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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Humble Origin Bundle 2 - A Nostalgic Update Brings More Games

It's one week since the Humble Origin Bundle 2 first launched, so naturally it's time for the final games to unlock. Those of you (like me) who bought the bundle and beat the average already will find the games automatically unlocked for you. And if you haven't already jumped at the bundle (seriously, what's wrong with you!?), the price is still under $5 for the entire collection ($4.93 at the time of writing). So let me quickly cover the new additions, and then I have some feedback on the already unlocked games.
Colonel Blair, this HD thing didn't do us any favors, did it?

New Games for Beat the Average

If you were hoping for recent games, prepare to be underwhelmed. The initial bundle provided some great offerings; the update adds some new games, but they're all from EA's back catalog. Note that you will need to go to HumbleBundle and your account to get another Origin key to unlock the four games. From oldest to newest, the four additions are:

The horror, the horror....
Ultima VII: Complete Edition: Released in 1992, my senior year in high school, The Black Gate was a good game at the time. It also required you to create (usually) a custom boot option for DOS in order to be able to run it, as Origin created their own memory management system in order to handle all the assets. There was an expansion (The Forge of Virtue) and then a sequel, Ultima VII Part 2: The Serpent Isle (with the Silver Seed expansion) in 1993. You get all of these in this package, though I suspect for many these will be mostly for nostalgia's sake.

The total size of the download is a paltry 42MB; I remember installing both games from floppies back in the day, and the 10 seconds it took to download today is a testament to the advance in technology. The games all run via DOSBox, which overcomes the fickle problems of getting the game to run back in the day. Anyway, if you want to experience what gaming was like back in the early 90s, have fun confronting the Guardian... I hope you have a lot of patience with older interfaces!

Exercise in bad UI from 1994.
Sim City 2000 Special Edition: Moving on, the next game was first released in 1993, and the download size is doubled to 88MB. I was never a big fan of the Sim City games for whatever reason (tedium?), and this second installment is so old as to be almost impossible to stomach for me. You can build what now amounts to an ugly looking city, in glorious 640x480 256-color mode. As with Ultima VII, this game runs via DOSBox.

Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger: Fun fact: Wing Commander is the game that prompted me to buy my very own PC way back in 1990. It was a 286 12MHz with 2MB RAM. And it was only after first trying to play Wing Commander that I discovered my PC was already obsolete. Ha! Thankfully, my dad helped me sell it off and I got a 386 16MHz instead, with 4MB RAM -- and more importantly, Expanded Memory (EMS) support. Funny thing is that the game art still never looked like the "actual in-game screenshots" on the box. But I digress; we're supposed to be talking about Wing Commander III.

Released in 1994, WC3 was one of the first games to use live action cutscenes -- including Mark Hamill (Luke from Star Wars original trilogy) as the main character. It was hailed as another great game in the Wing Commander franchise, though the acting was at best campy. This time the download is a rather large 1.6GB -- thanks to the full motion video -- and the game uses actual 3D polygons with textures instead of sprites. It was good when it was new, but again... 20 years is a long time. At least it's not the ill-fated Wing Commander movie.

Check out these polygons! They're better than the acting at least.
Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom: Wrapping up the four additional titles is The Price of Freedom, which takes many of the characters of WC3 and carries them forward in the story. Though released in 1996, WC4 did not yet take advantage of the 3D graphics accelerator future, instead continuing to rely on the CPU for rendering. It also continues the "interactive storytelling" approach of earlier Wing Commander games, where you can continue to play even after "losing" a mission -- a sort of "choose your own adventure" form of gaming. Again, it was a good game back in the day, but if you haven't already owned and played the Wing Commander games it's unlikely to draw you in with its dated visuals and C-movie acting. This is the DVD version of the game, incidentally, checking in at over 6GB.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

I mentioned last week that I have a soft spot for Plants vs. Zombies games, and since I hadn't previously purchased Garden Warfare I was excited to give it a shot. It turns out that I wasn't missing out on much. Oh, the game is okay, but it doesn't play at all like other PvZ titles. Instead, it's basically a reimagined multiplayer team shooter, with the two teams naturally consisting of Plants and Zombies.

The good news is that the game seems to run quite well on most modern GPUs -- my R9 290X was locked in at 75GPS on the LG 34UM67 FreeSync display, for example. The bad news is that the graphics are not what I would call cutting edge. Imagine Team Fortress 2 done in a PvZ style and you're awfully close to Garden Warfare.

My biggest complaint is that there is absolutely no single player mode or offline play. No Internet connection means no Garden Warfare. I was hoping for at least some sort of story mode to play through once, but playing alone is more like Left 4 Dead only with each "campaign" consisting of a single map with 10 waves of zombies -- at least, that's how the Garden Ops mode plays.

Other modes consist of standard Team Deathmatch (up to 24 players), Gardens and Graveyards (objective based), Gnome Bomb (get the bomb to the enemy bases to blow them up), Suburdination (control point), Vanquish Confirmed (collect orbs for killing enemies and return them to a rally point), and Taco Bandits (um... protect the tacos?).

As with many multiplayer shooters, there are classes and equipment to unlock. Basically, if you've played any of the recent Battlefield or Call of Duty games, you know what to expect. There are some PvZ additions (like using potted plants for defense, though the seeds are accrued either by paying money or playing the game to earn coins). It can be a bit frustrating for new players at this stage, as there are skilled people with the most powerful unlocks around.

Overall, it's not a bad game. It's just...not what I was expecting. I'm not much of a multiplayer gamer these days, and the other PvZ games happily provided a good single player experience. Thankfully, I didn't have to spend $30 on Garden Warfare, so I don't feel bad about the "purchase". I have other things to keep me occupied.

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