Thursday, March 25, 2010

Photoshop CS5 - All Too Easy

Ok, I know this isn't exactly gaming, per se, but holy crap on a crap cracker, this "Content-Aware Fill" thing in the upcoming Photoshop CS5 is a freakin' forum goon's wet dream.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Zero Punctuation Reviews: Battlefield Bad Company 2

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Battlefield Bad Company 2

There are some constants in the universe. The sun will move from east to west. The Yankees will be in the playoffs. Even numbered Trek movies don't suck. And, of course, the bots in a Battlefield game will be hilariously buggy.

I never played the first Bad Company game, so it's a new experience to me to have a battlefield game with a narrative other than "here's some guys and flags, shoot them and take them, respectively!" The Bad Company series apparently tries for a more cinematic FPS experience, much like Call of Duty... but it takes itself less seriously. Where Call of Duty games feel like action or war movies, Bad Company is definitely a "buddy flick."

The gist of the game is this - It's an alternate reality world where the russians are invading, and this time they're digging up an old WW2 Japanese superweapon project codenamed "Aurora" to try to use it on their current-day nemesis: The US of A. The secret weapon is what is called a "Scalar" weapon, which if you google, you'll have to spend hours afterward trying to scrub the grease off your skin from all the tinfoil hats you'll rub up against. It's like the holy grail of WMDs - part EMP, part Nuke, with all the heat and electronics frying goodness and none of the pesky fallout. And apparently in the Battlefield universe, it takes a few minutes to power up, and during that time it bugles loudly in the distance, sounding like Godzilla rising from the depths.

Anyway, the russians are digging up this old scalar tech, and the only ones who can stop them are a squad of four stereotypes - A nerd, a redneck, a token gruff black authority figure, and an everyman (played by you, of course). It sounds like the recipe for a really bad movie, but it makes for an entertaining game, actually. The banter between the other 3 members of Bad Company really do a lot to enhance the game.

At least, it would, if not for the fact that 9 times out of 10, the three of them get so bugged they completely stop moving to have their conversation, and then never start moving again until you pass a magic plot point. And some of these banter sessions are astonishingly long, like the "do you believe in God" conversation which lasts a good 7 minutes. But the banter is entertaining enough to stop and listen to. And I had a good laugh at the "What? I can know stuff!" line delivered by the redneck when everybody was shocked that it was him, and not the nerd, who rattled off a name and detailed description (complete with trivia) of the plane they were observing.

And of course, the writers aren't above putting in a few digs at "the other guys." The end showdown felt directly like the end of Modern Warfare 1, where all you have is a pistol and you need to squeeze off a fast headshot or it's all over... only in the name of one-upmanship, here in B:BC2, you have to make that shot AFTER JUMPING OUT OF A PLANE WITH NO PARACHUTE. I have to admit I laughed when the nerd member of the group said "Come on, Sarge, if not us, then who? You know they'll just send a bunch of douchebags with sissy heartbeat monitors out here otherwise!" - a clear dig at Modern Warfare's propensity to make you rely on gun-mounted heartbeat monitors in snowstorms. But at least I didn't have to physically use my body to constantly jostle Gaz or Captain Price toward the next objective, DICE, so careful about the stones you throw.

Sometimes it's just easier to leave them behind, really. When an important plot point comes up, they'll magically warp right next to you, and then it's back to business for a little while until they are once again struck with catatonic amnesia, and stand there in a state of torpor pointing their gun at nothing in particular.

I know I'm harping on that a lot, but you know, it's only annoying sometimes. Most of the time it just elicited a roll of the eyes from me, because honestly they're not that much of a help anyway. If left to their own devices, the bots in this game would shoot at the same entrenched position forever, waiting for you to flank the enemy and dig them out. So really, it only makes it marginally less easy if they aren't there, and only then because they have a chance to draw the enemy's fire while you absolutely murder all 20 of them. In fact, I most got worried when my comrades stopped moving forward because I thought I might miss out on another banter session while I was slogging my way up Hamburger Hill alone. And you wonder how they manage to miss the enemy so much, when you yourself are aim-assisted all to hell and back, where even a casual spray in the enemy's direction will usually headshot them.

What was far more annoying was the massive performance hits I experienced during cutscenes. I don't know what they're doing differently in cutscenes, but almost every cutscene struggled along and desynched the subtitles from the audio, whereas every part of the actual gameplay was pretty much seamless and fast, abarring one or two parts that went completely over the top with fog and lighting effects. They're also doing something wierd with the audio processing, as every house I entered suddenly sounded like I was in the most echo-inducing of tunnels, and even when there were explosions and gunfire all around me, it was somehow quiet enough to hear the sergeant grumble about how he's gettin' too old for this shit.

All in all, though, the game was an enjoyable playthrough, even if it was only 6 hours long. I can honestly say I'm just as likely to go back and replay B:BC2 as I am COD:MW2. I like that you don't HAVE to have your eye jammed against the butt of your gun to stand a chance at hitting something. I like the convenient supply drops that let you change weapons loadouts at convenient intervals. I REALLY like how damn near every structure in the game is completely destructible, which is the real selling point of this engine as I understand it. And, of course, I like the dialogue, and the cheesy, goofy plot. It goes a long way to making up for the AI bugs and other minor annoyances... and the one major annoyance of having no LAN hosting mode for multiplayer. I mean, I know it's a console port and everything, but that should have been a no-brainer for PC, guys. Bad call. Also, I would have liked a co-op mode for the SP campaign.

Verdict: B-.
And that's the word from Bandit Camp.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Zero Punctuation Reviews: Alien vs Predator

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Zero Punctuation Reviews: Bioshock 2

Sorry, forgot to post this last week. So today is a two-fer.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Review: Supreme Commander 2

I can't remember the last time I was so pumped over a game coming out. Supreme Commander 2. The sequel to, hands down, the best RTS game ever made. It had some pretty enormous shoes to fill. All these high expectations, though, are probably why I find myself disappointed in the direction they took with the game.

Supreme Commander 2 takes place 20 years after the defeat of the Seraphim in the Forged Alliance expansion for Supreme Commander 1. In the absence of a greater external threat, the various races have found one thinly plausable reason or another to start shooting each other again, if only on a small scale. But nobody really cares about the plot, right? The Supreme Commander franchise attracts those who value complex strategy without micromanagement, right?

Well, that may not be the case any more. While still mercifully devoid of micromanagment, the game has been stripped of the vast majority of its complexity. Why would they do this, you might wonder? Well, here's another travesty the blame for which we can lay at the feet of a developer's desire to dumb things down for the console tards. Since SC2 is being released on both PC and XB360, the lowest common denominator of both man and machine had to be pandered to.

So what did they do? Sheesh, where to begin... The very first thing I noticed was that they bolloxed up the "right click and hold" formation command, which irritated me all the way through my time in the game. They also removed the tech tier system, and now instead of building and upgrading structures and units in this method, they've added a third "resource" to the game called "research" which is generated by combat and by "Research Lab" buildings which constantly generate it akin to mass extractors. You can then spend these resource points to buy new unit types and upgrades to existing ones, and the effects immediately propogate to all your existing forces. This means there's no such thing as a "tech 2 tank" or a "tech 3 gunship" or anything like that. You never have to ramp up to the higher tech generators nor upgrade your mass extractors. There is only 1 kind of point defense gun per faction, and one kind of air defense turret, just to irritate more those of us who liked the old paradigm. Additionally, the bonuses you used to get from placing resource structures next to other structures is gone. There's also no cap on resources anymore (or rather, every resource is capped at 99,999 and that cap doesn't change ever), so no need to build storage structures. As the company promised, there are more experimental units... but they do less. Take the good ol' UEF "Fatboy." For some reason, the Fatboy 2 is *weaker* than the first incarnation - its guns are less devastating, and it is no longer a self-contained factory. It's gone from the must-have unit of the UEF to a unit I only use if nothing stronger is available, a pale shadow of its former glory. Cybran fans take heart though, your precious experimental gunship is just as overpowered as it ever was... which I guess is a good thing because the rest of the cybran military seems to be paper mache and terminally nearsighted, but I'm getting off track. The tradeoff for simpler (and in some cases weaker) experimental units is that experimentals now cost much less to build in both time and resources. The longest build time is 2 minutes and 30 seconds. I remember in SC1 having to use every engineer at my disposal to get certain experimentals done in as short as 20 minutes. That reminds me - engineers can no longer assist each other in building or repairing. What this means is that instead of grouping 3 or 4 engineers to build things more quickly, you have to get used to using 1-engineer-1-project concepts and strategies. They've also dumbed down how resources are spent. Instead of using the resource cost over time as in the first games, and slowing production (or stopping it) if and when resources run out, you now have to pay the full resource cost up front like every other RTS in the genre. Way to stop standing out from the crowd, GPG. Energy management is also practically a non-issue because energy generators are now the cheapest structure in the game, and are fast to build and take up little room, so if you're ever actually low on energy, you're a goddamned idiot who needs to be kept on a leash to stop you from wandering into traffic.

The one thing I can say that HAS improved since the first game is engineer AI. Engineers will now, by default, repair any damage within their range and salvage any wreckage in range without being told to do so. This means an idle engineer or two amidst a cluster of defensive structure dramatically increase its longevity, and therefore utility. So they did find a way to improve something.

But there's also some things they made worse that can't even be explained by the console factor - when building shields, the radius of the shield generator no longer is displayed during placement, so you have to sort of "guess" where the furthest extent of the shield will be. None of the defensive structures are particularly long range, so the few units that DO have range longer than your basic tech 1 point defense cannon are suddenly a whole lot better at tearing apart a base from outside the range of its defenses (hello, Megalith). Most of the maps are smaller (so small in fact that I wonder if Demigod slept with Supreme Commander 1's wife), and even on the ones that aren't tiny, it doesn't particularly matter. There are new "cheese factor" experimentals that let you put units right smack into the middle of an enemy base with absolutely no countermeasure other than to keep a huge number of units or defensive structures built throughout the entirety of your base at all times. Because if there's any part of your base not defended like fort knox, that's where the opponent's "noah unit cannon" or "Space temple" or whatever is going to drop a bajillion units that will rip out your guts through your back door and leave them steaming gently on the pavement. The funny thing is, the AI never thinks to do this, but once YOU do, you can pretty much beat any level pretty quick. And you DO think of this strategy soon, because there's a mission in the early part of the single player campaign that SPOON FEEDS YOU THIS STRATEGY. Then, in case you're dense, there's ANOTHER level later that has you do it again! At this point, even the console kids who other console kids think are slow, the ones who only have a brain stem, will be thinking "gee, this 'teleport into the enemy base' tactic sure makes this easy. I should do that all the time, huh?'"

Ok, all snarkiness aside, you know what? It's a passable RTS. If there was a world where SC1 didn't exist, and this came out, I'd call it a pretty, somewhat bland RTS that doesn't really stand out from the pack all that much. But you know what? This is supposed to be Supreme Frickin' Commander. I expect better from you, Gas Powered Games. Shame on you. Shame. On. You.

Grade: C. And that's the word from Bandit Camp.

Everything in the below trailer is a lie. - GB

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