If I can, might as well…

It’d be a waste otherwise, right? So, taking my leave from my established loop of playing Runescape/writing stuff/reading Moby Dick, I hooked up my controller to my laptop and fired up Onlive. I think the last time I was playing games via Onlive was sometime in the summer so the Marketplace had a few games that I had only heard of but never actually played for the past six months. More to the point, there were more free trials to check out so check them out I did.

Yes, I’m going to be judging video games based on whether or not they can grab me in the first thirty minutes or not. To my credit, it’s not often I attempt to review things; it’s a nice break from the usual “what’s been going on in my life” posts that seem to dominate this blog. For those interested, nothing has been going on, literally, as I’m still on break. And now, without further ado, here are five games from the Marketplace that had a Free Trial feature for me to try out in no particular order:

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Retribution
Honestly, the only things I knew about Warhammer 40K when I picked it were that there’s a tabletop version of it and that space marines are somehow involved. And that’s pretty much the gist of it, or at least of the prologue mission you can play as a sort of tutorial to how the controls work. Lots of clicking, a few hotkeys, and no use for the controller that I had hooked up to my USB port much to my dismay. I’m going to be perfectly honest and say that the only reason that I had signed up for Onlive was to turn my laptop into a console with a screen; it’s just how I prefer to control things.

Buttons aside, the game seems pretty lore-heavy, something that I expected from a game that’s akin to Baldur’s Gate. No, seriously, this game could’ve been Baldur’s Gate in a different setting with different names for the same thing. Instead of “characters”, you have “units”. Instead of fighting evil, you fight the Chaos Legions or the Orkz. It’s a real-time strategy game and, as my brother-in-law will tell you, I am not a fan. At all. RTS games make me feel a bit too removed from what’s going on ’cause it’s not my ass down on the map getting shot at. It seems perfect for those with a bit of a God Complex, though, so more power to you if you enjoy these kinds of games.

After the fairly linear Prologue and introductory cutscene, I got to choose which faction to play as. Of course, I picked the Eldar, which seem to be some kind of blue-green bird race that will be the “elves” of the universe. Everyone else seemed a bit more cutthroat and absolutely encased in steel armor out the wazoo, giant bodies with all too tiny heads. Is it really any surprise that I chose the slimmer and trimmer faction which also had a female lead character? I was five seconds into the first map when I facepalmed myself; I could have totally passed on the Prologue mission because, surprise, the first map pretty much takes you by the hand and tells you where to go. I’m grateful for the assist, but come on! I could’ve spent those fifteen minutes traversing the icky-looking (though that may have just been my shitty graphics card) marshland I got stuck in.

So, my thirty minutes were parsed out to about 50% Prologue mission, 5% obligatory, unskippable, and incredibly long cutscene that sets the entire universe up, and 45% getting halfway through the map as the blue-green bird people. As I was playing it, I was thinking to myself “I already have Baldur’s Gate and this is pretty much it.” Would I buy it? No. Would I play it again? Maybe with a longer trial period; I have a feeling that this is one of those games that needs to build up a bit of momentum before it can actually entertain. Odds are that it is a good game, but it’s not in my niche. I’m already a bit wary when taking on an RTS but the bulky space marine thing is not for me.

The Darkness II
Guns, demon-like things, and an emo character who has lost the light in his life because he’s a gangster. I don’t mind the mechanic of this first-person shooter so much as its plot because, honestly, what else was I supposed to expect from the flagrant gun-waving the game was showing me in its introduction? I did like how they introduced the game to me, though, via some guy shakily recounting the events of the prequel to me in hushed tones and jerky movements. It was a nice change of pace from the usual majestic and slightly boring way of doing things with the monologue and the panoramic scenes.

The first “level” is, as usual, a how-to-do-stuff routine. You learn the camera control by checking out the chick working the counter, you learn how to fight by getting tossed into the fray, and then the Darkness comes and you have to use it in order to proceed. That being said, the levels begin to turn generic. Run to this spot, killing people on the way, use cover to get around (or not, if there are plenty of car doors), et cetera. Again, plenty of guns, though I found myself sticking mainly to using my demon arms when I got to the subway. While you can dual-wield pistols, which is pretty badass, I was using my bullets to shoot out the lights.

All things being considered, The Darkness II seems to be your average, run-of-the-mill FPS with a bit of a gothic twist. I’ll admit that the story does a lot more for me than the gameplay and those demon powers are pretty freakin’ sweet, but is it enough for me to consider buying the whole game? Not really. If this ever gets made into a (good) movie, I’ll probably watch it, if only to find out what happens to poor Jackie.

Darksiders II
I’m a sucker for role-playing games, especially ones where you get to play as Death and go on a quest to save your brother, War, from a council that is pissed off because humankind was somehow exterminated in the events of Darksiders. I didn’t play Darksiders and, quite frankly, I don’t care what happened. I liked this game because there wasn’t any futzing around with the intro, you just dived into the action, scythes (and hammers, oddly enough) a-whirl.

The first level was fairly linear, with slight puzzle-ish elements tossed in to make travel at least a bit more engaging. I like the aesthetic and I like the combat, though about half of the things that I dodged still managed to freakin’ hit me. Not that it hurt, as I decided to play on the easiest setting (same for all of the other games I’m writing about in this post), but it was still annoying. Here I am, trying to get a combo on War with my attacks and this mofo’s all like “Nope.” and manages to hit me with an AoE sword slash that just juggles me up into the air. I was this close to kicking his butt but then my trial ended and I was left with no satisfying resolution.

Long story short: this is the kind of game that I enjoy. It goes without saying that I would probably buy this and play it, only to get stuck at a much harder level somewhere down the line, stepping away from it for about half a year, and then coming back to it, ready to kick some ass. It’s just fun. That’s all you need to know.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Now, I know that I’ve said that I’m not one for RTS games, but when I saw that Civ V had a free trial, I just had to go for it. Thirty minutes is nowhere near long enough to even begin to explore the game, though, so I had to speed through the (*sigh*) long and obligatory cutscene that establishes what the game is actually about and the starting screen. It looked as though there were a bunch of different settings you could’ve fiddled around with but, as I’m not entirely familiar with any of the previous Civilization games, I left well enough alone and just accepted whatever the computer dished out.

I got to play as Queen Elizabeth, which was pretty neat, although maybe I should’ve at least had a gander at who else I could have played as. I got to meet Prince Darius (who was kind of a prick, truth be told) and Montezuma (nice fellow, though his spearmen were a little too close for comfort), fight off a few barbarians, adopt a policy of liberty, and establish both London and York before my time ran out. Not bad, when you consider that these sorts of games can go on for ages. Still, I fail to see the hype my brother-in-law was drumming up when he was anxiously awaiting the release date. It’s alright, fairly user-friendly, and the graphics are nice and bright. Do I care for the tedium of building cities? Not really; I had my military units constantly on the prowl for more barbarians to kill. Would I play this game in full? Probably not; thirty minutes was already too long, if only because there was nothing else going on. It’s alright, though, all things considered, so it’s not like I hated it.

So, there you go! I saw quite a few other games with free trials to tempt me. And then there was Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Suffice it to say that I won’t be getting near that one with a ten meter pole, thank you very much.

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