piątek, 18 lutego 2011

Short Review #16: Halo - Combat Evolved

Halo. The shooter that is thought to have 'made' the Xbox platform. An ongoing series, extremely popular all around the world. A multiplayer phenomenon, a game which introduced new solutions to the FPS genre. Also, it's fun for around two or three hours, and then again for another hour, after which it becomes obvious it's utterly and completely rubbish. A piece of crap game, full of very bad design choices and mediocre gameplay. Also, I have heard several people state that this is the best game of the series...

Ok, so without getting into the plot or whatever, I'll point out what I actually liked about the game. The first few hours were a fun, although not a very riveting shooter. The music is good or very good throughout. The graphics are nice to look at, though obviously they aren't anything special today, but I can see how good they could have been considered when the game came out. The enemy AI is quite good, they dodge your bullets and grenades, run around to evade you. And of course, kudos for introducing the regenerating life thing, and grenades into FPS games, though Call of Duty 2 has done both waaay better. But Halo was first, I can dig that. Good for them. Oh, and the Flood 'spiders' were a really nice touch... for the first 10 minutes. They kind of loose their appeal after you've been killing them for several hours.

Now the bad stuff... this is going to take a while.

1) Lazy level design. I have never been so bored by a game's level design in my life. Halo reuses levels more than any other game I ever played. You traverse the same (well, not exactly the same, but pretty much) corridor and room several times IN A ROW, and then you go through them AGAIN AND AGAIN for three or four times over the course of the game. The same goes for several other locations. It's not that obvious in the first few hours of the game when you've got some good variation. But once you reach around the middle of the game, it's just copy+paste pretty much until the end (or at least for the several hours I actually played the game).

This is especially noticeable in the Library location, where you traverse pretty much the same level over and over again for around an hour of gameplay, all the time fighting off wave after wave of the exact same enemies. NO VARIATION WHATSOEVER except for some backup later on.

2) Retarded combat features. To this point: a completely useless 'basic' weapon, the assault rifle. You start several levels with it, and the pistol, you also have ample opportunity to pick it up later on. The weapon which spends its ammo very quickly, has almost NONE accuracy, and deals shit damage. Congratulations. Especially given the fact that all the other weapons (except the Needler) are pretty much all good, just dependant on the situation. Retarded combat feature

#2: enemies which insta-kill you. This includes guys with melee weapons which kill you the moment they reach you, and it doesn't matter how much shields or health you have. They are sometimes cloaked, and at other times they run at you from around a corner, so if you're not looking that way, you'll get backstabbed and won't even know what hit you.

Also, Missile Launchers. There are levels with several enemies close to eachother who have that weapon. One shot from it, and more often than not, you're dead. That's actually what made me quit the game.

3) It's a console game, so of course NO SAVING YOUR GAME EXCEPT FOR CHECKPOINTS. At the beginning, there was quite a lot of checkpoints, so this wasn't much of an issue. After that, this has become a true and utter frustration. That rage quit I mentioned above? Yeah, a guy insta-killed me RIGHT BEFORE A CHECKPOINT, after a good 10 minutes of a hard firefight. Doesn't that just make you want to play a game more?

4) Schizophrenia. This game doesn't know what it wants to be. It starts off as a run-of-the-mill SF story with humourous element to it (the basic enemies speak gibberish english, stuff like 'run away!' in squeeky comedic voices). It then, briefly, becomes a SF survival horror when you fight off the Flood (an alien life form which assimilates and mutates other life forms), although that part of the game has absolutely TERRIBLE pacing, which makes the whole thing (which could have been a nice refreshing of the gameplay) a dreary and tedious experience. Half-way through that Survival Horror bit you meet a character who acts as if he was a comic relief. Let me say that again - you fight with a terrifying enemy which sets you on edge, and then there's that guy hovering over you, cracking jokes and humming songs under his nose... uuuummm theme breaker, anyone? And finally, it assumes a very serious tone in the 'save the world' kind, of course without actually getting rid of the horror-like enemies, or of the comedic-relief enemies.

5) Repetition. #1: The enemies. There's only a handful of them, and you are actually fighting one type of them (the Covenant) for several hours, then you fight the Flood EXCLUSIVELY for another SEVERAL hours (and they have even less enemy types than the covenant), and then, for the remainder of the game, you get a mix of the two. What the hell?

#2: The weapons. You get introduced to most of them early on in the game, and use them for the whole experience. Around 10 weapons is usually enough for FPS games, but in Halo it just becomes boring very fast.

#3: Everything else. Seriously, the game is so god damn repetitive from around the half further, that it was a chore and I had to FORCE myself to play through it. Even the music has only a handful of tracks! They're good, as I mentioned at the beginning, but how long can you listen to the same stuff?

6) Vehicle physics. Ok, Halo had vehicles in. Great, congrats. Too bad they're shit to drive / fly around. Compared to the others, this is just a small gripe, as you don't even use vehicles that often.

And see, if Halo wasn't as long as it is, if they cut out around 30-50% of the game in favour of a shorter, more intense and varied campaign, it wouldn't be as bad. Sure, all the bad stuff would still be visible, but at least you wouldn't be able to say they screwed up the level design as much as they did. If it was like Call of Duty - short but sweet, it would be a decent game. As it is, it's tedious, boring, tiresome and bland for the most part. Once you enter the same location for the fifteenth time, fought the same enemies for several hours, you can't really care about the plot any more. These pacing issues, which are intimately connected to the bad design choices, had to be visible even 10 years ago... why then, god dammit, was the game regarded so good despite having pitfalls which most older titles never had? Remember Unreal, Quake 2, Soldier of Fortune, Serious Sam? Each of these games was different, but NONE of them had such pacing problems and crappy level design.

Halo is a 5/10 game. It may have been a 9/10 back in the day, though how it's problems weren't pointed out, I have no idea. I'd rate it a 4/10, but I have to give it credit for innovating the genre, and paving the way for truly great games like Call of Duty 2 (which had many of Halo's elements - regenerating health, grenades, rifle-butting enemies etc). As it is, this game is an utter waste of time. If you feel you should play it to 'know the classics', well, do it. But don't pay for this game. Rent it, borrow it, see it at a friend's place. Save your money. I had a chance to get this game for 5 pounds. I ended up getting it for 1 pound. I can't tell you how HAPPY I am that I only paid that much for it. I have to say, I had moderate fun with it for a few hours, but after that I was just forcing myself to advance.

Seriously, in the light of my Shogo review, I can see how crappy this game really is. Even Shogo, even though obviously not a very well designed game, was A LOT better than Halo, and a lot more fun to play through. If Shogo was 10 hours long, I'd probably hate it, but it was four of five hours long, which was just enough to keep it interesting and fun to play. If Halo was 5 hours long, I'd probably rate it at around 6, or maybe even 7/10. But what are initially minor grievances, grow up to be major problems once you start encountering them over and over again.

To sum up, AVOID this game. Don't believe your friends that this is worth playing. When they tell you that, ask them when they played this game the last time. If the answer is anything more than a two or three years, they are living off nostalgia, or clearly haven't played much FPS games. This is probably the worst shooter I ever played, and certainly the worst 'supposed to be good' game I ever played. Seriously, I got more fun out of Age of Empires 2, and that says something...

wtorek, 15 lutego 2011

Short Review #15: Shogo

Where I currently live (though not for much longer), Charity Shops and Second-Hand bookshops are quite common, so there's a lot of second-hand games to find here. I went down to a big used books place's cellar in search for something interesting, and there it was – an original, boxed copy of Shogo: Mobile Armor Division. I've completed it in a few days, and here's what I thought.

Shogo is a FPP from Monolith, released in 1998. Its main inspiration is anime, or more specifically, the type of SF anime which includes mechs duking it out. The plot is... there, but to be honest, it's too sketchy and not very well explained or presented. There's something about a corporation, a government, a terrorist group, then some aliens are thrown into the mix... But yeah, it's an older game, so stories weren't exactly that strong back then. There's more intrigue and plot than in most games of that time, however.

You have two types of gameplay in Shogo. You fight on-foot, and from inside a big mech. The two modes do not really differ, which is quite a change from some other, more simulation-heavy mech games. While a mech, you can transform into a vehicle (not very useful) and double-jump, and that's about it. Everything else, from powerups through weapons and movement works exactly the same, so it's very arcade-like. You get four mechs to choose from, but to be honest I see little sense in picking any other than the most heavily armoured but slowest one – it's still pretty fast, and the added armour proves very useful. The other choices suggest that Shogo can be played in different ways depending on your play style, but the truth is that the game is way too simple to leave any place for anything more than run-and-gun tactics.

The same argument can be made about the weapons. There's really no reason to use any weapon other than the assault rifle. Well, the grenade launchers can be useful some time, but the shotgun is pretty useless (because enemies tend to shoot at you the second you don't fire on them, the reload on the weapon gives them a chance to do that), the machine gun is only good until you get the rifle, and the pistols are only good until you find the machine gun (which is quite early). The same can be said about the mech weapons, although you use a bigger variety of them here, if only because you sometimes want to trade damage output for accuracy or damage for shooting speed.

The missions themselves feel pretty disjointed. There's a screen stating your objectives, and you get dropped right into the action, sometimes with an intro, sometimes not. The levels end abruptly, as you reach a door or a certain point on the map. Also, some of the levels are very short, lasting only around a minute or so. So those are some of the reasons why the story feels vague, as it's delivered in chunks, instead of a flowing narrative. Also, there are some bizarre things which feel like they don't really fit. You defeat a single character three times, but it is never explained who she is and why she wants you dead. One mission has you retrieving a cat from an old building full of homeless people, but before you are able to do it you have to find its squeaky toy. It was probably supposed to be a joke, but the hilarity was kind of lost on me. There are people you can talk to, and they deliver a single or two lines of dialogue, but they are not used to further the plot or anything, it's just a kind of a bonus feature. The good thing is that you can choose from two alternative ending sequences which differ completely, leading to pretty much the same ending, but through different events.

The combat is the strangest thing about this game. On one hand it's criminally unfair. Despite the Health and Armor meters going up to 300, it only takes a few shots from enemies to die. Sometimes the enemy will score a Critical Hit on you, as you can on them. This will, most of the time, kill you outright. Some weapons will do that no matter what. Enemies will often shoot you the second you enter a corridor or room, and its rather hard to tell where they shot you from, so it's all down to quick saving often and trial and error. On the other hand, the enemy AI is shameful. 9 times out of 10 they just stand there without noticing you until you start shooting or move closer. You can shoot at enemies from a distance and they will not react. While you are shooting at them, they cannot retaliate. There's no such thing as tactics, and the enemies almost universally do not pursue you after you shoot them. Add a very low number of enemy types to the mix, and you get combat which is both repetitive and bloody hard at the same time.

The graphics in the game are quite nice to look at. The interiors, mech design and weapon design are all good and quite true to the theme. The models, however, are horrific. The faces are something between a badly drawn anime character and a very creepy doll, while their bodies are unnaturally twisted or posed. The character portraits are very clearly drawn by different artists, which makes them look unprofessional and shoddy. The music is cool, but nothing too special, and the sounds are fine as well. The voice acting is ok, but the dialogues are pretty bad, taken straight from a B-class action movie.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Shogo is quite fun to play through. It's pretty short, at only around 4-5 hours (or so I guess), but if you're interested in the theme or you simply have no other FPS to play, this is a nice way to spend your time. It's not a good game, being too disjointed and following some pretty weird design choices (the laughable AI non-withstanding), but for some reason it is still good enough to be enjoyable. Maybe it's the weapons, the quick and brutal action and the original theme? At any rate, Shogo gets a 6/10 from me. Don't go out of your way to find this, but if you do and you think this may be your thing, go for it if it's cheap.

You can get this as a downloadable copy from GoG.com. I'm not sure if it's worth its price, you have to be the judge of that yourselves.