Category Archives: computer gaming
I have to say, the trailer to Far Cry 3 makes me really want to run out and pick it up. The depth and breadth—not to mention the various critics’ praise—shown in the ten-minute teaser trailer is impressive. The single-player story looks cool, the environments look immersive, and the leveling up tattoos and gun modifications look amazing. But I’m still a little hesitant; it looks too much like an improved Far Cry 2, and Far Cry 2 was one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played.
Far Cry 2 didn’t try to follow in the original game’s footsteps, other than having lush, expansive environments to drive around in, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to focus on; they even expanded the amount of sandbox, putting Far Cry 2 on the Elder Scrolls/Grand Theft Auto level. It took place in a war-torn African nation, playing a mercenary stricken with malaria who was after the arms dealer supply both factions in the war. With an arsenal of weapons, it’s your job to take on the two factions and fight your way through the jungles to kill the arms dealer. Sounds all good so far, right?
Well, the actual gameplay is very hit or miss. Some of the game’s mechanics are great, some of them terrible. Most of them are just bland and irritating.
- The setting is just plain huge, covering deserts, plains, jungles, slums, all the key African environment types. And when I say huge, I mean fucking gigantic: the map you start out on is bigger than most sandbox games, and then halfway through the game another map is unlocked, doubling the world size. The day-night cycle is impressive, and goes by at a decent pace. And those expansive maps are filled with lush vistas and really cool locales, even if the plants can be rubbery at times.
- The problem is, it’s empty, and infuriatingly boxed-in despite its size. Big and expansive with not a damn thing to do it in, except at the scattered waypoints on your map. There’s no real wildlife out there, and except in the wide-open plains and desert areas, you’re restricted to either a.) traveling by foot, which takes YEARS for you to cross the map, or b.) driving along rivers and dirt tracks through the jungle.
- The problem with the dirt tracks and roads is that there are faction checkpoints every mile or so filled with troops that you have to kill. Between the checkpoints are roving vehicles on patrol. Either way, you have to stop to fight after about five minutes of traveling, which gets monotonous and repetitive. Worse, it takes the focus away from the gorgeous scenery.
- Respawns! When you leave a checkpoint after blowing it up and looting it, walk five feet out of view, turn around and go back because you’re short on grenades, bam reinforcements have arrived. There is no sense that anything you do impacts this world, since the checkpoints and road patrols regenerate some ten seconds after you get out of view. This also works in the inverse; walk too far away from a vehicle and it vanishes.
- Enemy AI! This exists only in on/off form; either they’re shooting at you, or they’re milling about. If you silently kill one of them trying to be a stealthy sniper, they all see you and open fire within minutes, and have the accuracy to shoot the ass off a gnat at half a mile. Enemy tactics revolve around a.) seeing you regardless of how well concealed you are, b.) shooting way more accurately than you do, and c.) running wildly in your general direction. Gone are the tactical geniuses of the original Far Cry; these guys are just dumb mooks with superhuman accuracy and x-ray vision. Their vehicles drive faster than yours, too, which makes chases not very interesting.
- Realism! Your weapons will degrade over time, so you have maybe three or five pitched battles before that awesome assault rifle blows up in your hand. Pick up an enemy weapon and it blows up even quicker, because these sniper ninjas use garbage equipment. The same thing happens to your vehicles; they can take scant little damage before their engines start smoking and you have to hop out and crank the fix bolt a few times to repair it.
- Malaria Outbreaks! As part of the realism, now and then your screen turns sepia-toned, and you have to travel back to the center of Map A to restock on medicine. If you don’t, you become sick and wobbly-cam ensues.
- Vehicles! Handle like overladen shopping carts, and can accelerate from 3 to 30 in about a minute. They are made of glass, except for the special Unimog armored truck (which is made out of particle board). There’s also a hang glider, which is neat, and boats, which are not.
- Fire! Okay, this was pretty cool: throw a Molotov cocktail or set off an explosion and the world catches fire. It spreads out to a certain radius and stops, but it looks cool and can be really helpful. The plains burn especially well.
- One of the great ideas the game brought in was the allies system; you’ll have some mercenary allies who’ll ask you to do sidequests, and will offer alternate routes for doing main quests. Do enough of those and their friendship bar will increase; then, when you’d otherwise be shot to death, one of your buddies would arrive to pull your ass out of the fire. Way cool. What made it better was when your buddy went down trying to save you, requiring your medicinal syrettes for healing or a mercy-kill overdose if they’re too badly injured. Added a bit of depth to a game that sorely needed it.
- The game uses conflict diamonds as currency, which is a fantastic piece of flavor.
- The diamonds are used to unlock weapons, then to buy and upgrade them. There’s a wide and interesting selection of killin’ utensils, but the best options are if you preordered to get the bonus DLC. At any one time, you get a selection of grenades and Molotov cocktails, and get to pick between one light weapon (pistols, machine pistols, a flare gun, an M79 grenade launcher, or a sawed-off double-barrel-shotgun), longarms (a variety of assault rifles, a shotgun or two, and a bolt-action sniper rifle), and heavy weapons (an RPG, a crossbow that fires explosive bolts, a flamethrower, a mortar, machine guns, and a recoilless rifle). The upgrades only modify accuracy, damage, and reliability (how long it goes before it blows up), and are a nice touch, but I’m not actually sure how much they improve anything by.
- The designers tried to institute some story-oriented missions and sidequests, but these are so predictable that they become boring as hell. Standard mission setup involves you traveling to the other side of the map, emptying out all the checkpoints in between, killing everything at the mission location, then clearing out the checkpoints on the way back, to get paid with a few conflict diamonds. Missions include “blow up the convoy looping endlessly from point A to point B,” “kill dude X for the dude at the cell towers,” “kill things so the gun shop unlocks more gear,” “kill everything at location Z and bring back the area’s macguffin,” etc. Imagine a half-dozen copy/pasted versions of those mission types and you get the picture.
- The main missions weren’t much better, and only a handful fall outside the most generic mission types. In truth, there isn’t much of a story, just an endless series of repetitive quests similar to the sidequests. Lord, it’s like the world’s emptiest MMORPG. The exceptions were hunting for secret diamond caches (a scavenger hunt), and unlocking safehouses (you’d bump into them, kill the occupiers, and have a save place to sleep at night). Both were useful and entertaining pursuits, from an exploration standpoint, if a little gamey.
- TL;DR: To complete one mission, you’ll most likely have to end up driving for half an hour, adding ten to fifteen minutes to the trip for each checkpoint you run. After spending the better half of an hour to get to the mission, you fight more mooks—just like at those checkpoints, but at someplace bigger!—then fight your way back through that half-hour drive and all those refilled checkpoints. Rinse, wash, and repeat for six billion identical missions.
- Did I mention that no matter whose side you’re working on, all the faction checkpoints will open up on you at first sight? The game tries to play it off as you being some undercover operative on a secret mission for the head honchos so they can’t tell their hired mooks not to shoot at you, but it feels like lazy game designers.
So, some interesting features, fantastic immersion, great graphics, and a number of serious, critical flaws that ruined the entertainment value of the game. I get the feeling the developers were trying to make a first-person Grand Theft Auto, which they set in the African equivalent of an Elder Scrolls game. But they did so without understanding what made those sandboxes fun. Most of all, those worlds were packed with interesting locations, NPCs, and missions, things that Far Cry 2 sorely lacked. In a way, it was too much sandbox, not enough content. And your actions had next to no impact on the cookie-cutter world.
Some people really liked Far Cry 2. The critics loved it; just look at its Metacritic rating to see the difference between “critic” and “corporate shill.” I stopped playing after some twenty hours and went off to beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Maybe things got better on the second map, but I was just too bored—it’s not a game, it’s a slog. Compared to sandboxes like Fallout: New Vegas, Just Cause 2, Saints Row 2, Oblivion, Skyrim, even the STALKER games (limited sandboxes though they are), I just didn’t find Far Cry 2 entertaining or redeemable. Hence my apprehension at the third game in the Far Cry series, despite the trailer’s lovely promises. Won’t get fooled again.
Combine Half-Life 2′s cinematic flourishes and overall brevity and linearity with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere and horror, and you have Metro 2033. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it. First-person shooters don’t often have a seminal work that shows up and reinvents the genre—like Half-Life—or one that turns the genre on its head thanks to sheer brilliance, like BioShock or Portal. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I picked up 2009′s Metro 2033 on a $5 Steam sale and found it a predictable but filling shooter experience.
The setting is the real selling point to the game. Imagine Russia following a nuclear, biological, and chemical war that ravaged the planet. The survivors took shelter underground in the Metro subway system, and have eked out a living—a society—in the wake of nuclear winter. They face off against mutants and strange anomalies that live in the darkness between Metro stations, until the day the protagonist must set off on an epic quest to save his world. You crawl through the old subway tunnels, littered with debris, florescent fungus, and the remains of unlucky looters, strapping on your gas mask to survive on the frozen surface world.
The design and graphics are vivid, depicting the run-down squalor of the outnumbered, could-be-the-last-survivor stations. The weapons and equipment are all jury-rigged, unstable devices built by the survivors with the materials they had available—crude submachine guns, pneumatic firearms, a heavy-machine gun cut down into an automatic shotgun, a Van Helsing-style crossbow gun. There aren’t that many of them, but they have their own unique look and feel. The design of the characters and their environs perfectly fits the image of apocalyptic world—motorcycle helmets are used as impromptu armor, rickety old trolleys are hand-built and maintained to allow inter-station trade.
Besides the mutants and setting which owes quite a lot to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise—and by proxy, to Fallout and Roadside Picnic—a number of other elements have been pulled off, seemingly willy-nilly, from the FPS resource shelf. There’s a group of secretive, extra-special-force “Rangers” living deep within the system that you later get to join. There’s a war going on between hardline Communists and “Nazi” Fascists. There’s the strange floating light anomalies, and the giant fleshy Lovecraftian monsters near the end. And there’s a recurring subplot about some “Grey”-style aliens, mutants, or the next step of human evolution.
As a game, Metro has a number of frustrating features. It starts off easy enough, until the difficulty ramps up to sheer heights at the later levels. Level design is painfully linear, leaving no room to explore and precious few secrets to discover. It’s short—I clocked in at just under 13 hours on normal mode, after getting caught on two abusive stages. If you rushed it, you could get by in eight or nine hours, fifteen tops if you died a lot. There’s not much diversity in weapons, or scenery, or enemies—whose AI is passable, but not great. Worst of all was the horrible camera angle: you can tell this is a console port because your view is intentionally narrowed down to a thin strip. It breaks the game down into pure twitch shooter territory, if only because you can’t see what you’re shooting at.
Most of all, it’s just never explained. None of it. The anomalies, the return to Stalinism and Nazisim, the apocalyptic war, even the game’s ending just exist in a void without explanation or resolution. There’s what goes on outside the linear Metro corridors, and then there’s what goes on within Metro 2033, and never the two shall meet. Life inside the Metro is vivid, intense, and atmospheric, but ethereally insubstantial—it leaves you satisfied but filled with unanswered questions. Perhaps the book Metro 2033 originated from will answer them. But in giving up the open-ended exploration of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for a more cinematic, movie-like approach, shouldn’t the filmmaker at least tell the lead actor what’s going on? A riddle for the ages.
I get that Rapture was supposed to be the pure Objectivist paradise, and that I’m looking too seriously at mechanics designed to provide in-game resupply, but why the hell are you stocking your vending machines full of bullets and handing out gene-altering substances that promote, in their advertising no less, smashing your ideal state? Seriously, you ponder not why it went to shit, but why didn’t it go to shit sooner?
It’s like the State Department giving every citizen an Anarchist’s Cookbook, saying, “Here you go, enjoy! Oh how could we not have foreseen this going horribly, horribly wrong!”
At least the Vaults I can kind of understand. The point of their heavy arsenals was preparatory, to be used against the Mutant Red Bastards who were probably sitting around in everyone’s houses topside soaking up the gamma rays; the Vaults were screwed up, but they went the opposite direction from Rapture’s libertarianism, and Overseers kept a firm grip on their citizens’ freedoms. Though you’d think that the Overseers might have immediately noticed some potential long-term problems, like the severe overcrowding, or the 2:1 ratio of narcotics to food, or the live panther.
Regardless, if you’re ever asked to join some secluded ideological bunker system to escape the oppression/destruction of modern society, which may or may not involve lots of firearms or robots or inane traps or super-power genetic modifications or strange agricultural experiments on the edge of the desert… my experiences from video games says, “Run like hell away from that death-trap.” Trust me, you’re better off living with the parasites and the mutants.
Back around 2003, when AMD broke the 64-bit barrier, the virtues of 64-bit computing was heralded as everything just short of the second coming. Better looking programs, more powerful computers, a whole new world. AMD spend a lot of time hyping its AMD 64 platform, particularly its impact on gaming; the AMD 64 logo showed up on many game boxes, and is slowly driving out 32-bit hardware and operating systems.
For a brief moment in 2003-05, there was a flurry of game developers jumping on the bandwagon: 64-bit versions of UT2k4, Half-Life 2, Far Cry, and STALKER appeared, amongst a few others. Of them, Far Cry probably received the most attention, since it came first and had a shiny promo video, making good use of its already-stunning exotic island locales:
And that was about the end of that, save for a few johnny-come-lately outliers. Crysis needed a 64-bit version so the designers could build the game’s engine, so out came a 64-bit version of that. And Hellgate: London had a 64-bit version up for its brief pseudo-mumorpuger life, in order to support more memory on its servers. These two programs switched for technical reasons, not to be a part of the 64-bit gaming storm, which more or less died down when people stopped and realized the world wasn’t going to convert immediately just to please hardcore gamers if it meant they couldn’t use their six-year-old deskjet printer or scanner.
In actuality, 64-bit computing hasn’t been the powerhouse AMD claimed it would be. Looking at the Far Cry video, it’s pretty easy to see that the devs just added some shiny new effects, higher-res textures, and called it a day, probably banking on the fact that anyone capable of running 64-bit games had a high-capacity gaming rig to begin with. And as this three-year-old Tom’s Hardware survey shows, most of the 64-bit games weren’t even optimized for 64-bit OS’s: the games’ framerate performances were on-par or lower than their 32-bit versions, even for the much-vaunted Crysis.
In other words: there’s a reason the 64-bit gaming hype has fallen to the wayside. The tech just isn’t being utilized to its full potential; too many people were still using 32-bit operating systems and/or legacy hardware, and building a separate architecture—or pushing exclusivity to the smaller 64-bit gamer niche—wasn’t going to fly with marketing. So instead of native 64-bit games, these are all examples of 32-bit games patched—but not optimized—for 64-bit systems. (The exception being Crysis, which was a native 64-bit program optimized for 32-bit systems.)
On the plus side, the technological advance is needed, welcome, and will—eventually—pan out into major benefits. The biggest advantage of a 64-bit OS is that it can recognize more than 4GB of RAM, something 32-bit can’t; at this point in time, 4 gigs costs about $20-35, and many hardcore gamers are investing in 8GB (or more) because the price is so low. (A quick glance at the Steam Hardware Survey shows some 60% of its PC survees have 4GB of RAM or more, and over 80% for MAC gamers.)
32-bit gaming is reaching the end of its era; games are advancing fast and hard enough that old 2GB memory caps hard-locked into 32-bit OS’s are giving some issues. To get around that, Windows programs can be flagged as “Large Address Aware” in order to use the full limit of 32-bit RAM—the aforementioned 4 GB, or 3GB if you’re using an older version of WinXP. Most of the Large Address Aware programs require a lot of system resources—PhotoShop CS3, for example—or were games, like STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, Company of Heroes, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
Given that this is a problem we’ve known about since 2007, I’m still surprised that many AAA-titles and high-end software launch without being Large Address Aware today. Skyrim, for example, wasn’t, so it crawled along only using 2GB of system memory. (Guess which was one of the first major mods out there; an official BethSoft 4GB patch came later.) Before that, people tweaked the .ini files for Oblivion and the Fallouts to accept larger quantities of RAM—Oblivion launched only recognizing 1GB, if memory serves; then again, 2GB was pretty high-end back then.
In short, PC software is reaching the end of an era. The way things are going, clinging to 32-bit architecture is rapidly becoming obsolete, even with the Large Address Aware safety net. A high-end program, be it Adobe Creative Suite or BioShock Infinite, is going to run a hell of a lot smoother if it recognizes more RAM, moreso if it’s been optimized. Games like Skyrim are already pushing the limits of 32-bit technology. 64-bit compatible operating systems, drivers, and software are becoming commonplace enough that the full-on shift will probably/possibly/hopefully start in the next decade. And then—finally—we’ll be able to reap real rewards for 64-bit gaming: more RAM means shinier visuals, higher framerates, better performance.
Paizo has just announced (literally, earlier today) their intent to get into the world of computer gaming by licensing the Pathfinder rules and world for an MMO, with games in the works. It’s going to be (loosely) based around the Kingmaker adventure path, second in popularity only to the originator, the Rise of the Runelords path. And Kingmaker is a perfect fit: it’s open, it’s broad, it’s established, and it’s a perfect building ground for empires to rise and fall.
I’ve been kind of curious why Paizo hasn’t branched out like this yet: yeah, economic feasibility, spreading the game’s IP out, the risks of developing games, and all that. But licensing Golarion means money, it broadens the label’s appeal, gets new players interested, and besides, we haven’t had a good tabletop-based CRPG since, what, Baldur’s Gate 2? Unless you count the fan-patches for Vampire: Bloodlines.
The new company who got the license is Goblinworks, a name that should please most Pathfinder aficionados: Paizo’s had a thing for goblins since Classic Monsters Revisited, if not before, so having goblin in the name gives them a leg up in the street cred department. Their relationship with Paizo sounds pretty strong, so provided the game doesn’t go the way of the WoD MMO or other vaporware, it could be an interesting new step for the Pathfinder license.
Note that Ryan Dancey is one of the forerunners of this project; this interests me for two reasons. First, Dancey is the person you can hold accountable for Pathfinder, M&M, True20, Spycraft, and more, because he’s the guy who pushed to open the OGL floodgates for D&D. Second, he’s a former CCP employee—I just was talking about them and their relation to White Wolf a few days ago, and from what I remember Dancey was one of the RPGers working on the World of Darkness MMO in CCP’s Atlanta (White Wolf) offices.
Dancey’s CCP relationship is what makes me most interested. The reason CCP was a good fit for WoD was because of its hands-off mentality: instead of focusing on designer-driven content, like World of Warcraft and its perpetual updates of new zones and dungeons to raid, CCP’s EVE is all player-driven. It’s up to the players to make things interesting, and they take the game’s freedom to its fullest, hence EVE’s harsh learning curve and reputation as a breeding ground for scammers, griefers, and political intrigue run amok. Much like with the backstabbing World of Darkness, I think that style of play would fit the squabbling River Kingdoms quite well.
That’s most of why I was interested in seeing the WoD MMO finished product; if the Pathfinder RPG does go that route—the freeform chaos of the CCP player-driven-content model instead of the pointless grind of a WoW clone—and the press release on the GoblinWorks page does mention its sandbox nature. If it’s true, they may indeed have my money.
It’s a sad state of affairs when most of my gamer friends no longer play Magic. (Or, if they do, I’m not around for it.) Instead, they sucked me into a free CCG availible on our respective Facebooks… Warstorm.
Check this out: video games done up as movie posters… fairly slick movie posters, at that, with a strong retro vibe and more than a little arthouse cinema flair. It’s like the Criterion Collection for games. They’re done by Ron Guyatt on deviantART, and he’s done a half-dozen posters so far (if you include the badass one he did for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).
I’m particularly thrilled by the retro-style tones and silhouettes on the Bioshock one: it just screams ’60s B-movie, which is so damn fitting for the game. I might be biased, though, since I’ve been replaying the hell out of Bioshock lately, and saw this poster linked via Steam.
Speaking of Steam, Dead Space is the current weekend deal at 66% off, coming in at a mere $6.80. I’m tempted to buy it even though I lack the 7.5 gigs to install it, but I wouldn’t mind playing it when I get another hard drive next month.
So, recently I undertook my yearly Buy A New Video Card event, wherein my previous GPU ups and dies at a very inconvenient time, requiring me to spend much patience surviving without basic capabilities, capabilities lacking pixel artifacts and the interminable lag when scrolling in Word, until I can purchase a shiny new card for the year. 2008’s purchase was inspired when my 7300 GS blew a tube, said tube split right down the middle and turned it into the leaning tower of Pisa. Apparently I’ve been in a process of decline in terms of video cards, going from a $400 card in 2004 to a degenerate bottom-barrel card in 2007. Both my last GPUs were ad-hoc purchases by my parents to enable my PC to function, which means they weren’t exactly high-end gaming material. I figured now was the time to take that back, with Fallout 3 on the horizon.
Now, I’ve always been a big fan of nVidia. My first card was a GeForce 2 MX, which lasted several years until I saved up my pennies and bought a shiny GeForce TI 4200. When I custom-built my current PC, I made sure to slap in a top-of-the-line XFX GeForce 6800 GS, which was a dream of a card until my power supply ate itself, coincidently turning my RAM and GPU into a nice pile of shit and chips on a plate made of a dead motherboard.
So for me to willingly hunt down an ATI card, you know there’s something wrong with the world. Let me explain the current market: nVidia has decided to aim at the high-end market, going the harder-better-faster-stronger route, pushing out a steady stream of twin-slot powerhouses at $300 or higher, while ATI recently decided to aim at the $200-300 midrange market and move up and down from there. So, you ask, why go with a measly midrange card when I could aim for the expensive card of godlike proportion?
Answer: because they can outpace the nVidia cards twice their price. In most tests, the ATI offerings can compare, match, or exceed the nVidia cards, with a much lower price. gpureview.com has a number of reviews and comparisons if you’d like to look. Take my purchase, the $200 Radeon HD 4850, available in most Best Buys. It’s a small, single-slot card with a powerful memory clock and enough speed to hose down any of the current crop of games, making it more than a match for the staple GeForce 8800. In fact, it pushes higher benchmarks in Call of Duty 4 and comparable scores in most other games (including hardware-breakers like Crysis and Bioshock). This card forced nVidia to slash the cost of the $300 GeForce 9800 GTX down to $197 just to keep competitive, and even then some reviews chart the 4850 over the 9800.
If you move up a step, you find the $300 Radeon HD 4870, which can take on the $400 and $650 offerings from nVidia, with the Radeon card beating out the nVidia offerings or coming damn close (read: negligible differences). The secret to this is the new RV770 chipset, which enables ATI’s cards to access memory as fast or faster than the GeForce behemoths; plus, the 4870 comes equipped with GDDR5 memory and the ability to utilize DirectX 10 technology. I mean, seriously, fucking GDDR5. It’s so powerful as to be silly—both 4850 and 4870 have over 800 shaders, for shit’s sake! The 4870 itself is certainly giving nVidia a run for its money, since it can outperform the GeForce line in most tests, a fact compounded when you realize these same GeForce cards cost $100-250 more.
Granted, this is mostly a stream of techie gobbledegook, but look at it this way: there’s a lot of intense competition in the graphics processor ring. Which means that now’s the perfect time to upgrade. Last year the 4850 would have cost $400 and the 4870 would have been that monolithic supercomputer required to run Crysis. Now, the whole market is dropping in price as nVidia tries to cut out ATI’s performance edge. If you were thinking of it before, you’ll be able to pick up a Radeon 4850 or GeForce 9800 for $200 or less—and these aren’t last year’s $200 cards. They’re actual quality, folks. Competition, especially among the GPU market, is necessary—remember the past two years, when the only good ATI competitor was the 2900 XT, awash in a field of GeForce supermen?
I also hear the price of quad-core processors has dropped below the $200 mark…
From the bio blurb:
Zero Punctuation is The Escapist’s groundbreaking video review series starring Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw. Every Wednesday Zero Punctuation picks apart the games so you don’t have to. Called “hilariously cutting … first legitimate breakout hit from the gaming community in recent memory” by Boing Boing, see why reviewers love it and developers fear it.