29 February, 2008

Review: SWAT 4

Here's a first for you. I'm going to review a game I didn't finish. SWAT 4 (Irrational Games, 2006) is a police swat team sim. But before we get into the serious stuff, here's why I'm not going to finish the game.

I'm playing a mission in a hospital. Armed (and armored) gunman are chasing down a diplomat they wounded in an earlier attack. I'd failed the mission multiple times already, in at least two cases due to my own stupidity, but four or five other times due to bad AI. The idiots chase anything that moves, running blithely past other gunman and getting killed.

This play through, predictably, wasn't going much better. I'd lost two of my four officers already. Things get extra tense when you don't have enough men to cover all the entrances and exits. I thought I'd caught a break, though, as I managed to sneak up on a bad guy facing the wrong way. I yell for him to drop his weapon. He does not comply. My two backup officers yell for him to comply. He starts to turn around. I fire.

Oh wait. I'm dead.

How did he shoot me before fully turning around and raising his weapon? I have no idea. But if I can't win three against one, enemy facing away, the game is over. It's time to pack it in.

Stupid Waingro.


So now that you know why I gave up on completing the game, why am I still going to write a review? Unlike most games I don't finish, that I just give a one to (I guess I should see if Gun will run on this new PC, eh?), SWAT 4, in the nine levels I did play, provided an experience that deserves discussion. Consider this an unofficial review, if you want.

At its core, SWAT 4 is a game about tactics and procedure, like the earlier Rainbow Six games. If you don't do it by the numbers, you or your team, or a hostage will die. This means you station your men to entryways. You use special SWAT devices to wedge doors shut. You use the optiwand to check corners and under doors before you move in. You control the situation.

As I am still mostly a run and gun man, I suck at this. But I learn (the hard way). The problem is, even if you do all of those things, you can still easily lose the game. Your AI buddies will break formation to run off after a suspect and die. Your AI buddies will keep yelling at a suspect to comply until he or she kills them. Sometimes you just take one in the head and it's over. The AI rushes in before tear gas can disperse and take effect. Flashbangs just don't work half the time. This is may be realistic, but it's no fun. And this is on normal difficulty. There are two levels higher than that.

I suppose I could just yell freeze and start shooting if they don't drop everything instantly, but I'm trying to do things by the book here. And even still, if a guy is pointing a weapon at me, but he's on the other side of a specific type of glass and I shoot him, I get cited for unauthorized use of deadly force. It's sad because the game is so close to providing a really tight experience. Even the co-op is broken. You can't fill in any empty slots on your team with AIs, so it's only good for exactly five players. This game is a tragedy. And since the Rainbow Six franchise has gone all Gears of War on us, It remains to be seen whether tactical shooters are over. Maybe I should go play some of the Insurgency mod for the Source engine and see.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the game is dark. By dark, I mean you will encounter most forms of evil that humans are capable of. Most games about law enforcement that I've played just say, "These guys are bad. Go get 'em". The mission briefings before SWAT 4 are always packed with details you'd rather not know, telling you how the situation got so screwed up that they needed SWAT in the first place. Robberies gone bad, apocalyptic cults, assassinations, and serial killers are all in there. And that's just in the levels I've seen.

The problem is in the execution. Some of your targets are morons. Some are pros. But they don't really feel much different. Sure, the cultists babble about eternity. The pros just yell back profanities if you tell them to throw down their weapons. But there's still something missing, and they all seem pretty brainless, in the end. I think it may just have come down to not having enough audio barks. I mean, I know people don't really say everything they're thinking like they do in the Thief games, but SWAT 4 errs on the other side, leaving all of your enemies feeling like robots. The stilted animation (especially in the faces) doesn't help at all, either.

The only people you really hear much from are the civilians who all complain about being cuffed. Unfortunately, there's no button that says, shut up. We can't be sure who's a bad guy so we have to cuff everybody. Well, there is. It's the pepper spray button. But it just makes them complain differently. :)

The game looks pretty good, especially for being two years old, bringing you environments both dilapidated and opulent (although they do dilapidated better).

The sound work is pretty good too, with just footsteps and tools making noise when things are quiet, up to the cacophony of grenades and yelling and firearms when clearing a room with a lot of hostiles and hostages.

Final Score
3 of 5

28 February, 2008

Still Workin' On It

I've been downloading a bunch more Source mods and trying to gain ground in SWAT 4. That game is so nerve wracking that I can't play two levels in a row. I cleared three today, with breaks for game news, the latest Retronauts podcast, and food. From a pacing standpoint, I feel like a success. From a success standpoint, I feel like a failure. It takes a special game to make this...

feel like a failure, but SWAT 4 basically does. The fact is, you don't have enough eyes to watch all the entry points all the time, so you need your AIs. But they can't do the job, often running into a room when they just saw the guy in front of them get cut down by a baddie hiding behind the door, a baddie they personally saw because I had them use the optiwand to look under the door, just in case that could help the AI know where to look. Plus we threw in a flash bang, which apparently the door shielded the bad guy from. Sigh.

Regardless, my heart goes out to anyone who ever actually had to go out on a call like this. Of course, on any mission this crazy, it'd make national news, so I know there aren't many people who have, which is a good thing. This game is friggin' dark.


Okay, so no screenshots for this one as it's not safe for work (mostly for the text, but there are also a few offensive pictures). Forumwarz is a web RPG, somewhat similar to my old friend Kingdom of Loathing. But whereas KoL was somewhat standard RPG, Forumwarz so closely mimics "internet reality" that it's a little disorienting at first. You chat with and receive email from imaginary people (just like the real internet) and fight pointless flamewars on message boards (ditto). Also, like KoL, you only get so many turns per day, so there's no threat of it becoming a life destroyer.

Okay, but the gameplay is really pretty fundamental. The key is the content. It's not for the young or easily offended as Forumwarz basically takes you to the yuckiest parts of the internet. It's something of a paradox. I've seen and heard enough about the memes mentioned to find them hilarious, yet I'm sure I'm also missing some jokes and can't decide if I'm happy or sad that I don't know all of the worst parts of the internet. :P

Anyway, it gave me a very good laugh, so I thought it deserved a plug. Actually, I was somewhat outraged that something so hilarious was released almost three weeks ago, and I'm just finding out about it now. Play through until level 3 and see what you think.

Rock Raiders and Shadowgrounds

I'm not posting this as a review because the game got too tedious to finish. I did play a full day of the game, though.

As you can see, Rock Raiders is something of an RTS (realtime strategy game). As such, the central mechanic is telling your little guys what to do. The two main methods of doing this are clicking on them to give direct orders and clicking on terrain to specify what you want done and letting the AI handle it. The AI is only barely functional, and you'll often find your little guys doing the lowest priority task first, going all the way across the map to pick up building materials when they were standing right next to the supply building, and so on. They'll occasionally commit suicide by working in squares overtaken by lava. I suppose some would consider this diligence. But it's stupidity.

There's also no way to review your mission objectives in game, and there are structures, vehicles, and terrain features whose purpose is not specified. It's like Dwarf Fortress for kids.

If you're completely fed up with the AI, you can take the game into first person. The 3D engine is pretty shoddy with polygon gaps and other problems that went out with the PlayStation 1, but wandering around your little base and watching the other guys work is still pleasing.

So why did I play it all day? It's like Dwarf Fortress for kids. Figuring stuff out for yourself is rewarding, in suitable doses. Also, I kept playing it thinking how, with some polish, it could be a really great game. It really never needed to be 3D either. It could have been a perfectly good isometric or overhead game. Regardless, I'd gotten a bit tired of blowing stuff up and wanted to do something constructive. It was a good change of pace.

I also played a bit of Shadowgrounds last night. It's an overhead third person shooter. It tries to be Aliens, right down to the motion tracker, but the creepy atmosphere is undercut by really flat characters and robotic animation. And the action, well, maybe I didn't play enough to judge, but I didn't find it very fun. Your character is slow, the guns lack punch, and the overhead perspective puts me too far away from the action. Also the co-op multiplayer, which was the only reason I was really interested in it to begin with, is not networked. And from the screenshots I've seen, it's not even split screen so you all have to agree on which way to go. Nevermind.

26 February, 2008

Review: Just Cause

Well, I finally got my butt in gear on the story missions and finished Just Cause. I had to cheat to finish one of the final missions. When you've got six rockets, and endlessly respawning helicopters are shooting missiles at you, you tend to die constantly. But, one totally broken mission aside, let's make with the review of Just Cause (Avalanche, 2006). Basically the game is about you playing a guy working for the CIA to topple the government of a fictional South American island state.

As the intro alludes to, Just Cause has some pretty broken gameplay. Gun shots barely hurt, but getting hit with a car is often instant death. Explosions are also highly lethal, and the idiots on your team will shoot explosive projectiles at enemy vehicles that are trying to run you down (this is of course when the idiots on your team aren't running you over and killing you themselves).

The dominance of vehicles would make them seem like the way to go, but the second I get in one, enemy helicopters switch from hair mussing 50 caliber machine guns to rockets which generally explode me and any vehicle in short order, so it's generally safest well away from the roads.

Just Cause also has a stunt system that lets you jump on top of your vehicle and leap to other vehicles. This mechanic feels pretty loose and uses context sensitive buttons which makes it easy to press the button a split second too early or late and completely screw up the maneuver.

There is also a grapple gun which lets you parasail behind boats, cars, helicopters, etc. It's occasionally handy, but using it to try and get those ever annoying helicopters off your back is a pain.

These are a joke. Just Cause's hero is supposed to be some sort of Latin James Bond. But with as often as he muffs stunts and gets run over, he's more like Inspector Clouseau. And the complete hack job that passes for a story and characterization is best left for an autopsy, not a game review. That crap was DOA.

And here is the section where you are rewarded for listening to my complaining with pretty pictures.

Again, this foliage and cloud mass is non interactive, which is always disappointing when I remember that even Joint Ops had effects for chopper wash. But at the end of the day, this stuff was the best part of the game. Off-roading through the jungles in first person, dodging rocks and trees was great. Flying and skydiving past amazing scenery was great. Even boating had its moments. As a game, Just Cause was lame. But as a reminder of vacations past...

It made me happy.

Final Score
3 of 5

25 February, 2008

Thinking of You

For the past few days I've been playing a bit of Just Cause. I stopped playing it on my old system because it would stutter horribly. It still stutters on my new system (something to do with the sound caching, I expect), but it's tolerable. It's also a fairly pretty game. The lush foliage is created through cheap tricks, and is completely non-interactive. But it still evokes memories of the years I lived in Hawaii. It's an open world game, and I'm a bit of a completist, so I'll probably be playing it for a couple more days before there's any review. Here's a postcard to tide you over.

I was going to post a prettier picture, but this is more "me".

22 February, 2008


There's nothing worse than spending valuable free time being ill. But watcha gonna do? I've been nursing a headache and sinus congestion for a couple days now. Since gaming generally makes my head hurt, I've only spent some time with Overlord and a couple GameTap puzzle games that weren't too taxing. Since I would never buy puzzle games unless they were super highly recommended, it's one of the nice things of having GameTap that I can play them without scrounging for ten minute demos online.

I liked Wario's Woods, back in the day. I guess I should play Mr. Driller and see if it's similar enough to be fun. For the most part though, I get the gist of a puzzle game then get bored with it. Sure. I could spend a lot of time developing new strategies, but if I'm going to work that hard, I want to have built something I can use at the end of it. It's the same reason I don't play Guitar Hero on expert, or most super involved strategy games or RPGs. (Final Fantasy Tactics, I'm looking sternly at you.)

The reviews are out on DMC4. It's good. It's not universally beloved, but it's good. I'm so looking forward to the eventual hardware price drops that will allow me to buy it. Supposedly the 360 hard drive will be going down in price before the month is out. That leads me to believe that versions of the 360 will also drop in price. Otherwise everyone will buy "Core Arcade" packs and upgrade manually to save $20. I'm pretty bummed that even the bottom end 360 has a wireless controller. If I'm playing a game like DMC4, my deaths to "lag" should be exactly zero... ever. That and having the controller tethered to the device makes me less likely to lose it. :)

There's some other news coming out from the Game Developers Conference. Sony and Microsoft are blathering on about dedication to indie games, which is crap. They'll do what they've always done and cherry pick maybe a game or two a month to put on their respective services. This is simply an area where consoles will always lose. There are too many concerns about obscenity and controlling the money for big companies to really let companies and players share games and content freely. None of the new Team Fortress 2 or Unreal Tournament 3 content is available on Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, to my knowledge, and when it is, chances are it'll cost you, at least for the first six months. Well maybe it'll be free on PSN, but not Live. Bleh.

19 February, 2008

Review: DooM 3: Resurrection of Evil

RoE (Nerve, 2005) is a continuation of DooM 3, where the UAC goes back to Mars and the obligatory chaos ensues.

Uh, it's DooM. There's a lot of shooting and a lot of dark spots where you need to use your flashlight.

The old fashioned save whenever you want system is also in effect. I've been spoiled by console style checkpoint saving and had to play some annoyingly long sections over until I got used to habitual quick saving again.

The monster balance is interesting. Whenever possible, the developer seems to want to use the new "Betruger Imp" they added to the game. The few times I saw the tentacle trooper or dog demons, I felt nostalgic. There was at least one other new monster which resembled a giant mancubus with actual legs. It was big and annoying and not much fun to fight.

On the weapon side, there is a new artifact which replaces the soul cube. I tried to use it as little as possible. It slows down time, letting you score some free hits. But it always felt cheap. And it's not like I needed it. Even on normal difficulty, there was well more ammo than I could ever use. I think I ended the game with over 200 shotgun rounds. And I love shotguns, especially the new double barrel. Taking down revenants in one hit is always good.

But the final new weapon pretty much superseded all others. The game features a gravity gun which lets you hurl barrels, yoink useful items, and throw fireballs back at whoever shot them. Since returned fireballs one-shot most of the enemies in the game and you can grab and hurl smaller enemies, killing them instantly, there's often not much need for firearms.

Still, the shaky cam that screwed up my aim when I got hit meant that if I let one or two monsters get too close, I was in a world of hurt. In my Quake 4 review, I said that the shaky cam was wrong for that game. It works in DooM because DooM is also supposed to be terrifying. I can understand why Raven may have wanted Quake 4 to have a horror element as well, but it just didn't work for me there like it does here.

Uh, it's DooM. There's some decent voice acting, and the story basically makes sense. Beyond that, it's about fighting bad stuff. I haven't played DooM 3 since 2004, but the expansion actually seems to have far fewer voice logs, which was somewhat disappointing.

Uh, it's DooM. Some humans look waxy, hell looks gross, and some stone textures look blurry and low res. Also, unlike Quake 4, they didn't screw up the flashlight, allowing me to see my own shadow, which adds a nice "you are there" feeling and occasional cheap scare. :)

Final Score
3 of 5

17 February, 2008

Busy Busy Busy

Hello friends and neighbors. Here's a keepalive with a mini-rant. I just got back from a family reunion. And just before that reunion I had to watch the first two Alien movies back to back because Game Informer came out with a cover story on Gearbox doing an Aliens FPS. I'm a little sad to hear that it's entirely marine focused. I thought the Predator was actually the most fun to play in Aliens vs. Predator 2 for PC. But this is Gearbox. I loved their Half-Life add-ons. I'm sure I'll love this game to. I am worried that they've bit off more than they can chew, though.

Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway
Samba De Amigo port to Wii

It seems like a bit much for what I thought of as a pretty small studio. Here's hoping.

Also, even though I was traveling, I got a little gaming in. I started playing Superstar Saga for Gameboy Advance. So far, it's developing nicely, although I'm still firmly in the introductory phases. I'll probably bittorrent it and play it on PC, though, as I hate the itty bitty screen on the DS.

I also got my hands on Ratchet & Clank Future (for PS3) during a stopover in a mall and was pretty unimpressed. Sure, the graphics were great, but the gameplay was much slower and easier than I remember R&C being. The R&C games were never about the difficulty, but they had a crispness I wasn't feeling in the PS3 sequel.

Devil May Cry 4 is about the difficulty, and it's out. Those of you who know me know that I love Devil May Cry to an extent that is illegal in many states. I bought DMC 3 brand new at retail (which I almost never do) and didn't regret it one bit. The fact that a new one is out and I'm not playing it means all is not well with the universe. Watch the news for unexplainable phenomena.

I'm not eager to spend $400+ for a 360, accessories, and game when I'm still feeling shaky about the reliability of the system. My understanding is that red rings are down, but the combined risk of red rings and disk eating are keeping me away. And the $450 it would cost to pick up a PS3 is just ridiculous. Nope. In theory, there'll be a PC port of the game, but I wouldn't play DMC on a computer any more than I'd play The Orange Box on a console.

Speaking of lackluster console ports, I figured out I had to stop using my 2nd CPU to get good old King Kong to run on the PC. Since it has no HUD, I'm thinking of taking it over to my friend's house to play on his plasma TV. Unfortunately, my nicer graphics card has made the game uglier instead of prettier, so I probably won't bother. But at least (after considerable searching and experimenting) it runs. Rainbow Six Vegas (like King Kong, an Ubisoft PC port) still crashes. After downgrading to older video card drivers, I've got it so it only locks up my PC instead of the flicker of a blue screen of death before rebooting it used to cause. It's a strange world where Clive Barker's Jericho is better than Rainbow Six Vegas. And that world is the PC.

In other PC news, I need to pick up a new VGA cable for my flatscreen. I've been playing on my old CRT since I got my new PC. And while the 85hz refresh rate is keen, I don't really have space for it on my desk, so I'm playing games in the dining area, which is hardly ideal. Also the glare on CRTs is terrible for dark games. I also need to pick up a new headset. I have a USB one that works, but I'm thinking of doing a "Let's Play" (a thread where you play through a game and show people what was so great about it) for the PA boards. Italax's Deus Ex Let's Play has inspired me. The problem is that my capture program can't get the sound it needs when I'm using my USB headset. And of course I could get back to that DooM speedmapping exercise any year now...

15 February, 2008

Why Everyone Else Is Wrong About Jericho

I shouldn't say everyone, of course. Some people gave it good scores. But a lot of major outlets panned it. Let's see what they had to say.

"Jericho's grand promises are not reflected in the game design at all." - X-Play (40%)

"The game's failure to monopolize on its squad dynamic relegates it to a shooter-by-numbers". - Edge Magazine (50%)

"The end result is just too routine to be scary." - PC Gamer (57%)

"At the same time, it's difficult to recommend a game with so many lackluster elements in a world full of Gears of Wars and BioShocks (both of which managed to be scarier than Jericho)." - GameSpy (60%)

"If the AI worked as it was intended, and if there was a cover system beyond "stand behind that pillar and the splash damage 'might' not kill you," Jericho would be great. But it doesn't, there isn't, and it's not." - PC Gamer UK (64%)

What's the common thread through all these reviews? They are all looking at the game as though it was supposed to be something it's not. They thought Clive Barker's name on it meant it would be scary. They thought the AI squad mates meant it would be a tactical game like Gears of War. These reviewers were victims of hype. That's understandable. I would have hoped they could have risen above that, but I've had movies, games, and music ruined for me by high expectations, so I can't judge too harshly.

Still, they saw that much black leather and chrome and didn't realize the game was over the top camp? Tsk, tsk. :)

14 February, 2008

Review: Jericho

Jericho (Mercury Steam Entertainment, 2007) is a first person action game where you control a squad of heavily armed magic wielding mercenaries trying to stop god's first creation from destroying mankind.

Jericho is an FPS with a few twists. You're almost always accompanied by AI teammates. You can jump from character to character to control them. And each have different weapons and powers you can use. But basically it's a mindless run and gun. There are no cover mechanics. Your squad mates are only somewhat helpful. The levels are almost completely linear, with the occasional boss fight to spice things up.

But the game doesn't really need much more than that. Popping heads on the weaker monsters, controlling the correct squad member to take out the stronger ones with minimal fuss, running around while everything's exploding, trying to keep your squad standing, and generally just playing with all the powers at your disposal is plenty of fun. The fact that this game does not support co-op will stand alongside the lack of co-op in Republic Commando as a crime against humanity. Seriously, if Jericho had co-op and user created content, I wouldn't be waiting for Left 4 Dead with half as much anticipation.

Despite Clive Barker being involved in the game's story, Jericho doesn't really exceed in the theatrics department. The characters are fairly well defined. There were a couple moments when I actually cared about them. The general concept is fine. I guess if you're religious it might be citing Gnostic writings you're actually familiar with, which might add some resonance. But as an indifferent agnostic, I generally view religious texts as the worst kind of fan fiction.

Jericho can be a very pretty game.

One effect I liked was that far away structures would be fuzzy until you centered your view on them, bringing them into focus. It's a small touch, but when you see it in action, it's pretty cool.

As long as I leave anti-aliasing off, I can run at 1024x768 with all the effects turned up. And while motion blur isn't always the greatest for gameplay, it looks cool in screen shots.

Also, the goriness gave me the shivers, even though the game itself was much more actiony than scary.

Final Score
4 of 5

11 February, 2008

That's Entertainment

I've been wondering if I should adopt the new scoring system EGM / 1UP is using. No more numbers. Just school grades of A through F (minus E, of course). Probably not. For EGM it was important. As Ubisoft and others kept pulling advertising dollars over "low" scores, as mentioned in the last few paragraphs of this post. You see, EGM was the only magazine that actually gave an average game a 5. Everyone else gives average games 7s, to keep their advertisers happy. There's even running joke that IGN reviewers have never heard of numbers below six.

I'm guessing the score aggregators will equate EGM's new scores to numeric equivalents (say 70 for a C-, 75 for a C, and 79 for a C+) and suddenly the publishers will be happy again, but EGM doesn't have to feel like they're selling out because they still get to give average games an average score in the magazine. It's a clever way to attempt to avoid the aggregator problem.

But if other outlets start using it (and you could argue they already are), aggregators may start putting up the letter grades, which will piss off the publishers all over again. At the end of the day, publishers like Ubisoft want you to believe their games are triple A while putting in B or C levels of time and money. They'll lie to accomplish this goal. Lies are free, after all. They'll lie to aggregators and use money to browbeat reviewers to lie for them.

I'm guessing this makes gaming slightly worse than movies and slightly better than music on the overall corruption scale. Meh. That's entertainment.

Review: Quake 4

Quake 4 (Raven Software 2005) is the continuation of Quake 2, which had nothing to do with Quake 1 or Quake 3. Yeah. Whatever.

Quake 4 is very much the standard FPS. Start a map. Get an objective to push a button somewhere else in the map. Kill everything in between. There are some attempts at mixing things up (vehicles, a special monster or two, traps), but most feel tacked on, without any interesting gameplay mechanics.

Also, your view gets knocked around when you take fire. That is wrong. If a game is tactical, where suppressing fire is supposed to actually suppress, then that is appropriate. In a raw action game like Quake 4 which has no cover mechanics, it is not.

The game makes some attempt at making you feel a part of a war effort, with occasional AI teammates (who don't just get themselves killed) and frequent communication to let you know what's going on in other parts of the fight. The acting and directing are fine. The fact that the marines are often named after developers is simultaneously cute and distracting. And no one has any personality, except this guy.

He's a coward and a pompous jerk. Aren't you glad they decided that this was the one character worth developing?

Built on the DooM 3 engine, the game does shadows, metal corridors, and glowy stuff quite well. Make sure to check out the larger pictures as the thumbnails don't do the graphics justice.

One pet peeve I'd like to share about the aesthetics is the messed up flashlight. I find it much more immersive to have my player shadow on, but the flashlight effect emanates from behind the players arms and weapon (I guess it's chin mounted. :P ), which means you can't look down with it when the player shadow is enabled. This is a downgrade from DooM 3.

Final Score
3 of 5

10 February, 2008

Eyes Bleeding. Hands Shaking. Must... PLAY MORE GAMES!

I'm officially unemployed. Since it's only been one weekend, it doesn't really feel that different yet. Well, I did let my sleep schedule go. But I'll do that over any holiday or even some normal weekends. I haven't finished many more games, but I've mostly been playing multiplayer, which you really don't finish per se.

Partly by way of justifying my continued investment in PC gaming and partly because it had been a long time since I could stay up late enough to really enjoy populated server times and partly because I wanted to see if I could find anything to recommend for our next LAN party, I grabbed a bunch of mods (almost exclusively for Valve's Source engine) online. I'd heard about many of these before, but the source engine often crashed on my old PC (that one sound skipping crash they could never diagnose), so I never tried them out.

Zombie Panic! Source

The Pitch: Try and survive against the zombies. If you don't survive, become a zombie and hunt down your former comrades.

My Opinion: The game feels sparse. You spend a lot of time seeking the good weapons or hiding. Occasionally you can barricade, but you don't have Half-Life 2's gravity gun so you can't pick up anything heavy enough to be useful. I suppose that works for some people. I found it dull.


The Pitch: Half-Life 2 co-op (since Sven Coop for Source may never come out :)

My Opinion: In theory, this could be fun. In practice, it's usually like Sven Coop, i.e. not fun. Some servers have ridiculous jumping puzzles that take hours. Some servers are playing weird variations on capture the flag. Some are playing the Half-Life 2 levels, which are way too short. There were a few levels I enjoyed, but overall playing co-op with strangers was pretty lame. Someone would occasionally say thank you for healing them, but mostly it was just a rush to the next encounter and the next set of weapons, just like Sven.

Zombie Master

The Pitch: Play an RTS where the other players try to survive as you destroy them with zombies and traps.

My Opinion: In a crowded field, Zombie Master is my favorite zombie mod thus far. It has its share of bad maps, the learning curve is a little steep, and it can lag the crap out of your system when a hundred zombies have been spawned. But the interplay between the zombie master and the players is really cool. On a good map, you never know where the next attack will come from. Will the zombie master try to put up a meat wall to block the team? Will she instead save those points and try to kill them with traps? Will she box the team in with slow movers, or harass them with faster creatures? As you can guess the replayability (again, on a good map) is quite high.


The Pitch: Armored warriors fight it out while hackers in cyberspace hack turrets and doors to give their side the advantage.

My Opinion: The models are very pretty. There are a lot of good ideas. But the linear progression of mission objectives and the maps themselves keeps the game always feeling like the same siege, over and over, just in different environments. Also the fact that hacking is clicking on menus, occasionally interrupted to fight an enemy hacker, is pretty dull. Computer defenses you had to actually fight / disarm could add a lot to the game. Dystopia's good fun, but it could be brilliant with a few more improvements.

Pirates, Vikings, and Knights 2

The Pitch: Hack, slash, and occasionally shoot as you fight over booty.

My Opinion: I've never been a big fan of hand to hand in first person, but PVK2 does it about as well as I've seen. And the game generally has a good crazy atmosphere (largely thanks to the pirates' powder kegs and attack parrots).

05 February, 2008

Tasty Backlog (and Crysis apology)

I've had so many games waiting for this new PC. I've played through Quake 4, Call of Duty 2 (pictured in the last updated), half of SWAT 4, a little bit of Rainbow Six Vegas (it keeps BSODing (Blue Screen Of Death)), and the Crysis demo again.

First off, I should apologize to Crysis. I'm still reserving judgment for the full game, but some of my problems with Crysis were because of my slow computer. Playing on easy difficulty on my new PC is actually easy. I can actually survive firefights, whereas the AI seemed to kill me instantly on my old machine. It's not ideal that Crysis is like playing Quake on the AI's -listen server (the AI moves at full speed while you lag), but my old system was slightly below the minimum spec, so that's still not Crytek's fault.

I'm sorry I misjudged your demo. Here's a screenshot showing how pretty it is on my current PC. No hard feelings?

A small note of weirdness, upping the detail settings from low to medium has added birds I don't remember seeing before, both flying and wandering through the bushes. They're nice (especially the land fowl). But it's weird to have a detail setting add wildlife.

03 February, 2008

About the Last Few Days

I attended a funeral and put together a new PC. See? Simple.

With how much the gaming business is centered around the consoles these days, I felt a little odd about buying a PC, but I can get mods and indie games without having the wait for lengthy approval processes or, heaven forbid, pay money. The PC's status as an open platform means the most interesting stuff will generally start there. Plus I still enjoy the occasional LAN party and didn't like being the guy who had to bum a spare computer to play the modern games.

Here are the specs, for those who are big on specs.

CPU: AMD X2 5600
Graphics: EVGA 8800GT w/ 512MB RAM
OS: WinXP Home
HDD: .5TB 7200RPM 8MB
Case: Sonata 3
DVD: Samsung S203B

It's certainly not the highest end available, but it's pretty close to the price / performance sweet spot, and I won't need a bunch of new drivers.

Plus it makes my games look like this (click to enlarge).

Which is pretty cool.