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Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews Diablo 3
Games on the AVE: Gamespot reviews Grand Theft Auto 5
These missions and many others have you switching between characters. You might rappel down a building as Michael, provide sniper cover for him as Franklin, and fly a getaway helicopter as Trevor, all on one mission. In another exciting mission, you take out a plane’s engines from a great distance as Michael, then pursue the doomed, burning aircraft over land as Trevor. It’s exhilarating, swapping between these roles and these perspectives, and it’s part of what makes GTA V the current pinnacle of open-world mission design. Even putting the three-protagonist structure aside, the mission design is frequently surprising and sometimes stupendous. You don scuba gear to infiltrate a heavily guarded laboratory via the ocean, recklessly fly a small aircraft into the bay of a large cargo plane, and get thrust into all sorts of other memorable situations.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
|Also available on PS3 & PC|
A shooter based on a beloved strategy franchise? It's the kind of idea that makes strategy fans nervous, but games like Command & Conquer: Renegade have proven that the possibility isn't meritless. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is not a great argument for an XCOM spin-off, however. It often puts its best foot forward, but while The Bureau mimics some of its inspiration's touchstones, it doesn't re-create their impact. The result is a third-person cover shooter that is decent fun but ultimately rings hollow.What the Bureau nails is its retro-futuristic atmosphere, which channels an early-1960s view of the world straight from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog. Protagonist William Carter looks as if he leapt from a postcard or periodical advert from the era: his hair is shellacked to perfection, and a heavy turtleneck sets off his freshly shaven face. Environments look slightly yellowed in the way we often imagine the 1960s, given how photographs fade over time. Sectoids--alien mainstays in the XCOM universe--have the big bulbous heads and skeletal bodies of the extraterrestrials you might have seen described in Amazing Stories magazine. This was the era of famous alien abductees Betty and Barney Hill, whose descriptions of bald-headed, gray-skinned invaders fueled generations' worth of pop-culture depictions of men from outer space. The Bureau looks like a Hill hypnosis session come to life. The Bureau's structure somewhat resembles that of a typical XCOM strategy game. You spend some of your time in XCOM headquarters, getting updates on recent global events, before heading into the field and confronting the alien threat the planet faces. And this being an XCOM game, you don't just go it alone but rather take two squadmates with you and issue them specific orders: take cover over there, call in an airstrike, target this enemy, and so forth. Carter and his squadmates all level up, earning new abilities and improving old ones as they go, by way of The Bureau's skill trees. At first, you're only healing fellow squaddies, ordering them to boost you with stims and perform critical strikes on outsiders and laser turrets. In time, however, you're pulling healing drones out of thin air and temporarily convincing foes to become friends.
You're not stuck with the same two squadmates, but can hire and choose from a variety of them. You can also rename them and customize their physical appearance, which you'd think would keep The Bureau in step with its strategic siblings. But this is one area in which the shooter copies elements of the series, but cannot capture its essence. In 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, your connection with your squad was closely tied to the tension built into every move. Losing a squadmate was devastating not just because you had named her after your girlfriend, but because she played a valuable role on the battlefield--and because you invested a lot of time and mental energy into each element of the skirmish in which you lost her.
Unfortunately, The Bureau doesn't capture that tension, nor does it make any given squadmate feel more valuable than any other. Though you can revive a squad member should he fall, it's possible for one or both to perish in battle. In an XCOM strategy game in which you take six soldiers into the field, losing a buddy is a setback you typically push through, hoping the percentages work in favor of your diminished squad. In The Bureau, losing a squadmate makes battle a monotonous slog, making loading the most recent checkpoint the most appealing option. And where you would carefully construct a squad in Enemy Unknown for greatest effectiveness, any old soldiers will do in The Bureau. Once you select your initial squad, there's no pressing reason to use anyone else, unless you want to mix things up just for the sake of doing so.
Friday, November 02, 2012
Games on the AVE: Gamespot REVIEWS Medal of Honor: Warfighter
|Also on PC & PS3|
Upon completing Medal of Honor: Warfighter's campaign, you are met with a heartfelt dedication impressing upon you the heroism of the men in uniform the game depicts. The attempt at sincere emotion is commendable--but it rings hollow, coming as it does at the end of a bog-standard military shooter that celebrates the killing of hundreds. The battlefield fantasy itself offers a few surprises, but they're crowded out of your psyche by the indifferent hours of shooting and military chatter that surround them.
"Linear." The word is commonly used to identify any number of shooters that usher you along a narrow path, interrupting your progress with a bit of sniping, the shooting of a turret, or an explosion-heavy cutscene. Warfighter's issue isn't that it fits this common modern-day shooter template, but that developer Danger Close doesn't use the linearity to the game's benefit. By directing the experience so tightly, a developer can build momentum, giving the action an arc that develops tension and ultimately reaches a zenith. When a game intends to be a playable action film, as so many do, managing that arc is key to delivering a memorable experience.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter doesn't craft such an arc, and thus feels more like a pastiche of shooter tropes than a self-contained experience with its own identity. Yet there's something worthy here--the glimmer of a Medal of Honor that might yet hew its own path if the right elements are cultivated. The basic shooting and movement models are a good start, not because the guns are that remarkable, but because there's a sense of weight to your sprints and your leaps. You're given the ability to take cover and lean or peek before taking aim, lest you get pelted with lead; at times, this encourages you to consider your surroundings and preserve your own well-being rather than rush forward, spraying the room with bullets.
The shooting is occasionally put to good use, too, such as in a noisy showdown during a raging rainstorm, the palm trees waving and bending in response to the heaving winds. Other levels are just as visually impressive, like an on-rails boat shootout during which fires rage and floating debris threatens to ram you. Elsewhere, you use the blazing shine of your enemies' flashlights as beacons for your violence in various locales. The Frostbite 2 engine that gave Battlefield 3 life is used well enough here, occasional visual glitches and distracting screen grime notwithstanding. These visuals are much more effective on the PC than consoles, but on any platform, Medal of Honor: Warfighter isn't always just a sea of brown, though you can still expect plenty of dusty roads and crumbling hovels to fill your field of view. If only the gameplay could consistently uphold the promise of the most atmospheric levels. To Warfighter's benefit, it's not as much of a turkey shoot as its 2010 predecessor, though enemies still pop up in the most predictable places, inviting you to gun them down. The excitement is also undercut by your AI teammates' unlimited supply of ammo; there's never any need to scrounge the ground for enemy weapons, which diminishes the sense that you are in imminent danger. (A little improvisational spirit could have gone a long way.) But it's the moments you most expect to deliver the brightest sparks that are most devoid of them. The aforementioned boat chase requires no skill, neither from a driving nor from a shooting perspective. Ditto for the obligatory helicopter gunner segment, in which you mow down nameless grunts from above. Without challenge, there needs to be something else to keep excitement levels high--but there aren't enough foes to shoot or other sources of thrills to compensate.
Warfighter checks other paradigms off its list, too. There are the parts where you sneak up on enemies from behind and gruesomely stab them, and the parts where you snipe the baddies lurking in distant windows. There are the parts where you call in airstrikes to annihilate entire buildings, and there's the bit where you shoot down a helicopter with a rocket launcher. There are seemingly endless door breaches, in which time slows to a crawl while you and your AI teammates charge into a room and litter the floor with corpses. Things explode real nice, but these sequences are all segmented sharply from the surrounding gameplay. The game signals "hey, here's the part with the sniper rifle," and you dutifully perform the necessary actions so you can continue.
There are several scripted set-piece sections that stand above the rest, however--and in fact, stand above the campaign in general. All of them involve vehicles. Some of these driving sections are ridiculous and entertaining, directing you to incite crashes, and then showcasing the destruction in slow motion, Burnout-style. The camera that so lovingly caresses the chaos flies in the face of Warfighter's meager attempts to identify the drivers as everyday heroes, but the tension of avoiding oncoming traffic and the joy of watching your four-wheeled victims flip with abandon are both guilty pleasures. The game's most surprising turn of events is a vehicular stealth sequence in which you must slip into designated safe spots to avoid prowling enemy drivers. It's a neat idea, executed well, that generates tension and has you fearing your possible discovery. It's not difficult to succeed, but even so, this portion is elegant and imaginative.
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