Tag Archives: FPS

DICE – As Lazy as the Competition – On Push-Start Now

14 Mar

Another article of mine on Push-Start.co.uk, this time a reaction to DICE calling their competition lazy.

CLICK HERE!

Go read it, leave a comment too, if you like.

And here’s another cute thing:

Killzone 3 Review

28 Feb

The latest in a series better known for its graphical prowess than its gameplay, Killzone 3 is one of Sony’s system shifters. It’s a first person shooter, the bad guys wear gas masks and clothes with red trim and it has an action style somewhere between Call of Duty and Halo. This is the kind of thing that sells in the millions with a little marketing, and Sony have put a lot of resources into making sure everyone knows that KZ3 is playable in 3D and has eye-wateringly good visuals.

The problem with telling the world that Guerrilla Games have made the best graphics since time began is that it makes otherwise forgivable flaws seem exaggerated. While the characters are chunky and detailed, environments look good and boring details like explosions are excruciatingly well animated, there are plenty of little errors that catch the eye. If you’ve played the demo you’ll have seen how pretty all the snow looks in that ice level, but what really stood out was the two dimensional water hitting the sides of rocks and boats. It looked pitifully lacklustre, as if the developers had either forgotten to finish it, or decided no one would care. If I was buying KZ3 for graphics I’d be thoroughly disappointed. Attention to detail is important when visuals are such a selling point and this kind of thing should be eliminated.

Detailed, but hardly interesting

Other than the few minor flaws, which are only magnified by the visual quality of the rest of the game, I will concede that the graphics are very good. That’s not particularly unique anymore, but they are some of the best on any console, which I suppose is an achievement. The problem is that this is the game’s focus. It’s so obvious that the developers want me to be impressed, that at times I have no idea what’s going on around me. Reloading is dangerous not only because the gun is unusable, but also because the animation is unnecessarily long and takes up almost the entire screen. As always with newer shooters, being shot or taking damage leads to the screen being obscured by a blood effect, but when the game is so graphically detailed, it’s hard to see enemies who wear camouflage as it is. Even the great particle effects just get in the way, with explosions making dust clouds that make seeing enemies impossible.

All the graphical power is wasted really, as it was in KZ2, which had incredibly bland environments. This game tries to do a little better, but inevitably the plot means that most locales are varying shades of grey. The art design is generic, with enemies having no personality and the same being true of the player characters. It’s as if they were pitched as a cross between the awful, jingoistic heroes of Modern Warfare, and the muscle-bound brutes of Gears of War, but with nothing to make them exciting or unique. At least Marcus Fenix et al had some personality, even if it was all a bit over-the-top. KZ3 just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It lacks the pseudo-seriousness of Infinity Ward’s efforts, but seems to want to emulate it, but in space, with big guns and the Empire from Star Wars.

Snow is Guerrilla's one attempt to liven up the environments

The plot is equally bland, a hollow re-imagination of Halo, but with more ‘grit’ and ‘realism’ and human enemies. The characters are not only boring, but mind-numbingly irritating. They chatter as in Modern Warfare, but it’s mostly grunts rather than words. The voice actors sound as if they’re straining to maintain the gruffness in the voices of ‘Sev’ and ‘Rico’ and enemies just shout the same things over and over. Cut-scenes are over-elaborate messes, that never seem to focus on telling a story, rather on the pretty incidental detail that the developers think will impress. The whole thing plays out as little more than Modern Warfare rebranded and set in space, same glorification of war, same irritatingly unoriginal characterisation and same failed effort to turn meat headed morons into compelling characters. Even Master Chief had more personality.

I could forgive much of Killzone 3’s faults if the gameplay was good enough, but it just isn’t. Killzone 2 had exactly the same flaws and its sequel does nothing to address them. The cover system, for example, is awkward, requiring a shoulder button to be held down in order to stay hidden. Unfortunately this is one of the most poorly implemented elements of the game. Instead of, as in other cover-based games, snapping quickly to cover, Killzone is somewhat erratic in when the cover system works. I suppose this is to make things seem more ‘realistic’ but I’m in space shooting Stormtroopers cosplaying as Nazis and frankly, I want to be able to just press the button and hide. The game is hard in the sense that trying to make it fun by shooting as dumbly as one presumes the characters you play as would means certain death. Playing it tactically though, is impossibly dull, and since the cover mechanic is flawed the ‘cover, shoot, move, repeat’ gameplay can’t stand up to continued play. The single player campaign is mercifully short at least, but if you were to like the game enough to continue playing, this would be a negative, so no one wins.

Is that a robot wearing kneepads?

There are further gameplay issues. Iron sights is present and correct (Sir!) and even more frustrating and counter intuitive than ever. While CoD managed to both make iron sights work (though I can’t say I’m a fan) and make it suit the context, Killzone makes it one of the most exasperating aspects of the game in one simple control choice. You have to click the right stick once to enter iron sights and click again to exit. There’s no quick snapping to a target, and it just feels awkward. On top of that, I’m part of a civilisation that’s invading another planet, surely they’ve made some guns that shoot lasers like it’s a light show of infinite destruction by now? The guns are stupidly underpowered for that matter, and useless unless iron sights is used. It all adds up to a frustrating and boring experience that sacrifices fun for strained realism and graphical grunt.

Killzone 3 will no doubt sell in the millions, which is a depressing thought. With a story and characters that fail to do anything other than irritate, a focus on realistic war in a setting which has no place for it and some astonishingly poor design choices, this is a game so mired in mediocrity that it should appeal to no one. I honestly can’t understand why anyone would want to play a game where the characters could only be relatable to someone with the imagination of an earthworm. It somehow glorifies war, yet makes it seem boring. There’s just no imagination here whatsoever. This does nothing the previous game in the series doesn’t do, and steals all its ideas from other sources, on top of implementing them poorly. With no reason to find out what happens next in the world’s least interesting storyline, grinding through the turgid gameplay is only for the most masochistic of souls. Even that one remaining selling point, the graphics, either falls flat due to mistakes, or because the visuals get in the way of the gameplay.

Bland, uninspired, mindless and utterly derivative, Killzone 3 is the poster child for everything that is currently wrong with the games industry. If you want a big dumb shooter, go get Gears of War or BulletStorm. If you want to feel like an imperialist soldier intent on destroying the country/planet of another race, buy Modern Warfare 2 and hum ‘Star Spangled Banner’. If you want great graphics and good cover mechanics, try Uncharted 2. There is nothing about Killzone 3 which hasn’t been done better elsewhere.

Then and Now – Goldeneye 007

21 Jan

Then

I have to have one, I need it, I can’t live without it. That essentially sums up my feelings about the Nintendo 64 after playing Goldeneye. I was just a fool with a PlayStation and a copy of Star Wars: Dark Forces, in all its pseudo 3d, Doom-lite glory. Goldeneye was incredible, a proper first person shooter on a console. I had played Quake and Doom on friend’s PCs and been impressed, but Goldeneye blew them out of the water. The levels looked amazingly detailed, the graphics were mouth-wateringly good and the gameplay was sublime. The N64 control pad was the perfect companion, the Z button was my trigger, the R my sights. Everything worked beautifully in tandem. The missions were immensely good fun, with plenty of options and actual stealth. I didn’t have to just run around shooting monsters, I was using a silencer, taking out cameras, throwing knives at guards. Then there were the cheats earned for completing levels in a certain time, all of which just added to the fun. (Paintball mode!) More difficulty meant more objectives and more of the level to discover. The game just kept on giving. I had only borrowed it from a friend after I got an N64, and he didn’t get it back for some time. The cherry on that cake though, was the multiplayer. There were four of us playing at once, four! I’d never seen the likes of it. It was even more fun than the single player. Proximity mines were my weapon of choice and I was as devious as they come with them. My friends died and had no idea why, until I taunted them mercilessly. Hours and hours of my life were poured into Goldeneye, and if I could do it all again I probably would, because they were an absolute blast.

Now

Rare produced some of the N64’s biggest games, including Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark and the phenomenal and underrated Blast Corps (If you haven’t played it, pick it up and thank me later) They were instrumental in the success of the console outside Japan, and the pick of the litter was Goldeneye. Revered as the game that brought the FPS to consoles, for better or worse, Goldeneye brought a huge number of innovations to FPS gaming, from the stealth elements to the use of objective-based mission structure. Goldeneye became the template for future games of its ilk. Sadly, like most original titles, it was later games which would make the most of its innovations. The late 90’s saw the FPS genre explode in popularity, and with it came shooters which were far more technically impressive, and still stand up wonderfully today, Half Life being the most notable example.

Goldeneye is still a fun game, don’t get me wrong, but it has a huge amount of flaws which are blatantly obvious under modern scrutiny. The biggest problem is the controls, which seemed so good at the time. The use of the analogue stick to walk forward, but look left to right was a poor choice, strafing is difficult and thanks to my becoming used to modern FPS controls I tended to stagger drunkenly forward in a zigzag pattern, rather than just smoothly going in a straight line. It took some getting used to, but the controls are far from intuitive and at certain moments I found myself fumbling for the right button to strafe and trying to change my weapon at the same time. Turok actually managed to get the FPS controls nailed down as best they could be on N64, but changing to a similar control scheme here was a miserable failure, thanks to Goldeneye being made for the default system. Trying to shoot the hatch on the train level was an exercise in futility.

The speed of the game is also pretty high on the list of flaws, low frame rate means the enemies move even slower when a lot is happening on screen, with the occasional feeling of a lag between control and on-screen movement. Explosions ratchet the pace of things down even further and it becomes quickly apparent that the great graphics come with a price. It’s not totally game-breaking, and it’s usually an element of games I don’t take any interest in, but it’s too noticeable to ignore here. Especially when there are exploding crates almost everywhere. Those great graphics are rife with glitches too, enemies clip through walls, managing to kill you despite being behind a closed door, and this is a fairly common occurrence. The Jungle level is a real low point for the graphics, a confusing mess where you can be shot by seemingly invisible enemies. It would have made a great Predator game though.

While I’m on the subject, why are there exploding crates everywhere? It’s as if the game designers just wanted to frustrate in as many ways as possible. Crates explode, hurt you, then the slowdown causes you to get shot a few times and later in the level you die, knowing that if it wasn’t for those crates you’d still be alive. What are they keeping in them anyway? Worse still, if the crates hadn’t exploded, Natalya might still be alive, instead of her death causing an instant failed mission and a restart. Escorting her around is absolute torture, and the point where you have to protect her as a constant stream of guards shoot from every conceivable angle is one of the most frustrating in gaming history.

The inclusion of a vehicle level seemed extremely impressive when the game was released, but the tank level is an absolute mess to play now. Mines are impossible to see, they’re the same colour as the ground, and the controls are horrible. It’s next to impossible to drive and shoot at the same time, but stopping means being hit by rockets, as does trying to speed through the level without shooting. Might I remind you, tanks are not fast. The stealth doesn’t really work either. Trying to replay the second Bunker level is confusing to say the least. There is no way to get out of the cell you start in without alerting the guard and seemingly no way to get the silenced pistol without killing a roomful of guards with a rifle, and incurring the wrath of the endless stream of respawning goons that fill the level, and again, cause massive slowdown. Then Natalya stands between you and the guards, you shoot her, and that’s all she wrote, quit, restart. I remember there being throwing knives in a pit to the right of that cell, but I can’t find them anymore, and really, a secret like that shouldn’t be necessary to complete the level.

I’m probably being far too critical, Goldeneye was unbelievably good when first released, and for good reason. It has some really well-designed levels, looks great and is a fun game to play. The weapons feel satisfying and varied, and the challenge of increased difficulty and tougher objectives remains a good reason to play, better than the pointless achievements we’re stuck with this generation anyway. There are some real highlights amongst the levels. The Frigate and Train levels stand out in particular, and the mad dash through the Facility necessitated by that time limit (which must be beaten to unlock a cheat) is still thrilling. The enemy AI may be poor, but it’s forgivable for a game as old as this, and the difficulty is pitch perfect aside from the occasional frustration, mostly due to some poor design choices. Again, forgivable considering the sheer number of new ideas on offer.

It’s tough to say whether Goldeneye is still worth playing. As an FPS, probably not when games like Half Life 2, or even the original Half Life, exist, but on its own merits it is a fun slice of N64 action. The multiplayer is still great, though having only four players makes some of the maps feel enormous, and you can spend a lot of time aimlessly wandering around in circles, though it’s all worth it when a proximity mine takes out one of your friends and you get to gloat. The post-match rewards are a really brilliant touch, and checking them after every game is always entertaining. I still get ‘most cowardly’ more often than not. Single player is a great example of well-crafted gaming, one which still has that addictiveness thanks to the unlockables and the genuine feeling of progression. Not having checkpoints or regenerating health is a huge plus in my book, and makes things far more challenging. Knowing one hit means instant death, but being so close to the end of a level you just manage to push through and complete it, that’s what gaming is about. There are better games, and Goldeneye is something of a museum piece in the FPS world, a seminal innovator which has been bettered but still deserves high regard, and I’d still rather play it than Black Ops.