Saturday, December 29, 2007


For $9 on Steam, how could I not buy this one? A cowboy game with open-world features and decent gunplay. What could go wrong?

A lot, actually. Not enough to make this a "bad" game by any means, it's very fun, but some issues do get frustrating.

The first issue is the frequent loading. Now, this is an open world so naturally it's going to need to load different areas somehow. The way that it's implemented, however, is rather awkward. While you're traveling, the game will just suddenly freeze for a second or two while it loads the next part. It often happens at inopportune times, there's no real predicting it, and it interrupts the flow of gameplay. This wouldn't be such a huge problem if it wasn't so frequent. While traveling through a large canyon, for instance, even though there's absolutely nothing inside the canyon of interest, it will load for a few seconds upon entering the canyon, then load again as you leave the canyon to go to the next area. So you enter, it loads, you ride through for maybe 7-10 seconds, then it loads again as you leave. The loading was never this frequent in GTA, which rendered sprawling cities with only a load between different large areas separated by bridges. Gun would be like if GTA loaded after every 5 blocks of street travel. This won't happen in combat-heavy sections of the game, so its impact of the gameplay is mostly negligible, but it's still annoying.

The second major issue is the hitboxes and general aiming. This is a console port, unfortunately, so this means that if you aim at someone your crosshair will start automatically tracking that enemy until he's dead. If you aim a little to the side of the enemy, it will still hit him because of how big the hitbox is. This doesn't make the game unplayable, but it's annoying for sure. It also makes headshots seem a little random, because your reticle is usually rather large. The best you can hope for is to center their head in the big box of your crosshair and hope for the best. Sometimes it blows their head off (literally, it's cool looking) or sometimes it just hits their chest.

Ok, with that out of the way, I do like this game. The protagonist is a bad-ass, the storyline is actually decent (if cliche) and the open-world mechanics work well in a wild west setting. I wish there was a little more going on in the world to interact with, since usually you're just traveling through empty canyons and plains or else in a dusty towns with people just walking around. Occasionally you'll see a saloon shootout or something but they don't affect you much. The game is a lot more linear than the GTA series, in fact. Most of the time, you'll just want to get to the next scripted story mission, which are the real focus of the game and handled well in general.

I wish the control problems and loading interruptions weren't there, but even so this is a good game. I doubt I'd have bought it for more than $20 or so, but for $9 it's a good deal.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Game of the Year 2007?

It's that time of year again. The end. The time when all major game publications start naming Game of the Year awards. I've read a number of these lists, so here's my take on the whole thing.

This is without a doubt a great year for gaming. We've had some truly great games released this year that will go down as some of the best of all time, as well as some gameplay innovations that will definitely see a long-lasting impact on the industry. Here's a few notable games this year (in no particular order) that I felt will be remembered for a long time as not only good games but innovative ones, and are all probably eligible for GOTY:

1: The Orange Box (Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portal, Team Fortress 2)

This is absolutely a must-own for anyone who enjoys FPSes. Or puzzles. Or PC games. Or, well, games. Ok, this package is a must-own for ANYONE regardless of who you are or what you like. First, it features the newest Half-Life 2 installment, Episode 2. The Half-life 2 series is my absolute favorite of all time. Valve is the master when it comes to game design, storytelling, immersion, gameplay, and anything else you can think of. Episode 2 features some excellent gameplay moments, incredible Hunter and Strider battles, and some very interesting plot twists and storyline. They even improved the graphics for the Source engine with the game to include new lighting effects that look great, especially in the Antlion tunnels.

Next, Portal. Since this takes place in the Half-Life universe (Aperture Science competed with Black Mesa for government funding), I consider it a part of the Half-Life 2 series and therefore it is also my favorite game along with all the other HL2 games. That said, it's just awesome. More fantastic level design from Valve, along with some excellent gameplay concepts brought over from the originators of the Portal idea at Digipen. I played Narbacular Drop before Portal came out and definitely enjoyed it, but Portal just took the fledgling idea from Narb and ran with it. It was also one of the funniest games I've ever played. I cannot wait for the inevitable Portal gun that will be featured in Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

Finally, Team Fortress 2. I haven't played this nearly enough because I've been otherwise occupied, but it's a quality multiplayer FPS. The classes are all balanced, useful, and specialized. They do not play alike at all, and that's a good thing. Shanking someone in the back as a spy, or lighting up a group of enemies as a Pyro, or mowing down foes with the Heavy's machine gun is just plain fun.

Oh, and if you never played Half-Life 2 or Episode 1 (shame on you), the Orange Box includes both of these games. That's probably 40+ hours of amazing singleplayer gameplay, plus a very deep and long-lasting multiplayer game, all for the price of a single game. Talk about a good deal.

2: Super Mario Galaxy

I got this for christmas and I'm up to 30 stars already. Simply put, it's Mario 64, but with the addition of some insanity and awesomeness. The levels have you running through environments where gravity will shift on the fly or lead you in multiple directions. You'll be running on the ceiling and floating through space. It's probably more addicting than crack and I had to literally stop yesterday because my hands hurt too much to keep playing. Best Mario game ever? Yes.

3: Bioshock

Another quality FPS. It's the spiritual sequel to System Shock 2, which I have never played but will try to get around to it some day. The storyline is surprisingly good for a game: there's an underwater city named Rapture where scientists and artists are free to create and experiment. This leads to technical advancements but also to gene-splicing which of course eventually causes the population to go insane and murder each other. Well, your plane crashes in the ocean and you just happen to come across this underwater city, and now you've got to survive and stop the mad administrator, Andrew Ryan. Well, that's how it first appears. I won't spoil anything but there's some big twists that are actually surprising. The gameplay, of course, is solid. You get powers called Plasmids that let you shoot lightning bolts or light people on fire or throw objects with telekinesis. In the interest of keeping this short, I'll only add that the water effects in the game look more real than real water. I was very impressed with the graphics technology of the Unreal 3 Engine.

4. Metroid Prime 3

Best FPS on the Wii, unless Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 is better. Haven't played that one. Regardless, I consider Prime 3 to be an excellent game. It feels like Zelda, but in space and a FPS. You'll see that the game has a sort of dungeon layout; there's specific areas with themes like lava or ice or whatever, and at the end is a boss and you receive a new weapon or gadget which helps you with the next area. This is what makes Zelda great and it works amazingly well in Prime 3 as well. The fact that it's a sci-fi FPS/adventure game just sealed the deal for me, and I like this one more than I do Twilight Princess. The fact that it controls amazingly well really helps, too. I just wish it had autofire, since my thumb got really sore of tapping the A button to rapid-fire for hours on end.

5. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Classic point-and-click puzzle/adventure game for the Wii. I hesitate to call it an adventure game because it's set up as a series of individual levels, each with puzzles to solve, and no items carrying over between levels. Also, there's no inventory to speak of; you only carry a single item at a time. As a puzzle game, it's just great. It makes good use of the Wiimote, in many different ways. This will probably go down as a little-known gem for the Wii, especially since Capcom only made a limited number.

6. Call of Duty 4

I've only played through the single player campaign of CoD4, but it's intense and immersive. There are lots of memorable moments including sniping somebody while taking into account wind and the Coriolis effect, being killed by a nuclear explosion (while in full control of your character even during the fallout), and playing through an entire level as a dethroned dictator getting executed on television. You never get a gun, nor move around on your own. You can only watch as armed escorts lead you through the city and up to a platform where you are promptly shot in the face. I hear the multiplayer is excellent as well.

7. Games I haven't played (Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Unreal Tournament 3, Crysis)

These all look like very good games. Can't properly talk about them until I play them fully, though. The former 2, I'll need to wait on the PC version. The latter, I've played the demos already. UT3 was fast and fun, but didn't cooperate with my computer. Crysis, on the other hand, ran surpisingly well on medium settings and was lots of fun. I'll be getting that one for sure, some way or another.

So, what do I think is Game of the Year for 2007? How am I supposed to decide between all those? Play them all and make up your own mind.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

First-Person Shooters Suck with Dual-Analog Controls

Watch the above video. That's Fatal1ty, probably the #1 player in the world at Quake 3 Arena. Look at how fast the gameplay is. Ask yourself this: how much of that would even be possible on the dual-analog controllers that the PS3 and the Xbox 360 utilize? Now, take a look at this video of Halo 2 1-vs-1:

Notice how slow this is? In fact, you hardly seem them turning around much at all. They rely on the 1-hit snipe kills and sticky grenades. I won't go nearly so far as to claim that Halo requires no skill to play; a lot of those grenade ricochets and launches were impressive. However, the hitboxes in Halo are so big that it isn't terribly challenging to snipe someone and kill them anyway. You can literally miss the character model and still kill them. Go ahead, watch the above clip one more time and look for exactly where the guy is aiming when he snipes his opponent. To contrast this, here's a clip of some "quick sniping" in Counterstrike:

In Counterstrike, if you miss even a little bit, you miss. There are also some close range snipes as well as headshots on fast-moving targets. To me, this is far more impressive. You need a quick eye and accurate mouse hand to land those shots.

Anyone who has played FPSes on a PC for any length of time can tell you that a mouse is way better than dual analog sticks. The gameplay is much faster, you can actually turn around in a split-second which can mean the difference between a frag and a death, and you can aim very precisely in a small amount of time, assuming you're good enough. With dual analog sticks, the aim movement is jerky, the turning is slow, and the aiming itself is less accurate. I'm not saying you can't play and have a good time with dual-analogs. I personally can't stand playing FPSes with controls like that, if you haven't guessed, but when I do play I can certainly hold my own in most games. The point, however, is that to play a serious FPS, you just can't really do it with dual-analogs and expect it to be as good as a mouse.

Halo, for example (and I know I'm picking on it a lot but it's just the best example; this does apply to every dual-analog FPS), is a very slow game, without a whole lot of tricks or depth to it (not a LOT; there are some obviously, and it does take some skill, but not a ton). It's a fairly average FPS that is only popular because of (a) Microsoft's marketing dollars, and (b) it was the first major online FPS for a console. PC gamers have been playing solid, fast, and deep online FPSes for years and years. Team Fortress, Counterstrike, Quake, Unreal Tournament; these are all excellent fast-paced FPSes that would just not be as fun on a console with dual-analogs, because it would slow down the gameplay considerably.

Take a stand against the continued trend of game developers to release FPSes on consoles or to even focus on consoles and then port (poorly) to the PC. Stop playing FPSes with dual-analog controls when you could be . . . you know . . . aiming.

Wild Arms Update

Ok, so I couldn't finish the game within a week. In fact I doubt I'm even halfway through it. And after today (Christmas), I don't think I'll have time for much besides Mario Galaxy and possibly Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. And Battalion Wars 2. And Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. And Crysis. . . . I'll try to find some time to play it at least once every day or two, though, once I get home from my Christmas vacation. Last time I lost a couple weeks of play, I picked it back up and forgot what I was doing or where I was completely.

In fact, now that I think about it, I'll just use this blog as a quick notepad to mention where I am at the moment I'm typing this. I'm in this maze in the desert near the ship graveyard, and I'm supposed to go fight this giant Preying Mantis boss.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wild Arms

This certainly is an old one. I bought this RPG on the Playstation when it came out in 1997. I never got around to beating it, so this week I'm making it my goal to try to beat it by saturday (6 days from this post). I hear this is pretty long so I'll be in for a challenge. Not to mention that for an RPG, this game is notoriously difficult. This might be a less well-known RPG for the simple reason that Final Fantasy VII came out a few months after this. It deserves more attention though, so here's my take on the game as I play through it again for the first time in at least 7 years.

So how is this, as an RPG? Essentially, it's Crono Trigger. I don't mean that in a bad way, because Crono Trigger is the best RPG ever created. Wild Arms takes everything that CT did well, adds some great anime FMV sequences and 3D battles, and a good if somewhat cliche story. It feels very polished even it is rather standard. The main element which makes Wild Arms a little unique is the puzzle elements. Most RPGs offer only very basic and easy puzzles, but Wild Arms actually goes well beyond that for some interesting and thought-provoking dungeons. This would be enough for a good but standard RPG, but what makes this a really great RPG is the fact that it combines these puzzles with some great combat. Sure, the actual gameplay of the combat is fairly standard also; you select your attacks, specials, and items in a turn-based system where you take turns with the enemy. The combat is above-average because of difficulty and balance of the enemies. This is one tough RPG. The boss fights are all memorable. You'll need to really think about what moves to do each turn, and when to defend or heal and when to attack. After a while, I was actually dreading the random monster encounters in the dungeons, not because the fights weren't fun, but because the monsters are legitimately dangerous. In most RPGs, you won't face anyone really dangerous until you get to a boss. In Wild Arms, the monsters are deadly, but the bosses are even harder.

I'll post again when and if I beat this one. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 14, 2007


This is seriously the best adventure game ever conceived. Download it for free here.

It's amazing what sorts of things you can do. The game functions much like any other RPG, except you only control a single character (the little @ on the screen). Battle and traps and other things run on a dice-rolling system for probability. There's an extensive stat system and inventory. The game is also randomized, so every time you play the game, the dungeons and enemies will be different. You also don't know what some of your items are. For instance, you might pick up a scroll entitled LEP GEX VEN ZEA. It won't say anything more than that. It could do pretty much anything, from generating a hundred monsters that attack you, to teleporting you somewhere random, to curing disease, to polymorphing an object or genociding an entire race of monsters. Each new game you play, those nonsensical scroll titles will be randomized too. The LEP GEX VEN ZEA scroll might teleport you in one game and kill you the next. Now of course, there are scrolls of identify, and other ways to tell what a scroll actually does (potions and spellbooks are randomized as well). Some character classes can also identify certain objects. Oh yeah, and there's food in the game. If you don't eat when you get hungry, you'll die. This forces you to press onward in search of food and gold.

Speaking of pressing onward, the game has upwards of 50 dungeon levels (I've never made it far enough to know the exact number). The object is to reach the bottom and acquire the amulet of Yendor, and then return to the top (ascend). This is insanely difficult. When I say this is difficult, I mean you will die. A lot.

If you needed another reason to play this game, it has Grues in it. Yeah, that's right.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Finally, a game with grues! I would also like to mention right off the bat that I was eaten by a grue within about 15 minutes of playing this game. Maybe I should have learned by now that dark caves aren't terrible safe in Zork games?

Grand Inquisitor is the most recent (and probably final) game in the Zork series of adventure games. It is one of the few graphical Zork games, most being text adventures. It plays in a similar way to Myst, in the way that it features heavy FMV (Full Motion Video) and most everything is pre-rendered. You can pan the camera around in 360 degrees in every static area you move to, and you point and click on items and buttons and what-have-you with the mouse.

This game features heavy item combinations and out-of-the-box thinking. This is a bit problematic for me because I'm a more straightforward logical thinker. It's not in my nature to consider unintuitive solutions such as using my spell of open door on one door of a dam because the buttons which one assumes will open the doors given the proper combination actually can never open all the doors. I see the buttons controlling the doors and think "ah, a button puzzle. Ok, this button controls those doors there, and this button switches those doors here," etc. But no, solving the puzzle that way is impossible. The game is full of weird things like this. Another example is using a cigar to light an Inquisitor Action Figure on fire, so that the fireman would come to put it out and get arrested for setting the fire in the first place, allowing you to break into his house and steal the magic lantern that he was refusing to fix for you. Yeah, it seems obvious when you hear the results of the actions, but when you're in the situation where you need to think up that clever solution on your own, it's a lot tougher. Some people have brains that will solve those sorts of puzzles. I don't. I'll have to confess to using Gamefaqs on this game, a lot. I really wish I could try to solve more of the puzzles myself, but believe me when I say that even in terms of adventure/puzzle games, this one is very hard. The puzzles also get tedious often, much like a lot of point-and-click adventure games. You will probably need to try out every item combination in every room by trial and error, and it gets frustrating after a while.

So why keep playing it? Because the game is funny, that's why. There are some great and smart jokes as well as tons of references to past Zork games. It's kind of difficult to give an example, because you really need to play the game to get the humor. However, here's one example: right inside the entrance to the Great Underground, there's a glass case containing a sword and a hammer and saying "in case of adventure, break glass." When you open the case, the sword is clamped down. You then take the hammer, close the case, and smash the case open, after which the clamps are removed allowing you to take the sword. Not a very hard puzzle but it gives you an idea of the absurdity and overall fun the game is. It never takes itself very seriously and that's the best thing about it. As funny as the one-liners in Sam & Max are (another great adventure game), the overall feel of Grand Inquisitor leaves me wanting to play it more just to see what will happen next. I just wish my brain was wired to be able to solve the puzzles better.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Warning! No Refuge!

"Be attitude for gains: Be Praying"

This is the message that pops up right before the final boss in the amazing Shmup by Treasure, Radiant Silvergun. Here's a picture of the boss, named Xiga:

This boss throws a LOT of stuff at you. This guy legitimately tries to kill you; he is absolutely no joke. This is the last of MANY bosses in Silvergun, and he's easily the hardest. So, why am I talking about an old Sega Saturn game? Because it's a shmup, that's why, and a darn good one too.

"Shmup" of course means "shoot-em-up" and stands for the genre of games where you have a tiny spaceship (or plane, or dragon, or magical human) and you have to take down about a million enemies while avoiding everything on screen except the powerups. If you get hit, you're dead. If you run out of lives, the game is over (no, you haven't really beaten the game if you use continues to do so. That's lame). Commonly, the genre involves dodging intense patterns of colorful but deadly bullets, like this game here named Dodonpachi:

Everything on screen will kill you if you touch it. Your ship is the tiny green one at the bottom. There's no wussy life bars or hit points. There's no storyline or fancy 3D graphics to get in the way of the sheer mayhem and action.

This is a genre that lives primarily in arcades, and even then primarily in Japan because that's where the new ones come out. However, every now and then a great one comes out to a console in North America and Europe. Take Ikaruga, for example. You've probably heard of it because it's consistently rated as one of best games on the Gamecube. Reviewers complained it was too hard (all shmups are hard, that's the point, play it for long enough and you'll get good at it) and that it was too short. Let me address this last one in detail because it plagues most shmup reviews by mainstream game press. These guys credit-feed through the game, using continues left and right, and when they beat it in 30 minutes they say "what, it's over? that was fast."

They don't understand the point of the genre. As with most arcade games, you've never really "beaten" it until you have done so without continuing at all. The way the game was meant to be beaten. Ikaruga can be played all the way through in about 30 minutes. To 1-credit-complete the game (1CC to those knowledgeable folks), it took me about 25+ hours of play (believe me, it's logged on my memory card). And by the way, that was on the eastiest settings in the game. It will take me another dozen hours probably to beat it on the normal settings, the way the game appeared in arcades.

Another thing reviewers often mention about shmups is that they are a "Throwback to a bygone era" or some such nonsense. Shmups are being played and released all the time. Not as often as the cookie-cutter FPSes coming out every week nowadays (to consoles, no less! More on that in the future), but still usually once or twice a year a big-name shmup releases. With the advent of downloadable games services like Xbox Live Arcade or WiiWare or the Playstation Network, many of the most popular games have been shmups. I'm looking at you, Geometry Wars.

The one reason everyone praised Ikaruga, and why everyone loves Geometry Wars, is the gameplay. It is about as pure as gaming can get. Shoot them, while avoiding projectiles. You need to move into the line of fire of enemies in order to kill them, and thus risk getting shot. Risk-reward system. There's challenge. Self-improvement. There are skills to learn. The games require reflexes. Knowledge of the games over long periods of play time will improve scores. Incentive to play better and longer. If you want replay value in the game, you won't find more than in a shmup. You're replaying the same levels over and over and over, improving your score, learning the enemy patterns and how to stay alive. It's just plain addicting.

I'll end this with a quote from Winston Churchill:

"There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Serious Sam: The First Encounter

Just look at that box art. That's a manly game right there. If that wasn't enough to make you want the game, I'll go on.

Let me explain where I am stuck right now in this game. I have a gigantic green dragon-like thing that shoots green fireballs at me. They home in on me and if I dodge them they'll circle around and try again. I can shoot the fireballs to destroy them, but they're fired at you pretty rapidly. In the meantime, I havea giant bull that runs at me trying to gore me. I also have crazy suicide bombers that run at me screaming to try to kill me. I need to shoot the bull in the face to kill it. I need to shoot the bombers before they get within range of me. I need to shoot the green fireballs. And I need to shoot the green dragon-like thing so that he'll STOP shooting green fireballs at me and I can continue the level (this isn't an end boss or anything). If I get caught by any single one of these objects, I die. If you're afraid of challenge, or in other words a wuss, stay away from this one. If you're a real man, though, get ready for an awesome FPS.

The underlying game is basically Doom. Walk around, shoot everything you see, keep going until the end of the level. There's also no annoying key cards to collect like in Doom. If there's a story, I don't care because I skip the cutscenes to get to the action. And oh boy is there action! The game is great about throwing a ton of stuff at you, all the time. This is a game where you need to dodge stuff to survive. The action is fast and furious and it hardly ever lets up. You'll be bunnyhopping, dodging left and right while shooting frantically at anything you see, and constantly looking over your shoulder to check other threats. The dodging also feels like it's ripped right out of a shmup. You can see the bullets the other guys shoot at you and you'll be dodging them, and believe me there's some fun stuff to dodge. There's also powerups, armor, and ammo lying around everywhere. This is a hardcore action-packed FPS for people with quick reflexes. If you have the reflexes of a spayed kitten, you are going to die. It's the fun kind of death though. The kind you wish you would have in real life. I don't know about you, but I'd love to be killed by a missile launched from a giant red scorpion as I try to gun down it and all its friends with a shotgun. What a eulogy that would be! "We'll miss him, but wow, that must be one of the most awesome deaths I have ever heard of in my life. He'll be happy to know that giant red scorpion with the missile launcher died from loss of blood just minutes after we finished picking up Kevin's pieces from the floor. Who's up for some cheesecake?"

I like cheesecake.

Battlestations: Midway

This is one of the much more recent games on GameTap, from circa Januray 2007, and I had only vaguely heard of it. Well, lo and behold, it's a World War II game. I haven't played nearly enough of those in the past few years. But wait! This one is different! You never even play as a footsoldier or infantry. The entire game consists of commanding battleships, submarines, and planes, fighting the japanese in the pacific. As far as I know, you don't even fight any germans. Certainly dogfighting sims are nothing new, and there have been a few weak stabs at battleship and submarine command, but I have to say, this is the first game I've seen to put each one together into a cohesive whole. It essentially pulls it off well, except a few minor issues. It even manages to stick in some RTS gameplay which feels pretty good if simple. While the concept seems pretty original, the gameplay for the most part isn't. It might feel unique, however, if you've never played a little game I like to call "the best Star Trek game ever." You might know it as Star Trek: Bridge Commander. More on that in a second.

I'll start with the plane combat because it's definitely my favorite. I'll admit I'm not a veteren of the flight combat genre, but I've played a few in my time. As a stand-alone game, the flight combat would have been pretty good if a little simple for some flight sim enthusiasts. The enemy planes have a circle in front of their line of movement to show you where to shoot if you want to hit them. You have machine guns and sometimes a few types of bombs (just one per plane though). No missiles; it was WWII after all. The reason this part of the game is my favorite is that it's the most actual action you're going to see in this game. The ships and subs move at a pretty slow pace, which makes sense considering how big they are and the fact that it's supposed to be more tactical. The dogfights get pretty fun and intense though. I would have liked an interior cockpit view, as the first-person view it does offer only shows you a crosshair and nothing of your plane itself. One possible complaint is that you die pretty quickly if anything shoots at you accurately, but the reason for that is because there are dozens of planes in the sky and you can just switch to another one when you die.

In fact, you're never really dead because you can switch between anything on or over the oceans. Battleships, subs, even aircraft carriers are under your control. Let me talk first about the submarines. I love the concept. Hunt for Red October is a great movie. The idea of tactical submarine command with sub-to-ship combat and sub-to-sub combat is an awesome idea and I wish a game really came along to do it right. The sub gameplay in Midway is interesting. It feels almost like a stealth game where you have to sneak around sniping at ships with your torpedoes (which are really hard to hit with by the way). Unfortunately, at any depth except pretty much the lowest one - where your hull starts to implode from the pressure - any enemy ship can spot you with sonar and hit you with depth charges. You also have to surface for air a lot. And you don't move very fast. If you get into the middle of an enemy fleet, you're gunna have to go too low to shoot them if you want to survive, and you'll probably end up surfacing right in the middle of them for oxygen and getting killed. The sub combat is HARD. There is a certain skill to it, though, which I do not yet possess, and if I get good it might be a bit more fun, but it just feels too awkward for me to really get into. You sneak around deep underwater trying not to get detected, with very little chance to attack or fight at all. It can be exciting, sure, to keep watching the ships above you and hope they don't send a depth charge your way, but I just don't get that satisfaction of blowing stuff up.

Here's where the battleships come in. Here, also, is where Bridge Commander comes in, because if you're familar with that game, you'll be familiar with the ship combat in Midway. Except the ships in Midway are a lot simpler to control and with fewer options for attacking or movement. You slowly lumber around shooting artillery and torpedoes at other battleships, turning broadside so you can get better shots, and commonly going to the repair screen to position repair crews when you get hit. Honestly, this type of combat was better in Bridge Commander with 3-dimensional movement and different firing arcs for your phasers which had to recharge. And shield zones. And you could actually command your tactical officer to make different maneauvers and firing patterns, and auto-target. In Midway, you can tell them to attack a target, or guard a target, or follow a target. That's about it. It's not bad, just not nearly as good as BC. In fact, I'm getting all nastalgic for that game now.

How do these elements all come together? In an RTS style map view. You can select your ships, planes and subs, and give orders to attack, move, guard, or whatever. Actually, that's basically it. And once they destroy their target, they'll just sit there waiting for a new order. At any time of course you can go in and control a unit directly, which is what makes this game different from a normal battlefield-style game or any RTS. You command the fleet, and you're also every gunner and pilot in that fleet. It's a fun experience, and I hear the multiplayer is crazy good. Too bad it goes through that idiocy called Gamespy. The bad thing about this game? Not nearly enough action unless you treat it as an RTS/arcade-dogfighting game. If you treat it as an RTS, it isn't nearly deep enough or fast enough. If you treat it as a dogfighting game, it's fun but not very complicated nor accurate. This really is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, though, and I do like this game. It's too bad the cutscenes (which are SKIPPABLE! Look, see that, Operation Flashpoint? You can SKIP THROUGH CUTSCENES!) are so corny. Yeah, the Japanese pilot looked at a picture of his family before bombing Pearl Harbor. I'm supposed to feel sympathy even though he's viewed as the bad guy. Look, we're all human beings really. What a touching and insightful message.

No, really, if I want an insightful philosophical message, I'll go read a book (preferable Dune).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Operation Flashpoint: Game of the Year Edition

One of the unfortunately small number of FPSes on GameTap that I'd actually heard of, Operation Flashpoint: GOTY Edition has, apparently, been nominated game of the year at some point; I'm guessing 2000 or 2001, based on the release date of the game itself. Why it has been named game of the year by anyone, I really can't guess. This has to be the most boring first-person shooters I think I have ever played. I am not exaggerating when I say that the first level involves waiting 10 minutes for the bus, riding for 10 minutes on the bus, and (get this!), walking from the bus stop to your office. It's an hour into the game and I haven't shot anybody yet! I haven't even held a gun! The most action I've seen is from the (unskippable) cutscenes, which still isn't saying much.

I'm not sure what the developers were thinking with this game, but I'd have to say that my major gripe has to be the unskippable cutscenes. What if I want to skip right to the gameplay because I really don't care whatsoever about the story? What if I've played the game once already and don't want to watch the cutscenes again? That last one is a bit of a stretch, I'll admit, because I don't know who in their right minds would sit through this bus-riding simulator in its entirety and then actually want to do it all again. At least when you're waiting for the bus, you can move around and interact a little with stuff. I say "a little" because the most you can do, and again I am not exaggerating, is to salute people (who show no reaction at all to your existance anyway so I don't know what the point of saluting them even is), sit down, and look at your watch to see what time it is.

Now, if that sounds boring - and it is - then you may find it hard to believe that the cutscenes are worse. Luckily I got to skip a few in the beginning but as soon as you're waiting for that bus, it becomes unskippable. And you WILL want to skip it, because they are the type of cutscenes that make CNN look like an action-thrillride. While sitting on the bus, I get the incredible joy of listening to a news reporter on the radio talk about mundane political things that I have no interest in at all. The next cutscene comes when you're in your office, in the form of a news report about some country invading some other country. They show a few clips of tanks driving around wide open fields. Then at one point they stop talking and just show the tanks, driving along in a mostly straight line over some green hills. Then they show the tanks from a different angle. All without any talking or action whatsoever. For about 5 minutes. When the cutscene finally had the decency to end its miserable life, I'm plunked back into this office building with the objective "escape the city" because apparently the tanks have started attacking. You can't actually see any tanks or anything happening because you're in the middle of a city and they're out at the edge shooting at the ground somewhere near city limits, so there's really no sense of urgency or fun at all. I would have kept playing just to try to give the game a chance, if it weren't for the fact that (A) I was bored to tears as it was, and (B) the controls.

This is an original PC game back when PC FPSes were at their prime. This is 2000 or 2001. Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena are out and about. We KNOW how FPSes are supposed to be controlled: WASD, space for jump, mouse aim, and maybe a few other keys for different functions (some people would add ctrl for crouching but I've always preferred the c button. Maybe it's the years of playing Star Wars: Jedi Outcast, which used c as the crouch button, but I'm too used to it now to use anything else. But I digress...) I am again not exaggerating when I say this game controls like an N64 game. The crosshair moves around inside a bounding box, within which your view itself remains motionless. Can anybody please tell me why they thought this was a GOOD idea for a PC FPS?! I'm really at a loss. Oh, and the spacebar apparently is for switching weapons or something. I don't think you can even jump. The 'use' key, which I would think should be near WASD, maybe E or F if E is taken as a lean function, is instead the enter key. Wow, great design, idiots. Might as well make the firing button the page-up key.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't get that much into the game before I quit out of boredom and frustration. However, this may be a bit of a misnomer, because the game itself was running for about an hour. I, however, only got to "play" about 10 minutes of it, and almost all of that was waiting for the bus. Maybe this game gets amazing when you actually get to do something fun. Maybe the multiplayer is awesome (no chance to try that). Maybe the modding scene was really good, which I am led to believe based on all the videos of mods I found when searching youtube for "operation flashpoint" in order to actually find some gameplay footage that wasn't more boring than watching a rock grow. Regardless, if a game can be playing for an hour and not even begin the action yet, and that game ISN'T an RPG or adventure game where a story is actually sort of important (and even in those cases, I want to skip the cutscenes if I feel like it!), then I really can't give it much more of a chance. I play an FPS for the action. It's not a movie. I have no problem with a lull in the action for some storyline. Just look at Half-Life 2, which is the model by which all FPSes should follow for how to deliver story. But when the entire first hour of a game is essentially a big cutscene with pointless gameplay thrown in, I just don't care to keep playing.

Deus Ex

Ah, Deus Ex, the game many consider the best FPS ever made. I tried this a month or two ago and stopped quickly because I wasn't very impressed at all and had other games to play. I'm trying it again now thanks to GameTap and I have to say, after playing all the way through the first mission this time, it's growing on me. I wouldn't call it great, I wouldn't even call it good. I'm prepared to say it's an OK game, for a couple of reasons.

First, the control feels really bad. The aim seems to slide a little when you move the mouse in a way that feels inaccurate. Deus Ex used the Unreal engine so there's really no excuse for that. Second, the guns are weak-feeling and inaccurate. I once was sneaking up on a guard and literally had the crosshair right on his head. He wasn't moving at all. I fired, and the bullet landed on the wall next to him. He panicked and set off the alarm. Now maybe one of the skills or augmentations your character receives will make your aim a little better, but it shouldn't be THAT bad, when you're completely stationary, shooting at a guard who isn't that far away. Speaking of weapons, your character takes way too little damage before dying. I'm all for realism, but at least make it fair. I have rarely heard this game called a stealth shooter specifically, but if you basically die if you attempt to fight a guard - because all your shots miss because of the horrible aim and control while all their shots are apparently dead on - then it's a stealth shooter. I'm not very fond of stealth shooters. Stealth is ok in moderation, but give me a fighting chance if I choose to run-and-gun, please! Finally, the guns in this game feel horrible. The pistol does this muted little "pop" when you shoot, and a tiny little impact mark shows where it hits. No, I'm not using a silencer either. There's hardly any muzzle flash and very little appearance of impact at all. As I will frequently say, I don't care about graphics at all which is why I will not talk about it at all in any review. However, gun effects are quite easy to implement that are completely independent of graphics and go a long way toward making the game more visceral-feeling and intense.

The story of this game is touted as some amazing piece of literary genius. I don't know about that, but it seems pretty good as far as games go so far. I personally don't usually play an action game like an FPS for the story, but since this game is obviously more heavy on the RPG and stealth elements than the "Shooter" element, I'm treating it as such and going along with it. With that attitude, it's definitely not a bad game, and I'll continue to play it to see if it gets better.

Press Start

Despite the title, I won't be talking much about Zork. Although I enjoy not being eaten by Grues, this blog is more concerned with slightly more modern games of varying genres. Let me give you a quick background on me as a gamer, so you'll know where I'm coming from and where I'll be going:

I started out as a PC gamer growing up in '90s. I'm talking about amazing games like Unreal Tournament, Quake III Arena, Descent II, Starcraft, Sam and Max, and so on. Now, I don't claim to be very good at any particular game (except Star Wars: Jedi Outcast), nor did I even play many games online at all. So I started out as a single-player PC gamer. I also must admit to not having played a lot of big-name games back then, such as Half-Life or Deus Ex or even Monkey Island. I'm trying to rectify that now, and I'll be posting reviews of any that I get to play. Besides PC games, I also had a Super Nintendo as my first console. I had hardly any games on there, besides Mario All-Stars and MarioKart, but my family loved to play those games together. I still hold that Super Mario Kart is better than Mario Kart 64 because of how much more responsive the turns are. Following the SNES, I got a Playstation because all my friends at school had one. I had some great fun with that thing but I wish I had an N64 as well because I missed out on some great games. Following the PS, I got a Playstation 2, which I was very satisfied with. It turned out to be the best console last generation, even though the gamecube had some great games which I'm now enjoying on the Wii. If you haven't spotted the trend yet, I only get a single console each generation. This gen it's the Wii. I'll go into more detail in future posts.

My favorite genres have always been first-person shooters, real-time strategy, fighters, adventures, and shoot-em-ups. I'm not particularly good at any of them, but I enjoy them and that's what matters. Nowadays, I'm playing a lot of FPSes and RTSes like Half-Life 2, Counterstrike:Source, Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, and Supreme Commander. I'm also playing lots of shmups, such as Ikaruga and Dodonpachi. Just last week a friend of mine kindly let me have a free GameTap account, because apparently GameTap isn't interested in making money and would rather give out a dozen free accounts to anyone who pays money for one. I'm not going to complain because it's a great service which I would seriously consider paying for. I'll be posting a lot of reviews of some classic games on GameTap that I'll be trying out for the first time, like Operation Flashpoint, Delta Force, or Deus Ex. We'll see how these games stand to the test of time!

Aside from reviews, I plan to write a number of rants on subjects ranging from why some games are most definitely art, why Ocarina of Time is nowhere near the best Zelda game ever, and certainly not the best game ever (a spot reserved for Half-Life 2), why shmups deserve a lot more recognition among the mainstream press, and why gaming is headed into a general decline from the glorious days of old. Look for those on an ongoing basis.