Tag: multiplayer

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.

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.

Game Review: Team Fortress 2

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I never played the original Team Fortress (now dubbed Team Fortress Classic). I don’t know if I ever had enough friends who also played that could have helped me assemble a decent team. But the appeal of the idea was never lost on me, and with the advent of Team Fortress 2, as part of the Orange Box, the burning coal of an idea concerning team-based class-focused competitive shooter action has been refined to the point of diamond pearlescence.

Courtesy Valve

With an aesthetic that’s one part The Incredibles and one part Sam Peckinpah, Team Fortress 2 introduces us to rival companies Reliable Excavation & Demolition (RED) and Builders League United (BLU). These companies employ a variety of mercenaries in an attempt to secure various construction sites. Some of them are the sources of a valuable resources and others are the secret location of some sensitive documents. Whatever the reason for the spit of land in question to be fought over, RED & BLU reveal themselves to be dedicated to defeating each other to the point of people blowing each other into juicy chunky bits in the name of their employer’s victory. It’d be a somewhat chilling commentary on the cutthroat nature of business and the brutality intelligence agencies are capable of perpetuating, if the game wasn’t so hilariously over-the-top and presented like an animated 60s Bond film with more explosions and less voluptuous women.

The focus here is on the co-operative nature of team game play, and so the aesthetic is designed to ensure that any players class, current weapon and team affiliation are easy to determine at a glance. Because sometimes a glance is all you get before parts of your body are flying in all directions. In a similar mode of thought, the maps of the game are not interested in being visually intricate in the manner of some Halo environments, nor are they the dingy corridors or dank caverns of Gears of War. While most of them tend to be somewhat arid and unadorned by vegetation, they’re also easy to navigate and provide not only open areas for large skirmishes but various ways for players interested in using stealth to get into positions while those laying traps have plenty of spots from which to choose. Speaking of which, the classes bear particular mention, in that the phrase “something for everybody” has never been more true in a gaming sense.

Courtesy Valve
Awesome comes in a variety of flavors.

The nine classes are broken into three broad categories: Offensive, Defensive and Support. Offensive classes are all about taking the fight to the enemy. The Scout is concerned with speed first and foremost, getting right into an opponents face and either blasting them with a sawed-off shotgun or beating them into a pulp with a bat. The Soldier uses a rocket launcher at range, a shotgun close-up, and a shovel when maggots just get too close to the guy’s war face. The final offensive class is the Pyro, who not only pushes back enemies with their flamethrower but can also light invisible spies on fire just as much as everybody else. Defensive classes, on the other hand, are designed to make sure that getting close to them is a bad idea. When it comes to blowing things up, the Demoman is unmatched, using either standard grenades from a launcher to blast oncoming threats or sticky ones to lay traps for unwary intruders. Fans of flying bullets and a metric fuckton of health need look no further than the Heavy, whose multi-barreled companion Sascha mows down the opposition as the player takes on the role of mobile wall of enemy deterrent. The Engineer is more of a stationary defender, building sentry guns of ever-escalating power and complexity in order to dissuade anybody from the other time from getting close. Finally, the Support classes are those that fall into neither offensive nor defensive roles exclusively, but exhibit flexibility in their specialization. Paramiliary units wouldn’t last long without a Medic, and this class is just as much at home supporting an offensive push as standing behind the Heavy to ensure there’s no shortage of gatling-flavored death for all comers. The Sniper can perch either over an area where his shots will clear the way for an offensive push or back by the friendly objective to create a place full of would-be infiltrators. Last but certainly not least is the Spy, the gentlemanly backstabber who must carefully choose when and where to reveal themselves regardless of whether they’re sneaking into an enemy base, pouncing on the stragglers in an assault or sabotaging a nest of defenses.

If you’re at all interested in shooting stuff with or at other people, chances are one of these classes will be up whatever alley happens to be yours.

Courtesy Valve
“One of you ate my sandvich! I know it! I MAKE YOU CRY SOME MORE!”

Given its emphasis on co-operative play, Team Fortress 2 is one of those games best played with people you know. This can be a group of friends or an organization like a clan or guild, but either way, my experience has been that randomly joined games are nowhere near as fun as those played with folks with whom you’re familiar. Given the pervasiveness of verbal abuse and elitism among on-line game players, especially on Xbox Live, joining a random game of Team Fortress 2 might just turn some people off of the concept. Mastering any one of the game’s classes takes practice, and doing so in an environment where you’re being reminded of how much you suck can be quite a deterrent. Then again, that could just be my opinion, given that somewhere along the line I turned into a big fluffy care bear.

Regardless, if you can find a bunch of people playing on the same platform, seeing a plan come together in Team Fortress 2 can be a fun and rewarding experience. If nothing else, the way in which the game is presented makes it notable, unique and downright awesome. The gameplay itself might not be for everyone, but I’d be surprised if there was someone out there who didn’t appreciate the time, effort and sheer amount of fun represented by the various Meet the Team videos. It’s difficult to find anything overtly critical to say about an online shooter focused on co-op play that’s balanced between the disparate roles people might wish to play, and I’ve yet to play the Steam version that includes updates with unlockable weapons and costume changes. So, instead, here’s that picture of the Sniper again, because if I do dive back into Steam to play Team Fortress 2 in the near future, you’ll likely find me donning a hat decorated with ‘gator teeth and keeping my eyes peeled for those pesky Spies.

Courtesy Valve
It’s a good job, mate.

Stuff I Liked: Balanced classes in co-operative setting under the pretty peerless direction of Valve.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Again, it’s a personal thing, but some of the people in random games who trash-talk new players just for being new & inexperienced really rubbed me the wrong way.
Stuff I Loved Love: The aesthetic, spirit and mentality of this game and its ongoing production makes me strongly inclined to give it another go as soon as I can afford to download it via Steam.

Bottom Line: Well, I just said I’m going to find a way to get it on Steam, which is probably about as definitive a recommendation as I can muster. I don’t want to discourage Xbox owners from playing, either, and if you find a few of you are on a server hosted by Xbox Live, drop me a line. I just might show up.

Orange Box Reviews: 80% complete.

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