Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hitman: Absolution - It'll be good, right?

IO Interactive has released a 16 minute chunk of gameplay from Hitman: Absolution, and my first instinct as a fan of the series was to whine and complain in comment fields. I’ve stopped my sadness induced hyper-ventilating and will now attempt to look for the positives in the latest stab at the Hitman series. It’s no secret that I love Hitman: Blood Money and that I would be happy with more of the same. The initial words and footage of Absolution suggest a bit of an overhaul, pulling a Splinter Cell Conviction on the series, with new abilities, mechanics and motives. It’s not all bad though, right?

We begin with a dramatic entrance as Agent 47 crashes through a window on the upper floor, just as the police kick in the doors to the library where the barcode branded assassin is taking refuge. The first thing he does is hang from the ledge and drop down. It isn’t a scripted movement like climbing and hanging has been in previous games, which suggests an increased amount of manoeuvrability.

Later on in the video, 47 hangs, climbs and shimmies around more ledges above his eye level. He’s not as nimble as Ezio, and doesn’t look to be leaping down on enemies for slightly ridiculous airborne assassinations. As long as it’s just used as an optional way to navigate levels, I have no issues with its inclusion. It will dishearten me lots however if it turn into Hitman’s Creed.

Another feature is the improved hand to hand combat. In Blood Money, fisticuffs could be used to wrestle a gun from an enemy as a last resort. It was a nice touch, especially as the gun could sometimes go off during the struggle, forcing you to adapt to the situation or reload a previously saved game. Absolution takes unarmed combat further and introduces a sleeper hold.

Previous games allowed you to knock people unconscious with a sedative syringe. It was efficient, but you could only take two syringes into any mission, meaning their use was fairly limited and an extremely tactical decision. A sleeper hold that gives you as many takedowns as 47’s arms can muster will make non-lethal mission approaches much easier, but is there a risk it can become too easy? We’ll have to wait and see.

And finally, the walkthrough gives us a glimpse at how 47 can deal with suspicious AI. It looks like the days of standing in a pile of corpses with the magic disguise that grants you immunity are gone. It’ll be interesting to see the new disguise mechanics displayed properly. If they can be worked into any gameplay scenario then it could be brilliant. If these are scripted sequences only triggered in certain areas then it might be a lousy gimmick. But I’m staying optimist in this post, so I’ll put on my happy face and assume it will be good.

I’m going to be watching Hitman Absolution like a robotic sentry hawk on guard duty. I love the Hitman series and really want the next instalment to be just as good, if not better than the last.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Battlefield 3 is not Modern Warfare

You know a game has left a good impression when it makes me blog about it two days in a row. Battlefield 3 is good enough to warrant a second, praise filled mention on its own merits, but I also feel a slight need to stick up for it based on the lunatic ranting that clogs the official forum. Each trip to the message board seems to yield another nutter who compares the game with Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Yes, both games are set in modern times and focus on warfare, but that’s where the similarities stop.

A major difference between the games for me is the respawn behaviour. The thing that really tugged at my anger strings in Call of Duty is the sheer randomness of spawn points. In theory, this meant that members of the opposite team couldn’t sit in your spawn area and constantly pop you in the back as you rematerialize into life. The downside to this is that you reappear anywhere on the map. This is disorientating to say the least and usually means you have no idea where the frontline is, or where the enemy might appear from, potentially putting random death behind any corner.

Battlefield 3, for the most part, applies fixed spawn locations which allows you to think about enemy placement and strategies in the midst of battle. Enemies can still surprise you from behind, but you know that this was due to their own movements and not a result of the respawn lottery. Mobile spawn points can still be placed in slightly troubling areas that can make spawning an issue, but nowhere near the randomised enemy placement problem in Call of Duty.

Another minor point are the knife kills. I can remember how much fun it is to run around the map on Call of Duty and just tap a button when up close to instantly stab and kill an enemy. I can also remember that it was more annoying than a wasp swarmed picnic when I was on the receiving end of the insta-death stab attack. Battlefield 3 has taken the middle-ground and gone for instant kills from behind. Fortunately, these attacks are not as instant as the Call of Duty wrist flick and expose your attacker for the duration of his reach around heart stab.

By far my favourite feature in Battlefield 3 is an omission from Call of Duty and what so many other multiplayer games have tried implementing as of late. There are no killstreaks, and that makes me a happy non-camper. The ground will not be pummelled with random missile strikes from off-screen predator drones. Sentient helicopters won’t circle the battlefield, tearing up turf and tarmac with heavy machinegun fire. Nuclear missile strikes won’t descend on the arena and wipe out all life, yet mysteriously secure a victory for the man who ordered the random mass execution.

Whilst there are no killstreaks, bigger maps that accommodate vehicles may bring down just as many seemingly unfair deaths upon you, but the difference here is that you witness the other player do it to you. It was at least partially down to their skill which resulted in your demise. It wasn’t an automated bonus of unstoppable death and mayhem.

I’m really happy with Battlefield 3, especially based on this open beta which is running an early version of the game. I’ll admit that there are still plenty of bugs that need to be ironed out, but there is definitely a fun game underneath the few issues. To close I’d like to draw attention to these few flaws in particular, as these really need to be ironed out before the game is released. Hopefully they will be, but it still doesn’t hurt to spread the word and hopefully catch DICE’s attention.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Battlefield 3 beta impressions (rant free!)

The Battlefield 3 beta is currently drawing in opinions from all over the web, with the epicentre being the Battlelog forum. Of course, the loudest hive mind voice to be heard is the one that’s complaining about how Battlefield 3 simply isn’t Battlefield 2, or that X is overpowered and Y breaks the game. At the moment the forum appears to be a hornet’s nest that is busy stinging itself to death, so I thought I’d liberally spread my feedback on the game’s open beta here.

Most complaints levied at the game seem to be muddied by a lot of fanboyism and comparisons to Modern Warfare. There are so many threads popping up that are titled “I’m unhappy, preorder cancelled” or words to that effect, but I really can’t believe that these people are genuinely not going to buy the game. Compared to a lot of semi-realistic shooters, such as last year’s Call of Duty offering, Battlefield 3 plays brilliantly.

One mistake that I think EA have made with the beta was the map selection. A lot of the more legible criticisms seem to be about Metro, a Battlefield 3 map that does not feature vehicles at all. As vehicles are a predominant feature of the Battlefield series it seems strange to omit them from this public taster session. The absence of vehicles has also lead lots of people to draw the comparisons with Modern Warfare which may or may not have put them off Battlefield 3.

The game mode was also not the most inspired choice. Whilst I believe that the rush mode is best suited to the Metro map, for me, Battlefield 3 signalled the return of conquest as the main play mode. It’s not that I dislike rush mode, it’s just that I heavily associate it with Bad Company and not the core battlefield titles such as 1942, Vietnam, 2142 and of course, Battlefield 2.

Even with these factors however, I think Battlefield 3 is bloody marvellous from what I’ve played so far. I’m especially surprised by Battlelog. Launching each multiplayer game from the web browser seemed most strange to me at first, but the system has started to grow on me. There doesn’t seem to be any extra delay at getting into a game, and in many ways it’s made the process faster.

So, screw the haters and play the game if you haven’t already tried it. I’m definitely getting Battlefield 3 and am hoping it will rekindle my love for online gaming. I haven’t been this excited by an online game since Counter-Strike.