August 2009

Battlefield 1943

August 17, 2009

I have a confession to make – this is my first Battlefield game. I never played 1942 or Vietnam or even Bad Company. It’s not even that I’m averse to either FPS or competitive multiplayer (Team Fortress 2 and Halo 3 are two of my favorite 360 games of this generation). What does this mean to you? A unique perspective. Until I read about the changes (after playing the game) I had no idea that regenerating health and ammo were new additions to the series. I didn’t even know three maps was less than long-time fans would expect. In short you get an untarnished view on a successful franchise.

Battlefield 1943 is both exceptionally fun and exceptionally frustrating. When I find a quick match I am either a contributing member of the team or that guy who dies at the spawn point six times in a row. The good obviously outweighs the bad because even after seeing everything the game has to offer and earning 11/12 achievements (I still need to play 100 matches total) I keep on coming back.

Weapons feel appropriate. Sniping is hard – it is a big deal to get a headshot on a moving target. Machine guns are inexact and best used as part of a squad with good communication. Grenades are great at clearing out bunkers but terrible at taking out enemies on an open stretch of road. The trade-off between fire speed, accuracy, and damage output when comparing the machine gun to the rifle feels right. There is no one “will screw everybody up” weapon or class, but you will find that your play style keeps you coming back to one class more often than the other two. Maps are detailed, deformable terrain is neat, and the ringing in your ears from being too close to an explosion makes the experience all the more immersive. Driving and flying takes some getting used to, but it is very rewarding to master flying, win a dog fight, and then jump out of your plane and parachute onto an enemy point.

I would like to see more maps (Coral Sea is neat, but Air Superiority is more of a curiosity than a mode you’ll return to over and over) and better stat tracking. I’m sure there are more than three locales that were important to the US – Japan conflict in World War II. With regard to stat tracking, why is the stats page willing to show me how many times I have captured five flags but not my kill/death ratio, my win/loss ratio, and my total number of games played? Valve has spoiled me. I want an achievement page that shows a counter for each achievement. How many flags have I defended out of 30? How many games have I played out of 100? How many times have I been in the top squad on Guadalcanal?

Battlefield 1943 is just plain fun. There are few things that compare to getting a boat, avoiding fighter plane fire on your way to shore, jumping in a jeep, and gunning it to the first capture point only to find that you and your buddy are squaring off against an enemy tank. And it only gets better when when you manage to blow that tank up and take the point.

Pros: Fun, fast-paced, well-balanced, good variety of tasks (driving jeeps, driving tanks, riding gunner, flying fighters, or running around as either infantry, rifleman, or scout).

Cons: Poor in-game stat tracking

Plays like: Battlefield 1942

ESRB: T for Violence

It’s hard to make a video game based on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and have it not be better than the movie, and Luxoflex has succeeded in doing so. But judging it solely as a game, it not only makes a game about giant robots boring, it actually manages to take so many different gameplay elements and make them equally as uninteresting. 

The game follows the story of the film, but there is a key difference: you can choose to play as either the Autobots or the Decepticons. If you decide to play as the Decepticons, the story changes pretty drastically, and you basically get the completely opposite of what normally happens in the film. It’s nice to see developers include two different ways to approach a generally linear storyline. But it’s a shame that the gameplay really doesn’t change at all. Whether you’re an Autobot or a Decepticon, it’ll all feel the same.

The models of all of the robots are impressive, and it’s cool seeing them transform. That was handled really well, but everything else in the game looks rather bland and uninspired. Even the waves and waves of generic enemies you face all begin to look the same after a while. The game has pretty much the same music found in the film, and it sounds good, but you rarely hear that music in-game, most of it is played in the menus. 

Each robot, whether it is an Autobot or a Decepticon, has a few small, unique things about them. They are all slightly different in terms of speed, strength, and the weapons they use, among a few other things. They also each have their own special abilities that may drastically help in battle; Bumblebee, for example, can temporarily disable the enemy, while Ratchet can heal himself and other Autobots around him. You generally never need these skills though, since the majority of the gameplay consists of destroying smaller enemy robots that really pose no threat, especially with the regenerating health your character has. 

The control scheme is actually executed rather well, with many different moves and maneuvers all learned pretty easily. A nice touch I enjoyed was when you hold the right trigger, you transform into whatever vehicle your character is, and by letting go you transform right back. You can use this to sneak attack enemies or perform higher jumps, among other things. The shooting and hand to hand combat are pretty simplistic as well, and by the end of the tutorial, you will know everything there is to know. 

Each mission consists of generally the same objectives: protect a specific target, destroy all of the enemies in the area, take a target from point A to point B, repair certain items in the area, or defeat a specific enemy (a boss). There is really no variation in any of these missions, and you tend you get a bit bored of everything going on fairly quickly. You are however given a medal at the end of each mission based on how fast you finished it, ranging from platinum to bronze. Aside from going back to get the better medals, there are really no reasons to replay any of these missions. 

The huge problem with the game is, despite the variety in the different gameplay elements, none of them are never handled that well. You can drive or fly, but it’s almost never necessary unless you are trying to finish a mission quickly to achieve a platinum medal. The shooting feels the same, since all of the enemies you face are generally the same, and the hand to hand combat rarely works because the enemies run away after you get only a few hits in. None of it is ever executed properly, and in terms of boss fights, they all follow very similar patterns and really require the same “strategies” you used to defeat the smaller enemies. 

While the single player may be fun at first, you’ll soon slowly begin to realize that the game is nothing but the same missions over and over again. And with such little variety in the environments or the enemies, it becomes a chore to actually finish the game. The Decepticon campaign is, if anything, a bit more original due to the change in the story from the film, but aside from that there really are no differences between the two main campaigns in the game. 

There is multiplayer as well, and surprisingly enough it actually is fun to play. With a good group of people, the multiplayer can be a blast, and actually feels less tacked on than it does in most games. There are your standard game types: deathmatch, team-deathmatch, capture the flag (called Battle for the Shards), and control points. There is one mode called One Shall Stand, which involves the two team leaders (Optimus Prime and Megatron), and the objective is to defeat the opposing team leader to win the match. It’s fun, and adds more variety to the game than can be found in the bland single player. 

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is your typical movie based game that fails to become anything more than a generic action title. It has a lot of great ideas, and you’d think a game with so many different gameplay elements could have some variety, but it just feels like another cheap cash-in. If you were to play this game for any reason, make it to try out the multiplayer, because it’s better than you would expect. 

ESBR: T for Teen; Just a lot of robot violence and some mild language

Pros: Cool transformations and abilities; very easy to learn and intuitive control scheme; fun multiplayer

Cons: So many different gameplay elements, but none are handled well; feels repetitive after a while; generic enemies and boring mission objectives

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the better movie tie-in games, one that actually both stands apart from and is better than the movie itself.

The game follows the movie’s storyline, but with quite a few new flashbacks and other sequences taken from the comics instead. The first thing you’ll notice is the attention to detail when it comes to Wolverine himself. He looks a lot like Hugh Jackman, and not only that, when he becomes damaged, you’ll see his wounds all over his body. You’ll also get to see him regenerate them slowly over time. It’s a shame the rest of the game looks very bland. It’s not terrible looking, but it’s really not as good as it could have looked. Plus, there is the occasional graphical hiccup and plenty of texture pop-in here and there, and some of the effects (in particular, the blood) look a bit off as well.

This game is also different from the movie due to the extreme amounts of violence, which feels very appropriate in a Wolverine game. The combat is fluid, fast paced, incredibly deep, and very satisfying. It’s pretty quick to pick up the game and instantly begin stringing combos and other attack patterns together. Plus, you can truly feel each attack as Wolverine jumps from one enemy to another. 

Speaking of jumping, the lunge attack, which allows you to leap to and attack an enemy is a lot of fun to perform and just makes the combat move even faster. The enemies do get a bit repetitive, but it really won’t matter too much when you’re in the middle of some intense combat. This is especially true when you’re lunging from enemy to enemy, and performing special moves to quickly defeat large groups of them. Wolverine has four different special moves he can perform, one of which is a Berserk mode which makes all of your attacks stronger for a short period of time. 

A big problem with the game in general is Wolverine seems unstoppable, as most enemies will not be as much of a threat to you as they will be just an annoyance. You can easily kill off most enemies by abusing a few key moves, one being the lunge attack, another being a quick kill maneuver done by grabbing an enemy and pressing either of the attack buttons at the right time. Most enemies are susceptible to this, and the larger/more challenging enemies will only require a couple of extra quick kill moves to be defeated.

Speaking of bigger enemies, there are plenty of “mini-boss” encounters throughout the game that follow predictable patterns. This results in them being even less threatening than most of the normal enemies. They attack, you dodge, you lunge onto them and attack until they almost knock you off, rinse and repeat. And that leads into the boss fights, the majority of them being just as boring and predictable. 

However, on a more positive note, you can level up Wolverine throughout the game. You can upgrade all of your special moves, as well as general things such as your claw strength and your health. There are also plenty of mutagens to collect, which can be equipped to Wolverine for even more health/strength bonuses. All of this adds up to an even deeper experience than you’d expect from an action game such as this. And with plenty of other collectibles, like Wolverine action figures and dog tags spread throughout all of the levels, it adds a lot of replayability.

Sadly, there are sections of the game that can be considered “platforming” sections, and they just don’t work at all. Wolverine jumps higher than most game characters, but it feels off and makes timing for certain jumps incredibly frustrating at times. Not to mention the camera can get in the way not only during fights in smaller areas, but also during certain jumping sections. And one misstep means it’s back to the last checkpoint. Action games like this never need any platforming, it feels forced into the game just to have something to break up the combat. It’s nice to have that, but when it doesn’t work, I’d rather just have all combat.

Overall, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is better than your average movie licensed game. It has a very fun combat system, plenty of enemies to kill, and it is overall a very rewarding and satisfying experience. It’s a shame the game has plenty of flaws that hold it back from being one of the better superhero titles around. Still, a fun few hours, and it’s at least worth a rental for fans of the character.

: M for mature; has plenty of blood, gore, and violence that attribute to a very mature title. 

: Incredibly fun and surprisingly deep combat; an intuitive control system; just a violent, satisfying experience

Cons: Generally too easy; boss fights and giant enemies are rather boring and follow the same pattern; “platforming” sections and jumping in general feel off; annoying camera; quite a few graphical hiccups and glitches

EA’s NCAA Football series has always been victim of little brother syndrome. Madden gets all the focus and advancements, and NCAA usually seems like last year’s Madden adapted to college.

This year is a bit different.

EA has made big pushes into the online sharing space with the newest installment. Players can now share media and custom teams online, and team creation has moved to an all browser-based format that allows for logo upload and advanced player customization. We tried out the feature, and were impressed. (Check out a few photos above that we took using the game’s photo sharing service.) The importing onto the 360 has caused some issues with Xbox Live’s word censoring process and EA’s name generators. Even names that are just randomly created sometimes get replaced by XXXXXXXX. They can be rewritten once downloaded, but it’s a frustrating distraction.

The rest of the game is very familiar. There are offline and online dynasty modes, and a “Road to Glory” mode hosted by ESPN’s Erin Andrews that lets you take a player from high school star to the end of their college career. (The latter is basically last year’s Campus Legend mode with enhanced presentation.)

A new feature, Season Showdown, is a competitive mode that awards players points for playing the game well and with sportsmanship, and the points help with a system to give your favorite team bragging rights. You get a few points for a user tackle, sure, but you also get points for punting on fourth down, and you lose points for running up the score. This seems to be part of EA’s effort to instill the tradition of fair play into a fan base notorious for brutal rudeness.

The gameplay is as deep as ever. Tiburon continues to tweak the minutia of the movement, and everything feels slightly smoother. It’s tough to articulate, since EA is king of incremental improvements, but there’s progress being made in the AI for blocking, running and special teams.  The actual player stats are increasingly larger factors, so players can’t simply take any player and, say, run a kickoff back for a touchdown.  Power runners need to go through the middle, because they won’t make it around the outside, and bad blockers are very ineffective at keeping defenders at bay.

There are still some glitches. We found that running backs tend to glitch during screen plays and keep running into the backs of offensive linemen. Tackling still has some collision detection problems, and play previews occasionally become a shaky, glitchy mess.

NCAA is never going to replace Madden. It’s only for people who prefer college football over pro, but it’s getting increasingly better. Just don’t miss the TeamBuilder.

ESRB: E– No worse than watching a game on TV.

Pros: Interesting web integration with media and TeamBuilder.
Cons: Yearly installments are tired, and this game doesn’t even have roster update concerns.

Telltale’s second installment of Tales of Monkey Island, entitled “Siege of Spinner Cay,” has gotten a release date of August 20. The chapter continues the adventures of Guybrush as he routs an array of eccentric characters and unravels a myriad of pirate adventures, all in order to escape the perplexing Flotsam Island and battle the villainous LeChuck.

Tales of Monkey Island’s remaining three episodes are still without a release date, but are intended to release monthly.