Genres RTS

December 26, 2011

Command & Conquer: Red Alert– an iOS Game Done Right.

Hardcore games are not hard to find on any smartphone platform, Apple’s iOS included. With most of these titles, the hardcore gamer demographic generally has a universal complaint: controls. Shooters, platformers, action games and RPGs all prove to be substantially more challenging and off-putting because of the lack of tactile feedback from a touchscreen interface. One game genre, however, doesn’t have this hangup: Real Time Strategy. As a matter of fact, RTS games seem tailor-made for a touchscreen interface. That being said, I was skeptical when I first saw an official Command and Conquer franchise port to iOS– and got even more nervous when it turned out to be an extension of one of my favorite C&C series: Red Alert. Thank God I gave it a shot.

Not often will I pay for an app of any kind, but after trying the free demo, I bought the full version of Red Alert the very same day, and then later bought it for a friend so we could play together. I not only bought this game, I bought it twice, and it was worth every penny. The fact of the matter is that RTS is perhaps the only style of hardcore game that will ever be perfectly executed on a touchscreen, which is an insane bargain for its $.99 price tag.

The first concern for many gamers when looking at a hardcore mobile game is controls. Rest assured, the controls for this game, while they have a small learning curve, are completely sensible. Even with grouping different units together for an attack force, the onscreen controls are fast and intuitive. One draw back, however, is that you only get 3 hotkey slots for these groups. As seen on the right, the Apocalypse Tanks are back. In this screenshot, they are collectively following attack orders as group 1– hence the top group slot being highlighted in red. While at first the idea of only 3 unit groups is off-putting, it really doesn’t present much of a tactical issue. This sort of scaling back is fairly common throughout all aspects of the game, but sort of makes sense for the smaller nature of the iOS platform. One would hope, though, that the game would have a much larger unit cap with better hardware on later iDevices. Perhaps if there is a subsequent Command & Conquer title for iOS, we could even hope to see larger multiplayer functionality. In a perfect world, this would include support for more than two participants in any given skirmish or multiplayer match, and support for online play. Though all in all, it’s hard to complain too loudly about the first attempt at an official iOS C&C.

Now, the game is good as is when you download it from the App Store, and well worth a buck. I will say, however, that I also bought both available expansions, which were also worth every last penny (twice). The first is the map pack. Even if you’re content with only two factions, two stock skirmish maps is a little harder to defend. For an additional dollar, you get all the maps seen on the right in addition to the two the game comes with. This is a massive improvement for only costing a buck. And if you really wanna make the game seem bigger, The Empire of the Rising Sun expansion adds a complete third playable faction, and its own campaign– all for $2.99. While the compounded cost may scare away a few players, this is a lot of game for your money, and one with a nearly indestructible replay value. Besides, all that said, and you’re still only in it for $3.98. That’s a ridiculously low price for a quality game. Don’t believe me? Try the free demo. If you’re a fellow C&C fan, you’ll probably buy it just like I did.

October 6, 2011

Opinions on Dominion

 

Now, before you berate me for once again bringing you news that’s weeks old, give me a moment to explain. I purposefully and intentionally waited to put out my review of Dominion. At first, all of my friends seemed to think it was a mess, and frankly, I felt like it WAS. I expected a mess, and I could’ve called it the second they announced this new gametype. Why? There was simply no precedent “meta”.

If you’re new to the realm of MOBA games (or “Dota-style” games, as I prefer to call them for personal reasons), the term “meta” refers to the overall metagame strategy. These are the elements of the game that are decided and “played” before the game has actually started. This includes the characters who are chosen, the roles they will fulfill, and what they will be doing during various parts of the game. For example, the current standard “meta” in ranked matches for the “Standard” League of Legends gametype is to have a ranged AD carry with a support “babysitter” bottom lane, a strong AP damager middle lane, a tank or offtank soloing top, and a jungler who is typically a melee damager (with an offtank top, the standard tank usually jungles.) If you didn’t understand a word of what I just said, I recommend looking up a few basic guides to League of Legends gameplay on Mobafire or a similar website before you continue with this article.

Back on topic. When Dominion first premiered, there wasn’t really much of a precedent meta. Many people experimented with using all sorts of characters in a variety of ways, and much of the games seemed random. When League of Legends was originally released, a lot of the community had a history with DotA. The game was similar, and even though there were new characters and elements, the overall strategy was familiar enough that the game was playable. Dominion, on the other hand, seems to borrow a lot from Battlefield, and there’s not much precedent for using RTS controls in a similar fashion. In short, nobody had any clue how to play Dominion.

Now, there seem to be roles emerging. Team compositions aren’t entirely random anymore, and you can “pick around” your teammates. A strong Dominion team typically has a character that’s good at defending capture points, a character that’s good at “stealing” points (and escaping alive), a character with a “global” skill that can stop the “thief”, and a couple of characters who can combine to take a capture point by force.

Now that I’ve seen clear, concrete strategies, I can begin to judge the game mode itself. While I still think that there will be plenty of updates and changes before we get to a “finished” Dominion, I’ll say that it’s a decently solid game right now. There are just a few things that need to be fixed up. For one, the usefulness of certain characters is all but nullified in the capture point-based game. Certain characters tend to be fairly weak in combat, but very good at quickly “backdooring” the enemy base. Dominion pretty much squishes this type of character. The things that make them useful for backdooring turrets and inhibitors (high attack speed and ability to wipe out minions) are rendered all but useless, and the speed buffs placed around the map enables the enemies to reach you from the other side of the map before the point is entirely captured. Unlike in the standard mode, where a nearly-destroyed turret is a huge cause for concern, almost capturing a point is merely wasted time in Dominion.

Other characters are far too strong. The “Tanky DPS” and “Burst Caster” type characters can completely dominate the battlefield, and giving a team with more than one of them even a slight early lead is almost certain doom. These types of characters generally have fairly tough “early games” in the standard mode, but since early game is pretty much skipped over (you start at level 3 with enough gold to buy a main item), they come out of the gate with a lead that generally is only granted by spectacular play (or poor performance on the part of the other team).

The biggest, most glaring issue with Dominion, however, is what it has done to teamwork. The standard game has the balance almost perfect. Every character has certain weaknesses that it has to rely on other characters to overcome for it. While there are instances of vastly more skilled players “carrying” an unskilled team, the standard game is moreso a game of strategy than of skill. Characters aren’t designed to work alone. Dominion, on the other hand, forces solo work. Full teamfights are incredibly rare (the biggest fight of the game typically happens within the first five minutes at the Windmill, the capture point equidistant from both bases), and as such, characters often have to venture off on their own. More often than not, this usually occurs in both teams operating on their own agenda and not communicating at all (except with ambiguous “pings”), and characters move around seemingly at random. At this level of play, the game is almost randomly determined. Watching the game progress bears a striking resemblance to watching two people who have just learned the rules of chess playing against each other. There might be some sort of basic strategy in their head, but overall it just seems to be a game of “Which piece would be most effective where at this exact moment?”

Balance issues aside, the game isn’t bad. However, it just feels really awkward. The characters’ strengths, weaknesses, and abilites are all tailored specifically to one mode, and putting them in a whole new situation like this feels something akin to trying to play Halo: Reach on Counter Strike maps. Sure, it sort of works, but it’s not what the Halo engine was designed to do. If Riot had originally set out to make a game with multiple gametypes, Dominion probably would have worked just fine. However, this is a DotA clone. I’m not accusing League of Legends of not being DotA. It’s in a similar situation as Rock Band was in relation to Guitar Hero, and I was a huge fan of both of those games. I’m just saying that the “new and exciting” gameplay feels pretty broken, and needs LOTS of tweaking before Dominion will be accepted by the current skeptics. League of Legends is a game that gets patched every Tuesday. Keep working on it, Riot. You’ve got a good start here, it just needs some modifications.

So, how do you guys feel about Dominion? Let me know in the comment box below!

September 23, 2011

Dawn of War II Retribution Review

I’ve been on a roll of playing Warhammer games lately and Retribution hasn’t made it easier to stop doing so and if anything it’s made it harder.  I recently purchased the THQ pack which contained all of the Warhammer titles *Space Marine excluded*.  I must admit I love the Warhammer universe.  I had never touched it before I picked up the THQ pack nor had I played any of the tabletop games or even heard of it for that matter.  I find myself getting more and more immersed as time goes on and now I’m even purchasing the books and reading them non-stop.

One might expect that after so many releases that the content might get dry or the universe boring.  I’m proud to say that this is not the case with Retribution and in addition to bringing a good story to the table it tells several.  You can choose to play not one but 6 different races and each campaign if fairly lengthy and contains it’s own storylines.

THQ has always suprised me with the content that they shove into a $29.95 retail release.  Each campaign took me about 7 – 10 hours a piece which is about 42 hours of gameplay.  I found each of the campaigns interesting and intiguing and Considering most games only have a 5 – 8 hour campaign and cost twice as much.  When it comes to value Retribution is hard to beat.

Retribution has made a few improvements over Dawn of War II which I thought made it a much better game.  The biggest and the most siginificant change aside from being able to play multiple factions is that there are alot more units to choose from and it plays a little more like and RTS instead of an action RTS.  Dawn of War II gave you a very limited number of units to choose from and you had to use them through the majority of the game.  While Dawn of War II is a good game in it’s own right, Retribution is far better. 

Graphically Retribution doesn’t do much to improve on it’s predacessors but that isn’t to say it isn’t a pretty game.  There are plenty of explosions, blood baths and firefights for the eyes to feast on.  The game looks especially impressive when it’s displayed using eyefinity although I had to do some minor adjustments to a text file to get it to display correctly.

Retribution, while not original, ground breaking, or game changing in the RTS genre still succeeds and that is because it presents a unique, dark and intriguing original universe and a very intuitive and entertaining way and combines it with several other stories to boot.  In addition to this it has one of the best values for your money I’ve seen in a long time.   Dawn of War II: Retribution is a must buy for any Warhammer fan.

 

September 4, 2011

Crysis 2: The Review

You all have probably read my initial impressions of Crysis 2 and it’s Multi Player demo and I was very harsh on it.  My initial complaints were the consolization of the title and the lack of effort showed within the demo. Against what I thought was my better judgement I decided to pick up the game from Intkeys.   I made the assumption that the final product would be just as bad.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from working in the IT industry for the last 6 years its to NEVER assume things.  That being I am forced to take back what I said about the demo.  Is Crysis 2 a consolized title?  In a way yes… it has been heavily streamlined to appeal to console audiences but that doesn’t make it a bad game.

Crysis to PC gamers is what Halo is to Xbox.  PC gamers wanted a new graphics benchmark and what they got wasn’t necessarily what they expected.  I’m going to call this out now before anyone starts complaining about this game not tearing up their system.  Crysis was one of the most horribly optimized games in history which is why it took systems so many years to finally be able to play it at max settings.  This isn’t to say Crysis wasn’t graphically demanding but that combined with the lack of optimization made it hard to run on the systems of the day.  Crysis 2 on the other hand is incredibly optimized… everything from the controls to the coding behind the scenes.  I’m running Phenom II X 965, 8GB DDR3, with an Radeon 5870 and I could max the game fully with the release settings on extreme.

Graphically Crysis 2 is just as gorgeous as it’s predecessor but in a completely different way. The original Crysis took place in a vast jungle teaming full of gorgeous wildlife where in contrast Crysis 2 takes place in a city.  One could say Crysis was a prettier game and they would be right.  That’s because a tropical paradise is going to be prettier then any major city, hands down, ever time.  You can’t even compare the two.  Could Crysis 2 of been better in the graphics department? Certainly.  Crysis 2 was touted to feature Direct X11 which is supposed to take PC graphics into the future.  However near release Direct X11 was removed from the product.   It was then announced that Direct X11 would be added at a later date.  The interesting thing is Nvidia was sure it was a done deal the DX11 would be released in tandem with their GTX  590.  However they recently stated that they aren’t sure if Direct X11 will be released at all for Crysis 2.  Regardless, even without Direct X11 Crysis 2 awes you with it’s visuals.  Massive buildings collapsing, bridges falling, explosions, and very realistic burning fires really add to the eerie atmosphere which is Crysis 2.

Crysis 2 single player is where the game really shines.  While the game starts off slow it really picks up near the middle and takes off from there.  Crysis 2 has streamlined how you handle your suit powers and it really lets you focus on the game instead of the radial menus that you had to mess with in the original.  The one thing that really stood out to me with Crysis 2 was the length of the campaign.  Needless to say I was expecting a 4 hour adventure that has become common in today’s FPS market place.  The most recent releases of COD:BO, MW2, BC2 and Homefront all follow this and then shove you into the multiplayer.  Crysis 2’s campaign rings in about 12 hours depending on how you play it.  I tend to take a little longer to play as I like to wipe out the enemy instead of sneaking around them and as such… I die alot.  That being said Crysis 2 can be played in multiple ways all of which will be enjoyable to different types of people.  Additionally you can upgrade your suit as your progress through the game.  Suit upgrades can be purchased by using Nano Catalysts dropped by dead enemies.

Overall Crysis 2 is a success especially in the single player department.  Crysis 2 campaign is better than Crysis in about every way.  It’s more focused, intense and moving then its predecessor and you actually feel for the character unlike the original.  I actually found myself comparing him to Shadow of the Colossus in the sense of as you progress through the story the main characters body is getting slowly destroyed.  Several scenes within Crysis 2 point to pain and agony the games is probably going through much like SOTC’s protagonist is slowly dying throughout the game.

Overall I loved Crysis 2 which is a complete surprise to me.  I started the game and couldn’t put it down until I finished and I actually found myself wanting to play it again once I beat it.  In my opinion Crytec should of used Crysis 2 to showcase what Direct X11 could really do.  While Crysis 2 is a great game in many aspects it’s held back from being a landmark title by a few issues.  One of which is the lack of Direct X11 but in addition to that there are several small issues such as texture blurring and AI problems.  I can recall several occasions where enemy and friendly AI were sitting right next to each other… neither one shooting at me or each other.  It was like they were best buds from high school.  While this is amusing it is distracting and can be really annoying at times.  There were also several times where you would be shooting an enemy AI and his buddy would just stand there like nothing was happening.  Crysis 2 is a great game even though it is held back by several issues.  I would suggest that you pick up a copy if for nothing other than the single player.

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