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This article is a compilation of my thoughts on all the games I purchased in 2007. There are a few good titles missing, namely Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock. But I presently play COD4 on the PS3 and after playing through Deus Ex, Bioshock pales in comparison (that and I don’t own a copy of Bioshock). So let’s get right into it!

Games

Portal

As most of us know, Portal was a runaway smash hit this year and has truly become an Internet phenomenon with quotes like “The cake is a lie” and “You will be baked and then there will be cake”. Portal’s slick presentation combined with its ground breaking puzzle game play (using portals, in case you were wondering), and fantastic dark humor made it one of my favorite games this year. It is worth buying the Orange Box just to play this game!

I Like!

  • Fun and challenging portal-based puzzles
  • Excellent graphical presentation and level design
  • Great story which is slowly revealed to the player during the game
  • Tied in with the Half-Life universe in Half-life 2 Episode 2
  • Hilarious dark humor
  • Short and sweet, not drawn out in the slightest
  • Cake


I Don’t Like!

  • This is Portal, what are you joking?

Half-life 2 Episode 2

Half-life 2 Episode 2 was the next chapter in Valve’s fantastic Half-life series, which pits you as Gordon Freeman, one part scientist, one part commando, on your on-going quest to save humanity. Episode 2 was truly great with slightly updated visuals, great level design, a plot twist, some good humor, and more crowbar.

The only thing I didn’t like was that the “new weapon” didn’t seem like much of a weapon at all and was only used in the last 10 minutes of the game. The game also wasn’t very long, but it was longer than Episode 1 at around 6-8 hours depending on difficulty settings. Valve also throws us a curve ball by introducing a new primary character at this point (where the hell did he come from?).

Overall, if you’re a fan of the Half-life series you need to buy this game (or get the Orange Box with HL2, HL2 Episode 1, TF2, and Portal included as well).

I Like!

  • Same old Half-Life game play
  • Great level design
  • Enhanced graphics
  • Good humor
  • More cowbell crowbar
  • Decent play length

I Don’t Like!

  • Same old Half-Life game play
  • New weapon isn’t much of a weapon at all
  • New primary character at this late stage

Team Fortress 2

If you haven’t heard of Team Fortress 2 by now you must have been living in a hole for the past 8 years. TF2 was first shown at E3 in 1999 as a Battlefield-like realistic team FPS. By the time it was released in late 2007, the game had shed all notions of realism and the Valve team had settled upon Incredibles-style phong shaded cartoon graphics.

With Valve’s decision to focus on unique character designs, we are finally able to easily tell what class a player is and as such simple and complex teamwork becomes easier to orchestrate. TF2 has two game modes: capture the intelligence (2Fort and Well) and control point (Well, Granary, Dustbowl and Badlands). There are five maps to choose from: Well, Granary, 2Fort, and Dustbowl, plus the recently released Badlands map. All the maps are very well designed, balanced, and polished with most glitches having been fixed in a recent patch.

There are 9 classes to choose from: Scout, Soldier, Medic, Heavy, Demoman, Engineer, Pyro, Sniper, and Spy. These nine classes make for a variety of play-styles and strategies which helps keep the game from becoming boring over time. The game is also constantly being worked on by the guys at Valve so we can expect a new map and game mode, plus some unlockables for the medic in the coming months.

Overall TF2 is a lot of fun but doesn’t really add anything to the game play of Team Fortress Classic, other than balancing and the removal of grenades.

I Like!

  • Slick cartoon graphics
  • Fun and simple game play
  • A class for every gamer
  • Constantly being updated by Valve

I Don’t Like!

  • A little short on maps
  • Not much different than TFC
  • CRIT ROCKETS!!!! (just kidding)

{mospagebreak}

Crysis

Crysis was one of the most pumped up PC releases in history. PC gamers had been drooling over screenshots of it for years before its release. So was it worth all the hype? In a word: Yes.

Crysis not only delivered on having the best PC graphics EVER, but the game play kicked ass too. Wanna’ drive that tank? Go for it! Wanna’ blow that building to shreds along with everyone inside? Do it! Wanna’ use a sea turtle as a deadly weapon? Well, you can use it as a weapon but it might not get the job done efficiently.

Thanks to Crysis’ incredibly realistic physics modeling, it is possible to do some truly cool stuff. There are abundant vehicle sections, weapons can be customized on the fly and your Nano-suit has four different powers which you can use to play the game the way you want. Want to run in guns blazing? Crank your armor. Wanna’ get in close and bash some skulls? Up your strength. Wanna’ ignore the bad guys and run right past them? Up your speed. Wanna’ sneak in for some stealth kills? Cloak. Wanna’ run in, grab the nearest bad guy, throw him through a wall, jump up onto the roof, wait for the bad guys to close in, blow them to smithereens then run the heck out of there?

Well I think you get the picture. Not only does Crysis have great game play and graphics, but the story is no slouch either. Crytek has made sure that the story in the game is engaging but still open ended enough to give them some flexibility when designing the next title in the series.

The only bad things about Crysis is the demanding system requirements to play with good settings (even though they seem to be less than World in Conflict, which is an RTS), the innovative, yet somewhat lackluster multiplayer which could really use a jump in the player limit from 32 to 64 players and the AI which, while being generally smart, can sometimes make silly choices – like jumping in a machine gun which is surrounded by 20 or 30 bodies of friendly soldiers. Am I waiting to snipe you when you hop in that MG? Maybe, maybe….

I Like!

  • Crap your pants incredible graphics
  • Insane physics simulation
  • Customizable weapons and nano-suit abilities
  • Throw that sea turtle!
  • Decent vehicle sections
  • Open enough levels to use all abilities and vehicles (air, land, and sea)
  • Crazy tactical possibilities
  • More animations than you can shake a stick at

I Don’t Like!

  • Multiplayer is meh
  • AI can be silly sometimes
  • System requirements may cause cardiac arrest

World in Conflict

Unlike practically every other game in this article, I actually didn’t enjoy WIC very much. I was originally pumped up about the game when my favorite review sites starting posting 9.5’s and the like. So I downloaded the demo. The graphics were incredible and the single player was kinda fun, but simple. The multiplayer sucked, just flat out sucked.

So what did I do? I got the full game of course! Mind you that I got the collectors edition which came with a bunch of cool extras, like a history channel DVD on the cold war and a hunk of the Berlin wall. In case you didn’t know already, WIC is an RTS that centers around World War 3 and the Soviet invasion of the United States. The storyline in the game is EXTREMELY well written and successfully captures the both the intensity and emotional conflict of all-out war. The story is told throughout the campaign by art-based cutscenes which I have not seen before in any game I can think of.

So what didn’t I like about it? Well pretty much everything else. The guys at Massive entertainment attempted to flip RTS game play on its head, and while they did succeed, the result is so bad that it wasn’t worth the change in the first place. There is no base building in WIC – instead you air drop your forces right into the thick of it from the air. Unfortunately the air deployment system doesn’t make sense in two ways. One: what transport aircraft can para-drop ten main battle tanks in one go? First of all it’s impractical to para-drop heavy tanks like that, since the sheer area of parachute required to safely support a 70-ton tank would be huge (although it is possible to para-drop light tanks).

Second of all there is no aircraft that can handle more than two main battle tanks due to their size (the C-5 Galaxy is the aircraft of choice for moving M1 Abrams tanks) and since the transport aircraft modeled in the game is a C-141 Starlifter and its Russian counterpart (both incapable of carrying main battle tanks at all), the entire system makes no sense. Two: If you could fit ten battle tanks on a transport plane, why in the hell would you fly into the middle of a battle zone to drop its cargo as little as a few feet from the enemy, through heavy anti-air fire and fighter aircraft risking millions of dollars of military hardware?

Well you wouldn’t – you would land and unload your cargo at a forward operating base several miles (at least) from the front lines. You see if Massive would have had you call in reinforcements from multiple large aircraft that fly to a forward base (for you or for your whole team), it would have solved both of these problems (and put bases back in the game).

Another problem with the game is the units. With WIC unit selection is more or less a game of rock-paper-scissors. If you are playing multiplayer and you call in tanks for instance. Guess what? The other team has helicopters. Good bye tanks. Try to build anti-air? Sorry – the enemy has tanks now. You get the picture. Thats how the multiplayer is, a collective exercise in inferiority until one team saves up enough tactical points to get a nuke. Sure the game can continue after that but the other team has so many tactical points that you’re getting absolutely beaten senseless by every form of artillery, missile and air strike known to man, so you might as well call it a day.

Another problem is that there are no super units like in every other RTS ever, meaning that you never have the feeling of triumph when you know that you are going to utterly annihilate the other team. That and there is no way to save up resources so you can go on a killing spree, since the number of resources you have is directly related to the number of points on the battlefield that you control. No the number of points you control doesn’t add to your resource income rate (like every other RTS that has used this system), it simply adds a few more credits to your coffer.

Another problem with WIC is thanks to its scale you get a serious case of Supreme Commander syndrome, in which you abandon all attempts to micromanage and send your units off to battle expecting them to fend for themselves, but they’re too stupid to use their special abilities when they should. Wow – I need to kill a tank and I have an anti-tank rocket ability, what do I do?

And it’s not like other RTS’s where abilities cost mana or resources or something – the abilities in WIC are FREE to use and other than the ability cool down, you can use them as much as you want, which leads me to believe that the developers were deliberately trying to piss me off by adding another, entirely unnecessary layer of micromanagement. I believe that any ability that doesn’t cost resources should have an auto-use function (like the abilities in Sins of a Solar Empire for example), but alas, not in this game.

Well I think I’m done bashing this title for now, although I could probably find several more points to criticize. It must be noted that I did enjoy the single player campaign, where the storyline and easy AI actually made the game fun to play. Imagine that.

I Like!

  • Fantastic graphics for an RTS
  • Excellent storyline and storytelling
  • Single player is okay
  • Special edition of the game makes me feel special

I Don’t Like!

  • Multiplayer is definitely an acquired taste (it sucks to me at least)
  • Senseless reworking of RTS mechanics
  • Unrealistic to the point of being annoying
  • Quite possibly more demanding than Crysis
  • The two sides (USA and USSR) play the same way
  • Silly micromanagement
  • No unit upgrades

{mospagebreak}

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the standalone expansion to last year’s best RTS and LAN party favorite Company of Heroes. Unlike WIC, COHOF deserves every good rating it has gotten and will be the king of WW2 RTS games for years to come.

COHOF uses a resource generation system based on capturing and securing points on the map, which provide fuel, munitions, or manpower at a low, medium or high rate. Since points and must be connected to your main base to generate resources, a smart tactician will disrupt enemy supply lines by capturing points close to the enemy base. Securing these points will give a 40% boost in resource production and the British and Panzer Elite (the two sides in the expansion) have two different ways of doing this.

The Panzer elite secure points with upgraded scout cars, while the Brits secure with their HQ vehicles. Since there are too many differences between the two sides to explain everything about them, I will give some basic insight:

The British specialize in heavy defenses, artillery and the like, and have portable command vehicles that allow them to create a base anywhere on the battlefield. The Panzer Elite specialize in fast moving, hard hitting tactics with a slew of unique vehicles, including Kettenkrads :). Both sides are drastically different in how they play, which makes the game very interesting.

As far as actual game play is concerned, the game includes an advanced cover system which reduces the damage taken by infantry, depending on their position (for example – behind a wall). Buildings can also be garrisoned by infantry and even upgraded to field HQs to allow production capability. One of my favorite features of the game is that it truly tries to immerse you in the experience. Infantry units will dynamically dive or take cover, reload and make comments when you click on them (such as suggesting to retreat). When zoomed in enough you can even listen to the infantrymen tell stories, which is pretty crazy.

Other than that, each side in the game has three sub-doctrines that can be selected to add additional capabilities. For example, the British can choose the Royal Engineers, granting access to enhanced defenses and Churchill tanks, among other things. Players spend experience points (gained in combat, capturing points and building buildings) on the doctrine tech-tree to beef up their forces exactly how they want.

If I had to say anything bad about the game (and I do), I would say that the game is unbalanced in the German’s favor. While I understand that the Germans have superior technology, I can’t understand why a Sherman Firefly costs almost as much as a Panther, and why the Germans (depending on doctrine) can call in super-heavy armor (Jagdpanther and King Tiger tanks, wiki if you will) for FREE.

The fact is that Relic needs to get their butts in gear and balance the game by either reducing the costs of allied units or nerfing the German units (and improve the reliability of their servers while they’re at it). But even with the present balancing issues, it doesn’t make the game any less fun to play.

I Like!

  • Incredible immersion
  • Good graphics
  • Realistic and well modeled vehicles and infantry
  • Cover system
  • Teams are actually different (imagine if you will)
  • Cool units you never knew existed (but are actually real)
  • Amazing audio
  • Perfect scale that makes you WANT to micromanage
  • Customizable doctrines add cool features to each team
  • Doesn’t break away from the good features of every RTS

I Don’t Like!

  • Teams are kinda unbalanced
  • Relic servers are not the most stable
  • The British are too British (tea and crumpets in the middle of a battle?)

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is the latest PC game created by the guys at Splash Damage, in conjunction with ID software. If you’ve ever played Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, you will immediately understand the core mechanics of this game. Also if you have ever played any of the Team Fortress titles, the game will seem kind of familiar, since the founding members started out making mods like Quake 3 Fortress, in itself a variant of Team Fortress’s classic game play.

As indicated, ETQW is quite similar to TF in terms of mechanics, with the ability to disguise and construct turrets and the like depending on your class. The one thing that truly makes ETQW different is its large scale and objective based multiplayer game play. ETQW is essentially a combination of TF and Battlefield, hitting on the high-points of both series.

The one thing ETQW does have that these two titles do not is the campaign upgrade system, carried over from WET. Essentially this system limits upgrades to within a campaign (a set of three missions) on a particular server. This means that while you lose all your upgrades after the campaign ends, you don’t get lifeless 13-year olds coming in and owning it up because they’ve played for 2000 hours and have every upgrade in the game. Finally, upgrades become a matter of skill because in order to get all the upgrades before the campaign ends, you really have to have your game on.

The graphics in ETQW are a little dated, but the character design (especially for the Strogg) is really cool and establishes the different player classes visually. Another thing ETQW does well is establishing a line between the two warring factions in the game, the GDF and the Strogg. The GDF is a conglomerate of human nations and the Strogg are a race of planet harvesting cyborgs (and the Strogg look scarier, did I mention that?). Thanks to the differences in the races, you are unable to run into an enemy base and steal their best vehicles (damn those 13-year olds in Battlefield), and this certainly reduces the asshat quotient in online games.

Also the GDF and Strogg have some big differences in vehicles, weapons, and mechanics. For example, while the GDF have health and ammo, the Strogg use a combined unit called Stroyent (not to be confused with Soylent) which functions as health and ammo. Luckily Splash Damage has taken the time to balance the game so while the teams are very different, neither has a real, clear cut advantage over the other.

I Like!

  • Decent Graphics
  • Objective-based multiplayer
  • All the good stuff from Team Fortress and Battlefield in one game
  • Campaign upgrade system
  • Excellent all around design
  • Race differences make both sides fun to play for different reasons

I Don’t Like!

  • No true singleplayer campaign (only BF-style bot skirmishes)
  • You HAVE to have a dedicated system to run a multiplayer server

{mospagebreak}

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

STALKER was in development for an eternity, at least it seamed like it since the community was anticipating it so much. STALKER was billed as an immersive FPS/RPG experience in which there was to be a complex AI system ( A-Life), which ran every NPC interaction in the game with realistically territorial creatures and the like.

Of course STALKER doesn’t quite live up to all of my expectations, but it tries hard and comes darn close. The game takes place in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (referred to as “The Zone”) after a second disaster at the plant in 2006. This Zone is full of mutants, radiation and anomalies. The full story is quite complex, but if you have read “Roadside Picnic” or seen the STALKER movie you will get the gist of things from the start.

Basically you are a STALKER called Marked One, a member of the elite brotherhood that dares to sneak through The Zone’s military barriers to find truth and riches in this forsaken land. As Marked One, you can choose between different main and side missions to complete. Interestingly enough, you can complete the entire game without diving into the main missions that focus on your attempts to figure out who you really are. The main missions and side quests are assigned to you by various “boss” characters in the game, usually located in safe havens away from the heavy fighting.

When it comes to fighting, STALKER plays pretty much like a standard FPS, except that you can choose your equipped armor and up to five artifacts (which are difficult to find depending on value) to beef up Marked One defensively. You will also be facing different types of enemies including humans, mutants, and psychic creatures, all of which have there own weakness and attack type.

The game includes a good spread of pistols, rifles, shotguns and heavy weapons. One interesting thing is that the game includes realistic bullet physics, meaning that you will have to angle your shot depending on weapon and range. The one thing I don’t like about the weapons is that they are mirrored so that they eject spend casings on the left (it takes a little bit away from the air of realism in the game). The graphics in STALKER are pretty darn good, especially when full dynamic lighting is enabled.

But as far as graphics in terms of models and the like, the game is kind of inconsistent. Some models are very good (characters, armor) while others aren’t (some of the weapons). The animations are unfortunately all pretty bland and boring, except for certain pistol animations, which are highly realistic. The same goes for the textures. Some, like the textures for the G36 rifle, are fantastic, while others, like the textures for the Desert Eagle, are really meh.

Just to derail this line of thinking for a second: a few of you who have played STALKER may be saying “What Desert Eagle? I couldn’t find a Deagle in STALKER.” Well this is part of the fun of STALKER, as most of the best weapons are hidden and more often than not there is only one in the entire game (the Deagle, Beretta 92 and most unique weapons). This serves as encouragement to always explore in the game and adds a sense of accomplishment when you do find something cool.

Speaking of unique weapons, there are quite a number of them in the game and they usually represent field modifications of a particular weapon (re-chambering for a different round, adding a scope or silencer, or even weight reduction). On the subject of weapon mods, many of the weapons in STALKER can accept scopes, silencers, grenade launchers, as well as 2-3 different types of ammo, allowing you to tool your weapons to your preferred style of combat.

Moving into the sound area, the guys at GSC certainly managed to nail the atmosphere, with fellow STALKERs playing guitar around campfires, wind billowing in the trees and creatures calling from a distance. With such a great atmosphere and an enormous world to conquer and explore, STALKER earns its recommendation.

I Like!

  • Boatload of customizable weapons
  • You have to search to find the best weapons
  • Huge world to explore
  • With full dynamic lighting the game looks great
  • Scary and cool creatures to battle
  • Ability to choose allegiance to certain factions
  • Adds artifact and armor customization to the standard FPS formula
  • Most types of armor are well designed and cool looking
  • Interesting storyline
  • An ammo type for every baddie

I Don’t Like!

  • Some weapon models, animations and texturing are so-so
  • Deagle uses .45 ACP?
  • Huge differences in damage figures for guns that use the same ammo

FINAL THOUGHTS

Last year was certainly a good one for all of us PC gamers, and as you can see there was truly a game to quench every appetite. Just for kicks I’ll throw in a few of the mods that I’ve enjoyed over the past year as well:

And the mod that I am most anticipating for release this year:

I hope this article has given you some insight in to what games you should check out (if you haven’t already). If there are any factual errors please let me know (as a very recent patch may have fixed something).

Thanks for reading,

Kyle Lunau

PS: None of the above mentioned games can hold a candle to Deus Ex. It’s a pretty old game (2001) but if you get the opportunity, you should check it out.

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