2020 the unprecedented happened: a PC release of a tentpole first-party Sony studio developed PS4 game Horizon: Zero Dawn was both announced and released! Additionally, Sony also announced in it's earnings report: "We will explore expanding our first-party titles to the PC platform, in order to promote further growth in our profitability." 

Since then Sony have aggressively marketed and ported several more of their first-party games to the PC including Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered, God of War, Days Gone and Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection among others. It seems that there will be an ongoing effort to support the PC with additional titles going forward. Sony themselves predict about half their new releases will be made available for the PC by 2025 with live service games specifically singled out as having near same-day releases with the goal of properly establishing their communities.  For now, Returnal has just released some days ago at time of writing, The Last of Us Part I will release on March 28th. Ghost of Tsushima is only rumoured for now but I'd expect and announcement about God of War: Ragnarok and The Last of Us Part II before year's end.

Are Nintendo even needed on the PC now? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be welcome. It also has a sequel, Tears of the Kingdom in development to be released in May. Perhaps the time has come for Shuntaro Furukawa to take a look at Sony's PC success and rethink his company's posture?

Monday, February 20, 2023

Retro Review - Hitman: Codename 47 [2000]

After sampling being a historical assassin in the Assassin's Creed franchise I thought it was high time to try out being a modern day one. Danish outfit IO Interactive created the Hitman franchise in 2000, well before Ubisoft made the first AC, but for various reasons I never got around to playing. That changed recently when I decided to start from the beginning and check out the game that made Agent 47 one of be better known characters in gaming.

In Hitman: Codename 47 you take on the role of a the mysterious "47" who apparently wakes up in a medical facility/prison and is for some reason trained to use weapons (in the story-driven tutorial). He escapes his imprisonment and is shortly contacted by "The Agency", an shadowy organization who offer him jobs as an assassin. Basically 47 gets contracts and he must use stealth, subterfuge and disguise to take out his mark.

Having been a Recon Marine and after playing Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell and favouring the stealth options in Metal Gear Solid V, I do like and appreciate the stealth approach as it's "not the norm" in the videogame world. From what little I knew of Hitman (ignoring the movies, especially the second one) I expected a rewarding experience on that front, and I got one, but only to an extent.

Hitman: Codename 47 is a 23 year old old game and has not aged well. As I hadn't played it before there was sadly no feeling of nostalgia to prop it up as there is with games I played and loved from that time such as Max Payne. The time for this game passed a long time ago. The graphics were as expected for a game of this era, a little batter than Quake II and perhaps more on par with games using the first Unreal engine. The interface and mechanics of the game however are atrocious and don't scale well to modern resolutions. On 4K it's near-impossible to read menus and the experience isn't that much better on 1440p.

The technical issues aside it's just basically not a great experience, the difficulty is too high, win conditions are too specific and the save system is unforgiving. The same things seem to not only annoy me, but apparently recent players and even did back in the day as well. People who have played later Hitman games can't play this again because this game doesn't have the quality of life fixes that the sequel and later games in the series implemented and so this is considered broken by many. Average game time suggests 12 hours, which is about an hour a level but after 3 levels in 5 hours I had to call it a day.

It's not all bad. It was one of the first games with rag-doll physics and created at a time when 3D engines were sill in their infancy. The concept and the atmosphere are sound and grew from the ideas observed in Hong Kong action movies which obviously developed from that simple premise into the mopre complex one shipped. Jespyr Kyd (who would later score Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Assassin's Creed for Ubisoft) produced a score was ahead of it's time and used urban soundscapes and ethnic instrumentation to deliver a score that I heard on the internet and actually imported a CD of back in 2005.

Final Verdict: Meh! I paid €1.59 last year to get this game so not going to complain it was a dud too loudly. This was the game that launched a franchise despite selling just 500,000 copies. I know from reviews and word of mouth that the sequel Hitman 2: Silent Assassin mostly corrected the gameplay elements, so nice to have a baseline now to compare. Additionally, as only 10% of Silent Assassin players actually played Codename 47, Codename 47 was largely remade into a third game Hitman: Contracts so all is not truly lost. Hitman: Codename 47's time is done but my adventure with the franchise has yet to truly begin.

Technicals: Played for 4.7 hours on Win 11 @ 4K, 1440p and 3440x1440 resolutions. Graphics options are minimal.

Bugs: No technical bugs but HUD doesn't scale well to modern resolutions.

Purchase Options: Available on Steam for €7.99 or GOG for €5.99. Review copy purchased for Steam from Humble Bundle for €1.59 in January 2022.

Franchise [PC only]

Hitman: Codename 47 [2000]
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin [2002]
Hitman: Contracts [2004]
Hitman: Blood Money [2006]
Hitman: Absolution [2012]
Hitman [2016]
Hitman 2 [2018]
Hitman 3 [2021]
- Hitman: World of Assassination [2023]

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 4 - Analysis

Continued from Part 3

Analysing a choice

Let us illustrate the available choices using this point-in-time look at the market on January 22nd 2022 for the standard edition of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla which has an MSRP of €59.99:

  • Ubisoft Store: €19.80 (in a "Lunar New Year sale)
  • Steam: €59.99
  • GOG: Unavailable
  • Epic Games Store: €59.99
  • Microsoft Store: Unavailable
  • Fanatical: €17.99 (in a "Lunar New Year" sale)
  • Green Man Gaming: €17.42 (in a "Lunar" sale)
  • Humble Store: €19.79 (in a "Winter" sale)
  • GamersGate: €17.61 (in a timed sale)
  • CDKeys: €16.59
  • G2A: €18.49
  • G2Play: €17.69

While the cheapest price is clearly CDKeys remember that through this site, the publisher/developer only benefits from the original sale price of the game in the Third World country where it was purchased. We can presume this could be less than the equivalent of €16.59 as CDKeys obviously don't operate at a loss.

The same game price as of February 6th 2023:

  • Ubisoft Store: €59.99
  • Steam: €59.99
  • GOG: Unavailable
  • Epic Games Store: €59.99
  • Microsoft Store: Unavailable
  • Fanatical: €59.99
  • Green Man Gaming: €52.79 (Standard sale)
  • Humble Store: €19.79 (Limited time sale)
  • GamersGate: €59.99
  • CDKeys: €16.59
  • G2A: €19.96
  • G2Play: €17.18

In either case, just by spending at most about €3 more purchasing from an authorised key vendor instead of the grey market means Ubisoft receive the the revenue they expect from your purchase.

Forspoken, the most ridiculously priced new game has a different story as its a recent release. Square Enix is not directly selling it on their site so it redirects purchasers to Steam, Microsoft or Epic.

  • Steam: €79.99
  • GOG: Unavailable
  • Epic Games Store: €79.99
  • Microsoft Store: €79.99
  • Fanatical: Unavailable
  • Green Man Gaming: €63.99 (Standard sale)
  • Humble Store: €79.99
  • GamersGate: Unavailable
  • CDKeys: €54.69
  • G2A: €56.18

Here the price advantage of CDKeys is more evident as the price difference is more than €25 which is a difficult offer to ignore for some. The moral choice however is getting a €16 discount from Green Man as Square Enix have authorised them to sell Steam keys for the game.

By using key vendors like Green Man Gaming and Humble Bundle, and not a key reseller, the key vendors prove themselves and can continue providing excellent customer value. Third World gaming price inflation will not increase due to the immoral practices of CDKeys and will allow Third World gamers to buy games at their regionally acceptable prices. Most importantly you have an authorised guaranteed legal Key that you can have much more confidence in actually working at the end of the day and you should be proud of yourself that you are continuing the sustainability of the games industry.

Monday, February 13, 2023

"It's always Weather Balloons" - SPEARHEAD

On the heels of a third UAP being downed by U.S. fighter aircraft in as many days, the commander of NORAD General Glen VanHerck, U.S. Air Force was asked yesterday if he had ruled out an extraterrestrial origin for them. "I'll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven't ruled out anything." which the world's media will now assume to be confirmation that the U.S. military believes aliens exist.

The Pentagon stated that China operates surveillance balloons on a global scale collecting data on military bases, including the balloon downed last week. However the last three objects shot down have not been confirmed to be linked to China - or anyone else for that matter.


A visibly irate Major General "Whopper" Creedon, SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Security was questioned by press in the UNHQ Monday and he responded with "It's not aliens and Glen never said it was," shaking his fist "It's always Weather Balloons! Nothing to see here! Go home!"

The Wall Street Journal reported the third UAP downed on Sunday was octagonal and hovered at 20,000 feet which the Pentagon said posed a "hazard to civilian aviation."

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 3 - Get Your Keys

Continued from Part 2

Digital keys have been used to authenticate software purchases for decades. They survived the end of physical disk media era and are used by software vendors to authenticate software download before being able to access your purchase. When you purchase a game using a digital platform it always comes with a key but often the process is hidden because the act of purchasing the software from the platform you're using to access the game simultaneously authenticates the product. However if you're not purchasing from that platform directly then you can purchase a key either from an authorised vendor or from the grey market.


Authorised Key Vendors

These are entities that have direct publishing deals with the game publishers. The publisher gets a cut from the sale. The publisher or developer gets the same cut from the full price as if you bought the game from the platform the key is for. While the vast majority of games are for Steam (and where Steam, GOG and Epic have the same games available keys are 99% likely to be Steam keys) other publishers like Ubisoft and EA use these services as well. Be aware that often keys for some titles will run out as publishers only authorise a finite numbers of keys for each vendor.

There are quite a few stores in this space such as, Voidu and Gamesplanet to name but a few but many cater to specific genres like indie games or are ones that do not support my geographical location. The four detailed below are my go-to vendors:

Humble Bundle: Since 2010 US-based Humble Bundle's business model was primarily offering bundles of games at a price determined by the user often with a charity sponsorship. While bundles "Humble Choice" are still offered, the Humble Store, robust digital store-front grew from their activity to become one of the most known key vendors in the marketspace.

GamersGate: Not to be confused with Gamergate, Swedish outfit GamersGate is a digital store-front that grew from Paradox Interactive's native digital distributions system. Since 2006 They've made news in conversations arguing against intrusive DRM and have been critical of Steam's acceptance of DRM in many of its titles.

Green Man Gaming: In 2010 UK company Green Man Gaming operated a business model that allowed the purchase of games through a client and later trade them in for credits to spend on other games while the original game key you owned was resold as a "pre-owned" game. This activity was later retired and Green Man now operates one of the best places to find bargains with aggressive sale prices.

Fanatical: This had beginnings as Bundle Stars, like a UK version of Humble Bundle. Since 2017 as Fanatical they still offer significant bundle content that can be selected to include some or all of a selection of games as desired by the consumer. They also offer a lot of digital graphic novels, books and IT manuals/online courses for subjects including networking and programming all through the same process to redeem video game keys.

I've been using these four stores, mostly the latter two, for many years without issue.  The revenue cut is the same as the actual store being used, e.g. Steam, the publisher/developer is guaranteed to get paid and I as a consumer get the best fully legal price available in most cases as discounts are near-perpetual.


Key Reselling Stores

These include HRK, Instant Gaming, MMOGA and Gamers Outlet among too many others but the main player in this space by far is CDKeys. These people are known for taking keys out of retail copies of games in countries (such as the third world where optical media is still used) and re-sell them to you (as you don't need the disc obviously) to redeem them on whatever store. The publisher will get however much they would have got from a boxed copy sale in the region it was for, which is almost always less than direct from the distribution platform where the key is eventually redeemed.

While it's amazingly not actually "illegal", it is morally dubious in my personal opinion. Basically you are paying the third world price of a game, set by the publisher to be deliberately low to be afforded by people in a region where the equivalent price in the West could be more than a week's wages!! This eventually causes the price of the games in that region to rise and prohibit its affordability my many. Additionally due to the regional nature of the purchase you can run into issues with the key not working. I predict publishers will take significant steps to prevent this practice before long.

Authorised key vendors are are both legally and morally sound but an unauthorised key reselling store like CDKeys may be legally sound it's more than a little morally dubious and is a practice I do not support as while I'm clearly motivated by a good deal or offer, this is only on the provision that it's not damaging to individuals who are far less well off than I am.


Key Reselling Platforms

Now if you find some of Epic or CDKeys business practices somewhat morally dubious you've not heard of the true "grey market" - Key Reselling Platforms. These entities include G2A, Kinguin and G2Play. These sites are not stores like all the others, the sites do not sell products themselves but facilitate transactions between customer and a third-party much like Ebay (without the auctioning). Here anyone can sell keys that they have obtained from anywhere, including obtained for free or even those that may have been stolen. Of course because anyone can sell anything, the opportunity for crime and scamming is rampant.

Key Reselling Platforms also sell a type of insurance service so that if you buy something obtained via fraud and the key gets revoked, the site will replace it for you. The process (for G2A at least) includes filing a police report before you get a refund! This is dodgy as sin as it's assumed that the majority of people won't do this for the sake of a <€20 transaction.

As the publisher/developer gain absolutely no revenue from sales on these platforms they are rightfully maligned in the industry. In fact some developers have gone on public record as preferring that people not intending to buy their game from authorised platforms instead actually pirate their games rather than use G2A so that G2A nor the sellers don't profit in any way.

Needless to say I will never engage with or support the use of key reselling platforms in any way.


In Part 4

Conclusion and Analysis

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 2 - Digital Games Platforms

 Continued from Part 1

Publisher Direct Sales Platforms

Basically first party sales where you're buying directly from the publisher. The most prominent game publishers have their own online store-front where they sell their own games directly. They also have downloadable game clients which are used to access the games for downloading, maintenance through patches, cloud saves and to track achievements. 

The platforms currently include include Ubisoft, EA Games, Rockstar and Activision Blizzard among others. It also includes Valve when selling their own games like Half-Life though Steam and CD Projekt Red when selling The Witcher or their other games through GOG. Additionally Microsoft and Epic are included in this category when selling their own IPs though the Microsoft Store and Epic Games Store respectively.

When buying directly from the publisher of the game then the Publisher/Developer get 100% of what you're paying and the 'saintly' moral choice is that publishers and especially developers get the maximum compensation for creating the product. However, the consumer cost is normally 100% of the MSRP, unless the publisher is having a sale on their games.


Third-Party Distribution Platforms

Publishers who don't have their own stores and/or software clients use one or more 3rd Party digital store-fronts and clients such as Steam. Some Publishers with their own direct sales platforms also put some of their games on 3rd Party digital store-fronts because they reach more users or it's economically viable for certain games. For example, Activision Blizzard sell Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II on their BattleNet but also on Steam.

For the most part, games sold on these platforms use the client from that distributor and the resources of that platform for sales, downloading, maintaining through patches and for cloud saves. Others such as with most games by Ubisoft for example use the platform for sales only but require an account with the publisher and the publisher's client such as Ubisoft Connect to use services such as downloading or cloud saves.
The following are the major players in the third-party digital distribution platform space

Steam: This is by far the largest platform for PC Gaming distribution with about 70-75% of the market share and over 62 millions users daily. Almost all major publishers and developers with the notable exception of Epic games, have a Steam presence for some if not all their titles. Steam is the most seasoned operator in the space and has the most fully developed store site and client application design in the market and includes the necessary community contributed content for forum/discussions, reviews and ratings. The consumer cost of a game on Steam is normally 100% of the MSRP. Steam has frequent sales by genre or publisher and has key sales usually once a season.

GOG: Formerly "Good Old Games" have built their reputation on bringing old games back to life on modern hardware without the burden of DRM. Soldier of Fortune, Diablo, Warcraft 2 and many Star Trek games are exclusive to the platform and playable in the 2020's due to GOG's curation efforts. Every game is DRM free, offline games can be played offline, every game can be backed up on your own system, archived and transferred etc. You paid for it it's yours! is the GOG way. Unfortunately GOG has limited game selection (only about a tenth of Steam) and as most publishers want to maintain their DRM and feeding data to them this is not likely to change much.

Epic Games Store: While many titles can be purchased through the Epic Games Store, there is really no need to ever do so as it splits your collection from the vastly superior Steam and better deals are usually available elsewhere particularly through key vendors. Its anaemic feature set barely qualifies it as a serious platform and it's legal but heavily anti-consumer business practices should never be rewarded with your money. Epic does give you free games every week, though that's really all they're good for. I have elucidated my thoughts on EGS in greater detail recently here.

The Microsoft Store: There are many PC gamers who don't realise you can buy games from the Microsoft Store. Do we really care though? Do we play Minecraft? The store is an app that comes with Windows and I'm only mentioning it here to be thorough. There is an "XBox Game Pass for PC" thing the people use but such subscriptions don't suit my habits. My adblockers are working great because Microsoft hasn't reached me with their marketing assuming they do any at all.

With all third-party distributors, they take a cut of the revenue made but the percentage differs per platform. Steam and GOG take 30% from digital sales while Microsoft and Epic charge a 12% cut. In all cases the publisher and developers do not benefit from the full revenue generated (unless the IP is owned by the distributor).

In Part 3

We discuss key vendors and resellers.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 1 - Introduction


The 70-dollar game

The fall of 2022 saw Activision announced that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II's MSRP would be $70. It was like a flare being lit with the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft and EA announcing to commit their AAA MSRP also at $70. This may not be universally welcome (what consumer wants to pay more?) but it was expected and in a way is probably a little later than expected. Video games are consumer products and their industry has no immunity to inflation. While inflation itself has has eased now to 8.2 after a 38-year high of 9.2 in Oct 2022 and the US rate has eased more considerably from 9.06 in July to 6.45 now, game MSRPs don't come down, ever, and are here to stay. 

In this part of the world it means console game prices rise to €80. Activision have charged this for Modern Warfare II, EA will charge it for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Square Enix did most recently for Forspoken.

I don't and will unlikely play on a console however so why the interest in console game prices? Well whenever console game prices rise, so to their PC counterparts. PC Games are usually €10 cheaper than console games and this is a continuing trend to the current prices. Modern Warfare II released on Steam and Battle.Net for €70, EA will launch Jedi: Survivor at €70. Square Enix however brazenly charged €80 for Forspoken on PC as well as the PS5 in an unprecedented move as it's a brand new IP not another Final Fantasy. It was hoped before it was discovered that the game wasn't all that great that this brazen action would be rewarded with poor sales and act as a deterrent to similar activity in future and notions by other publishers.

Nonetheless in 2023 it will be important to know where and when to get the best PC gaming value and I feel it's necessary to share my thoughts on the matter with regards to direct sales, authorised vendors and the grey market of resellers. While the initial choice may be ease of use for a platform, for the price of just requiring multiple accounts for some authorised vendors one can make considerable savings and piece of mind without touching the nefarious grey market.

Why purchase individual titles?

In the era where subscription services can save you money, why do people make individual purchases at all? Well purchasing titles individually is what I do because it's the model that has most catered to the way I consume games, especially as I replay a lot of games and play games that are not available on subscriptions services.

In 2022 I purchased just two games that were released for the PC in 2022, God of War and Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered. I paid about €40 for each while on sale. Neither are available on any PC subscription service so I'm "forced" to purchase individually.

In March this year, with the release of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor I may sample the XBox PC Game Pass as EA Games now appear on it (although they also have their own subscription service EA Play available separately). 

That said, game subscription services are not the focus of this discussion and will be discussed at a later date.

In Part 2

We will discuss the digital platforms available to make individual game purchases.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Replay Review: Call of Duty 2 [2005]

Following on from my Classic Review of 2003's Call of Duty in February 2020, and after a time in a fictitious representation of WW2 in Return to Castle Wolfenstein in recent weeks, I said I would return to the 'realism' of Activision's WW2 shooters in Call of Duty 2 and see if it hold up today. This was Infinity Ward's second World War 2 outing after the original CoD (or third game counting Medal of Honour: Allied Assault as most of 2015's developers went to IW after EA gave them the shaft) and it was clear their experience and expertise was what made the games special as Infinity Ward produced 9 in the currently 19-game franchise, while Medal of Honor died on the barbed wire fence 10 years ago.

Call of Duty 2 mimicked it's predecessor somewhat in so far as it featured not one central protagonist as most other games but gave you slices of the war through the eyes of several fictional soldiers who fought with real units in dramatized but historically researched encounters. For the Russian campaign, you are  Private Vasili Koslov of the 13th Guards Rifle Division, who after the defence of Moscow takes part in the final assault to recapture Stalingrad in 1943. As Sergeant John Davis of the 7th Armoured Division in North Africa you assault the trenches and machine gun nests in the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 later taking the role of British tank commander, David Welsh, engaging German forces in Libya. Finally you are Corporal Bill Taylor of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who climbs to assault Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, later takes Hill 400 and finally the Rhine River crossing in 1945.

As with Call of Duty there is no suggestion that you win WW2 all by yourself, you are constantly supported (or sometimes hindered by the AI of) your ever-present squadmates. If you are sent somewhere alone it's literally into a bunker or a building to shoot a bunch of Jerries, your team mates are less than 30 feet from you if not shooting and throwing grenades into buildings. There is an active "chatter system" where both friendly and enemy soldiers will call out the position of each other as they shoot. And shoot you will, you are once again restricted to being able to hold just two weapons such as a Lee Enfield and a Sten Gun, while you will eventually run out of "allied ammo" as you progress, one does best to pick up a German rifle and a machine gun for both far and closer-range enemies.

In every respect Call of Duty 2 is a step up from the original. It uses an enhanced IW Tech 2.0 engine a version of idTech 3 with a skeletal animation system, which was useful when depicting the Jerries getting blown into the air from grenades. The game was also an early example of true volumetric smoke effects especially useful for smoke grenades and the desert tank battles of it's British Campaign in North Africa. CoD2 also featured a regenerating health system preventing the action from being 'paused' as you went foraging for heathpacks. The game also introduced the franchise staple of the 'grenade indicator' letting you know that a grenade was near and to run or take cover. While the game did not have big-name voice talent this time, Hollywood composer Graeme Revell provided a remarkably less martial but more fitting score for the seriousness of the game than was achieved by Giacchino.

Final Verdict: Call of Duty 2 brought more dramatic realism to the WW2 FPS genre using carefully researched locations and astounding development technology to bring a teeth rattling, visceral experience though awesome sound and breathtaking visuals. While obviously aged Call of Duty 2 surpassed what came before and was as one would expect, surpassed by it's later successors. It was the best of it's time but is still great to look back on a fun shooter in 2022.

Technicals: 7 hours (approx) playtime using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 with max settings on Windows 11. Windows HDR provided a negligible amount of superior lighting.

Bugs: None.

Call of Duty 2 suffers from the same prohibiting issue as it's predecessor in that it is available from Steam for €19.99 which for a 17 year old game is fucking ridiculous. This is the worst thing I've personally experienced with Activision - while the game certainly was worth the full price in 2005, today most 17+ year old games are under €5 when on sale but the pricing of Call of Duty franchise, even when the maximum 50% off remains premium and thus prohibitive to this day. 

Series (PC Only):

Call of Duty [2003]
- Call of Duty: United Offensive [2004]
Call of Duty 2 [2005]
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare  [2007]
Call of Duty: World at War [2008]
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [2009]
Call of Duty: Black Ops [2010]
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 [2011]
Call of Duty: Black Ops II [2012]
Call of Duty: Ghosts [2013]
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare [2014]
Call of Duty: Black Ops III [2015]
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare [2016]

- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered [2016]
Call of Duty: WWII [2017]
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 [2018]
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare [2019]
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War [2020]

- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered [2020]
Call of Duty: Vanguard [2021]
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II [2022]

Monday, January 23, 2023

"No credible threat from planet within the Earth" - SPEARHEAD

Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann discovered in 1936 that Earth’s liquid outer core covers a solid metal ball effectively floating in the center of the planet. Today, Scientists reported in the Nature Geoscience journal that this core spins and every few decades the rate and direction changes, and at present the planet is in the midst of one of these changes! Study author Professor Xiaodong Song, a seismologist at Peking University in Beijing explained that the core is thought of as “a planet within a planet.”

SPEARHEAD's Deputy Commander for Global Security Major General "Whopper" Creedon assured an emergency press conference via video link in the SPEARHEAD Public Relations Suite at UNHQ in New York an hour ago that there was "unlikely anything to worry about!"

 "While we admit that the thought of a metal ball rotating beneath our feet is disconcerting, we do not believe it poses a clear and present danger to the future of the planet," informed Creedon "Despite how it does sound like the premise if a low budget doomsday apocalyptic direct-to-video movie only found when you scroll too far down the menu of Amazon Prime."

Once the press had recovered from Creedon's comedic genius, he added that so far there was no credible reason to take Professor Song literally. "We have no current evidence to believe that there is in fact a separate planet within the Earth. Rest assured that should we confirm that there is, and if a credible threat was faced from the inner planet that we would take any and all measures to defend ourselves and if necessary take the ultimate action to destroy it!"

Creedon took just two questions before abruptly ending the conference. The first question pertained to the aforementioned "ultimate action" and if SPEARHEAD was aware that if they destroy the Earth's core, all life on the surface would cease regardless of the method used. Creedon responded "No comment". The second question pertained to the possibility of the change in rotation of the core affecting the ecology of the Molemen Empire beneath the Earth's surface. Creedon didn't answer, but directed SPEARHEAD personnel to escort the reporter to a windowless office off to the rear of the building.


Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Epic Games Store and the past 4 years


In late 2018 Epic Games launched The Epic Games Store (EGS). While publishers opening their own stores was certainly nothing new with Blizzard, EA, Ubisoft for example all having their own stores, Epic had it sights on competing with Steam in so far as offering developers and publishers to sell their non-Epic related games on their store just as Valve sell non-Valve games. While competition is healthy especially as games, especially the more popular AAA titles aren't cheap, the store was laughable at launch and didn't make much of an impact. It wasn't long however before the Epic Games Store became rather famous - and not for the right reasons. 

The platform was crap, and still is

When you compared it to Steam or GOG, both with years of development naturally any new platform is going to look and inferior by comparison but eventually it gets up to an acceptable standard with a good user experience and all the bells and whistles. That's at least the theory; the reality for the EGS was that development has been slow with features like a shopping cart only added within the last year. Community interaction is absent, so visibility on game performance, issues, workarounds etc. is non existent. 

Additionally reviews aren't implemented at all which means that you have to go off-site to discover if a game would be worth buying. There is also no way to view your library online when logged in via the store. I visit the Epic store page once a week to examine their free game. I have to refresh the page at least once every single time because it never loads on the first try. I visit no other site that has this perpetual behaviour. The Epic Store Launcher app doesn't load things as fast as Steam or GOG either. I'm thinking there's only one developer assigned to both.

Epic offered a greater cut of the profits

Valve takes about 20-30% of all monies made from steam sales depending on how many units are sold. Epic came in and started offering to take just 12% of all revenue. According to CEO Tim Sweeney, this would have the knock on effect of Epic being able to later begin to offer games at lower prices. A cursory check of Steam prices vs Epic's right now will prove that this is horseshit. Who this may benefit to a degree however are indie developers for whom a 30% tithe to Steam may be too steep but then one must take exclusivity into account.

Epic introduced the "Exclusivity" concept to PC gaming

Exclusivity is something that has plagued consoles for years but the PC is one platform, a PC game works on every PC that's specced to run the game (bar technical issuers of course). Epic have made moves to hurt PC gamers by effectively holding games to ransom - the ransom price: You can only buy the game on EGS. Some high-profile publishers like 2K Games and IO Interactive sadly have fallen for this abhorrent anti-consumer practice with Borderlands 3 and Hitman 3 respectively, as have Quantic Dream with their recent PC ports of their PlayStation games (effectively double-dipping exclusivity). All such games have only been exclusive to Epic for a period of 6 months or 1 year. 

Indie developers are also held to ransom but even worse, as they are offered to have their games released on the EGS on the condition they agree to exclusivity! There is absolutely no benefit to the consumer as the games are now tied to an inferior platform and even worse, the consumer has no choice as to where to purchase the game from.

Epic Game Store, Spyware, Tracking, and You! 

This was the title of a Reddit post that embroiled the EGS in serious controversy when users questioned some of the background information Epic Games was collecting and transmitting. The most egregious accusation was that the EGS was sharing data with Tencent, one of Epic's major shareholders and is often mentioned elsewhere in the press as being associated with the Chinese government. While the spyware/malware aspect was later mostly debunked and may have been little more than anti-Chinese sentiment, the damage was done because those with an anti-Epic agenda made well sure it spread.

So there was no Spyware?

Not exactly. There is a function in EGS which collects and stores some of your Steam user data, such as games you own and names of your friends, however this is done when you specifically authorise Epic to do so via the app. In the version that was originally released - the EGS launcher did this BEFORE you specifically authorised it. Tim Sweeney admitted to this, issued an apology and had it promptly fixed. Spyware? No. Data-miner? Not anymore. Dodgy as fuck? Perhaps. 

Epic is dodgy?

Yes, this is an understatement to be fair, especially as seen in recent times where they brazenly breached a contract with Apple, then had the audacity to sue Apple in the attempt to use the courts to negotiate a better deal for selling their games on the Apple and Google app stores! They were unsuccessful and the judges threw 9 of the 10 ridiculous charges made by Epic out.

In December, the FTC fined Epic $520m for violating laws concerning the collecting of data of minors playing Fortnight and subsequently misleading them into making unnecessary purchases within the game. When you combine this with the notion that Epic "say" they don't share data with Tencent (and likely therefore the CCP) it's not actually outside the realm of possibility, and seems sinister.

Look at all the free stuff on Epic isn't it great? 

When you have such a crap platform, the only real way to get people to notice you is to give them free stuff and for many, it's the only reason to even EGS. The Epic Games Store give away free games every week, far more then Steam or GOG combined! Now the overwhelming majority of the free stuff is absolute shit but occasionally you do find a AAA game or something worth playing that you might not have in your collection on any of the other superior platforms. It's free, the only drawback is having to use the godawful Epic Games launcher app.


1. I do think the Epic Store is safe to use and is not Chinese spyware. I do believe however that your usage data of the platform may be used for other purposes. But that's something that you have to accept with everything from Facebook to your fitness app, the EGS is no different in that regard.

2. I do believe Tencent is an extremely "problematic" entity. However they are so ubiquitous now that it's not feasible to avoid products and services with which they have some level of involvement and maintain one's present video-game and/or social media lifestyle without severe disruption.

3. I do not agree with Epic's generally questionable ethics or its heavy-handed anti-consumer business practices, specifically exclusivity in the PC Gaming marketplace. Because of these, the fact you can get Steam games cheaper in many cases and the conclusion that there is not a single advantage for me to do so, I will never actually associate a payment method or make a digital purchase from the EGS and or otherwise promote the use of EGS in any way.

If at some point, Epic begins to offer a worthwhile product and/or alters their business practices significantly, I will revisit my conclusions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Classic Review: Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II [1997]

Between the void known as "The Dark Times", the period between Return of the Jedi in 1983 and The Phantom Menace in 1999, Star Wars as a franchise was kept 'alive' with novels, comic books and video games that were usually part of a shared narrative ecosystem. This was first known as "The Expanded Universe," until 2014 when Disney labelled it 'Legacy' due to the creation of their own new narrative going forward rather than being tied to so many years of previous work. The most significant Legacy events occurred in the mid 1990's including Timothy Zahn's 'Thrawn Trilogy' of novels, Dark Horse comics' 'Dark Empire' and Lucasarts' Tie Fighter and Dark Forces video-games; the latter which introduced the character of Kyle Katarn.

Dark Forces established Katarn as an Imperial officer who defected and became a mercenary after discovering the Empire was responsible for his father's death. He was often hired by the Rebel Alliance for whom he stole the plans for the original Death Star and then proceeded to put an end to the Dark Trooper project. Jedi Knight fleshes out Katarn significantly as a year after the destruction of the second Death Star he goes in search of revenge against Jerec the man who killed his father, as well as stopping him from becoming a Dark Jedi 'god' all while learning some force abilities on the way that would define his character in Legacy games, comic books and novels for some 17 years.

There was two prompts to replaying Jedi Knight in 2022, one was the 25th Anniversary of one of my favourite games - and one of my top 10 FPS games of all time - but also because there has been great strides in modifying the game to run on modern systems and take advantages of some of that hardware's power. The game is a quick and easy installation and once you've configured the add-ons you can be playing Jedi Knight as if it had come out in at least the mid-2000's.

Retro gaming purists are generally happy with tweaking original game files to allow games run as close to vanilla as possible on new systems (this is generally GoG's primary business model) and many of these balk at the idea of modifying retro games to look like they were released years later as it removes the "charm". While there are many games I would chose not to enhance, there are other games in which I am saddened that the replay experience is so far from what I remember that I wish I could get a more modern version, even if its just a visual makeover. Jedi Knight was one such game. I retired the vanilla version in the mid 2000s and played last with an early modification that introduced coloured lighting which I was happy with at the time. Therefore and in fact sometimes my incentive for returning to play an old game is to examine the technologies implemented to enhance the game and possibly my experience with it since the last time I played. The Jedi Knight Remastered mod is one such effort.

Jedi Knight Remastered 2.0 is basically a collection of mods fused into one easy app. It's neither the first or the last iteration, but it's the one I used today. Features include:

  • JKGXMOD v1.0 This makes Jedi Knight look better and run on new computers featuring, performance improvements, HUD scaling, 32-bit colour, Gamma correction, Bloom, Ambient occlusion, Parallax mapping and support for advanced, high-quality materials.
  • Enhancement Mod for JkGfxMod (JK Edition) 1.0 featuring higher detail community models as well as readjusted lightsabers, muzzle flashes and explosions.
  • Jedi Knight Neural Upscale Texture Pack. A replacement texture pack for Jedi Knight featuring upscaled textures using ESRGAN and a custom model.
  • Jedi Knight 2009 FOV - Mipmap Patches allowing for Field Of View for modern widescreen displays.

[Left] Remastered, [Right] Vanilla

Vanilla Jedi Knight is a significant chore to get running on modern systems, this is either the CD version or the digital distributed versions on Steam or GOG. It's one of the most incompatible games to modern hardware that many users have come across. Thankfully the hassle is almost completely eliminated with Remastered. Once installed there is some additional tweaking depending on your setup but once you're configured the first time that should be it, and the whole game is ready for you to play in whatever resolution you so desire.

The enhanced visuals here are nothing short of remarkable, character and weapon models are detailed, full coloured lighting is implemented, the bloom effect on lights and of course the lightsabers add about 5 or 6 years of graphical progression to the engine. It's not as strikingly different as Quake II RTX was, but like that, it's still the same game with relatively dumb AI and spartan highly simplistic geometry that one would find in this, one of the earliest fully 3D shooters. But I was genuinely so impressed with the enhancements that I played the whole game - which was not my original intention.

Dark Forces made you feel like a soldier for the Rebellion, perhaps a bit Han Solo without the wit. In Jedi Knight, you're pretty much the same only now you can add a few of Obi-Wan and Luke's force powers (or Palpatine and Vader's if you're so inclined) into the mix and have fun with them. In it's day it was the first time you could really feel like a Jedi in a video game and the experience has obviously been surpassed by everything from Jedi Knight's own sequels to Jedi: Fallen Order but crucially it has not lessened over time, the feeling you get when using force powers to thwart or circumvent an enemy is as novel today as it was then probably because of rare it still is. But the standout feature of Jedi Knight is being able to use the most famous symbol of my religion... the lightsaber. 

The mechanics may be simple now compared with successors but lightsaber combat here (especially in 3rd person view which is recommended) changes the dynamic of the game considerably after the first few levels. Not only is it a weapon with which you can "strike down" and dismember enemies (thanks to a JK Remastered mod element) but it's also a shield as you block some weapons fire and even deflect it back to it's origin, it's also a cutting tool which you use to cut open grating or slice machinery and finally it even acts as a light source in dimly lit areas. Both the significant graphical upgrade that the weapon benefits from under JK Remastered and it's overall utility elevates it from being another FPS melee weapon. In many games, your melee weapon is your last resort when you're out of ammo, in this game it's practical to be using it even if you have ammo at max.

Something the modding team did their best at but it's still rather hokey is the fully voiced and acted FMV sequences that progress the story as you progress the levels. They were all clearly shot on a green-screen with about 10% of the budget and equipment that would be used in Episode I's sequences the following year. There was no requirement for big name Star Wars casting for this so the bottom of the barrel casting brought a plethora of D-list talent together noting only Christopher Neame as the Dark Jedi Jerec, and who has been typecast as a German or various Sci-Fi villains over the years in everything from Blake's 7 to Star Trek: Enterprise. Dark Forces composer Clint Bajakian returns to his music editing role here to edit John Williams original trilogy score onto the game as by then games no longer favoured midi tracks but included the music as tracks on the installation CDs.

Final Verdict: Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is a LucasArts classic and was one of the most celebrated Star Wars games of it's time. Thanks to some intrepid modders it's no longer a chore to get working and is arguably better than it was. You feel like a Jedi and firmly rooted in the Star Wars universe but much like any game you have to kill hundreds of enemies in ranged or personal combat to prove you're good enough to take on the last boss, not very Jedi like but it is very Kyle Katarn like.

Technicals: 11 hours approx. playtime @ 3440x1440 UW / 175Hz with max settings. Framerate was recommeded capped at 40FPS to prevent issues with older animations and other glitches. Played using the GOG version with the Jedi Knight Remastered 2.0 mod enabled using a Nvidia 3070Ti on Windows 11. 

Bugs: Sometimes explosions cause the game to crash. Users research suggest limiting saves or disabling hardware acceleration might fix them, but they were infrequent enough to implement workarounds.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Dorces II is available from GOG for €5.99 and Steam for €4.99. Review copy from GOG for €1.39 in May 2017.

Series Timeline:

Star Wars: Dark Forces [1995]
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II [1997]
-Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith [1998]
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast [2002]
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy [2003]

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Retro Review: Star Trek - 25th Anniversary [1992]

Star Trek's 25th anniversary was 1991 and the franchise was entering the height of it's popularity. Celebrations for the year included high profile conventions and documentaries, Star Trek's original crew had their final (and some say best) movie together with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Leonard Nimoy appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Mr. Spock and fans were getting some early information about a new series that would become Deep Space Nine. The celebrations were bittersweet however come October when fans learned of the death of Gene Roddenberry, the man creatively responsible for all of Star Trek up to that point. Despite his loss however the franchise continued (albeit with a few hiccups) and five different Star Trek shows are in production today.

Needless to say concurrent to its TV and cinema screen success, was the success of Star Trek video games. By 1991 video games for the franchise had been produced for machines like the Apple II and the Commodore 64, and for DOS for 20 years by companies including Apogee and Simon & Schuster. But it was the following year in 1992 that the first truly great Star Trek game was produced. US developer/publisher Interplay who had found success with The Bard's Tale (and would later create the first Fallout game and publish Bioware's Baldur's Gate) released Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. Sure it was a year late but was nonetheless critically acclaimed and a phenomenal success (prompting a sequel to be released the following year).

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is a point & click adventure game where you, as Captain Kirk, issue orders on the bridge in spaceflight/combat mode and lead an away team with Spock, Bones and a disposable redshirt as you investigate happenings, solve elaborate puzzles and practice "diplomacy" in a myriad of dialogue options. The game is played exceedingly simply, you observe, speak to and scan every interactable person or node on the screen and through the results (and banter between the crew) you solve the mission and Starfleet gives you a new one. The game is divided into 7 missions which feel like different episodes and each take over an hour each if you take your time.

The game was 30 years old in 2022 when I played at Christmas and yeah it looks it but this isn't a game that relies on graphics as much as it does sound. First and most importantly the game is fully voiced (including all dialogue options) by the original series main cast, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig all lend their voices to their characters and is arguably one of the main selling points to the game today. Sound effects are directly taken from the series as are the music and themes which are those used in the series to indicate, danger, levity and the near inevitable death of a crewman. The music is a necessity despite the score being in the low quality of midi music of the era.

While the gameplay and the controls are simplistic the same cannot be said for many of the puzzles and the space combat. Solutions to most puzzles can be worked out by a combination of talking, observing, scanning and using different characters in combination with different objects. Often however, it was a matter of using the right character in conjunction with the right object that may not have been intuitive such as using the character on an object more than once to progress the result or getting to grips with the notion that using, for example, Spock on a device was not the same as Spock using the Tricorder on the device, but in other cases it was identical!

With the exception of a couple of skirmishes, space combat was only forced upon you at the very end - "the boss battle" or if you strayed off course during any other point in the game. It is the weaker part of the game and you basically move the mouse around the main viewscreen to steer the ship in the off-chance you can get a bead on your enemy to fire phasers and photon torpedoes. I was probably ruined by years of playing X-Wing that I was never able to drop back to the arcade-level of this gameplay. It can get a bit involved as you must also manually assign Scotty his repair jobs as you are damaged and soon the file that plays Scotty saying "She cannae take anymore Cap'n!" wears a little thin. I also declare that I've never actually beaten the game myself including my most recent 30th Anniversary play-through as it's Dark Souls in it's level of difficulty and considered a major accomplishment if you can actually do it.

Final Verdict: Despite it's advanced age, sometimes impossible combat and frustrating puzzles, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary still feels like a 4th season of the TV series. The visuals, music, sound effects and especially the voices of all the original main cast cement the immersion of you feeling like you're watching the show, a feat which not many other games have been able to manage - in any franchise.

Technicals: 8 hours approx playtime using a Nvidia 3070Ti on Windows 11. Game runs in DOSBox and will go full-screen unwindowed with black bars to force 4:3. Windows HDR does not engage.

Bugs: None. However some tweaks were made to the config file based on 'internet recommendations' to prevent the possibility of incompatibility bugs with high end hardware.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is available from both GOG and Steam for €9.99. Review copy from GOG for €5.69 in May 2015.

Interplay Star Trek games for PC:

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary [1992]
Star Trek: Judgment Rites [1993]
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy [1997]

-Star Trek: Starfleet Academy - Chekov's Lost Missions [1998]
Star Trek Pinball [1998]
Star Trek: Starfleet Command [1999]
Star Trek: Klingon Academy [2000]
Star Trek: New Worlds [2000]
Star Trek: Starfleet Command II - Empires at War [2000]

- Star Trek: Starfleet Command - Orion Pirates [2001]