Christmas Gaming - My First Impressions

Left 4 Dead, Medieval II: Total War, World in Conflict, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky, Battlefield 2

I'd played the demo to death, so I really knew what to expect from this title. We (my friends and I) completed the demo numerous times on Expert, the hardest difficulty, but Advanced seemed like the difficulty to pick for the full game - simply because we felt it would be more... relaxing. We were wrong. The majority of the game is fairly easy on Advanced but for the final show down when your team of hapless survivors has to wait 10-15 minutes for rescue, we found it much much more difficult. As a result we voted to play the rest of the game on Normal. Really it's too easy for most of the time, but the final stands are still difficult. 

I've played a little bit of Versus with my mate Ben and it's a lot of fun playing as the "Infected". My only gripes are that if you're in a server that isn't full, the Survivors get the help of AI to fill in but the Infected don't get any help. Also, the Survivor AI is far too good - they somehow can sense when you're sneaking up on them and they can headshot you from miles away from any angle. Also, the AI doesn't see hedges, trees and grass as physical objects and, as such, they can spot you far too easily on some maps in situations where human players would not. Furthermore, the long waiting time to respawn as an Infected is quite tiresome.

Overall I'd have to give the game an 8.5/10. It misses out on some points because of the somewhat ill-balanced Versus mode and the short campaign. Yes yes; I know the "Director" makes it slightly different each time but it's still not great that you can play every chapter in an afternoon. I suppose some points could also be lost for some low-res textures, some dodgy animations and far too much recycling of props and models from Half-Life 2, Counter Strike: Source and Day of Defeat: Source.

Medieval II: Total War:

I'd always wanted this strategy game since it came out but never had the PC to play it. I must say I'm loving it so far but, myself not being particularly good at strategy games, find it hard to get into. I got the "Gold Edition" that comes with the expansion pack which includes many new campaign maps. For those who don't know, the campaign mode in Total War games takes place on a turn-based map of an area in which you conduct matters of economy, diplomacy and the movement of armies.

When armies meet the map zooms in to a real-time strategy in which you command thousands of men in battle. The detail in the turn-based gameplay and sheer scale of the real-time battles makes for very contrasting, and therefore refreshing, gameplay. There's nothing quite like spending time recruiting a huge army, spying on the enemy, assassinating their commander, declaring war and then moving in for a grand and victorious battle... and then slaughtering all the prisoners you capture. 

So far as I've got, I'd have to give Medieval II a 9/10. It can get a bit tiresome if you go for a long time without a battle but overall, it's great fun.

World in Conflict

Again, this is another game I'd wanted for some time but have only recently acquired the hardware to play it. I've already finished the storymode of WiC and have loved most of it. Like most strategy games, a few of the missions delve into pointless stealth sections with only a single infantry unit to command, but the huge battles are genuinely awe-inspiring. Set in the late 1980s, World in Conflict follows the story of a huge Soviet army invading the United States from the West-Coast, with a brief flashback to an earlier Soviet invasion of Europe. Gameplay-wise, WiC is your standard military-RTS. That is; no base-building, just lots and lots of combat. What really sets the game apart though is its visuals. 

This is one game that really does make use of Dx10 with its 3D, physics-based smoke effects. "Smoke effects you say? Great. As if I'd noticed that". Indeed, but due to the scale of the game you really do and the "Tactical-Aids" you can call in to the battlefield make sure you do notice the effects. Such aids include laser-guided bombs, cluster-bombs, different artillery and the all-coveted Tactical Nuclear Device. What's really nice is how each one is brought to the fight. They don't just appear out of the sky - you see all different types of aircraft bringing them in. When a massive battle gets going it's really cool to see jets criss-crossing the sky, vapour-trails in their wake, and smoke rising from dazzling flashes on the horizon.

The few downsides I can think of to the game is fairly weak section of the campaign that takes place in Europe. The missions seem to lose their tactical edge. Also, the voice-acting during this part of the game is horrifically bad and is some of the worst stereotyping I've ever seen in a modern video game. This is all because you take control of some "NATO" forces. I don't understand this. Why do American game developers seem to think that European nations fight with some crazy system where a single regiment can include German tanks, French infantry and a lowly British repair vehicle working together? The first time I saw this was in a Battlefield 2 expansion pack but WiC takes it to even dizzier heights. The voices for each unit are so irritating. You've got the Germans who all sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the French who swear far too much, the Englishman with the stiff upper lip and the dirty, dirty Scotsman (yeah, if you're British you're either a dirty ginger Scot or a posh Cockney apparently). 

Yeah... so apart from that massive rant about a really trivial point, good game! 9/10.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Clear Sky

I picked up STALKER in Steam's Holidays Sale a few days ago. At £9 I'd consider it a bargain. I'm glad it's a bargain too, because it's hardly the best game I've ever bought. Don't get me wrong - it's not bad... it's just a bit sketchy. For a start, and I don't know whether this is because it's a sequel, but the game really doesn't hold your hand at all. It pretty much pushes you into the wastelands and you get on with it. Now I don't expect it to tell me how to aim and shoot, like so many games do now-a-days, but I'd at least expect it to say "press "I" to open your inventory", or something, rather than me having to trudge through the rather long list of controls to work out how to do anything. 

The game starts off horribly difficult because all you get is a Makarov pistol and some terrible shotgun that, for some reason, can't kill a dude in two shots at point-blank range even on easy. The game got much easier once I found an assault rifle but I'm still dying quite quick, resulting in me carrying round kilograms of med-packs and bandages. 

I've played it for a number of hours but chances are I'm still really early on in the game. It's nice that it's a big long RPG/FPS... thing, but I can't help but think that I'm never going to invest enough time in it to complete it.

A number of little things make the game more irritating than necessary. For example, you can "fast-travel" to certain locations by talking to guides. When the guides ask where you want to go, be it the scenic burnt out farm or the lovely destroyed church, I have no idea where the places are. This is, one, because nothing on the map is marked with a name and two, because while this fellas is asking me where to go he doesn't care to show me a map. Little irritating things like this just mount up and get annoying after a little while.

On top of all this, the game-engine doesn't look very nice, except during a thunder storm when it looks amazing for some reason, and yet it's an absolute power-hog. I can run Far Cry 2 with all the settings as high as they'll go at 50-100fps, I can run Clear Sky with all settings maxed out at 20-30fps during the day-time (when there are a lot of shadows and the like) and at night it boosts up to 40-50fps. Considering the dated graphics and the small "free-roam" areas it's just not right.

Overall though I'd give S.T.A.L.K.E.R a 6.5/10, partly because I like the dingy art-style and partly because I like the use of obscure Soviet weaponry, rather than the expected military stuff.

Battlefield 2

I’ve always been a fan of the Battlefield series so decided to ask for this for Christmas. The game, plus three expansion packs all for £8 on a single DVD. Bargain! I intended to just dick about in the helicopters on singleplayer, not fancying my chances online against people who’ve been playing the game solidly for three years.

As a result... I’m really disappointed. For some reason you can only play singleplayer against 15 bots on the 16-player maps, rather than the huge 32-a-side games on massive 64-player maps that are used online. These 16-player maps only occasionally have helicopters, let alone jet aircraft. I’d download a singleplayer mod, designed to give the best offline experience, but since Virgin kindly upgraded my internet from 2mbps to 20mbps I can no longer download anything over 1GB-ish – the internet just crashes. I’m going to phone them soon and give them a good verbal slap. I don’t know what’s worse; incredibly slow internet, or incredibly fast internet but no big downloads. 

I also plan to pick up Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2004 and Unreal Tournament 3 for £12 off Steam today as well as Bioshock for £3. As if I’m going to play any Unreal games online – I’ll be massacred. Good ‘ol fashioned bots for me, thank you very much!