Friday, January 30, 2009

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

I'm going to stick with the shorter review format. Life's been busy lately, and really, the point of the review is to let you know "Is it fun?" Following that rule, I now bring you the review of C&C: Red Alert 3.

Anyone who's familiar with either the Red Alert series, or the original Command & Conquer games knows what to expect. Real time strategy with low emphasis on resource gathering. This time around you have the Soviets and Allied Forces, as well as the Empire of the Rising Sun. The biggest differences between the factions are the way they construct buildings, and the "Secret Orders" or whichever term they're using. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of the Empire, as their build style does not work well for me at all. The Secret Orders are a fun addition to the game, and if properly used, can quickly throw the balance of the game in to your favour. Even better, you get them more rapidly if you're the current underdog, as the meter to give you more points to spend on the Orders fills up faster if you have fewer units, buildings, resources, etc.

For the campaign mode, I have no idea how EA does it. They did it with C&C 3, and they did it here. They got a lot of recognizable actors, who all do a pretty darned good job. In addition, the briefings for each mission are given to you by intelligence officers. Each faction uses their own large-breasted, enthusiastic lady to give you your objectives. 

Basically, you can sum up the game in these words: Well-used actors, hot babes, a dangerously high cheese factor, and a solid RTS mechanic not bogged down by micromanaging with 3 factions who all play differently. 

I enjoyed this game, and can recommend it without reservation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I know this is an old game, but with the release of the sequel right around the corner, I borrowed this from Maurice to give it a try. Since this game's so old, this will just be a quickie review.

I like it. Solid graphics, good sound, good AI, solid combat. And creepy, to boot. The slow-mo mechanic works, and once properly mastered, you will tear through the enemies like wet tissue paper. My only gripe with combat is that you can only carry 3 weapons, which really doesn't feel like much, and you'll have to manage your load-out carefully. 

If you like first-person shooters, and don't scare easy, grab this game. You'll enjoy it, and it should be a bargain.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Your Co-Pilot for This Flight...

Hi, readers. I'm Maurice, your contributing editor here at AFiTaG. The articles you'll see from me are less about videogame reviews (although I will write some) and more about the 'tech side of our coverage. Expect a series of 'how to' articles on tuning your computer, and how to get the most out of your games.

I look forward to regaling you often with my ramblings in the coming weeks. Ciao!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dead Space Review

Okay, I've now finished the game, so here's my review of Dead Space. First, the short version, for those of you in a hurry: I cannot recommend this game on PC. If you have a 360 or PS3, give it a rental. It'll only take you about 12 hours or so to get through, maybe 15, and unless you're OCD about trophys/achievements, there's no reason to play through a second time.

Okay, here's the long version. As usual, we start with the good stuff.

1) Soundtrack. The music's fairly good, and there's ambient whispers and talking that really serve to up the creepy-factor. 

2) The actual gameplay mechanics. Needing to dismember enemies for most efficient killing, zero-g jumping, the sections with no air, it's all done well. 

3) Monster design. Most enemies look like they could have been human at one point, except for the bosses, which are suitably massive. One you're told is actually 10 kilotons. 

4) The weapons. They're interesting. Repurposed mining tools. Most have some kind of use. Even the plasma cutter you start with stays useful right to the end of the game.

5) The upgrade system. The power nodes you pick up can be used to upgrade any of your items, and the methods you do so remind me of a simpler version of FFX's sphere grid. Basically, you don't need to hit every node in order to upgrade to the max, because most weapons have different paths that give you upgrades in different orders. 

6) Level design. Despite being very linear, the levels look good, and aren't difficult to navigate.

I played through on easy, just to get through it, so I'm not going to talk about the monsters dying easily, or getting too much ammo/health/etc, because it may be different in other difficulties, but I can't be bothered to find out. Wanna know why?

1) Monster AI. Or rather, the lack of it. The monsters with slicing limbs just run straight at you, except for the ones with a stinger instead of legs. They jump straight at you. There's no strategy. It's just the straightest path from them to you. Heavens forbid they actually try and dodge a little. The monsters that throw things just stand, extend throwing tentacle, throw, then maybe move, repeat ad nausem. Then there's the tentacles. Stand at range and shoot the bulbous part, and they can't touch you. The last type of enemy is the swarmers. Tiny things on the ground that usually rely on numbers and being tiny, and therefore hard to hit, to deal you damage. You can just stomp them into oblivion, usually. Now, there's multiple types of enemies in each category, but you don't actually need any kind of differing strategy, because they all act the same.

2) Limited inventory space. Yes, it's supposed to be nerve wracking, trying to decide what to carry, and what not to carry, wondering if you're going to need that extra med pack, or that o2 tank, but considering the fact that ammo stacks are small (4 for the contact beam per stack, 6 for the line gun, for instance), and you have space for 4 weapons means you're not going to be carrying much ammo for each weapon if you do have 4 weapons. Also, schematics take up space in your inventory, so if you want to be able to buy something at the store, you need room for those. They give you seperate slots for key items, but you'll never use all the slots, so why couldn't schematics have gone in there? You can eventually get more inventory slots, but by that point, you don't need them anymore, unless you're a really bad shot. And really, if you're relying on not being able to carry things to add tension and horror to your game, you're doing something wrong.

3) The weapons. Yeah, they all have a use, but most are limited. I got through the entire game with just the plasma cutter and the line gun. Flamer's decent for the swarmers, but you can pick them off with the cutter, or just stomp on them. The ripper's good for narrow corridors, if you're being attacked on one side. Or you can just send a line-gun blast down the corridor and take out everything's legs. The plasma rifle's less useful than the plasma cutter. The contact beam takes time to charge, when I could just rifle off a few shots with a different weapon. Any game that gives you about 7 different weapons to use then makes it so that you can't afford to carry ammo for half of them screwed up. Pick 2 weapons, upgrade the snot out of them, and that's all you'll need.

4) The upgrade system. Yeah, I said I liked it, but seriously, some of the upgrades make the game *too* easy. If you're a decent player, you're never going to run low on life on even medium difficulty, if you upgrade you life fully. Your O2 supply becomes ridiculous. Over 2 minutes, and you're almost never going to need that, since pretty much every time you're going to be in a vacuum for an extended period of time, there's an O2 recharge station nearby, and easily accessible. Your stasis module is also overpowered once you get it fully upgraded, especially since you don't need it for most enemies, and really, it's faster to just kill most enemies than to use stasis on them. For "impossible" difficulty, these upgrades might be necessary, but most people aren't going to play on that mode, so why are they gearing the upgrade system to a mode the majority of the user-base won't access? 

5) The story. Laaaaaaaaaame. You're *told* that you're going to see your ex-wife, and help repair a ship. There's no connection however. You're a faceless, expressionless protagonist. You never evince any emotion. The McGuffin's got to be taken back to the place it's from to stop the bad thing, and there's the inevitable betrayal from the "least expected source." Your motivation's fairly slim, too. You supposedly are there to both fix the ship and find your ex-wife, but apart from the leader of your expidition mentioning once "If you do this, I'll look up her file for you," it's never used as a motivation. You simply get ordered about by the other members to fix various issues around the ship. You never find Nicole's room, or any sign of her. There's just no emotional arc, since the protagonist is presented as a blank slate. And if you don't mind a spoiler, highlight between the asterisks to see:

*Nicole (your ex wife) is dead, and if you didn't figure that out before it's revealed, shame on you. The entire ship is dead, the female on your crew talks about seeing her brother but "that's just not possible," you get random messages on multiple viewscreens from her saying "make us whole" which makes no sense unless you're talking about restoring that which was taken, aka the Marker, and the planet. And why are you still being attacked when you're doing the hive-mind's bidding in bringing the Marker back? You'd think that if it's really controlling everything, it'd pull the necromorphs back to let you do that. I think it would have been extra-creepy if they had just been standing around watching you bring the Marker back. And the ending is obviously the product of people who've played Metroid too much. Faceless armoured protagonist removes helmet to show face? Way to destroy the aesthetic you were supposedly going for EA, by making Issac the "everyman" with no face or personality, allowing the player to substitute themselves in to Issac's place. And then attacked by a necromorph. Straight out of most any bad horror movie. Including Alone in the Dark by Uwe Boll. And when you're ripping off Uwe, you've got serious issues. And yes, the ending is about 45 seconds.* Bad story, EA. Bad story.

6) Lack of feeling of accomplishment. Nothing about the ship changes. You unlock some doors. Yay you. The lighting never improves, the ship never becomes less damaged, the growth is never pushed back. In point of fact, it expands, despite your repeated efforts to curtail its growth. The only change is the bridge level, where the first time you're there, the ship's being rocked by asteroids (no pun intended). Even that's a fairly hollow accomplishment, however, since the ship never really feels in danger from the debris except when you're trying to shoot it down. It just never feels like you're improving conditions on the ship, and since you revisit sections which become reinfested with necromorphs when you come back, you're not even clearing out the ship. Hey EA! Since you're going to be lazy and make me revisit half the ship, how about you make it so that I can make those sections a bit safer? More lighting, sentry guns, something. ANYTHING. And while we're at it, the store. Good idea, but if I was on a ship overrun with slavering hordes, and there was a kiosk with theoretically infinite ammo, weapons, and healing, and I was an engineer with the technical ability to "hack" doors, and use nanotech to improve my gear, I'd crack open that store like it was the last can of Pepsi at a New Year's party. So why am I stuck with scrounging for credits? RE4's merchant is mysterious in how he manages to get everywhere ahead of you, with no difficulty, but at least there's a reason you don't roll him for the goods. 

7) The controls. What. The. Heck. I've got 3 bajillion keys here EA, so why do I need to have my weapon raised in order to use kinesis or stasis? It'd be nice to be able to use them while on the run. And why do I need my weapon raised in order to jump while in zero-g? I have a scroll wheel on my mouse. I'd like to scroll through my weapons. Especially since I'm only carrying two. I can get not using the "breadcrumbs" feature when my gun's raised, since I need a hand free for that. The mouse controls in the main screen menu suck. In-game, they're rough. You can't use the mouse in your RIG screens (inventory, quest journal, map, data) supposedly since the game doesn't pause in those screens--which is actually a neat bit, I admit-- but you're defenseless then anyways, you can't use your weapon, so why not let a guy use the mouse then, instead of making me move over to the cursor keys (that's right, not wasd, since you can still move). You know why it's like this? Because these are all artifacts of the console control scheme where there's limited buttons, and the d-pad's next to the joystick. Oh, and to make it more fun, there's cheat codes for the 360 and the PS3. But if you want to use them on PC, you need to hook up a 360 controller. I have the wireless connection USB thing, so I could do it, and at least they do work that way, but still, they couldn't even try to make a PC version of the codes? Was that too much work for you, EA?

8) DLC. Or rather, WHAT DLC? There's packs out for the 360 and PS3. Including a few console-exclusive items. But there's currently no announcement to bring any of it to PC either as chargable or free. Granted, most of it sucks, but considering the rest of the boning the PC version got, it would have been a nice gesture. 

9) Crash bugs. Apparently more than a few people have gotten this bug. During the final boss fight, twice in a row, in almost exactly the same place, the game crashed to desktop. That's right. Less than 5 minutes from the end, (the last boss fight's a bit of a joke, really) the game crashed on me. And more than a month after the game's been released, no patch for it that I could find. I got past it on the 3rd try, but darned if I know how. I just hit esc to bring up the options menu a whole bunch. 

10) "New Game +". Yeah, if you beat the game, and sit through the credits, you can save a cleared file, and restart with all your stuff. Only it's automatically whatever difficulty you were on in that play-through. I fail to see the fun on going through the same difficulty mode with all the toys from before. As I said, I was on easy, so do I really wanna do that again, only have it even easier? Gimme the ability to change the difficulty, so that I can play on a harder one without getting completely trounced.

11) Scares. Shock scares where something jumps out and attacks me doesn't work for long. It's cheap, and it'll get you one or two free scares. But as for actual horror? I had no connection to my character, so I didn't care what happened to him. He was generic horror-movie guy #267. How can I be scared if I don't care what happens to the guy? And really, considering the monsters always come from the ceiling or wall vents, or they're in plain sight, with very few exceptions, how scary is that? Oh, yawn, through the vent again? Didn't see that one coming. And part of a horror game is that sense of isolation. That's why Silent Hill works. You're alone, and you're vulnerable, and you don't know what's going on. In this game, you've got two people on coms telling you what to do next. You never really feel alone. Besides, the game throws necromorphs at you like they're popcorn, so even if you were alone, there's no time for tension to build. It's all "run in to room, kill necromorph, walk past arbitrary line, kill more necromorphs, pick up McGuffin, kill necromorphs, get nattered at, leave room, possibly killing more necromorphs." Maybe if there was ever a point where it was "enter room, pick up McGuffin, start to leave room, hear noise, leave," tension would have had a shot. 

12) 3rd person view. Yeah, it's an interesting way of making the game HUD-less. Your health is on your spine, your stasis energy's a dial, your ammo counter is on your weapon. But if you think about it logically, why the heck is it all on your back. Can you imagine this working in a real situation, day-to-day? "Hey Steve! Can you tell me if my stasis unit needs a recharge?" *twists around* "No, Frank, you're still over 50%. You might wanna see the doc though, your health's a little low." "Thanks, Steve." And the breadcrumbs usually follows grooves in the floor, likely set there just for that purpose, until you get to elevators, when the line just shoots up in mid-air. Would it have been that hard to have it crawl up a wall? First-person view, that would have been fine, since it could just be drawn on your visor, but in 3rd person, that's actually lighting up. And even after hours of playing, I still found myself trying to pull Issac towards the middle of the screen, since he's always in this weird hunched/twisted position. The only time I wasn't doing that was when I had my weapon up, since the sights told me what direction I was actually facing. If they'd just put a reticle up at all times, then not only would that issue have been avoided, they could have made it so you could zero-g jump and use stasis and kinesis without bringing up your weapon.

Really EA. I thought the days of craptacular ports of console games to PC were dead and gone. Thank you for reminding me of just how far we've got to go. There's no way this game's worth $50~60, but if you're looking for a decent way to kill a spare weekend, give it a rent for your console.