Monday, 22 November 2010

Why I want to ram that scope up your arse

Don’t you just hate snipers? They’re hard to spot in the grass, they shoot you just as you believe you’re safe and they deny you your desired memorabilia and cheap electronics on eBay at the very last second. Losing out on that bargain Logitech G15 keyboard aside, my main gripe about snipers recently is the domination of the class in multiplayer games.

Randomly dying during your daily routine is quite a hard concept to grasp, as I’m fairly confident the majority of people haven’t had it happen to them - at least not more than once. Processing this when it happens to you in a game can be an uncomfortable experience, and after multiple instances, all of the confusion and frustration can funnel itself into a vein of anger which spills out your mouth and down your chest as a gently warmed bile. And then it will happen again.

Getting killed repeatedly in the same mysterious manner is never a fun thing, but as virtual battlefields get larger and more densely populated with thick tree lines and pixel perfect grass that sways naturally, there is an increasing number of places where random death can travel from.

Snipers can really make or break the game experience for either team. Whilst they are useful for scouting out areas and providing intel to team mates, the majority of people who choose to be snipers are socially awkward silent types who are in it for the statistical benefits of being a harbinger of death.

Bad Company 2 is a prime example of why I hate the sniper class. Snipers in this game can mark enemies with their scopes and thin out the pack when it comes to picking off the occasional distant foe. Alarm bells start ringing however when over a third of the team has chosen to go sniper, and sits nice and immobile 500 metres from combat on a hill. This phenomenon is especially bad when they are supposed to be the attacking team with an objective to accomplish. The entire thing turns into a bit of a snipe off which goes against the fast pace nature and rolling frontline that the game strives for.

Another issue is that when the other team has a better sniper who whittles down those who sit in the same spot with every life and then seem perplexed when they die. When your team only has a limited number of lives, it is the complete opposite of helpful to join the legions of hill folk that think they are doing well because they are top of the scoreboard.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, games that have introduced kill streak rewards are just compounding the problem. Rewarding someone for getting several kills in a row without dying is just going to encourage snipers to sit in their fox holes with piss flasks and tea pots at the ready.

I suppose that the real rage for snipers comes from those who have all the patience of a lit stick of dynamite, who don’t enjoy spending the game with their heads down, so instead spend it at the respawn screen. I’d just like to see an online FPS that doesn’t feature sniper rifles at all. Just full on, tense shootouts that take place in improbably small rooms filled to the brim with combustible furniture. Only then I’d be writing a blog about grenades and how there should be an online game where everyone only has a knife and a box of matches.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Assassin's Creed and messy public murders

Never having touched Assassin’s Creed II, despite enjoying the first game, I decided it was high time to give the hidden blade swinging, rafter stalking, horrific stab simulator a go. A few hours in and I’m enjoying myself, but can’t help but feel that Ezio is a terrible assassin and a very inefficient person.

My primary expectations of those who behave like assassins are people like Sam Fisher or Agent 47, both capable of knocking off their marks and slipping away without a witness raising the alarm, or on a really good day, nobody else knowing the target is dead. These feats are what I expected of Ezio and indeed Altair before him.

What I’m really struggling with is the assassination process in the Assassin’s Creed series. If you’re very good, you can get close to your target and plunge cold steel into the inviting warmth of their still beating heart without anyone being the wiser. In my experiences so far though, it is impossible to get away without drawing some kind of attention, even if everyone in the nearby vicinity had their back turned at the moment of execution.

Now, whether this is down to the victims futile gargling as they blink out of existence, or the fact that our assassin feels the need for a quick chat in some sort of digital dimension afterwards, there always seems to be a heavily armed escort who turn up to stab your getaway in the balls. At this point you can turn and run, but it is usually just as easy to turn on the party crashers and chew them up with your sword, especially if you can master counter-attacking.

After this it is not uncommon to find out that your smooth assassination job has created a trail of 20 corpses that you leave in your wake as you stroll away from the scene as calmly as anything. As Ezio seems to fair very well in sword fights, he feels nowhere near as sleek, fragile or invisible as some assassin’s from other games do. I find this disappointing as it takes what I thought would be a series about stealth and cloaks and makes it seem much closer to an all out action game.

I’m also struggling to work out the point of the hidden blades, as cool as they are. I completely understand the importance of concealed weapons to a man who makes his living by increasingly messy, yet subtle murders, but surely having a sword on your hip all the time is likely to raise just as much concern. I’m not entirely sure how common it was for the ‘average man in the crowd’ to hang a sword from his belt, but it isn't the most conspicuous thing in the world. Having two tiny blades hidden, but a large one swaying very visibly with your every movement seems a bit contradictory.

Fortunately for Ezio, everyone back then had a memory that could hold onto recent events as effectively as a buttered hand can grasp a wet bar of soap. You can bribe people to lower your notoriety, but I still feel this should only work within reason. I am not convinced that we could bring Assassin’s Creed to a modern timeline, as the invention of bloggery, Twitter and camera phones do not accommodate for the very public and bloody brawls that the central characters enjoy partaking in.

Brotherhood is out next week on November 19, and it’ll probably continue the trend of sword fights that end with blades embedded quite deep in people’s necks, backs and shoulders. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing at all, it’s looking good. Just not the most silent assassin-ny game in the world.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Back to being Bond

November looks to be a great month for games, not least because of Call of Duty this and Assassin’s Creed that, but we also get to see a return to games for one of the world's best loved, mass murdering, traffic law abusing, womanising, degenerate gamblers. Yes, James Bond is back in two titles for us to shoot through.

Ever since its official announcement back at E3, the Goldeneye remake has had me squirming with scepticism that I really hope I am wrong about. Being the first Bond film I saw as well as the first Bond game I played, it just seems wrong that they have ditched Mr Brosnan for the super serious, street brawler in a tuxedo Bond that Daniel Craig has brought to the series.

They’ve also gone and updated the storyline to make it more relevant for today, giving them far too much poetic license to juggle stuff around. The thing that is eating away at my skull like a flesh eating virus on horse steroids is the tank chase sequence, showcased in one of the many pre-release trailers.

The genius behind this sequence in the film was that it turned the car chase concept on its head, for once giving Bond the ridiculously overt upper-hand that was usually reserved for maniacal super villains. It was the simple beauty of a tank chasing down a single car whilst ripping through Russia and its landmarks.

Goldeneye 007 on the N64 did its best to recreate this, even though vehicle sections in first person shooters were relatively primitive back then. It still put you in a tank against basic infantry that gave you a sense of superiority, with a timer simulating the chase element and the need to get a move on.

The new version has gone in completely the wrong direction, putting you against much bigger tank sized enemies and helicopters, completely negating the point of the chase in the first place. I’m sure the new fangled storyline will make it fit, but as far as I’m concerned it is a bit of a butchery in terms of the original point. It was fun being an overpowered forced, and it could have been a great level if you were driving through buildings, smashing off the corners trying to chase down a car with precious Bond girl cargo inside. Now it simply appears to be like any other generic tank section from a shooter.

Bond’s other offering in the lead up to the festive season is Blood Stone, another Daniel Craig themed game, this time in third person with an original story. This one has me quite excited, despite the slightly disappointing critic scores. It looks very similar to EA’s Everything or Nothing, released in 2004. I personally loved this game, as it felt exactly like being in a Brosnan era Bond movie, packed with gadgets, girls and over the top sequences involving plenty of collateral damage and flexible use of the double-0 agent’s license to kill.

Blood Stone looks like it’s another title going for the Bond movie experience packed into a game. Again, Daniel Craig-ifying everything, it looks like it misses out on gadgets and excels in throat punches and twirly appendage breaking grapples. The vehicle sections look like they have turned the excitement up too, although this is to be expected coming from Bizarre Creations, known for Project Gotham Racing and Blur.

Both games seem to be doing okay in the press, although Blood Stone is hitting a couple of bumpy reviews. I just hope that they are decent games and that they aren’t full of glaring errors, simply being masked by the big 007 logo on the game case. Either way, being Bond is always good. I suppose he’s like a slightly more sophisticated Kratos from the God of War series, just as violent and sex hungry, but portrayed with a (colossal) touch more class and suave.