Posts Tagged ‘Shooters’

Far Cry 2 Tech Demo

May 30, 2008

Lots of people have been talking up Far Cry 2, with many previews effectively saying that it defecates over Crysis from a great height. Well, from what I’ve seen so far I’m not so sure if it’s going to be a hands down win, but check out this recently released tech demo…

Wow! Fire propagation looks like heaps of fun, and could potentially be a useful gameplay tactic: don’t want to rush a compound head on? Why not start a fire with your flamethrower and flush ’em out?!

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Crysis: Review’d – Part 2

April 26, 2008

Crysis logoMissed part one? Check it out here.

The AI of the enemy soldiers delivers most of the challenge in Crysis. When it’s one-on-one – you vs. a single enemy – they don’t stand a chance. When there’s a group of bad guys, however, the odds are somewhat evened.

Patrols will respond instantly to suspicious noises like gunfire by fanning out and searching the surrounding area. If you give away your position you should expect to be pinned down by enemy fire while one or two Koreans try to flank you. This means movement is key – and you’ll derive a sadistic pleasure from the “de-cloak, down a couple of enemies, re-cloak and reposition” routine.

One major shortcoming in the AI reveals itself when you come across sniper towers. Assuming you can take out the current occupant, if you climb up you can effectively take out any enemies nearby with impunity… As long as you duck from time to time. No one will attempt to climb up or throw a grenade to flush you out. In fact, the only reason for not staying put would be if they call in a helicopter.

Crysis Screenshot 2For most of the first part you’re given a goal – usually something like “get to the science station on the other side of the island” – and it’s up to you how you complete it. More or less. Let’s be clear – this is not some sort of free-form Oblivion or S.T.A.L.K.E.R-esque RPG where you’re given an island to explore at your leisure. You’re on a mission soldier! You do have some freedom of movement, but it’s by no means total.

To give you an idea of how the tactical gameplay works, let’s look at the kinds of choices you can make when faced with an enemy encampment: a) rush straight in, guns blazing; b) creep round the side in the undergrowth; c) use stealth and patience to pick off the soldiers one by one; or d) bypass it altogether by hijacking a boat downriver and sailing past?

Okay, there’s more to it than that, but you get the idea. Often your movement will be restricted by insurmountable physical obstacles, like walls of a ravine, but it never feels linear like Half Life. It regularly opens up and it’s up to you and your nanosuit to take on an army of Korean bad guys.

And it’s a lot of fun. The game throws some variation at you in the form of enemies with the same super-suit as you, but generally speaking it sticks to a tried and tested formula of sneaking around, ambushing patrols, and blowing up trucks and buildings. Great!

Until the second part. (**MODERATE SPOILERS**)

Crysis Screenshot 1The last third of the game changes gear somewhat, starting off with a section where you’re floating around a buried alien spaceship. Then there’s an escape flight in a VTOL, and finally a series of super-boss battles with various alien nasties.

This represents a significant shift in pace and style – characterized by a much more linear, run-n-gun approach in contrast to the sneaksy stealth that preceded it. It’s a little disappointing, but not so much that it condemns the game.

There’s still plenty to enjoy in Crysis – not least the outstanding visuals – but sadly it narrowly misses out on classic status.

Crysis: Review’d – Part 1

April 25, 2008

Crysis logoIt’s not until you’re about 20 minutes into Crysis that its full breathtaking visual beauty is unleashed. It happens just after you’ve taken out a group of Korean soldiers on patrol in a ravine thick with undergrowth. In the early dawn light you loot the corpses for ammo and reload.

Following your CO’s lead, you head uphill, out of the jungle. Then, just as you emerge onto a cliff top overlooking an enemy encampment at the edge of a harbour, the sun rises…

Wow!

At this point, I guarantee your jaw will drop (assuming you’ve got a PC powerful enough to run the thing). First you just have to take all the details in: The sunlight glimmers on the ocean as the waves lap against the shore. The palm leaves above cast realistic soft shadows on the ground. The trees sway lazily in the breeze – if you’ve seen the demo, you’ll probably whip out your rifle and start creating some lumberjack mayhem here. The vegetation all reacts just as you’d expect it would when you unload 40 rounds of hot lead in 10 seconds flat…

I could go on. There’s all sorts of other DirectX10 shenanigans at work here too: depth of field; HDR lighting; motion blur… You name it. The whole effect is frankly stunning.

So it looks great, but how does it play?

Crysis Screenshot 3Crysis is a game of two parts: the first part (which takes up roughly two thirds of your playing time) is pretty great. It goes like this: you’re part of an elite commando unit carrying out a top secret black ops mission on an island in the Pacific Ocean… Blah blah – the usual shallow FPS plot guff ensues, but suffice to say it involves plenty of angry Koreans, one hot scientist babe and a mountain-full of multi-tentacled alien-robot hybrid things.

It also involves – and this is important – a super-suit with four different powers. Look, don’t ask: you’re a super commando, alright? The best thing is that you’re in your suit right from the word go.

I’d better say a little about the suit, since it’s the unique selling point of Crysis.

Default mode is armour, which drains energy instead of health when you get shot. And you’ll be getting shot a lot in this game. Then there’s strength which, er, makes you dead strong and that. Oh, and it also allows you to jump very high. I never used this mode too much, although you can see it a lot in the promo videos where players are levelling trees and shacks with their fists. Speed is less than useless thanks to it’s massive energy drain.

That brings us to the final, most useful mode. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be using cloak most of the time. As you might expect, this makes you almost invisible for limited periods of time. Perfect for sneaky, stealth-o-philes like me who were raised on sneak-em-ups like Thief and System Shock. Once you get adept with it, though, it almost makes the game too easy.

That’s it for part one. Tune in tomorrow for the second part of the review, where I talk about AI, gameplay choices and the disappointing final act.

Keyboard+Mouse vs. Gamepad Finally Resolved

August 23, 2007

Earlier this month gaming blog Joystiq speculated that the Unreal Engine 3 — used to power the hotly anticipated Unreal Tournament 3, among others — will support cross-platform online play between PC and PS3:

Gamespy Tech + Unreal Engine 3 = crossplatform PS3 and PC online play

Unreal 3_1

At last! Now we can finally put to rest the age-old debate: “Which is better? Keyboard+mouse or gamepad?” As a long-time PC-gamer, I’m fairly confident that the legions of UT fans who have honed their FPS skills since the first in the series was released back in 1999 will come out on top. And perhaps I can now dish out some serious pwnage on all my console-friendly buddies who always paste me whenever I play an FPS with a gamepad. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve displayed serious suckage when wrestling with the gamepad control mechanism in shooters. Soon it’ll be payback time!

Unhappily however, it seems Epic have already foreseen the potential imbalance this move would allow, and are planning to make UT3 compatible with the PS3 keyboard+mouse setup. They’re also set to allow the host of any online game to decide whether to allow mixed controller matches.

Whatever the case, I just can’t wait for the game to be finished so I can start practicing my Shock Rifle combos again. Bring on the carnage!

Crysis Won’t Run on Next-Gen Consoles — Crytek

August 29, 2006

Team X-box are reporting Bernd Diemer, senior designer at Crytek, as saying that next-gen consoles like the Xbox360 and PS3 aren’t powerful enough to run Crysis “as intended” by the developers:

Full story (from Team X-box)
(via Firingsquad)

Apparently:

only DirectX 10 allows the game to run as it was intended by the developers because the next-generation DirectX API, which will ship along with Windows Vista, allows more effects and more objects to be drawn on the screen with a smaller computational cost for the hardware.

Of course, this could all be nothing more than marketing bluster, designed to increase the game’s cred among the “OMG!! H4rdC0R3!!” graphics-whore crowd. Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a smug, warm glow somewhere inside with the knowledge that next-gen PC hardware is already leaving behind the so-called “next-gen doesn’t start till we say it does” Sony teraflop-machine.

I’ve already commented that Crysis is looking sweet. But now the question is: will I ever be able to afford a PC good enough to run it? With this announcement, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.

Portal By Valve

August 9, 2006

Recently, I’ve been getting excited about Portal, an innovative mini-game which is going to be bundled free with Half Life 2: Episode 2. On the surface, it doesn’t look like anything special: it’s a first-person perspective game which has the player as a test-subject in some sort of military research lab. The hook is the Portal gun which looks as if it will provide a really novel and fun way to interact with the game world and solve puzzles. This alone puts this game near the top of my current “most wanted” list.

The idea is simple: firing at a wall or floor creates a portal; fire again at a different area and you create a gateway from one portal to the other. You can travel through the portals to reach an otherwise inaccessible location in an instant, or use them to manipulate objects without touching them.

It’s difficult to explain the full potential for awesomeness, so here’s a youtube video showing it in action:

(More information about Portal can be found in IGN’s Preview, and in their interview with the developers.)

Now, I know Prey has recently made extensive use of portals for much mind-bending, stomach-flipping, gravity-defying fun. However, portals in Prey are static. In Portal, Valve are taking things a step further by giving the player the power to create portals.

It seems like Valve are constantly experimenting with new weapons and new ways to use fancy physics as part of gameplay. They did it with the gravity gun in HL2, and there have recently been reports of a secret, untested black hole grenade in HL2: Episode 1 which can be activated in-game via the console. Now there’s the Portal gun, which surely has the potential to be used in future instalments of Half-Life, and, like most good ideas, will probably be ripped-off by other developers hungry for new ideas (I’m looking at you, ID Software).

This kind of innovation should be applauded and encouraged. I’ve been getting real FPS fatigue lately, starting with Call of Duty 2 and FEAR. It looks like the Portal gun could change that; at the very least, it’ll offer a fresh new slant on FPS gameplay, and it’ll give the player something else to think about besides whether to use a shotgun or an automatic rifle to dispatch the next bad guy.

With Portal, the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, and Episode 2 in one package it looks like it could be game-on once more for Valve and Half-Life.

Valve, Half-Life and the future of open-ended gameplay

June 15, 2006

I’ve just read a two-part interview — part 1 and part 2 — with Valve (creators of Half-Life) on Eurogamer and I’m feeling a little disheartened about the future of one of the most famous PC game franchises.

First, a quick history lesson for the uninitiated: In 1998, Valve released Half-Life, a first-person shooter for the PC. In the game you play the role of a scientist/action hero, Gordon Freeman, who manages to open a portal to another dimension on his first day working at a top-secret government research facility.

Gordon Freeman

It’s not much of a stretch to say that Half-Life pretty much single-handedly revolutionised the FPS genre, despite an admittedly lacklustre final act. It managed this in several ways. First, there are no cutscenes: everything in the game is seen from the player’s point-of-view. This means you’re never taken out of the action; not even for a second. From the introductory train ride through the Black Mesa research facility to the final confrontation on Xen, you effectively become Gordon Freeman. Then there’s the astonishing use of in-game set-pieces. Half-Life managed to incorporate the kind of jaw-dropping action sequences previously seen only in cutscenes into the actual game itself. There are just so many memorable moments–anyone who’s played Half-Life will remember the scientist falling down the lift shaft; the first encounter with a head crab; cautiously creeping past the blind multi-tentacled alien in the blast pit; or desperately dashing for cover to avoid the black helicopter on the surface. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there’s the variety and pacing of the gameplay itself. You never spend too long on a single task in Half-Life; one minute you’re tangling with soldiers, the next you’re trying to figure out how to cross a room filled with electrified water… Despite being utterly linear, Half-Life succeeds because it constantly changes the challenge for the player.

In 2004 — six years later — Valve released the hugely awaited follow-up, Half-Life 2. The anticipation surrounding the release was such that, in one gaming magazine, a simple picture of a crowbar (Freeman’s signature weapon) on a white background was enough to send fans into a frenzy of speculation about the sequel. Perhaps inevitably for a game with so much media attention, first impressions of Half-Life 2 were mixed. Some fans were unreasonably disappointed that it wasn’t the game they’d already designed in their head. That’s not to say it wasn’t well-received; the game enjoyed almost universally high scores from most of the big-name PC game sites. However, this time round the watchword was evolution, rather than revolution. Half-Life 2 didn’t reinvent the wheel, it just fitted brand new treads and pimped it out with a set of shiny, chrome 20″ rims.

With HL2, Valve once again showed they were masters of pacing and variety in FPS gameplay. What’s more, the gravity gun introduced an entirely new (and incredibly fun) way for the player to dispatch the bad guys. It’s a simple idea: pick up objects with the right mouse button, blast them away from you with the left. Of course, it helps if the object in question is heavy or sharp, or, preferably, both.

At first, I was one of those fans who was a little disappointed with the game. It didn’t stand out from the competition in the way the original game had; at least, not obviously so. On the first run through, it felt like just another “on rails” shooter, albeit an exceptionally well-produced and entertaining one. On subsequent plays, though, I’ve come to appreciate the thing that, for me, sets Half-Life 2 above the rest. I’ve fallen in love with the atmosphere of the game.

I suppose I should explain that I’m a bit of a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings in general — think 28 Days Later, Day of the Triffids, or Fallout; but not Reign of Fire or The Day After Tomorrow (I have standards!). There’s something intriguingly chilling and exhilirating about seeing the highest works of mankind laid to waste by forces more powerful than we can comprehend. I also find it strangley compelling to speculate on the way in which humans, faced with such a scenario, would rise from the ashes and start again. Half-Life 2 is a veritable feast of post-apoc goodness. From the decaying Eastern-European vibe of the Orwellian City 17 to the zombie and antlion-infested coastline, the game leaves you feeling uneasy and with the strong impression that something VERY BAD™ has happened in the not-too-distant past. What’s more, HL2 never spoon-feeds the player the backstory; you’re left to glean what information you can from discarded newspaper clippings and fragmentary public service announcements. For me, this approach is a winner.

One of my favourite moments in the game comes when you finally escape from City 17 and make it out onto the Highway in a souped-up dune buggy.

There is something incredibly eerie about driving along the coastline, past deserted houses and shacks which are now home only to families of zombies and headcrabs. The other reason why this section of HL2 made such a strong impact on me was, I think, because of the change of pace. HL2 is not a freeform game by any means, but this part did allow you to head off the beaten track and explore a bit. It’s moments like this, in my view, that showcase HL2 at its best and which make it a progression from the original Half-Life.

Fast-forward to 2006 (I’ve always wanted to use that line). Valve just released Half-Life 2: Episode 1. Is it an expansion pack or is it a sequel? Hard to tell, really. In the Eurogamer interview, Valve claims it’s more of a sequel since it deals with events which take place directly after HL2, but it’s certainly around the length of a conventional expansion pack (5 hours or so). But maybe that’s because Valve have, with this game, decided to commit to releasing so-called ‘episodic content’ instead of full-fledged releases every 5 or 6 years. It’s a brave decision, and I’m not fully convinced one way or the other at this point. Probably this’ll be the subject for another post…

The point of all this rambling nonsense is this: HL2:E1, while maintaining the astonishing post-apocalyptic atmosphere of HL2, is actually even more linear than its predecessor. It’s not that it’s a bad game. It’s certainly classically Valve in that it never lets up the pace and is consistently entertaining. However, after completing it I was left with the overwhelming sensation that I was being simply shepherded from one encounter to another with little chance to stop and catch my breath. “Well, that’s just Half-Life,” you’d say. Well, yes, but both the original game and HL2 managed to hide the linearity pretty effectively, whereas Ep1 is less successful in this regard. More importantly, there’s something that Gabe Newell (head of Valve software) says in the Eurogamer interview which is most revealing about Valve’s underlying philosophy of game design. When discussing Warren Spector’s controlled, yet open-ended approach to game design, Gabe says:

“He builds a game that you can play through six different times. So that means that people pay for the game, but don’t get to play five sixths of the game, which I feel is a mistake… if only one per cent of your customers see this cool thing that takes five per cent of your development budget, that’s not a good use of resources.”

Robin Walker, another Valve designer, adds that he wants to make sure all players have the same experiences while playing the game. But surely this isn’t the point. Games are interactive media, and the nature of any interaction (at least, any fun interaction) is that whoever’s doing the interaction gets to make some meaningful choices. Of course, the player does get to make these kinds of choices on a tactical level in HL2:E1. That is, do I stand over here and shoot the combine soldiers, or do I use the gravity gun to throw a flaming barrel at them? But I was hoping for a bit more from the “sequel” after the glimpse of a higher level freedom in the coastline section of HL2.

If all we’re doing when playing a game is going through a pre-arranged sequence of “experiences”, we may as well pack it all in and watch Mission:Impossible III. I admit that there’s room for both truly open-ended gameplay (Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion) and the more restrictive linear formula HL2:E1 has adopted; not everyone has the same gaming tastes as me, after all. However, after the brief taste of controlled freedom experienced in HL2, I’m disappointed that more isn’t being made of the possibilities this offers the player to express himself through the game.

Even if all the exploration-oriented player is rewarded with is some new story information or the chance to bypass a trap, that’s worth it. Even if only 1% of the audience experiences this (which, to be honest, I find extremely difficult to believe given the replay-value such design decisions inherently provide), it’s still worth it, because it provides the potential for a greater degree of interaction for the player. And, in the final analysis, the moments that are the most memorable may be the ones which not everyone gets to experience the first time around.

Now, after all that, I think I’ll take the buggy for a spin along Highway 17…