Monday, 30 April 2012

What happened to space battles?

Photobucket Something that I’m really missing in my current gen games collection is a mass scale space combat game. I mean proper large scale space battles with hundreds of combatants, whizzing around large flag ships like laser spewing flies drawn to a bloody carcass with yesterday’s dinner spilled on it. With Space Invaders being a fairly iconic ‘first game’ for lots of people, and the universal fond memories held for titles like X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter, you’d have thought a modern equivalent would have seeped out of somewhere.

Before anyone says EVE Online, I played it for five years and finally got sick of spinning my ship around on the spot. Yes, the huge battles are intense and fairly amazing, but controlling the ship feels so unsatisfying compared to something like Freelancer of Rogue Squadron. It also relies on you finding a competent group of players, and then usually waiting within that group for three hours until it can organise itself into any kind of large scale battle that lasts more than 20 seconds.

I want to be in the middle of large space battles like those seen at the end of Return of the Jedi or even the start of Revenge of the Sith. Being in control of a nippy ship dog fighting within chaos and running a gauntlet between large ships sounds like the best space flight game ever. Instead, most space games pit you against a handful of ships in a fairly sparse environment with nothing else going on. There’s hardly ever any infighting or other form of interaction between the ships that otherwise just seem to drift toward you.

The closest I’ve got to this was Star Wars Battlefront II, in which two opposing teams spawn on their faction’s capital ship and then jump into fighters to attack each other and the enemy mothership. It was so much fun and a completely different experience to any other game. The leaked footage of the canned Star Wars Battlefront III showed similar battles between surface bases and orbiting ships, which I believe could have been exactly the kind of game to fill this gap.

There must be someone out there working on such a thing. Space combat was made for portrayal in video games. I can’t help but think Mass Effect missed a trick by not letting us participate more with ship navigation and combat, especially as you spend of the game on board a ship or station. Maybe another Rogue Squadron would scratch my itch, but the Nintendo console exclusive series seemed to have missed this generation, along with so many other great games. Ah well. A man can dream.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Will a new Call of Duty offer anything new?

With the official announcement of the official announcement of the next Call of Duty title, I’m trying to bring up any optimism I can summon from my gut. I haven’t even played Modern Warfare 3 yet and the two entries previous to that failed to spark any excitement in me, just coming away as fairly average shooting galleries with exceptionally high production values. For the next CoD game to really tantalise me to the point of trouser bulging, it needs to do something different.

Rumours are flying around that the next game will be Black Ops 2, which already sets off my mediocre alarm. The first Black Ops made as much sense as a rocket propelled grapefruit and pretty much rounded off the story of the nutjob being debriefed throughout it. A continuation of the series probably means they will try and come up with another contrived twist that awkwardly juts out of the Michael Bay soldier sim it will otherwise try and convince us it is.

Set pieces have always stuck out in CoD and first appeared to be fantastic original moments that crammed all the drama of a high octane action film into a video game screen. They’re just getting boring now though, being overused and milked to the point of producing dust from the once supple udders of the great imagination cow. It has come to the point where it is easy to spot that the battle raging around you is just several explosions and a constantly respawning enemy that won’t relent until you cross an invisible threshold.

I think half the problem is that the setting for these games is now really old and overdone. Modern warfare is the new World War Two, with each new game that hands you conventional weapons feeling increasingly similar. Why not try and poke the tiniest hole in the mould and let some creativity seep through. Even jumping into a future setting gives you an excuse to design your own military hardware and not just copy and paste last year’s weapon models.

What about an alternate reality setting? Activision’s pocket devs could rewrite history to make their own version of warfare in 2012. It would be so much better than making yet another indentikit shooter that inexplicably sells millions. Well, it would be so much better in every way other than the financial risk that comes with being original these days.

I’d also argue about changing multiplayer so that it didn’t focus on idiots chasing after ego-wanking titles and ranks, but that might be asking for too much innovation in the space of one game. I’ll just try and stay open minded for Call of Duty 9. It still has until May 1 to officially disappoint me.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Do people still play online for fun?

Not that I’m trying to sound old or anything, but I thought I’d whip up the clouds of nostalgia for this post and begin it with “I remember when I was a young(er) lad”. Well, I would have done, but now that I’ve explained it the repetition would take away from the effect slightly and there is always the faint chance that I’m not remembering things correctly. But anyway, is it just me, or did online games used to be a lot more fun?

My Internet fragging days probably started with one of the many pre-1.6 versions of Counter-strike, but what really sticks in my mind is the neglected FPS multiplayer gem Command & Conquer Renegade. It had everything: multiple weapon types, selectable characters, tanks, helicopters, invisible tanks, in-game economy and a humorous ‘boink’ noise whenever you killed someone. What made it even better though was that none of your progress was persistent and everything was contained to the same 20 to 30 minute play window, starting afresh with each match.

Persistent unlock systems that Modern Warfare popularised and everyone else seemed to cannibalise have now made these games a lot more chore-like. Before, if a guy had ‘the best gun’ you could save your credits for five minutes or hunt down its spawn location so that you would be wielding the same power to exact your revenge mere moments later. Nowadays you’ll decide you want a gun someone kills you with, only to find out it is a few days of constant play away. When you finally receive it, the guy that originally killed you won’t be around, leaving you to vent your new toy at other players that don’t have the gun and thus restarting the cycle.

The pursuit of unlocks is killing online multiplayer for me. What I hate even more is the obscurely popular dick waving that prestige mode and its equivalents provide. Nobody likes it when someone jumps on voice or text chat to gloat how good they are, but apparently its now widely accepted that such things can be represented as medals and icons that press themselves up against the screen upon your demise.

I just find it sad when people discuss play schedules for their spare time around unlocking a new gun, level or skin. Surely you should be logging onto a game to have fun, not doing so to work hard at another job. It’s introduced this horrible drip-fed multiplayer DLC culture we have now, where people just run out of interest as soon as they unlock everything. I was happy when everyone had all of the toys at the start, creating a playing field that was as level as possible.

Of course this isn’t likely to ever be the case again. Not now that companies like EA have discovered people are happy to spend extra money on game unlocks. I really hope I never meet someone who is happy to pay an extra £30 to unlock everything in Battlefield 3. Such people allow the industry to screw over the customers this easily.