Saturday, May 09, 2009

Review: The Tomorrow War

Seems like there's a lot of games coming out of Russia these days. The 1C publishing company has released 3 of the last 4 games I've reviewed: Cryostasis (which was good), Necrovision (which was so bad it should have incurred criminal charges), and now "The Tomorrow War."

The Tomorrow War is a space/flight sim based in a hypothetical 27th century galaxy, where it has been eons since humans have left Earth for the stars.

The game has some very nice visuals, out in space. Since space sims generally aren't very cluttered, the game takes advantage of the spare video processing power with high poly fighter models (though some of the capital ships are a wee bit simplistic) and expansive environments. The planet surfaces however tend to be a little more on the sparse side, reminding me of a flight simulator from approximately 10 years ago. The cloud rendering is particularly disappointing, since a cloud consists of a single 2D white polygon that doesn't even turn to face the camera... it gives the effect of somebody having cut a cloud out of a sheet of paper and left it hovering in the air for you to be disappointed in. Also, on the first mission of the game, you are tasked at one point to fly through the rings of saturn, which are comprised of giant chunks of rock and ice. Flying around the rings is pretty... flying into the rings is also pretty except for one thing - the "transition" between rendering the rings as solid bands of color, distant 2d rock sprites, and a wall of true 3D asteroids you need to fly around and between is pretty apparent and almost immersion-breaking. There's also some severe range-clipping issues with these things, but I suppose it can't be expected to render every asteroid in the rings at all times and all distances. Still, when flying through them at low warp speed, the "poof an asteroid appears" effect is pretty obvious. The portions of the game that take place inside the crew areas of ships (as well as the rendered insides of your cockpit) have textures that are a little on the low quality side, and there's lots of sharp angles on objects.

The sound requirements for a space sim aren't very demanding. You need sounds for the weapons, the engines, some explosions, and some ambiance. They have all these, and they do the job. The music isn't bad either but can get kind of repetitive. But my oh my, does this game fall flat on its face in the department of voice acting. Not only has the translation from Russian not gone particularly well, the voice actors also telegraph that they are reading lines from cards with no knowledge of context or proper emphasis. Thus, when your character approaches the flight deck engineer to inquire about his ship and says "Where is my hunk of iron?" it sounds like he is irately inquiring about a ferrous slug which has gone missing from his apartment, rather than playfully asking about the location of his ship. It also seems that most of the dialog meant to play during missions has been entirely left out. Maybe the translation didn't get done or something, but often the face of a wingman or officer will pop up chattering away in the corner of your viewscreen, but no words come out and the game doesn't give you a caption of what they say. To top it all off, in the cut scenes which involve talking, the movements of the models' lips do not even remotely sync to the words. They look like they're syncing to SOME words, just not the words they're saying. Honestly, the effect is even worse than in the old Wing Commander games... at least then the computer knew to stop moving the lips of the people when the sentence was over.

The first thing you find about this space/flight sim is that the learning curve is very steep and helpful directions are practically nonexistant. By the time you slog through the dozens of cutscenes between you and your first mission, somebody STILL has yet to actually inform you about important things such as "you will be expected to target your wing leader and press 4 to join his formation before anything else." So once you figure that out, which may take any number and combination of wandering off and running out of fuel, crashing into your wingmen, accidentally shooting your wingmen until they get pissed off and destroy you, etc... you'll eventually learn how to target your wingleader and press "4" to join his formation.

Once you're in formation, you and your buddies fly around looking at how pretty the universe is. And I'm not just talking about the first mission any more... an extraordinary amount.. check that, an excruciating amount of your game time will be spent flying in formation across hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers of scenic empty space. You practically need a second computer on your desk, so you can play something else while the autopilot keeps you flying in picture perfect unity with your wingmen.

So you formate, you fly out to where something to shoot is, you shoot it, you formate back up, fly back to the carrier and land on the carrier (which is also handled via autopilot). Frankly, I'm a little surprised they didn't just include a combat autopilot as well... you could start the game and go to the movies while your computer plays for you, then. Cutcene, rinse, repeat, and apparently there you have your game.

The controls are a little unintuitive as well. You have the option to make your mouse the targeting reticle, which sounds neat but it doesn't always behave as expected. 9 times out of 10, instead of your weapons shooting where your mouse reticle is, they will fire straight ahead anyway, making you wonder what the hell the point is of giving you a mobile reticle if the weapons don't train on it.

The story, or what little of it I could make out through the bad translations and worse acting, is also laughable. It deals with an interstellar war bent around the 27th century rediscovery of Zoroastrianism. It feels a little silly that peace in the 27th century is threatened by the resurgence of the proto-religion that eventually gave us the "big 3" standard religions. That'd be like a nuclear physicist suddenly deciding that pulleys and levers are a neat way to generate energy. I understand it's based on a book famous in Russia, but that didn't help "Hard to be a God" either.

The final breaking point for me with the game was when on the 3rd or 4th mission or so, I returned to formation after succeeding in the mission, only to have my wingmates sit like lumps, refusing to fly anywhere. Getting bored of that after 2 minutes, I broke off and flew back to the mothership by myself. But despite the fact that the next item on my mission list was "return to the carrier," I was not allowed to land because I didn't arrive via formation with my wingleader. I tried a manual landing (they do give you the manual controls to lower your landing gear and land yourself) but despite the ever so gentlest of touchdowns, the moment my fighter contacted with the flight deck I exploded in a giant fireball of sucky russian game.

While it is neat to finally play a flight simulator that has a "seamless" transition from stellar to atmospheric flight, it's not enough to carry this game. It's awful. It's not as bad as Necrovision, but it's still way too terrible to bother with. I want it off my computer, out of my memories, and I want those few hours I spent playing it refunded to me.

Grade: D-.
And that's the word from Bandit camp...

1 comment:

Dimento Graven said...

In my best Yakov Schmirnoff accent:

In Russia, you don't play computer games, computer games play you!