Review: Condemned: Criminal Origins – Monolith – XBox 360 (2005)

As my free time over summer starts to come to an end this year, I’ve played through another game.

So I woke up in a bad mood last Friday morning, and decided that a good, short game was what I needed to do with my time. Perusing a couple of google searches for “good, short 360 games” to see what came up that I also had, Condemned (and its sequel) seemed to make many of those lists, which reminded me that I had this game, tucked away in a shelf. Choice made, then!

Condemned: Criminal Origins, is a game that I had bought shortly after purchasing my XBox 360 back in 2007(?) It had garnered good reviews, but as so often happens with these things – both miniatures and videogames – it’s often easier to buy something with the best of intentions to get around to using them – and then taking years (or worse) to actually do so.

I dimly remember buying the game, one of the games I purchased in my initial frenzy of enthusiasm when I got my 360 back in the day. Even back then it was already in the XBox 360 “Classics” selection. While this meant that the game had sold well, over whatever the minimum was at the time, more importantly the game had garnered positive reviews across the board. At the time I’d done that thing where you put the game on, look at it for 45 seconds/play for 3 minutes and think “Yeah, this looks cool. I’ll get back to it soon!” So now – a decade on from release and 8 years from buying it – I’ve finally actually played it! Does this count as a retro-review?


Condemned was developed by Monolith Productions, who were also the people behind titles I’d enjoyed such as No One Lives Forever (NOLF), NOLF 2, Alien vs Predator 2, Contract J.A.C.K. (essentially NOLF3), F.E.A.R., F.E.A.R. 2 and much more recently – Shadow of Mordor. That’s a pretty good selection of hits over a good selection of years. So far so good!

So how does it look in 2016?

The game is dark and grainy – appropriate for a survival-horror kind of game. The graphics aren’t beautiful 1080p with ultra-detailed models, but I’m not a complete graphics whore, and the game’s setting still looks good enough to me and works well enough to be fit for purpose. Enemies and your weapons are a fair bit less attractive, looking a bit blocky at best. Your character on the other hand, along with those in cutscenes looks pretty bad. I can’t fairly recall what FPS graphics looked like back 10 years ago without rose coloured glasses, but to be blunt, the character and many of the weapon models look like arse today.

Audio fares better. A nice touch are your own heavy footsteps – there are any times you’re not sure if a sound was you, or someone else, stalking you. The audio design overall isn’t bad and is one of the stronger points of the game, even today. The exception to which is the voice acting.

I dub thee: Arseface.

I should mention the story: – only the slightest of spoilers here – You’re a federal agent. Framed for a murder you didn’t commit, you set out on a quest to prove your innocence by wandering through an endless series of dark tunnels, rooms and abandoned buildings, murdering everyone in your path.

Occasionally with firearms, but typically with improvised clubs, shovels, axes and sledgehammers. Does all that sound like a fair enough way to prove your innocence from murder?

Anyhow, there’s some serial killer stuff and the story is pretty bad, even for a video game. I’m usually happy enough to gloss over video game stories if the gameplay is good, and oftentimes for games, less is more. This game attempts to have depth and layers in the story, and while it’s not quite the nonsensical mess as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was, it’s still pretty bad. The plot and script is like a police/serial killer story – as written by a teenager whose only knowledge of police procedure, serial killers or the way that human people actually interact with one another has come from bad TV shows in those genres.

I state this because it’s terribly written and voice acted. There’s a “twist” at the end, but I’d liken its surprise and impact to looking at the bus timetable, then walking around the corner at the allotted time and watching the bus slowly meander its way down the street towards your bus stop.

Mechanically, I found early on that a few things we take for granted in modern times are a fair bit different in Condemned. There’s no mini-map. Indeed, there is no map of any kind. Nor is there any “guide” through the levels other than the fairly linear nature of the levels. I’m not horrified at the loss of the modern stalwart “Follow”, but when the environment starts to look very much the same where ever you wander in a level…

The game’s pacing is extremely slow as well. I found the controls to be unresponsive and sluggish, right down to it feeling like I needed to press down twice as hard as in other games on the stick to sprint – which is also limited by a stamina bar.

Amazingly (for a videogame), your flashlight seems to (mostly) work like an actual flashlight and the batteries don’t die after a few seconds. Which is handy, since – as mentioned – for the entirety of the game you’re navigating an endless series of (linear) dark hallways and rooms. Credit where credit is due there, though whether you have the flashlight on or off doesn’t seem to make any actual difference in terms of conflict, as enemies spring into existence and are aware of you as soon as you come near, so stealth doesn’t seem to be a thing at all in this game.

You can’t carry two weapons, even when it makes sense – such as a holstered firearm and a melee weapon in hand. Oh, you also have a taser, which gets upgraded partway through the game into pretty much a man-killer. Maybe that’s considered your offhander and therefore the reason you’re unable to carry a pistol in your empty cop-holster?

A man and his piece of conduit.

Similarly, despite the bag that you apparently carry your gear in or you bulky jacket, you can’t carry health packs at all. But that’s okay, since you can use them right off the wall. Yes, 2005-era design, so there’s no regenerating health or any of that guff. Just lots of medical cabinets conveniently located in all manner of decrepit and long-abandoned locales. Seems like a good choice to gulp down some of whatever you find in a pill bottle in places like that, amirite?

The building you start in seems to be an odd combination of old and condemned while also being a construction site. But abandoned and filled with psychotic junkies armed with 2x4s with nails in them, or bits of conduit or pipe. You lose your service pistol pretty early on, though – after having shot a guy or two to death.

Naturally, after killing a man and then having your gun stolen you do what any (videogame) cop would do. Instead of pulling out, calling for backup, or for a coroner’s meat wagon you just keep on going further in, only now armed with a makeshift club you picked up off the floor, gleefully beating perps to death as you go. Even the other cops with you at the time merely throw you a Fire Axe and tell you to pretty much keep going. Because videogame cop logic.

The game is very melee heavy, with firearms making only sporadic appearances throughout the game. As you’d expect, they’re more often seen in the latter stages, but even then still don’t make up the majority of enemies or encounters. There’s a simple block and counterstrike mechanism in place for melee combat, but it seems to be a combination of unresponsively slow while requiring pretty exact timing to effectively parry.

You have choices of various improvised melee weapons that you can rip off walls (conduit, pipe, rebar), furniture (2x4s) and so forth with sightly different stats: damage, speed, block and reach. Looking at a different weapon to the one in your hand will display either + or – with regard to each of the stats – but without numerical values. This lets you make your choices at a glance but in doing so without any way to really know the depth of the various trade-offs. There are also a few tools like the aforementioned fire axe that can be used as melee weapons as well as to open specific doors. Apparently using makeshift weapons scavenged from the nearest wall was supposed to feel visceral. It just feels like nothing.

In terms of movement through the game, there’s no duck, no jump and no climb outside of when the game very specifically tells you that you can climb through a window or up a ladder or jump down a hole. By pressing A. Now. I bumped over a chair and couldn’t get out of a room for 30 seconds. That old videogame trope of impassable chest-high walls is used to the extent of impassable knee-high junk on the floor here.

Most of the game pretty much looks like this.

The game has collectables because of course it does. At the end of the first level, I was informed by the stats page that I’d found/collected 1 of 6 dead birds, and 0 of 3 “metal pieces”. These appear to have no purpose whatsoever aside from achievement hunting and unlocking secret out-of-game dossiers that neither you nor I care about. And frankly – walking around, barely able to see while searching for them (or even doing so with the aid of a walkthrough) seems like a complete waste of time. A few points of gamerscore and a few pretty pointless X-Box achievements that are neither fun to get nor affect gameplay in the slightest really aren’t a worthwhile use of my (or presumably, your) time.

Even more tedious – when I happened to restart the second level to go back and check out an areas I’d missed, I found that the birds you collect in one “playthrough” don’t stay collected – as they often do in other games. So you’ve got to grab all of these collectables in a discrete run of each level. Nice.

Also – head bob. I know this game is a decade old now, but someone really needs to tell the makers of FPS games that HUMAN EYES DON’T WORK THAT WAY GUYS. Seriously. Go walk to the kitchen and tell me if your vision is smooth or bounces around like a yo-yo. We have millions of years of evolution that have taken care of that. You know what does bounce around and give a jerky sense to your vision? Cameras. So unless we’re controlling drone-style robots by remote control or playing Blair Witch: The Game, there’s no need for goddamn head bob in games. This includes you too, Gears of War. At the very least give us the option to turn it off.

Every so often there’s a navigation “puzzle” in the game. This usually equates to you needing to wander around a series of areas where everything looks the same with your flashlight until you find the Fire Axe/Sledgehammer/Crowbar/Shovel (yes, really – shovel) so that you can open a specific door. They each have their own specific doors that they can open, and don’t work on different door types – just like real life, a fire axe or a crowbar is useless when confronted by a padlock because you need a fucking sledgehammer for that shit.

Similarly, sledgehammers are only useful for padlocks and can’t smash their way through doors or wooden barriers. Because that’s what fire axes (and only fire axes) do. Ahem. Anyway, once you’ve found the CORRECT door-opening implement, you then wander around with your torch until you find the macguffin (switch, valve, etc) then you’re done and can move on – which may or may not involve more backtracking. This is invariably about as interesting, fun and exciting as I’ve made it sound here.

So yes, these different types of weapon are essentially a form of “you need the BLUE key” game design, grandfathered in from Quake with a light coat of paint on it.

Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.

There’s some “investigation” throughout the game. This investigation is performed when the game pretty much tells you “INVESTIGATE NOW” and you press a button for the appropriate one of your investigative tools to come out. You’d need a decent sized bag to lug these things around, actually. I’d usually let that go as videogames tend to all give their characters a bag of holding, but it feels a little more odd here in a game that pretty much has you running around with nothing but a flashlight and a 2×4 or piece of electrical conduit as a makeshift weapon for much of the game. So yes, it’s as interesting and “intuitive” as finding the correct “key” for the correct door type.

For those rare-ish times when you do manage to acquire a firearm, you can check the remaining number of rounds in the magazine, but once they’re empty they merely become sub-par makeshift weapons that quickly break. There’s no ammo or reloading in this game. At one point this led to the amusing(?) situation where I had 3 rounds left in my .45, and killed an enemy armed with an identical .45. His pistol also had 3 rounds left, but the game did not allow me in any way to combine those 6 rounds into the one weapon, so I had to leave one on the floor with bullets in it – because one weapon, no carrying. Needless to say – “horror” game or not – this felt very artificial.

Naturally, this led to that classic immersive videogame trope of backtracking for a 3-minute round trip to pick up the gun that was left on the floor once I’d emptied the one I was carrying.

Combat in general can be summed up in one word: Bad. If you’d like some more words, take: Sluggish, Unresponsive, Slow, Unsatisfying, Unfun.

That last one is a pretty good descriptor of the whole game, actually. Unlike something as frustrating and actively annoying as Metal Gear: Revengeance, this game is merely tedious and boring – so I was actually able to finish it. I’m not sure which is worse actually, a bad game that is so bad that you put it down after an hour or so or one that’s bad but not so bad that you can’t make yourself finish it.

You might ask why, if the game is so tedious and boring, did I continue to play it?  A fair question. The answer is a combination of my own bloody-mindedness and the fact that it’s listed as a short game – average of 7-10 hours, so doable in a couple of days of play at my own speed. In practice, I played through 2 levels in one day, and the other 7 in a rather bloody-minded waste of a day split over several sessions of 2-3 levels each time.

Is this what a bloody mind looks like?

While at first the game feels like you’re on a murder-rampage through the oddly-agressive homeless of “Metro City” (yes, really), after awhile it starts to feel more like a zombie game, right down to having several “types” of “zombie” with different attack patterns, etc. Rarely, you’ll come across a bunch of zombies that fight one another. If you hang back in these encounters, you can simply mop up the survivor(s) instead of wade in and take a bunch of damage for no real reason.

Mostly you chase “the suspect” deeper and deeper down into the bowels of the city’s subway system and through a collection of discrete buildings that each level is composed of. Occasionally you’ll stop to “gather evidence” as noted earlier – which you transmit to Rosa, a friendly researcher back at base via your simply adorable 2005-era mobile telephone who is then able to look up DNA results, check databases and create full 3-D models from photos of shoeprints – all in seconds. Remember, this is before modern smartphones, so it’s got buttons and a little screen on top, yet it seems somehow more capable than the latest of 2016’s phones and has no problem whatsoever with a signal about a kilometer underground under a maze of concrete, brickwork and heavy industrial machinery.

Source: Cracked

There’s a complete and utter dearth of interesting weapons in the game – and while fans of the game might argue that it’s somehow realistic, or that the game’s strength is in it’s story or investigation, the fact is that the majority of gameplay is walking in dark rooms with a flashlight, and the next most common part of gameplay is beating the homeless/criminals/zombies to death with clubs and axes.

There’s far more of that than story or investigation.

This game was an interesting experience in one way. I started out impressed and enjoying myself, and you could clearly see the shared DNA between this game and F.E.A.R. in the environments and atmosphere, but the horrible, sluggish controls, tedious gameplay and godawful story led me to go from impressed, to bemused, to bored, to really very unimpressed. As I’ve noted, the game got overall excellent reviews for gameplay and even story back when it was released. I guess time has simply moved on and unlike a bottle of fine wine, this game hasn’t aged well, and in the decade since release has become corked instead.

Verdict: Avoid.

 

Review: Fracture – Day 1 Studios – XBox 360 (2008)

On my Christmas breaks for the last few years, I’ve tended to play a few “fast games” in the interest of a slight cull to my pile of (videogame) shame. Sadly, these games are often not that great, though I do start out hopeful that they might be at least decent. Since I just haven’t been feeling a desire to paint much yet, I’ve started the gaming reviews!

This year, I’m starting out with Fracture, (stylised as Frac\ture on the cover art). The premise of which is that global warming physically divided the east and west coasts of the USA, who then had a bit of a tiff over differing views of genetic modification of humans. The gimmick here, though, is terrain deformation. And killing Californians, apparently. Sorry, “Pacificans”. Who are “no longer fully human”, and more importantly – rebels to the Federal Government, backed by “Asia”. Meanwhile the US Government forces that you play as part of are backed by “Europe”. Uh-huh. Because Asia is east and Europe is west, I guess… This is all told in faux “news reports” from the US Government/East side’s perspective with a really heavy propagandist slant that makes even Fox News sound Fair and Balanced. So maybe all is not as it seems? Not that we get to see or experience any of that

The tutorial is a tiny bit trippy, with flashbacks of Bullfrog’s Populous, and really a bit of a new way of thinking about navigating terrain in a shooter. Until I fired up the game, I had thought that it was a FPS, but it’s instead a 3rd person shooter. Probably worth mentioning that.

Visual design of the main character’s armour is quite reminiscent of Halo and looks decent enough. I like the little thing they’ve done regarding the HUD being a hologram projected outside the suit, but his lack of helmet is more telling than the average Warhammer 40k Space Marine Hero’s lack of same. Your character is the same generic white guy that seemingly all of these games use. I think his name is BaldyStubble McSpacemarine, and as Outside XBox said about him when he appeared in Sniper Elite 3, (because it’s the same bloody character over and over) he “may as well be an animated bag of gravel.” Ha! Better yet, it turns out his name is Brody. No confirmation on whether his first name is Dude.

Dude Brody. Not terrible design, but so, so generic.

The game also comes with a generic black guy who is your immediate superior officer (and shares your haircut!) He’s supposed to be a colonel or general or some such, and he’s clearly supposed to fit into that Sergeant Apone/Black superior officer trope, but without the scenery-chewing or entertainment value of Al Matthews. Instead we get completely forgettable. Much like out protagonist himself.

Visually, the game isn’t bad for something from 2008 (I think?), but it doesn’t hold up in 2015 either. Graphics are a bit too dark which feels like grainy, with too much use of black and (dare I say it?) not enough use of browns, which would make the game less hideously dark. I know, brown games. But there’s colour theory around avoiding or minimising the use of black, and I think that would have been a good move here, since there’s just too much here. Basically, the game looks and feels like a failed “Gears of Halo” kinda game.

The AI is pretty bog standard, with an extra special helping of bog. (A mook just blew himself up with a grenade as I’m playing through this right now). Aaaaaaand another one, 30 seconds later.

Most importantly, though – the shooting is bad. Aiming is poor, you can only hold 2 weapons at a time, and the grenades are pretty useless since the main two that you have for the course of the game don’t explode bad guys, and instead deform terrain – just like your unlimited-charge deform-gun. You get some AI squadmates at certain points, but they’re about as useful as your mooks in an episode of Dynasty Warriors – that is to say that they stand around near the enemy comparing notes with them. Well, they get in the way, so perhaps they’re worse than the useless ones in DW. But yeah, the shooting and aiming in this title is shitful.

How shitful, you ask? Well, let’s put it this way: After less than an hour of gameplay, I found that the “best”/most efficient/least unfun way to kill the endless hordes of generic faceless enemies in this third person shooting game was to melee them to death. Not because the melee is awesome or anything, either. It’s basically an incredibly pissweak little punch. However, given how bad the shooting is, I’m finding that charging in, whacking the mooks a bunch of times, and then hiding behind cover before repeating is the “best” way to get through the combat quickly and easily. That ain’t a real good outcome for a game which is supposed to be a shooter.

Yes. I would have preferred if this game was even Browner.

I was kinda hoping for a game I could play in a day or two and get some satisfying shooting out of, even if the game was short and as bit subpar. I certainly haven’t gotten that….

Cut to a few hours later, and I’ve stumbled onto the final boss fight. I fight him for a good while, before pausing the game to see WTF is up – is he healing, or am I chipping away at him? This is especially relevant, since I don’t have many grenades and only have a shitty gun. I find a walkthrough that recommends that you have a powerful weapon, so that you can kick the shit out of him straight off the bat, since he regenerates every so often, and you’ll also want to be able to destroy the spires that allow him to regenerate. Oh. Good. /eyeroll

So anyway. Game is uninstalled, the disc is back in its case, and the game will probably be an (unpleasant) gift for some poor unsuspecting person in the future. Basically, Fracture isn’t worth the time it’d take to try and grind through that last, bullshit, out of proportion to the rest of the game boss fight. (Reminds me of last year and Heavenly Sword – why do devs pull that kind of shit?) In this instance, I was playing on Easy so I wasn’t in any danger of dying from the final boss – more of developing RSI in my wrist. (I started on normal, then restarted on easy during the first mission when I found the game controlled like shit.)

So anyway. I’ll probably YouTube the ending to see what happened, just for completeness’ sake. The fact that I haven’t actually done it yet is telling with regard to how much/little I actually care about the story. Because it’s a shitty, generic, forgettable story. In a shitty, generic, forgettable game.

Verdict: Avoid.

How Generic? How Forgettable? THIS much.

 

Review: Timeshift – Saber Interactive – 360

Another shooter that got decent-to-good reviews which doesn’t actually deserve decent-to-good reviews. I picked it up cheap both on PC and months and months later for like $12 on 360 (yes, I’m a sucker), and have ended up playing it on the 360, partly because big screen and can’t be arsed installing, but mostly because I was looking for something semi-disposable I could put on and shoot away through while watching DVD commentaries for Goodfellas on the other TV.

Sometimes it takes a game like Timeshift to show just how well done something like Treyarch’s shooting mechanics are done on a game like CoD:WaW, which were criticised somewhat at the time. Seriously, this game’s shooting is shitty compared to WaW. A not-especially-intuitive control scheme doesn’t help either. The plot, such as it is, is told initially using some confusing and badly-paced and written cutscenes involving a magic suit, some scientists, a facility that becomes exploded, and you putting on the suit and being sent back to an alternate-reality 1939. Once there, you’re greeted by Orwellian viewscreens of the glorious leader guy doing his best Half-Life 2 impersonation while you hook up with a resistance group (how do I know they’re not the terrorist insurgents?) and proceed to begin to murder your way through about 9 million near-identical guys for the rest of the game.

This looks pretty unique, doesn’t it?

Yeah, there are only about a half-dozen different enemies. Soldier Guy (with and without helmet, in a few skintones). Worker Guy in jumpsuit (in a few skintones – identical to soldier guy but dies faster), then much later you meet Speedy Guy, Electric Shield Guy, Flying Guy and that’s it unless I’m about to meet some other slight variation on a theme. It’s pretty repetitive.

The 1939 thing is clearly to invoke an allusion to WW2 and the Nazis, and the bad guys you kill a lot of occasionally have a banner with a single Sig Rune on them, so that makes them clearly as bad as Hitler, though tyey also appear to be American, and have full racial integration in their army. Their gear in this alternative-1939 is a mixture of Starship Troopers armour (Verhoven version), Modern M4/203 type rifles, plasma guns, Chewbacca’s Boltcaster which fires explosive sniper bolts, jet packs, laser shields, giant walkers, quad bikes and so forth. You know, just like they had back in ’39. There are a couple of badly-designed airships and a silly looking seaplane, so I guess that’s the Steampunk nod.

Anyway, the gameplay. It’s mostly just a long-feeling very linear repetitive shooter. The game has 24 levels, and I have 6 to go. There’s repetitive shooting in tunnels, industrial areas, that warehouse that’s in every FPS game, several interchangable endless building complexes, some outdoor areas, and some train tunnels. There are pretty frequent puzzles that utilise the game’s point of differentiation, or gimmick – the timeshift device. Basically, you can use it to freeze time, slow it down, reverse it, or heal yourself (!?) Since your character isn’t some indestructible Marcus Fenix-type, you need to pretty much constantly use the slow and freeze abilities while in shootouts, or die. The puzzles aren’t too hard, and range from “Ok that was decent” to “Oh god, boring but tricky but painful.”

Brown, with some grey and some grey-brown to round things off..

Anyway, this is a bog-standard, completely-forgettable shooter with a dog’s breakfast of a plot (I turned the sound off after awhile to better hear the commentary tracks). It’s not short, but due to it’s generic nature, I’m both finding it overlong and wishing it was long-over. This is married to an interesting idea that has potential if it were done by someone like Valve. It’s not a terrible game – I did actually finish it – but by the same token it’s really not worth your time to bother playing when there are so many better things out there. For me, it’s served it’s purpose, as I’ve gotten through 3 DVD commentaries with it. Now it’s done, I’ll probably never look at or even think of it again. In a year or two’s time I might see this post and remember “oh yeah, I played that thing.” Ah well, at least I can say that I started and finished it within a few days!

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Verdict: Don’t bother. There’s better stuff to play.

Review: 007: Quantum of Solace – Treyarch Invention, LLC – Xbox 360

My wife picked this up for me out of the bargain bin at an opening of a new branch of a well-known Australian Hi-Fi, music, games, computers, etc chain. What I knew about it was that it was built on the COD4 engine, but wasn’t nearly as good.

But hey, it was cheap.

Awhile back, someone asked me why I play trashy games instead of the good stuff, and while what I said then was valid, he did have a valid point. After all, I’ve got a pile of games I know are better than QoS sitting unplayed. I guess it’s in part because I’m “saving” the good/best ones, while the less good ones can be played and disposed of without caring if I really savour them properly. So anyway, I threw this on today since I’ve been in a bit of a Bond mood recently, and, yeah, a short, disposable game was what I felt like playing, since I can probably/hopefully finish it over the weekend, inbetween a couple of DVDs and WoW-dailies.

So anyway. Based on the plots of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. CoD4 engine. Treyarch – before they got good with Black Ops. Slightly-crappy Gears-wannabe cover-shooter mechanic bolted on. Bond plays through a series of vaguely-based on the films scenarios, mostly using a series of various high-powered weapons just like he didn’t use in the films in an odd sequence vaguely related or not to the actual plots of the two films. I guess many of the weapons did cameo in the films while other people were using them. And James has the famous cover shot with the HK UMP-9.

This is what Parkour looks like. Apparently.

I’ve in fact just paused the game after having acquired an M60, and shot up a building with it, while slowly fighting forward while taking cover against waves of heavily-armed goons armed with AKs. You might remember this scene from Casino Royale as the parkour chase from the beginning of the film. Which puts me at the 1/3 of the way through point according to GameFaqs.

There are cell phones scattered about, which fill in little bits of intel. They’re vaguely interesting, but nothing to worry about if you miss any.

Anyway. Is it fun? It’s alright, actually. It’s nothing like the films, of course. But it’s an alright shooter. I’m not even going to bother checking out the multiplayer, since it’s an older game at this point, and let’s face it, every FPS/3PS of the last decade has a half-assed MP shooter aspect tacked onto it, but most people just play one of the better/more popular ones, and anything shy of that tend to be a ghost town.

So, yeah. As I said, CoD4 engine. Treyarch. Slightly-crappy cover system. Still a decent enough game. Not an awesome one to pick up at full price, but perfectly okay as a weekend rental, or something to fish out of the bargain bin and then either inflate your games collection or pass onto a friend.

Gears of Bond.

After another hour of play, including the exciting rooftop helicopter battle and exploding elevator shaft sequence that you may not recall from Casino Royale since they never happened in the film, I do have to reiterate it’s definitely not a bad game. I’m enjoying myself well enough, with of course the bargain-bin price caveat. The cover mechanics aren’t bad either, they just don’t really add anything to the FPS formula or this FPS title. At least they did make an effort to replicate the final section of the parkour chase, and while it wasn’t awesome, it was playable.

Final remarks – finished it. Had fun enough, though the I found the wild deviations from the film(s) to be annoying. It also features one stage where you get to play as drugged-cardiac-arrest-Bond from CR, which is almost as little fun as the Nightmare stages in Max Payne. At least it’s faster and you can see. Overall though, it’s still an ok game. Better as a rental rather than a bargain bin buy, since there’s not much to do with it once you finish it in 10 or so hours, unless you want to play through all the difficulty levels or achievement whore, since the MP is a ghost town.

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Verdict: Rent it. Or buy it cheap. Or don’t – It’s all good.

Review: Wanted: Weapons of Fate – GRIN AB – 360

Another mini-review today. A Micro-review, perhaps. Or even, just a simple warning…?

Watched the movie the other weekend. Played the game tonight (got them in a cheapish bundle months ago after reading reviews of the game).  A bad game of a below-average action film of a ?? comic.

Played it for half an hour? Maybe an hour?

  • Muddy green and brown-tinged graphics with high-contrast thrown over the top of it.
  • Shitty cover-shooter mechanics. As in, not “oh those shitty cover-shooters” but a truly shitty shit shit implementation of cover-shooter mechanics.
  • A muddled jumple of a story that’s even worse than the film’s story. Terrible/laughable attempts at creating dramatic tension. Even for a game.
  • Poor gunplay.
  • Too much pointless juvenile swearing for me to give it away as a gift to one of my students.
  • Looks like an XBox 1 title.
  • Reviews called it “competent” “decent” “7.3/10” “3.5/5”, etc.
  • They lied.

Shitty game tries to use style to hide it’s lack of substance. Fails at both.

I’ll give it another half an hour, or hour in case it magically becomes kind of alright. It won’t of course. Then it’s frisbee time for this piece of trash.

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Verdict: Avoid.

Update:

Had another quick play with it. Awful, awful game. By comparison it makes the movie look like Citizen Kane.

The movie was below average, but somewhat alright in a trashy, watch-once-and-forget action movie kind of way. This is just dire.

Review: Homefront – Kaos Studios – 360

Picked it up from the bargain bin (I spent more on lunch yesterday), as I’m so fond of. It arrived from the UK a couple of days ago, and since it’s supposed to be very short, in the 5hour range, I’ve just started it and hope to finsh it over the coming weekend. (yeah, I don’t play for long sessions).

I’ve been interested in Kaos studios for some time. Born out of Trauma Studios, who created the most excellent Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942, the core of the Trauma crew were hired/bought by DICE to work on Battlefield 2 which was pretty much a commercial reworking of Desert Combat as a direct sequel to BF:1942. Following the release of BF2, DICE/EA did what big studios always seem to do and fired everyone from Trauma, who in turn got picked up by THQ and formed Kaos.

A couple of years afterwards, they brought out Frontlines: Fuel of War which I was very much looking forward to, right up until several months after release when there was still no demo in sight for the game along with many complaints about PC stability and balance issues. So I never bought it. More recently, Kaos developed Homefront, which crashed and burned on account of not actually being very good, and Kaos in turn was closed earlier this year.

So. The game.

Well, the shooting mechanics are a bit off. Sure, I’m playing on console, but they’re not nearly as smooth or good “feeling” as either CoD or Battlefield’s. You’re forced to rely on the “snap-to” auto-aim mechanic, and even that’s a bit off.Your companions lack personality, the guy is a generic douche, the girl is showing off her lower stomach and just a hint of upper pubis to go with her cleavage. Because it’s important to keep up sexy appearances during civil insurrection. The writing is pretty bad and dialogue is worse – John Milius or no.

It all looks a bit grainy. Dunno, I guess they’re going for “gritty”. On one hand, a few years ago you’d laud a game like this for looking so good, but by today’s standards they’re nothing special. They’re not bad per se, they just look a bit off.

Had to take a break after a couple more stages when one of my companions got stuck on a wall we’d vaulted. You always have to “follow” your companions, and you can’t do simple things like go through a doorway or go up/down a ladder until the game decides it’s your turn. Even if there’s nothing or no-one in the way.
There’s a variety of weapons to pick up, as apparently there’s no uniformity in the Koreans’ equipment, so they’re all carrying a variety of about 5 different rifles, with a variety of different add-ons and types of optics.

bang bang

You can’t carry much ammo (about 5 mags per rifle) and you can only carry 2 weapons, oh – and apparently weapons which are a variation on a theme do not use the same ammo, let alone magazines. This means that the M4 Carbine, which uses the exact same magazines and ammunition as the M16 in the real world, doesn’t in this game. Let alone other weapons that share the same ammo and use compatable STANAG magazines like the SCAR-L, ACR, etc. But worse, even two different M4 rifles with different optics don’t share ammo. This is worth complaining about since the ammount of ammo you can carry is so limited, forcing you to be scavenging new rifles fairly regularly. Oh, except, sometimes, slightly different variants of the same rifle will refill your ammo. But not always.

Oh, and the “RPG”s that are used by the Koreans throughout the game (and by you a time or two) are actually German-made Panzerfaust 3s, rather than RPG-7’s or the Chinese copy, Type 69 which makes total sense. Right? Especially since the US doesn’t use them, nor do the Koreans, though the Koreans seem to be using the entire stock of US Armed forces’ M4 rifles.

After having finished the game, I have some more thoughts. A little more reflective at this point.

While the gameplay is filled with flaws, on another level the game itself is an interesting take on games as narrative. With John Milius (Red Dawn) on board, the influence of having a “proper” write in the game designers is clear. The game is very much a hyper-linear experience. While we’re used to that in FPS games like, well, almost everything since forever, Homefront takes it to a new level. Rather than having to make it to the next checkpoint, you simply follow one or another of the NPCs around like a dog on a long tether. Aside from not being allowed through doors or up ladders until your companions have finished their bit of dialogue, this game takes it to the extreme At one point, your companions head to an overlook to make comment from a distance on bad things that the Koreans are doing to some nice American civilians, and the game literally has you follow them up to the ridge so the NPCs can have their chat, and then follow them back down so you can move onwards. It feels like a scene that may have been in a film or book and fit in, but in Homefront you, as Mute Protaganist #498076 simply follow along like the aforementioned tethered canine and observe what you’re told to observe, when you’re told to observe it. As storytelling goes, it’s not involving or interactive at all, you’re simply a detatched mute observer, going through the motions.

Similarly, at the game’s climax the game attempts to give us a poignant moment, but unfortunately the player is so detatched from the goings-on that it just falls flat. Rather than feeling that you’re in the story, you’re basically just following along. Compared to, say, the Call of Duty experience – which *is very Michael Bay – but at least you’re the hero, Homefront has you tag along as a semi-interested observer, following your companions like a little dog and listening to their trite scipted dialogue in between headshotting a few more Koreans.

An enthralling bit of dialogue from one of your charismatic and well-written companions.

Something like the Bad Company franchise at least features some humour from your companions, and as such, they become likeable. Something like Uncharted has characters you actually grow to like over the course of the game and enjoy seeing. Even Medal of Honor, which suffered a little from “Black Hawk Down Character Syndrome” – Who is that guy again? Which one is he?” managed to kick a real goal in terms of end-of-game poignancy. Especially compared to this, it’s like Shakespeare.

Homefront uses THQ’s “online pass” system, and despite my copy being new, I couldn’t be arsed putting in the code just to have a 10-minute look at it’s multiplayer. (And no, I’m not willing to email it out). I figure I have several installments of Call of Duty and Battlefield if I feel like some modern-military-style multiplayering.

Overall, and despite my many misgivings towards this title, the short (5 hour) campaign length works in it’s favour for me. If the game was longer, I probably wouldn’t have finished it or it’d join the many games I end up putting down for months or even years. Since it only cost me as much as a large lunch and was short enough to play in a weekend, I actually don’t regret the purchase. More dedicated gamers could easily finish it in a day or even a single long session. As it stands the experience was more akin to seeing a movie at the cinema that was merely “ok” – and cost less than doing so, while still having enough of it to make for an interesting think about the nature of story in games.

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Verdict: Skip it or Rent it. Only bother to purchase if it’s going to cost as much as lunch.

P.S.: For an entertaining look at the game’s shortcomings via captioned screenshots, check out Homefront’s IMFDB entry.

Review: Call of Duty: World at War – Treyarch – PC/360

File:Call of Duty World at War cover.png

While I picked this up more or less on release, I really only got to play it some time later. Hence this review was written in January 2009. What do you mean there’s a newer Call of Duty game out?!?

Part 1 – PC version.
Onto the game! The review is written from my experiences with the PC version. The later MP thoughts are based on the 360.
The story is.. well, you’re a soldier. American and Russian at different times, and you have to kill Germans and Japanese. Because they’re bad guys and really the story is the same as every other WW2 FPS shooter, ever. So we’ll skip that.

Peripheral stuff, like loading intro screens and such are very well done, though the audio on mine suffers from some pretty bad stuttering, even after I upgraded my NVIDIA drivers. But while the presentation and such is excellent, pretty much on a par with CoD4, the problems with the game are the same, and even exacerbated. Lots of sudden “oh…  you dead now” moments that require you to die the first time so you can know what to avoid the second time.

Amusing caption goes here.

My squadmates seem to have taken a step back from useful and competent as in previous CoD games and are back to being decoration, and in many levels the enemies only seem to shoot at me (except for the occasional 1-shot kill on my decorative squadmates. And I’m only playing on the second difficulty setting.

While it’s an overused term, the game does have consolitis in that the emphasis is SO much more on the action rather than the playing – firefights are non-stop and frankly, a little too intense. As you simply can’t avoid being shot (not shot at), because they all go for YOU. As mentioned above, most of the time your vision is impaired by the “bloody vision” that the game uses in lieu of a wound meter/HP bar. You sprinting to the checkpoints is once again more important than actually fighting your way through, thanks to the endlessly-respawning enemies, who make attempting to fight your way through an exercise in futility anyway. It’s all about sprint-while-being-wounded towards the next gold star on your map.

In the inevitable 3rd-person view tank level, you’re once again at the helm of a T-34, and it’s much like previous CoD games where you’ve been at the helm of a T-34, (and maybe some MoH instalments as well). Except this time, there’s huge clouds of dust. All the time. All the time because your tank is constantly being pounded by enemy armour, panzershreks, bunkers, 88mm artillery. Your fellow Soviet tanks disappear without a trace pretty quickly, so again you have so solo the whole lot. Through the dust. Of course, this is helped by the fact that just like when you duck behind a wall as an infantryman, your tank regenerates it’s, erm, “health” whenever it’s not getting the shit shot out of it. This allows you to take out at least a platoon of Tigers, and probably PzIVs as well. (Hard to make out their profiles through all the dust, you see.)

I feel like I’ve been here before…

I really enjoyed CoD4, despite many of the same or similar flaws, but that may have been largely in light of the modern setting. This feels even more scripted, and at the same time both less realistic and less arcadey-fun. As it is, and despite both the annoyances and the great visuals, I feel very much like I’ve played this exact game before. Many times.

I mean, I’ve definitely assaulted the Reichstag building and planted the Soviet banner on the roof there before. And though it’s definitely prettier this time around, it’s not any more fun, partly because I’ve already done this, but mostly due to the endless rain of homing bullets and respawning Nazis.

Another annoying aspect of the consolitis are the “death cards”, scattered around in hidden places in the SP mode to unlock cheats in co-op. They’re this year’s version of the Laptops in CoD4. In a game that discourages “exploration” by virtue of endless-respawn enemies, rush-to-checkpoint gameplay, and large areas made up of pretty much identical debris/jungle/etc, it’s a very weak attempt to extend the game’s longevity. This is especially so as their unlocks are overwhelmingly just more ways to increase the game’s difficulty with only a couple of “fun” ones. I mean, even if I cared about them it wouldn’t be hard to play through the individual levels again with a walkthrough, but I have no urge to do so.

Parts of the SP campaign are reasonable fun. The Soviet campaign I enjoyed a lot more than the US Pacific  campaign, which is probably due to preferring the urban battlefronts over the jungle ones where you can’t see the enemy, and the German Stahlheim helmets being a more distinctive target to shoot at than the Japanese. The best parts of the US campaign for me were the first section of the Aircraft-gunner sequences, (“Black Cats”) and the levels where you operate a flamethrower in the jungle, though those still suffered from not being able to see a damn thing due to “bloody vision”, flames and dust’n’dirt everywhere. The Soviet missions were I suppose blander but more solid.

Multiplayer seems to be pretty much exactly the same as CoD4, only with dogs and recon planes instead of attack choppers and UAVs. I got sick of the spammy combat and loudly stupid playerbase after one round. I enjoyed CoD4’s MP for awhile, but eventually got bored with it. As I’m still bored with CoD4 MP and this is exactly the same, I was sick of it about 5 minutes after firing it up for the first time. To be fair though, if you still enjoy CoD4 MP, then you’ll likely enjoy this iteration’s MP.

Overall, it’s like CoD4. It’s not a great game. It’s a cinematic experience that you play through. But it’s WW2, again. And I’ve already done all this. I’ve played this. I liked CoD4 a lot more as it was a fresh take. This feels like a mash-up rehash of CoD4 and every other CoD/MoH you’ve already played. Beyond that it doesn’t make me want to play more every time I take a break, and the best FPS games do that. Instead I had to make myself play it through to the end to unlock the Zombie-Mode carrot. Zombie mode looks good on paper, and the combination of wanting to try it and wanting to finish this review was pretty much the main reason I made myself slog through and finish the campaign.

All games must have zombies. Apparently.

Once I unlocked that carrot I found that it was pretty fun. In SP zombie mode you can see that it’d be an awful lot of fun with 4 pals and voice chat (hmm… sound like another recent Zombie-themed game?). Nonetheless I tried it online, and found that there were unfortunately not too many games going, and more importantly, the calibre of players in it is pretty much the same as the random idiots in CoD4/5 MP, or your average trade channel discussion in World of Warcraft. Still, it’s a simple but worthwhile addition to the game.

It’s a solid rental. If you love the CoD-style multiplayer and you’d rather use WW2-era weapons than modern ones for a change it’d be worth the purchase. The SP mode/campaign is like CoD4: Worth playing through, but not necessarily worth buying or owning.

Part 2: 360 and Multiplayer thoughts.

So 3 years after release, and 2 years after writing the above review of the PC version, I got around to playing the 360 version. Why? That’s a reasonable question. The simple answer is simply that I wanted to try the co-op campaign and play through it with my wife. I’m also halfway through the SP campaign, mostly because I thought I may as well play through it since I bought the thing. I’m also interested in seeing how it looks on the big TV screen.

So anyway, my thoughts on both modes are generally much the same. Still can’t see a damn thing with all the bullets whizzing around and your bloodied vision – especially in the Pacific missions. The Flamethrower still (almost) makes up for all of it with it’s sheer mindless fun (time to reinstall RTCW for MP?). Endlessly-respawning baddies still make everything a sprint to the checkpoint. So no major changes. As a co-op piece, it’s okay. I figure that playing almost anything co-op with a friend is usually going to be fun, often fun than solo, so there is that. The co-op campaign omits several missions – the more Singleplayer-oriented ones. Black Cats (the one in the seaplane), the introductory cat-and-mouse Russian sniper level. Possibly another 1 or 2 that I can’t recall. I’m not finding the SP campaign to be “sticky” at all, wanting me to play more of it. It feels a lot more like a chore actually. Something I have to do to “get my money’s worth” from the game. So I might not finish it if I can let common sense and logic win that particular argument. (6 months later, I still haven’t gone back to finish it – so there you go…)

There are no Achievements given for the co-op campaign, and you just play them from a chosen selection of standalone levels, though it does queue the next one automatically when you finish the previous. There are Death Cards in here, so you can collect those for various MP cheats. I pretty much ignored those in the PC version, sine I had no intention of playing through it again, but I may go back for them on the 360. Partly as achievement whoring and partly “just in case” my wife wants to (or is willing to) replay through a level or two with various silliness turned on. Nazi Zombies mode is also unlocked from the beginning, though I suspect that’s been patched in sometime int he past 2-3 years, as I recall needing to finish the game on PC to unlock it.

I did have a muck about with the multiplayer. I actually enjoyed it more than I did on PC for some reason – and more than CoD4 on 360, though the game does have a habit of putting you into a game, then kicking you if you don’t have the DLC map packs, so you have to queue again.

Multiplayer Madness. Ok, so it’s not so mad.

The 2 copies I got for MP were bargain bin pickups, and the MP was fun enough, but unless I can get some major MP use out of Nazi Zombies, it’s not something I could recommend. Regardless of platform, the SP game is still “like CoD4, but not quite as good, and hard to see anything.” and the co-op, while servicable, is nothing to write home about.

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The Verdict:

If you’re looking at picking up a PC or console FPS for Singleplayer, there are so many better choices out there.

If you’re looking at picking up a PC FPS for Multiplayer, again, there are so many better choices out there.

If you’re looking at picking up a console FPS for Multiplayer, it’s actually quite decent but now quite underpopulated, so there are better choices. Decent if you can get it for cheap.

If you’re looking at picking up a console FPS for co-op, there are far better choices out there.

It’s ok as a bargain bin pickup, especially if you enjoy WW2 shooters.