written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 24 July, 2011
I've been trying the free to play games again, and it's not working for me. I even got tired of League of Legends early in the week. It's not a bad game, but there's just something about making these cute little avatars do violence to each other that feels too removed to be satisfying and too aggressive to fit with the art style. I think a direct control scheme (as opposed to click to move) might help the former.
Alliance of Valiant Arms
I actually tried War Inc. first, because Steam said it had co-op. But Steam lied, so I deleted it immediately. It's nice to have internet fast enough that you don't feel obligated to play something just because you invested a lot of time in the download. But back to the subject...
This is the co-op mode of AVA. If you look in the top left corner you can see that this is not part of a map, you are looking at virtually the entire map. Three sets of doors spawn waves of bad guys who run at you with knives. You die in two or three hits and subsequent waves are better armed. Co-op DooM is more refined.
I tried some of the versus multiplayer. The map wasn't much bigger. It was like the worst maps in Counter Strike being played over and over in order to earn enough game points to buy marginally better weapons and weapon enhancements that degrade over time. If Dante's Inferno is to be believed, there is at least one layer of hell itself which is more pleasant than this game.
Global Agenda is basically a free to play MMO about fighting robots. As action MMOs go, it's not terrible. It's less crazy than Champions Online, which is probably good for some people. For me, the most entertaining thing about the game was the fact that it let me create a character resembling Futurama's geriatric robot magnate Mom, then watch her be an action hero who shoots robots.
But at about level fifteen the game seemed to run out of solo content. And while I did appreciate the variety of the randomly generated instances, the fighting didn't have enough oomph to keep me satisfied.
A couple guys from the Penny Arcade forums made some games which finally got released on Steam. They aren't free to play, but at $3, they're close enough.
Yep. They're SNES era JRPGs. They've added many delightful improvements (a run button to cover terrain faster, silly enemies and stories, and a finite number of random fights before you're free to explore at your leisure), but when I'm winding my way through yet another maze, knowing that I have to explore the entire thing or miss out on loot I'll want to have for the boss fight, I can't help but feel it's still not streamlined enough. Plus you make permanent choices between abilities when you level up. I often found myself wishing I could change those choices retroactively to correct mistakes or just experiment more with the combat system. At $3, they were a treat. But after playing through both, I'd probably pass on spending even the time it would take to play another.
Iron Grip: Warlord
The following picture probably makes Iron Grip look about three times as fun as it actually is, and at $10, it's probably a bit overpriced. But I enjoyed the demo enough to play it for four hours, so they earned their money through an older form of free to play.
Iron Grip is a co-op FPS tower defense game. You can see why I was particularly intrigued. The main problem with the game is lousy difficulty balance. Easy starts way too easy. But Medium is nigh impossible without human backup or exploiting the map and enemy AI pretty thoroughly. Also, the turrets are so weak that the tower defense aspect isn't worth much. That said, I did enjoy parts of my Easy playthrough of the game.
At it's best, Iron Grip let me play a super soldier. In the picture above, I have been set on fire by a flame thrower and am still strong enough to hold back an enemy platoon by myself. Did I mention I was on fire? But with great power, comes great responsibility. Should I be thinning the herd, focusing on enemy armor, or seeking out the enemy leader to damage morale (the primary way to win)? Feeling like you are the one soldier capable of turning the tide of a war is very empowering. It's the Dynasty Warriors of FPS.
While it's payment model isn't in keeping with the week's theme, at less than thirty dollars for a hundred and fifty hours of fun, Killing Floor is probably still the best value on this list. I still enjoy feeling out the strengths and weaknesses of a new group, tying to decide what role to fill, and telling the occasional bad joke. Why I enjoy this in Killing Floor and not in any other FPS or MMO may forever be a mystery.