Tag: shooter (page 2 of 6)

There Is Only War

Courtesy Relic Entertainment

For all of its great design work, innovative storytelling through games, flat corporate structure, and altogether positive image, Steam can be downright insidious at times. This past weekend, for example, they held a sale on everything related to Warhammer 40,000 and its games. I got Dawn of War II as a Christmas present, including the Chaos Rising expansion, and had only played the demo of the over-the-shoulder shooter Space Marine. So how do the games hold up, and how do they do representing the universe from which they come?

Dawn of War II & Chaos Rising

I’d played the previous Dawn of War game and its expansions, so I knew the sequel would likely continue being a different experience from other RTS titles. Not only does Dawn of War II provide that gameplay, it surprisingly also showcases a coherent narrative with interesting characters. Rather than split its single-player campaign between the different races available, it keeps its focus on the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines, and the tale of a young and untested Force Commander (that’s you) dealing with the invasion of the chapter’s recruitment worlds.

Space Marines can come across as taciturn, even sullen warrior-priests in the lore, which as I understand it is a departure from their first appearance in 40k back in its first edition. The characters in Dawn of War II that make up your closest allies and battle brothers, by contrast, show a diversity of personality and motivation that works very well. Minor characters, such as the governor’s adjutant on Meridian and the Eldar farseer, also offer glimpses of depth and complexity you might not expect from this setting. All of the characters are voice acted well, which I’m sure is a relief to anybody who is at all familiar with the last original Dawn of War expansion, Soulstorm.

The gameplay is focused more on squad-based tactics than it is building a huge army and tossing it at whatever looks at you funny. Especially on Primarch difficulty, things like using cover and timing attacks properly is essential. The rewards for doing well are improved gear for you and your sergeants, as well as experience you can use to enhance abilities. It gives the game an RPG feel while holding onto its RTS roots. I didn’t really touch multiplayer in Dawn of War II, given the way the single player draws you in, and I do plan on running through and finishing the campaign again on that highest difficulty. It challenges my brain.

Dawn of War II: Retribution

The second expansion to Dawn of War II sees it returning to some older RTS & Dawn of War staples. There are now multiple single-player campaigns, which I suspect all play out along very similar lines. However, voice acting and characterization remain top-notch. I am, in particular, fond of the Imperial Guard’s Lord General, a man whose stiff upper lip can be difficult to see under his mighty mustache, moonlighting as a big game hunter when he isn’t sending waves of impressionable young men into the fray armed with glorified flashlights. I believe some of the characters from the base game and Chaos Rising return for the Space Marine campaign, so I may need to play through that one, as well.

Unfortunately, the tight focus on squad tactics has been lost, in favor of more traditional RTS structures and strategies. Building up sufficient forces to deal with incoming threats feels a lot easier than manipulating the limited resources of the previous campaigns. It’s still fun, but to me it just isn’t quite as challenging. It was Retribution, though, that introduced me to the multiplayer mode known as The Last Stand.

Being interested in MOBA-style cooperative strategy, The Last Stand is right up my alley. Three players, each commanding a single ‘hero’ unit, must hold off wave after wave of incoming enemy units from the various races available in Dawn of War. Each hero has unique abilities, equipment, and strengths. The speed at which you dispatch your foes, the number of rounds you survive without a player becoming incapacitated, and the strategic points you hold all factor into your score. Between games you level up your heroes and assign them equipment and abilities. As quick little bite-sized morsels of RTS & MOBA-flavored fun, it works quite well.

Space Marine

My first impressions of this shooter/spectacle fighter were good enough that I picked up the full game while it was on sale. The action maintains its weight and ferocity, and the story seems coherent enough so far. I can’t say the Ultramarines are showing quite the diversity of the Blood Ravens from Dawn of War II, but the voice acting is still good and the characterization thus far is coherent and consistent with the flavor and atmosphere of the source material.

With the full version I’ve also been able to try my hand at the multiplayer, which is a decent experience. Joining a small squad of Space Marines, be they loyal or Chaos, to control points, annihilate the enemy, or seize control of an ancient weapon has appeal in and of itself, but some of the nuances of the gameplay make it feel just different enough to be worth a look. At the start of the mission or when you respawn, you can pick from several different kits you’ve unlocked through gameplay: standard Tactical, a Devastator/Havoc heavy weapons loadout, and the high-flying Assault/Raptor kit. The biggest attention-grabber, for me at least, is that when you get killed, you can copy the loadout of the player that killed you. Even if they’re twenty levels above you with access to equipment and perks it will take you hours to acquire, you can load yourself up to mirror them and engage in a little payback.

It does have some issues, such as mics always being hot and the peer-to-peer lobby based system that indicates the console port nature of the game. Unlocks happen at a snail’s pace and there are a few weapon balance problems. I’m going to try the Horde mode and see what else I can unlock through some casual dabbling, but I don’t see it replacing TF2 or Tribes: Ascend any time soon.

Game Review: Tribes: Ascend

You may recall that precisely 104 days ago, I talked a bit about a first-person shooter called Section 8: Prejudice. While I still stand by what I said in that first impressions piece, especially when it comes to those who say the genre is ‘stagnating’ due to FPS games, I must also say I’ve stopped playing the game. Part of this is due to the growing realization that, as much as the loadouts lend themselves to customization coupled with the tantalizing promise of unlockable weapons, the visual style of the player avatars leaves one with the impression that every player is basically a Spartan from Halo in all but name and ability to jetpack around the map. There’s also the fact that in just about every way, the free-to-play title Tribes: Ascend leaves it completely in the dust.

Courtesy Hi-Rez Studios
Soldier on Katabatic

As a newcomer to the Tribes franchise I cannot speak to the backstory or experience of previous games. The lore and fluff of the universe is intimidatingly huge, and I will relate what I’ve managed to glean so far. In the semi-distant future a variety of human colonies have seceded from the human Empire and formed what are called Tribes in the void beyond Imperial borders, also called ‘Wildspace’ or ‘the Wilderzone’. There was, from what I understand, a truce between two of the largest tribes: Blood Eagle, descendants of Imperial Knights sent to beat the tribes into line with the Legate; and Diamond Sword, warrior-philosophers who petitioned the Emperor to enter the Wilderzone in order to defend the Empire from some unknown future threat. Something happened to that truce; I’m unclear as to what it was, being nothing more than a soldier, but now the Eagles are called ‘butchers’ by the Diamond Sword, while they are in turn called ‘betrayers’ or ‘sandrakers’, a derogatory reference by Blood Eagle to the Diamond Sword practice of maintaining Zen gardens.

The most important things about Tribes: Ascend are its speed and its weapons. Like Section 8, everybody has a jetpack. However, there also is a universal piece of equipment, strapped to the back of your shins, that basically cancels your friction on a surface and allows you to ‘ski’ across terrain, maintaining whatever momentum you’ve built up. This means that games of Tribes: Ascend often happen on the move and at a much faster pace than your traditional FPS. It’s one thing to sprint a bit across part of a relatively small map. It’s quite another to zip along at 130 kilometers per hour (on average) across maps with genuine terrain and frankly astounding skyboxes.

Courtesy Hi-Rez Studios
Pathfinder on Raindance

The other thing about Tribes: Ascend worth noting is that with three exceptions, none of the weapons are ‘hitscan’. In normal shooting games, your bullet goes right where your reticule is aiming instantly. “Point-and-click” you might say. Tribes weapons are projectile-based, and those projectiles obey the sames laws of physics you do. They inherit your speed, drop-off, arc when fired in the air, and so on. This leads to players needing to be a bit more skilled to pull off proper kills in some of the trickier classes, and makes getting awards like “Blue Plate Special,” given to those who blast an opponent out of the air with a spinfusor, extremely satisfying.

Ah, yes, the spinfusor. It wouldn’t be a Tribes game without one. The spinfusor is a weapon that fires a magnetically-accelerated disc at extremely high speed, which explodes on impact. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but when you start up the game for the first time, you may notice most of the variations on the crafty death-dealing device are locked. You are also, at first, somewhat limited in your choices for perks and other goodies, and you start with only three classes. This is the unfortunate drawback to Tribes: Ascend being free to play. You must unlock the other classes and weapons with either XP (earned by playing the game) or Tribes gold (for which you pay cash money).

Courtesy Hi-Rez Studios
Brute on Katabatic

Let me do a quick run-down of the classes themselves before I rake up any more muck. There are three light classes, most of whom look like they’ve strapped their jetpack and anti-grav boots on over your basic military fatigues. I really like this; not only does it make them visually distinct, it speaks to practicality in design. Anyway, you start with the Pathfinder, a speedy class best suited for grabbing flags, chasing down other light classes, or doing general harassment. You can unlock the Sentinel, a defensive sniping class, and Infiltrator, a sneaky S.O.B. with equipment to disrupt enemy defenses, destroy base assets like generators and turrets, and assassinate defenders. For the medium types you begin with the Soldier, a jack-of-all-trades that curiously starts with the lackluster assault rifle unlocked instead of the fun and more effective spinfusor. Anyway, the other two mediums are the Technician, which deploys turrets and makes repairs extremely quickly, and the Raider, a grenade-tossing offensive class dedicated to enemy base harassment and destruction. Last but not least, there are three heavy types, starting with the Juggernaut, which bombards the enemy with mortars and missile launchers. The Doombringer, a chain-gun toting defensive class, and the Brute, a hard-hitting indoors engine of destruction, can be unlocked. The classes offer a great deal of variety even within their weight classes, mean that there’s something for everyone, provided you stick with the basics long enough to unlock what you might like the most.

There are some reservations I have towards Tribes both as a current player and as someone singing its praises. I am looking forward to private servers quite a bit, as public servers can be hit-and-miss in terms of the quality and attitude of players. For the most part, it’s certainly more welcoming and less caustic an experience to play Tribes than anything on X-Box Live, but there’s still the occasional jerk or that string of games with a team that just can’t get its act together. The system for unlocks and the rate of XP feels relatively balanced, but as new weapons and skins are added, I can see this becoming a victim of Team Fortress 2 syndrome. I hope Hi-Rez Studios does not augment one class at a time. The first update, Cloak and Dagger, only updated the Infiltrator, and guess what was played almost exclusively for the next couple weeks. Finally, the learning curve for the skiing and projectiles can be a little steep for new players. It doesn’t handle quite the same as any other FPS and that can lead to a lot of initial deaths, even accidental ones when you misjudge where you’re putting a spinfusor disc or a grenade.

Courtesy Hi-Rez Studios
Juggernaut on Sunstar

All that said, however, once you get the hang of the momentum of the game, it’s an absolute blast to play. There are Arena, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Capture and Hold modes. Again, you’re bound to find something to suit your playstyle and your needs. I’ve definitely found it worth my time and more than fun enough to justify picking up some Tribes gold, which also incidentally gives you an XP boost and VIP status. If you’re interested in playing, click here, and I’ll see you in the Wilderzone.

Through A New Visor

Courtesy NerdyShirts

I’ve had some negative experiences playing Halo in the past, mostly due to the nature of the X-Box Live community. This caused me to hop on the bandwagon of people hating on the games. I picked up the Anniversary Edition of the first game for my wife, and have sat beside her during her first playthrough of the campaign. In retrospect, I may have been too harsh on the game in the past.

It’s easy to see that Halo comes from fertile sources. There are elements of Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, though the latter also informed the most direct influence, which was Aliens. I’m sure there are others, but those are the most prominent. Anyway, the game does take steps to do something new with characters like Cortana, Captain Keyes and 343 Guilty Spark. And as a cypher for the player, looking back, I’m kind of amused by the fact that not only is Master Chief taciturn and seen as somewhat foolhardy, he’s also not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer.

On top of being planted in fertile source material, the gameplay is solid. Since Halo came to be before the chest-high wall advent of Gears of War and its ilk, it feels, in retrospect, a lot more like Doom or Painkiller, in which our hero fights a seemingly inexhaustible horde of bad guys. Health kits still exist, with the shield being a dubious stopgap between you and certain death depending on the difficulty. Instead of velcroing you to cover, it trusts you have the wherewithal to simply duck out of the way if your shield needs to regenerate. The fact that later games would apply this to your health and undercut their difficulty severely as a result is hardly Halo‘s fault

Despite apparent restrictions, there’s freedom to be found. While having only two available weapons slots can seem a bit of a bummer, you can swap your weapons around at pretty much any time. My wife even demonstrated how to get a weapon you want from a nearby Marine despite the fact this was before the convenient context command to do so. Let’s just say that guy’s squadmates were a bit more afraid of Master Chief afterwards. Anyway, the ability to hijack enemy vehicles as well as drive or man the turrets of your own opened up new ways to deal with one’s opponents. I know this isn’t terribly new for fans of, say, the Battlefield series, but again, Halo can hardly be faulted for the results of its own success.

So why was I harsh? The fans. Consider fans of The Hunger Games, calling for some sort of boycott or action because Rue and Cinna are played by black actors. Or Homestuck fans, many of whom seem fond of depicting 13-year-olds having sex. I could bring up Mass Effect and the failed initiative to “retake” it or even the fans of any given sport who think smashing in the face of a fan of the other team is perfectly justified. Fandom unchecked leads to zealotry and even particular kinds of hatred. Halo is, at its core, a decent series of decent shooters and given the lion’s share of credit for saving the original X-Box. Just as it’s foolish to blame this particular game for every folly in shooters that came after it, it’s foolish to blame the game for the behavior of its fans. That was a mistake I let myself make repeatedly over the last few years.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I can say I was wrong about Halo. The first game, at least, holds up on its own with the benefit of a high-quality graphical touch-up. It just goes to show that fans of any stripe, no matter how enthusiastic they might be, need to check themselves. They otherwise run the danger of wrecking whatever the object of their affection might be, as well as themselves.

Game Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

A few months ago I finally got around to reviewing Deus Ex, a RPG-shooter that empowered a player to make choices while being unfortunately hindered by its technology. After a sequel that didn’t go over as well for many reasons, it would be a while before a third installment would come along. With a decade’s worth of improvements under its belt, Deus Ex: Human Revolution arrived last year with promises to deliver an authentic experience for fans of the old game while introducing new players to something with a bit more depth than your usual modern military shooter. These promises, along with the knowledge that this is actually a prequel to the original game, made me a little trepidatious when I first booted it up.

Courtesy Eidos Interactive
I like how the shades are the projection surface for your HUD.

The year is 2026, and prostheses once limited to medical applications have expanded into the realm of human augmentation, allowing those with the means and a tolerance for constant maintenance and drug intake to do things normal humans could only dream of. At the forefront of this new push in technologies is Sarif Industries, and its security is the responsibility of Adam Jensen. On the eve of a landmark hearing before Congress, Sarif is attacked by augmented mercenaries and Adam is mortally wounded. Saved from the brink of death by the very technology he tried desperately to protect, Adam must undertake the task of tracking down the metallic murderers and uncover their employers.

As it bears the Deus Ex title, you can expect Human Revolution to contain similar conspiracy theories, locations envisioned for a near future and interesting character turns. To its credit, the game does hit all three points, but it doesn’t quite reach the depths of the original. The plans of the opposing forces in Adam’s life can often be discerned relatively quickly. There are not as many locations to visit, and in fact you revisit the two main hubs once apiece rather than going to new places, an unfortunate result of a budget or deadline getting cut during production. I’ll deal with different character points as we go along, as this is likely the place where Human Revolution both shines the brightest and needs the most polish, if that makes any sense.

Courtesy Eidos Interactive

The good news for fans of Deus Ex, or in fact any stealth-based game, is that you will be rewarded for tactical thinking and moving unseen. With multiple routes to reach an objective and a system that rewards experimentation and improvisation, the core gameplay is incredibly solid, even the cover system and the finishing moves – which can be very satisfying to pull off on an unsuspecting guard that just walked past you reporting everything’s clear. The non-lethal weapons work just as well as their lead-slinging counterparts, making the challenge of completing the game without taking a human life actually seem appealing (at least to me). And the best boss fights happen in the form of conversation trees, where discerning the other person’s emotions and choosing the right response becomes just as arduous and fulfilling as shooting them.

One of the unfortunate concessions that had to be made to new players was a limitation on the number of role-playing game options available. While the augmentation system does allow a measure of customization early on, allowing players to purchase upgrade points as well as giving them as XP rewards yields more than enough elbow room to round Adam out in every area, especially considering some of the upgrades are completely useless. Speaking of Adam, his conversation animation and those of other characters occasionally felt a little jilted or unfocused, a problem that thankfully never occurred during one of the aforementioned talk bosses. The rest of the gameplay is so good, however, that these flaws can be overlooked without too much trouble.

Courtesy Eidos Interactive

The non-talk boss fights are perhaps the biggest problem I (and many others) have with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. With a game system that offers a plethora of ways to approach an obstacle, limiting one’s choices in a boss fight to “shoot the bastard” feels like a major dumbing-down of the source material. There are a few ways with proper planning beforehand to make these fights less of a chore, but at first blush they really throw the game off of its otherwise excellent pace. The ending of the game, as well, feels watered down. Rather than building up to a climax that empowers the player to make an informed choice through conversation, we are presented with a series of big red buttons. Getting railroaded in this way really undercuts the freedom of choice espoused in the original, to this game’s detriment.

While many of the decisions made in bringing this game to players disappoint or even infuriate, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is enjoyable to play for 90% of the time and does offer real replay value, outside of any DLC. On its own, it’s competent and executed well despite some glaring flaws; when compared to some of the other modern shooters out there, it shines like brushed chrome. It’s a much more worthy addition to the Deus Ex library than Invisible War, and I’m looking forward to playing it again, on the hardest difficulty level, without killing a single human being save for the boss fights.

Hoo boy.

Stuff I Liked: Adam’s a much more sympathetic protagonist than your run-of-the-mill soldier or space marine. He has support characters that are interesting without being irritants. Stealth gameplay is executed well and I liked getting little XP bonuses for taking the time to explore and taking down enemies quietly. And it’s always fun to move things like vending machines and copiers around in an office building or housing complex just for the heck of it.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The boss fights and ending made me feel railroaded and didn’t quite jive with the Deus Ex vibe. Some of the animations aren’t as smooth as they could have been. A couple stereotypical accents eek through here and there.
Stuff I Loved: A well-balanced main game engine underscored by an excellent soundtrack and beautifully rendered aesthetic. The talking bosses were a great departure for normal shooter gameplay, lending even more concreteness and immersion to the experience. Writing high above average for modern shooters and a definite respect for the original Deus Ex without being pandering or an act of fan service.

Bottom Line: It isn’t perfect, and some of the aforementioned flaws may seem like deal-breakers. But if you go into it with the right mindset, Deus Ex: Human Revolution will definitely scratch the itch that hasn’t really been scratched since 2000. It’s definitely worth your time to check out if you’re a fan of the original or of good RPG-shooters in general, especially if you can pick it up on sale.

First Impressions of Section 8: Prejudice

Courtesy TimeGate Studios

Most of the Steam sale madness has finally died down now that the holiday season is behind us. I’ll probably be writing full reviews of several titles I picked up recently, but for the moment I want to give my first impressions of a game I bought at the behest of His Majesty TotalBiscuit, Ye Olde King of the Web. The game is called Section 8: Prejudice.

It comes to us from a little studio called TimeGate, proving that if you can get your hands on the Unreal engine, you can actually do something new with a genre as storied as the first-person shooter. There will be people who say this particular type of gaming is either stagnant or dragging down all of gaming as a whole, with the behavior of kiddies on X-Box Live and the proliferation of chest-high walls, regenerating health and brownish-gray environments featuring brownish-gray player avatars. To those people, in addition to just about anything Valve does, I’d point to Section 8 as evidence that their argument is full of shit.

The basic premise is that the titular Section 8 is a division of what amounts to the Mobile Infantry as Heinlein envisioned it: dudes in powered armor dropped from orbit into global hotspots to dispense death at range. The antagonists are the similarly-equipped Arm of Orion and as to why they’re fighting, I can’t say. There’s a single-player campaign, but I’ve only played about five minutes of it at time of writing. I wanted to drop right into the multi-player.

And drop I did. You see, instead of having a specific spawn point, you begin by looking at an overhead map of the battlefield. You can see your control points, mission objectives and even movements of your teammates and opponents. Clicking on the map selects a drop point, and you begin the round by hurtling from your dropship onto the battlefield below. It’s probably the most involving respawn timer I’ve seen in a game like this for a very long time.

There are some superficial similarities to Halo what with gents in powered armor only carrying two ranged weapons at a time, but the gameplay couldn’t be more different. The sprint/overdrive mechanic and the jetpack built into your suit gives you incredible mobility, which you better be taking advantage of. Each control point, once hacked & secured, can give you access to your different loadouts on the fly. You have a lock-on feature with a cooldown period you can use to quickly shoot down an enemy. And yes, go back two lines – you have a jetpack. Just watch out for AA turrets.

As you work to support your team and seize objectives, you’ll earn points and cash. Points contribute towards your level and unlocking new ammo variants and other goodies. Cash can be used in-game to purchase equipment like the aforementioned turrets, tanks, speeders and mech suits. I’ve tried a couple different bits of equipment and the vehicle handling seems all right. It definitely adds even more variety to an already involving and exciting game. The maps themselves also add diversity through Dynamic Combat Missions, or DCMs, which range from securing intel to escorting a VIP across the battlefield. The more of these you complete, the more points your team earns and the more goodies you can unlock. It’s a lot more interesting than just camping a point.

Suffice it to say I’m glad I picked this up during the Steam sale and I’ll probably be playing more of it in the days to come. You can see more gameplay in the video below, and if you’re interested, I’d highly recommend picking it up. Be aware that it does use Games for Windows Live as it’s also available on the X-Box 360, but I say don’t let that stop you.

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