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I honestly didn’t know much about Tribes before I got into Ascend. I’ve heard passing mentions about the series, but it was always dwarfed by the much more popular Quake and Unreal. Since then, however, the excessively fast FPS genre has more or less died out in favor of tactical shooters (read: camping to death). That alone should make Tribes: Ascend worth checking out.

PROS

  • Strong competitive scene
  • Free to play, limited pay to win
  • Diverse, versatile classes
  • Fast, heavily skill based gameplay

CONS

  • Extremely grindy progression
  • CTF gameplay is one dimensional and lackluster
  • Monotonous, unappealing map design
  • Monster PC requirements due to horrible optimization
  • Glitchy

VISUAL: 7/10

The in-game graphics option (yes, option, not options) is useless, so the first thing you’ll need to do is google a tweak guide. I’d also suggest you start from the lowest setting, since many of the effects are of outdated technology and yet put unreasonable strain on your system and do nothing but kill your framerate and obscure your vision. The bloom, for example, is horribly over-saturated and becomes almost like a fog, and pretty much completely blinds you when coupled with lens flare.

Besides that, it’s unlikely you’d miss the higher quality anyways. Every map consists 95% of random hills, sporting only a handful of buildings or other distinguishable landmarks. Most of the time, you have no idea where you are, and will eventually stop caring. No amount of static decals or building shadows is gonna make a bunch of hills that all look alike interesting. The detail on the player models is the game’s finest aesthetic touch, but most of the game is spent either going too fast or being too far to notice those details anyways. That said, the actual graphical quality of the game isn’t so terrible that it doesn’t look modern, but considering that it’s 2012 and how much system resources the game gluttons at max settings, it should really look like Crysis. And yet, it doesn’t even have anti aliasing.

How not to design a map

Where it falters in aesthetics, it generally succeeds in utility. HUD visibility is clear and it’s easy to tell which direction you’re being hit from, and there are options to improve visibility further, such as drawing smaller weapon models or turning off visor cracking. FOV is also adjustable in-game up to 120. Not knowing where you are won’t much matter thanks to the large objective icons.

AUDIO: 9/10

Low music in the background helps keep the adrenaline flowing, and weapon sounds are distinct and clear enough to identify both the weapon and direction it was fired from. Audio in a FPS really doesn’t need to do any more than that. The lack of built in voice chat may inconvenience a few, though I find it a blessing. This game has, by far, the largest selection of prerecorded voice messages of any FPS I’ve ever played in my life, and are probably sufficient for any tactical situation you’d encounter.

GAMEPLAY: 9/10

Although advertisements emphasize speed, it’s more a high flying shooter than a fast one. You can build up a lot of speed with skiing, which works by removing all friction once you press the ski button. Basically, falling onto down slopes accelerates you, while trying to ski uphill slows you down. You can pick up speed by using the jetpack to boost yourself up past up slopes and repeatedly dropping yourself on down slopes, and eventually you do end up going quite fast. However, most of the actual shooting each other isn’t fought at high ski speeds, but rather at walking and jetpacking speeds. Perhaps that’s still faster than something like Call of Duty, but it’s really only slightly faster than Team Fortress 2, and a far cry from Quake. That isn’t to say it isn’t much more difficult to hit people than TF2, however. The wide open terrain and jetpacks gives full movement across all 3 axises, allowing every class to have more defensive movement than TF2’s scout can even dream of.

The other thing that raises the skill requirement and makes defensive movement so much more effective is the lack of hitscan weapons (weapons that hit instantly after firing). Rather, most bullet weapons shoot a small fast traveling projectile, forcing you to lead your shots rather than just pointing the crosshair straight at the target. To make things more complicated, any projectiles you fire inherit a portion of your own velocity. Say you’re traveling N and fire to the E, your projectiles will actually travel a bit towards NE, rather than straight E. This makes landing significant damage highly challenging. In fact, the game awards accolades for killing an airborne opponent with the series’ trademark low rate-of-fire explode-on-impact weapons, such as the spinfusor. Don’t mistake them for being easy mode noobtubes, as their splash radius is very small for the size of the game’s maps, and most players spend a lot of their time being high up in the air, where the splash means nothing. This boils down the game’s basic strategy to chipping away with bullet weapons while they’re airborne, and trying to catch them with explosives when they inevitably land.

CLASSES

There are 9 unique classes, and all of them are balanced in the sense that they can all duel competently. The only exception is the sniper class, who although is given the only long range hitscan weapon, does terrible dps and has the lowest health. Rather, his main purpose is to be to pick off weakened flag carriers in CTF, which is the worst balanced and most shallow of all the game modes anyways.

THE GRIND AND PAY2WIN

You only start with 3 of the 9 classes, with only basic gear for each. All other classes and gears need to be unlocked with real money or experience, which is earned at a snail’s pace. You only get around 35-50 exp per minute depending on your scoreboard rank and whether or not your team wins, but usually you’ll end up at around 40. A single weapon can cost 88k exp, which is more than a 36 hour grind. Considering each class has to pick 2 weapons, a belt item, a pack item, and 2 perks, you might find that the loadout you want could take over 100 hours of playtime to achieve. Even the cheapest classes will take around 50 to deck out.

Real money is drastically more reasonable, with 88k exp items costing only 500 gold without sales, which is roughly $5. While it’s certainly better than games that offer game breaking real money exclusive gear, the free option is so unreasonably ridiculous to achieve, that paying still gives a sizable advantage, especially if they used the money to deck out more than 1 class for the versatility.

Whether you pay or not, once you have the new weapon, you still need to grind for that weapon’s mastery to unlock sometimes crucial abilities, which could be be up to another 26k exp, or another 11 hours. Why Hi-Rez decided the game should have almost as much grinding as an MMORPG is beyond me, but it’s a severe nuisance that heavily discourages learning multiple classes.

GAME MODES

Technically, there are 5 different game modes. However, some are so similar to others that it only feels like 3, and 2 of them are pretty standard fare. TDM has a small twist of there being 1 flag which will spawn on the first kill of the match, and the team who holds it takes off 2 points per kill, and is easily the most balanced of all game modes. For a flagless experience, there’s Arena…which is basically the same as TDM, but limited to 5v5 and is played on smaller maps. Unfortunately, the maps are also much flatter, leaving the ski mechanic generally unused, transforming the game from the fastest shooter to merely the highest flying.

CTF Blitz is like CTF, except the flag moves with every cap. However, since the flag only moves about 3 feet, they end up playing out exactly the same. Many people have told me CTF is the main game mode of Tribes, but I find it easily the most shallow and worst balanced. Flag placements are almost always out in the wide open, which boils down capping to picking pathfinder, and just skiing really fast into it, which will bypass most, if not all the base defenses and defenders. The only real counter to it so far is having a doombringer sit on the flag and try to block the pathfinder with his fatness while cutting him down with his chaingun, or having a sentinel snipe the runner. The capper will then have to either navigate around the fat guy, or try to push him away by chucking grenades and shooting his spinfusor (if you’ve never played Tribes, they work exactly like a rocket launcher) at the flag before reaching it. Sentinels with the accuracy to hit a high speed capper the 2-3 times it takes to kill them at full health are extremely rare, causing the game mode to be renamed by many to Pathfinder vs Doombringer. This also causes the most severe team stacking of all modes, as anyone looking to play any other class in CTF is essentially being unimportant details, and the pinnacle of their contributions would be to inconvenience the enemy, hopefully enough that their defenders become so irritated that they leave the flag unguarded to kill them.

There are other mechanics, just as the team generator which powers all base assets such as turrets, forcefields, refill stations, and vehicle station, but most of those generally don’t affect a decent capper at all. Taking out refill stations might sound useful, but the respawn time in this game is so short (only 3 seconds), most players will just suicide to reload or get back into position anyways. Vehicles in this game are generally useless, but I’ll get more into that later.

The last mode is Capture and Hold, which is sadly often forgotten and underplayed. It recycles maps from CTF and TDM, and spawns cap points at several locations on the map. You capture them simply by touching them, and hold them by not letting the enemy touch them. Some come with their own turrets and refill stations to help the defenders. Periodically, captured points will give your team….well, points. It’s a more balanced attack and defend gameplay than CTF, yet most rounds often turn up rather slow and uneventful, as most players will simply focus their defenses on a few points and end up standing around waiting most of the time, or they’ll be checking each cap point to see which is left mostly unguarded. Eventually the game will reach an equilibrium, where more or less everyone turtles to death because every cap point has exactly enough defenders to not be taken. However, I imagine with an organized team that works together rather than pugs, the experience would be much different.

VEHICLES

Quite simply, they’re useless. The bike is supposed to be used for getting around quickly, but it isn’t remotely difficult to ski much faster than it. The tank is just a huge, slow target that people are only even gonna bother acknowledging the existence of to pick on for free credits. The cannon has a terrible rate of fire, and the person manning the much more useful chaingun can’t also be driving, making it not terribly effective for combat either. The jet is fairly mobile, but still not as quick as a good skier, making it’s primary use of ramming itself into flag carriers exceedingly difficult, even assuming the pilot is careful enough to not kill himself by crashing into a hill. Like all vehicles, the gun on it has a terrible rate of fire and only does modest damage. In the end, the jet is often merely a decoration, being fairly difficult to destroy, but also serving little to no purpose.

COMMUNITY: 9/10

Though healthy enough that you won’t have any difficulty finding a game, thanks to the atrocious matchmaking spreading everyone out, it’s a rarity to find a full 16v16 game (arena doesn’t have this issue, being limited to 5v5). You basically choose a game mode, and the game will automatically throw you into a match.

Cheaters are a rarity, having personally only run into 1 aimbotter in over 100 hours of play. The only gripe I have is the team stacking, though this is usually done by weaker players. Most of the best players will join teams randomly, so as long as there’s enough of them in a single game to spread out, teams end up pretty balanced anyways. CTF is the exception, but that’s more the game mode being terribly designed than anything. Player maturity also drops somewhat in CTF, with most players being bored and spamming voice messages nonstop, presumably because they’re neither a pathfinder nor doombringer, and is therefore incapable of contributing meaningfully anyways.

Visual: 7
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 9
Community: 9

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

Regardless of its many flaws, the fact of the matter is that this is the only new fast FPS available. It certainly can’t stand up to impossible standard of finesse and depth of Quake and UT, but it does well enough that it’s still easily the funnest multiplayer FPS I’ve played since. Tribes: Ascend is a shot of adrenaline, digitally distributed.

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(also on PS3 and Xbox 360)

From small indie developer Frozenbyte, Trine 2 is a fairy tale themed side scrolling action platformer which focuses mainly on physics based puzzles. It’s been out and well praised for quite some time, but I’ve finally had a chance to play it when a friend unexpectedly gifted it to me on Steam. As it turns out, Trine 2 is one of the most fantastic puzzle platforming experiences I’ve ever had.

PROS

  • Rich, beautifully detailed environments
  • Many hidden/optional side areas/puzzles to explore/solve
  • Distinctive, diverse levels
  • Light hearted soundtrack emphasizes the fairy tale theme
  • Solid voice acting that brings out the personality of the characters
  • Many different viable solutions for each puzzle
  • Classic mode multiplayer’s character lock shuts out solutions that require quick character switching, but opens up new ones that require teamwork
  • PC version is well optimized and easy to run
  • PC controls are simple and intuitive

CONS

  • Combat is very simplistic and suffers a lack of enemy variety
  • Extremely easy until the last 3 levels
  • Character progression is limited and imbalanced
  • In multiplayer, character progression is dictated entirely by the host
  • Predictable plot

Trine 2 is most definitely not a hardcore gamer’s game. It’s not about difficulty, or challenge, or mastering the mechanics. Rather, it’s more a casual leisurely stroll through wondrous environments while overcoming mostly low danger obstacles, an experience fitting of its fairy tale motif.

The look on the octopus’s face says it all.

VISUAL: 9.5/10

While not sporting the most advanced graphics technology by a longshot, Trine 2 is easily in the upper echelon when it comes to artistic beauty. The vibrant colors and extensive detail all around go a long way in bringing its fairy tale world to life. More impressive still is that even with so many different colors and shapes on screen at all times, it never seems to clutter up the player’s vision. It’s also why I went pretty screenshot crazy for this review.

One of the prettiest games you’ll ever see.

The areas explored also enjoy a good bit of diversity, though forests and caves tend to take up a bit more screen time than other areas, causing them to lose a bit of distinctiveness. The other areas, however, are unmistakable from one another. From beautiful beaches to icy goblin settlements, from cobwebbed libraries to lava filled forges, you can be assured you’ll never grow tired of the scenery.

Or the Cthulhu shrines.

Granted, however, there are times when that indie level technology shows itself. Liquid particles are massive, which still looks great in motion, but bunch up in a mess if left stationary on a flat surface, such as when you’re trying to carry some on a plank. A few character animations are also rather stiff, such as Zoya’s grapple swing. Ultimately, they aren’t severe or prominent enough for the game to be considered anything less than gorgeous.

All the other details make up for a few visual tech limitations.

AUDIO: 9/10

Although not particularly catchy or memorable, the music is still quite pleasant. More importantly, it reinforces and furthers the adventurous fairy tale atmosphere, much like what the Shadows of the Colossus soundtrack does for the drama and massive scale of that game. The calm, plodding pace dashed with a bit of awe and foreboding dread coincides with the gameplay and visual elements perfectly, making every track sound just right as you’re playing.

Amadeus, the whipped cowardly wizard sounds rightfully mousy.

Likewise, the voice acting isn’t quite triple A quality. But the cartoony voices reflect, and thus help bring out, the cartoony personalities of the characters they belong to. And as all fairy tales should, the narrator sounds properly like a generic grandpa telling bed time stories to children.

GAMEPLAY: 8.5/10

In single player, you freely switch between 3 characters and use their unique traits to advance in the game. Amadeus generally takes all the puzzles with his ability to conjure boxes and planks and move objects around the screen via telekinesis. Zoya is able to shoot far objects with her bow and reach high places with her grapple. Pontius excels in combat and smashes things.

Zoya, the practical greedy “entrepreneur”, and nigh omnipotent by end game.

Their uniqueness wanes as the game progresses, however. Zoya becomes highly competent in combat in addition to being able to smash things once she picks up the explosive arrows skill. Amadeus also becomes a decent fighter once he increases the amounts of boxes he can conjure, which kills anything short of a boss in a single hit. He also has no problems reaching high places once he maxes out his conjuration count.

Pontius, the oogabooga. He draws the short straw on character progression and team contribution.

Pontius, however, never gets any abilities that improve his mobility besides a running charge that can go into a long jump, which unfortunately never goes quite long enough. Rather, he gets abilities to slightly improve his combat effectiveness instead. Considering how little combat there actually is, that’s disheartening already. To make things worse, once all characters are maxed out, he isn’t even significantly better in combat than his colleagues. With Amadeus being able to rain down one hit kill boxes and Zoya getting the choice of long range high aoe damage explosive arrows or long charge time one hit kill freeze arrows, Pontius is left with no other combat advantages besides his ability to block his shield, a tool that’ll be often underused, since Amadeus and Zoya will either kill them long before they get to attack or keep them in hitstun with explosions. Thus, he ends up underplayed and often forgotten.

He saved the pumpkins at least.

He does see a bit more use in multiplayer though, where he can shield other players from hazards like falling acid or spike balls. It’s still hard not to feel like you’re dragging the team down, since he still has no way of getting through most puzzle platforming rooms and basically has to just wait for Amadeus to build a path for him.

Exploring to admire the pretty sights may be rewarding enough for a few, but finding hidden exp vials is also the main way of leveling up.

The actual game revolves heavily around platforming and exploration. Most of it is extremely forgiving, emphasizing more on smart conjuration placement or finding grapple points. Likewise, environmental hazards can often be avoided entirely in the same manner. You will want to explore every branching path and optional puzzles though, as they generally contain exp vials which are used to buy new abilities, many of which will be required in later levels of the game. There are a few extreme difficulty spikes near the end of the game that require strict timing and some luck, which could get frustrating if you’re going for the hardcore mode achievements.

Although some endgame platforming sections are technically possible without making use of upgraded abilities, it’d be unreasonably difficult to pull off.

The puzzles generally offer a great deal of freedom, with a variety of mostly physics based mechanics, such as jamming cogs, redirecting air/liquid flow, or redirecting objects with portals. Oftentimes, they could either be solved elaborately, creating an ACME style contraption with whatever’s lying around to form a makeshift pipe system, or in an incredibly primitive fashion such as just splashing the liquid towards the target by jumping into it with Pontius’s shield. This is both good and bad. While it may be fun to figure out all the possibilities, you’ll find that often times, the least clever solution is the most effective, so they generally won’t give as much satisfaction for completing as something like Portal 2’s puzzles. It does, however, eliminate any risk of frustration.

Many puzzle rooms can be entirely skipped by doing something as simple as creating a grapple point and just swinging past it.

Finally, there’s the combat, which is highly disappointing. The abundance of health restoring checkpoints and zero consequence for death makes enemies more of a nuisance than anything. Furthermore, there’s only a few enemies types in the game, all of which is dealt with more or less the same way, and only a handful are even a threat at all even on hardcore mode. There are your regular fodders, be they lizards or archers or shield carriers, all fall quickly to any basic attack. Later in the game, you start fighting flaming goblin minibosses, which become the only regular encounter that requires any kind of thinking…and only until you realize they still fall victim to Amadeus’s OHKO falling boxes. Outside of 2 major boss battles, every other boss behaves exactly the same, and are dealt with in the same way with only minor differences in the combat terrain. Although not a major focus of the game, there are still many combat sections, and that its depth has been so overlooked does hurt the overall experience quite a bit.

The giant goblin bosses become so generic by the end of the game, I can’t even remember how many of them there were.

CONTENT: 7.5/10

The game sports 11 fairly large and diverse levels, excluding the tutorial and final boss levels. Finding every exp pick up and secret in this game takes around 10 hours, but considering there’s not much of a reason to upgrade Pontius and the secrets don’t actually do anything, a regular run of the game could take a bit less than that. The secret chests in the game don’t have much practical value either, providing only some concept art and poems that shed slightly more light into the rather simplistic and predictable plot. Still, considering the game is only $15 without any Steam sale going on, that’s decent value.

The actual loot you get from secret chests is a lot less exciting than it looks.

If you’re an achievement hunter, you could get maybe another 10 hours trying to beat the game on hard difficulty hardcore mode, where you die in 1-2 hits, restore points can only be used once, and you cannot save or respawn at checkpoints during the level. However, with the level design being mostly long and easy, this becomes more frustrating than accomplishing, since nearly all your gameovers will come from a dumb mistake costing you a crucial character in an upcoming section, forcing you the restart all the way from the beginning of the level.

This room being the worst perpetrator of all, coming late into the level, and is the most difficult platforming section in the game. It’s followed immediately by a goblin ambush on both sides, ensuring many hardcore mode gameovers.

MULTIPLAYER: 6.5/10

Honestly, I don’t even know what’s considered a good community in today’s standard anymore. I get instantly kicked from over half the games I try to join because they either wanted to duo with a friend or because they don’t wanna get character locked. But since this is clearly a user error, I’m gonna be pessimistic and just say the Trine 2 community isn’t the most intelligent, seeing as they neither know how to set up a private game nor turn off character lock in the game options, even though they’re both on the first screen you see after selecting “host a multiplayer game”. Then when you finally do join a game? There’s a decent chance they’re cheating to death with player levitation and is just flying Zoya around the entire map at a rate of 1 screen per hour to pick up all the exp vials.

Once you do finally manage to find a proper game with 2 other intelligent life forms however, the experience is amazing. Many of the puzzle solutions change, as you no longer have the abilities of all 3 characters acting on 1 body. While it may be simple in single player to simply grapple up a high ledge with Zoya, then switch to Pontius to smash something, in multiplayer, you would have to take advantage of having multiple bodies and having Amadeus hold a box in midair for Pontius to jump up the ledge. This makes some puzzles much more difficult thanks to Pontius’s lack of mobility, but others much simpler, such as simply having Pontius shield the group through a waterfall of lava instead of building pipeworks to redirect the lava. It’s an incredibly well thought out feature that’s unfortunately very difficult to experience in public games. I can only imagine that if I actually had friends that enjoyed coop puzzle games, it would’ve been a blast.

Forever alone =(

Visual: 9.5
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 8.5
Content: 7.5
Multiplayer: 6.5

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

While not without imperfections, Trine 2 is a game in which it’s individual elements sync up so well with each other that it truly ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Its greatest shortcoming of all is probably the relatively niche appeal of its subject matter. If you’re not completely allergic to fairy tales and can stave off your need for a game to inflate your ego though, this game is definitely an experience I’d recommend. It may not be the most exciting or challenging, but it’s easily the most delightful platformer I’ve played since LittleBigPlanet.

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