After the race itself, my favourite part of any Formula One race is getting smashed while Kimi gives his press interviews.
Here’s how to play along with me:
So, when Kimi:
Plays with the microphone: have a shot
Picks his nose: a double shot;
Picks his nose, inspects the picking, then somehow disposes of it (or returns it): go the triple shot!
Looks like he’s going to pick his nose but ends up rubbing his cheek or pulling his ear: look like you’re going to have a shot, but have another drink instead.
My theory is that the better his result, the drunker you’ll get after a race.
(I always thought it was spelt Raikonnen, but seems I was just drunk at the time)
Yep, it’s been three months since the last ArmA update, and we’re hoping this one fixes the crashing under Windows Vista.
I wasn’t game to try the early betas, as one of the side effects was mentioned as being a Sprocket reactivation. I’m wary enough of Sprocket without wanting to lose an activation for a weirdo beta patch, so 1.08’s the update I’m going for.
It should bring rough parity to all worldwide versions of ArmA, except where special content was created for a particular publisher. They should all be bug-compatible though!
Details and download links here:
For me, the Stalker experience has been one of two different games – the first a taut, fearful experience, when saving might actually cause the loss of progress, thus providing a powerful incentive to stay alive at all costs, but at the same time, knowing that you were playing on borrowed time – the longer you lived, the less likely you’d be able to save later.
Let’s call that the “initial minigame”.
Once you’ve patched up to get that wonderful more-than-20-minute feeling, and you adapt to the Stalker model – and it does seem to take a good two to three hours of uninterrupted play to adapt to it – it becomes a different experience. The Zone, as they call Chernobyl’s surrounds, becomes a fascinating and absorbing area, and the game morphs from maddening too-hard shooter into a deliberately-paced role-playing shooter. An RPS, I guess.
Management of the items you’re carrying to keep your fatigue levels low might not sound like fun, but, well, it is. Deus Ex forced you to make tough choices about what you were carrying by volume of stuff; in Stalker, the size of the items probably won’t slow you down too much, but grab one item too many over your 50KG carrying capacity and you quickly become fatigued and unable to run for more than a few steps. Hit 60KG, and you’re unable to move. Time to make some tough choices – the radiation meds, or the artifacts?
Artifacts provide the “buffs” most know and love from regular RPGs or MMOs, and collecting and hoarding artifacts is just flat-out fun. Monsters and bandits do respawn (booo), but I’m not sure about Artifacts – hopefully so.
Most artifacts are useful in some way, but have a tradeoff – as an example, the Soul artifact (they’re all just rock-like things, it’s not someone’s soul. I think) gives you something like +600% healing per second, but reduces your armour’s bulletproofness and rupture-proofness by 10% each. Many of the artifacts swap radiation for effect, meaning that unless you find an anti-radiation artifact your experimentation will be short lived. Like you. Thankfully, radiation-eating Fireballs start popping up after a little exploration – at first, I was indignant and annoyed that I’d have to enable an artifact, then use a precious antiradiation drug and health kit before keeling over.
So, in short, I’m really liking this game. The indoor and underground areas are frequently claustrophobic and genuinely scary (so much so that I physically sigh with relief when I get back out into daylight (or even the bastard twilight that passes for night around these parts) and the countryside has a distinct character and flavour, even though it’s a radioactive wasteland.
SPOILER ALERT, SKIP THIS BIT TO REMAIN VIRGINAL
The most shocking moment so far happened a few minutes ago, through a flashback I wasn’t expecting (they seem pretty sparse so far): I learned that in my past, it seems, I was… a bunny killer. That terrible secret led to me being caught by the bunnies, and my memory being wiped. But now, at the bottom of a dungeon-like laboratory, I know the awful slaughtering truth.
END OF SPOILERS
Perfect? Nup – NPCs aren’t really a believable bunch, but they serve their purpose within the game mechanic. The text seems too large in many areas, and the “PDA” interface is frequently an exercise in frustration and weird design.
The zone is broken into “level”s in the “small maps” sense, and this is possibly the big one – my impression of Stalker from the press to this point was that it was going to be GTA-style free roaming, only with radiation – one big world, seamless, no boundaries, and so on. Just my expectation, no big deal.
Also, I have no idea how it’s meant to look, because I’ve been playing with the shader mod made by one of the Ars.Technica users. I’m considering turning it off and going back to regular shaders, but it always seems to be a case of “next time”… It looks pretty damn sweet anyway.
My verdict: Stalker-that-doesn’t-crash is one of the most compelling experiences I’ve had this year so far.
Four and a half slaughtered radioactive bunnies out of five.
Since earlier this evening, I was able to play STALKER for an hour without it crashing when I tried to save !!!!!?!!!!!
I have no idea why this works, and I shudder to think what’s likely happening under the covers when this works – it’s the oddest workaround ever:
I marked the Stalker executable as Large Address Aware.
Put precisely, I opened an SDK command prompt, then ran EDITBIN /LARGEADDRESSAWARE XR_3DA.exe in the Stalkerbin directory.
After doing that, I played for about an hour – the longest period ever – without it crashing.
I should add I’m using a 64-bit copy of Vista, and on 32-bit, you also need to bcdedit the UserVA to 2290, they reckon (the GSC forum doesn’t seem to be well-indexed, so I can’t find the link easily enough to post. But if you go trawl “single player bugs” in the official Stalker forums, you’ll find the threads. Eventually.)
Others in the same forums recommend the -noprefetch command line switch; I haven’t tried this yet, but hell, why not?
It looks like LAA might be the next big thing in 64-bit Vista compatibility. It’s already claimed as a panacea for Supreme Commander and others; might give it a try with Armed Assault, to see what shakes out.
Wonder why that works…
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (from here on in, just Stalker, okay?) is a game I’d love to hate more.
What crack am I smoking this week? Well, it’s like this:
Imagine, if you will, that Word crashed every fourth time you saved a document. That would be annoying. Saving is a key part of creating a document – you save at important milestones, or just to protect your work in case of a crash or failure.
Stalker is a very hard game, even on the easier difficulty settings. You really need to save a lot – many deaths will be caused by ineptitude, or assuming your gun is going to shoot straight, or just plain experimentation. You often try to save to consolidate your forward progress, or before trying something risky, or because if left alone long enough, it crashes to the desktop.
Now imagine that Stalker crashes about every fourth time you save. Imagine how frustrating and maddening that might be. Only you’re not imagining it, because it actually crashes to the desktop all the goddamn time.
Generally, I can save my progress once or twice without the game crashing, but any more than that and I feel truly privileged when the game saves and I’m not left staring at the desktop.
For some odd reason (possibly the glowing “look past the bugs” reviews elsewhere), I persevered through the very first zone of Stalker, but having saved games work a lot like a roulette mini-game isn’t exactly fun.
My prideful “F6” can so often end in screaming at the monitor (because a) the game didn’t save and b) I can see the Windows Start menu starting to draw itself) that I wonder whether I’ll ever want to fire the game up again.
But somehow, I do.
I’ve now spent 24 hours with Stalker, and I can see the beauty underneath the crippled shell.
None of the elements seem particularly fantastic, but as a whole, when it’s not crashing, you catch a glint of brilliance that inspires you to explore just a little more, or try to finish just one more mission, try to recover one final artifact.
Even without the constant crashing, it’s nowhere near perfect: people move in funny ways, especially in combat; it’s hard to shoot straight; the difficulty is immense. But the immense difficulty reinforces the sense of accomplishment in getting even the simplest of encounters right. I smacked the keyboard in startled fear when I got zapped while mis-timing a particular anomaly.
Atmosphere is important, and Stalker pretty much nails it.
I just wish I could keep it running for more than forty minutes at a time.
Initial impression: 4 out of 5 (minus one for a dodgy patch that didn’t actually seem to help a lot and that required all saved games be manually deleted (otherwise it would…. crash when saving!) and seemed to reduce the smoothness of my character turning, and minus one for crashing all the time).
Will I still be playing it tomorrow? You bet. Will I still have hair left to pull out? Possibly not…