Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Dawn of a new war

One of my favourite game series of the last five years is about to be given a sequel, and so with the multiplayer beta released, I jumped on it as if it were a trampoline full of sweets and happiness as soon as I could. It really was not as I expected it to be.

I knew that the formula has been completely re-written, but instead of a puppy that has the traits of its parent, it seems to be a kitten with a big wheel where its legs should be.

Since base building and resource collection have pretty much been removed from this latest offering, you are thrown right into the thick of conflict faster than water off of a Teflon coated duck.

This completely removes the tense build up of fortifying a base and amassing an unstoppable army before your opponent can.

I am trying to decide if this is better, worse or just simply a welcome breath of fresh air. I’m one of those annoying people in RTS games that likes to turtle in as much as possible, even to the point that turtles themselves feel ashamed when compared to my armoured, turret guarded fortress of impenetrable doom.

The action is quite nice however now that I no longer need to worry about my base, which in DOW2 multiplayer is a single structure that does everything that multiple buildings normally do in other games. This means that it produces all of your units and has a very simple, three tier tech tree.

Building up a few squads and sending them into battle with your chosen hero feels very different this time round as it is vital that you utilise cover in the terrain.

Just yesterday, I was able to hold off an entire army with just one small team of three hidden behind a wagon, because the orkish horde charging me had to face an unstoppable barrage of heavy bolter fire.

Whilst this is quite fun, the shoe is very easily placed on the opponents foot, as they can then do the same, making advancement a very risk job and a trial of testicular fortitude.

The tactical elements that this introduces is staggering, as flanking is now of a much deadlier use when compared to most other RTSs (I haven’t played Company of Heroes, but I gather that flanking in this is also vital).

With so much to think of in terms of unit positioning, I am now quite glad that I do not have to constantly flick back to a base just to make sure it has not been reduced to smoking rubble and dead bits.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Are open worlds too open?

This week, I have mostly been rolling through long dry grass in an armed jeep, ramming into zebra and setting Africa on fire. Enough about my personal life though, let’s talk about Far Cry 2 *slaps knee*.

I was a little bit late to this party because being the bargain hunter that I am, I waited until I could snatch this highly anticipated game up for £15, and I must say, I am glad that I waited.

The game takes place in Africa as you chase an arms dealer known only as, ‘the Jackal’, who seems to be as elusive as a needle in a haystack storage facility that covers an area greater than London. The game manual tells me this is 50 square kilometres, but I am not entirely convinced.

Of course, stressing that this game is a big open world, ready to be explored and burned (they really do love their fire physics), automatically seems to be industry standard if you are after good reviews.

This is where my major peeve with Far Cry 2 lies. I hope you enjoy driving cars that all feel like they came off of the same production line, on the same day, with the same engines, because there is an insane amount of tedious driving in what could be the same car, copy and pasted.

To get anywhere in the game, it always seems to require a minimum of five minutes car time. This is made a bit more problematic by the player’s location, in the middle of a country where he is not wanted, with all of the unhappy people clutching automatic weaponry. They like to camp at key points along every road, and respawn as soon as you leave their line of site.

It is not that such posts are particularly challenging to get around or annihilate, but constantly doing it when travelling from A to B to C and then back to A via D, makes things tedious and frustrating.

Suddenly an open world becomes really boring as you seem to be driving past the same things over and over again, and each time these things shoot you a lot. The fun continues beyond being shot at, as you will need to repair your car, another lengthy process when done eight times in one fight.

The advantage of a linear game full of corridors and different levels which forces you to move forward rather than in circles is that it rarely gets tedious if done well. Half life 2 is a perfect example of changing scenery and atmosphere on the player. One minute you’re being pursued through streets, and then you find sanctuary with friends in a lab before getting in a boat and continuing through canals.

With Far Cry 2’s single big environment however, long grass, trees and the occasional bit of desert do not vary a great deal and start to get very old very fast.

I encountered in Far Cry 2 the same major hurdle I encountered in GTA4. Every mission is drive here, kill something, drive back and don’t lose your limbs in the process.

Add to this that it all centres around a similar hut in a similar bit of hot country, and the whole thing feels uninspired. That’s the trouble with big open worlds, whether they are filled with grassy or concrete jungles, they are still just one world. Yes, it might take you two hours to get from one side of the other, but I can not imagine any scenario where that would be considered fun.

Also, a game where the protagonist contracts malaria and needs to treat it with medicine at random intervals is not the best gameplay mechanic I have ever seen.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Downloadable content and fighting pirates

When deciding to acquire a new stereo, you may try and think about the best way to go about getting one. On one hand, you could break into that family’s front room, rip it out of the wall, and run down the street laughing at your ill gotten gain. On the other hand, you could go to the shop, pay for the stereo, get the box thrown in for free along with some form of guarantee and a smiling shop keeper (as long as you didn’t go to Maplin).

A similar business model, in my mind, could be applied to games in an effort to fight piracy. Not giving away free guarantees and beaming, forced smiles though, but rather to add more incentive to buying games rather than pirating them.

This can come in the way of after market downloadable content that developers can offer for free. This is already working so well for games like Team Fortress 2, Army of Two and soon, Left 4 Dead that I am hoping that it may catch on in a big way.

If developers just make the system so that it will authenticate your copy of a game before the download can begin, this will simply deny the pirates the free upgrade, whilst the paying customer can get rewarded for supporting the company.

This is opposed to the fun crippling DRM devices that companies such as EA are slapping on games that give paying customers a hard install limit, basically giving you a set period of enjoyment before it stops working in a hissy fit of hard drive chugging agony.

Of course, as is life, the pirates will still manage to circum navigate this minor obstacle, sail through without a care in the world, casually exposing themselves to every publisher they come across. This is however definitely a move in the right direction that attempts to reward a paying customer, rather than set bear traps everywhere and put everyone at risk.

Such a system is not necessarily perfect however, as some companies might start releasing games that seem half finished (or more of them anyway), only releasing the next part as DLC a bit later down the line. This means that to obtain the full game after initially buying it, you may need to wait for quite a while.

At any rate, it is not a perfect solution, but it is definitely a start, as quite frankly I am enjoying Red Alert 3 too much to think that if I upgrade my rig too much more, it will stop working for me.

Seriously. It has parachuting bears and time travel!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Happy Late New Year

Hello to all of you internet dwellers who occasionally stumble past here. Happy New Year!

Sorry for the slight lack of posting over the last couple of weeks, but the drink has been flowing, games have been played and a merry time was had by all.

This is just a quick note more than anything to put your mind at ease as you can now be safe in the knowledge that I am not dead. Things have just been a bit manic and I have gotten lost in the worlds of Fallout 3 and Red Alert 3.

Both are sequels that have done good for a series, unlike sequels that on a lot of occasions have taken the original idea, and glued neon lights and a grilling machine on in an attempt to make it better.

Fallout 3 offers all the fun of putting live hand grenades in people’s pockets, catapulting miniature nuclear warheads and horrifically graphic dismemberment of body parts, whilst Red Alert 3 has parachuting bears. Needless to say, I have been suitably entertained this Christmas.

Call of Duty: World at War was also tucked into my anti-static stocking, and that has a flame thrower in it which has actually made me feel bad for killing a group of pixels. Normally when someone dies in a game, they collapse like a bin bag full of potatoes in hilarious rag doll poses. Set them on fire in World at War though, and they will spend the remaining seconds of their life running and writhing in agony, not fully appreciating their brand new heat source. It made me ponder about how tasteful it was, but by the time I came to, another 5 or 6 enemy AI were burning on my monitor.

One thing that links all of these games though, that really took me by surprise, was the presence of celebrities. Being a 24 fan, I was ecstatic when Jack Bauer appeared and led me around Japan on my man burning adventure.

Likewise, in Fallout 3 I was surprised when Liam Neeson pulled me out of the womb and raised me in an underground bunker, whilst nutter Malcolm McDowell was yelling things over the radio.

The real star studdery shone through in Red Alert 3 with so many semi-famous faces and people I had heard of donning short skirts and military uniforms to take part in the cheesy cut scenes. Jenny McCarthy, Gemma Atkinson, Tim Curry, David Hasselhoff and Mr Sulu were all present amongst others, acting out as war generals, commandos and world leaders.

With celebrities lending their talents to games like these, how long before we will be seeing more famous names in every big blockbuster games coming out? I know we have had Samuel Jackson and others appearing in games gone by, but not quite this frequently. Will gaming eventually go the way of Hollywood movies and have all star casts?