Friday, February 27, 2009

Blazing Angels

Imagine, if you will, that you're playing Star Fox. You have an anti-gravity ship with truly stupendous acrobatic abilities and neato weaponry. Now imagine that all of your wingmen are Slippy, endlessly screaming "Get them off me, Fox!" over and over again.

That's pretty much Blazing Angels, a WWII flight sim that I pulled out of the bargain rack. I made the mistake of assuming it was on that rack because it was more than a few months old, not because it was terrible.

I'll start with the good stuff: sharp graphics; nicely detailed terrain and buildings; a wide selection of iconic and forgotten WWII fighters and dive-bombers, with relatively different capabilities; varied missions in varied combat theaters. And the dogfighting itself is engaging enough, I suppose, in the same way that pinball or tetris is engaging--although not anywhere near the same degree.

But where shall I start with the bad? How about the physics?

I understand that Blazing Angels is supposed to be an "arcade style" flight simulator. But, it was my understanding that "arcade style" in this situation meant primarily that I didn't have to futz about with flaps or worry about the local wind speed. It's supposed to indicate that you needn't have received your FAA flight rating to enjoy the game. I didn't realize that it meant my WWII airplane would handle like an X-Wing.

In a real fighter plane, the standard way of accomplishing a sharp turn is to roll your plane in that direction and then pull up on the stick. While your plane is rolled over on its side, the amount of upward lift generated is fairly low. So, you lose altitude. Not in Blazing Angels, you don't... instead, you can cruise along on All American Anti Gravity in whatever orientation you might like for as long as you might like.

Likewise, "stall" refers to a concept whereby you lose lift from the wings as the airplane attempts to climb too quickly. It's actually a really complex phenomenon, and has a number of really unpleasant effects on an airplane. However, in Blazing Angels, "stall" means "you've reached the level's ceiling". This means all of your missions take place at an altitude of about 1000 feet. It gets pretty difficult to enjoy a complex dogfight when you're constantly worried about hitting the ground.

Furthermore, I know of no plane where standard operating procedure for pulling a sharp turn is to slow down to apparent bicycle speeds. Seriously. At the low speeds you can achieve, you should be falling out of the sky like a rock, not turning that much more effectively.

The planes also handle in other subtly incorrect and annoying ways. After playing a large number of high fidelity flight simulators in my lifetime, I found myself constantly fighting with the controls as my plane did something totally counterintuitive and inexplicable. I imagine you wouldn't have these issues if you expect a P-51 Mustang to handle like a Starfury, though.

Physics aside, the dogfighting is decent enough. Lots of twists and turns, split second where the bogie's in your crosshairs, getting your leading just right (indicated by the crosshairs lighting up), papapapapapapap, flames and smoke. It's a shame you spend all your damn time flying close air support for ground and naval units.

In an effort, I guess, to add realism, you almost never fly simple missions consisting of destroying other fighters. Instead, you're invariably tasked with supporting either ground or naval targets as they perform some unseen objective. To achieve this task, your plane is equipped with bombs, rockets, torpedoes, or a camera. We'll get to the camera in a minute.

Flying close air support is boring. You make endless dives through AA, dropping bombs or launching rockets, as you blow up unending numbers of unmoving machine gun emplacements and battleships. It's made more aggravating when it never ends, because, of course, your bombs and rockets regenerate. Launch all eight rockets, or drop both your bombs, wait about five seconds, and do the same thing again. Over and over. It's made even more ridiculous when one remembers that while dive bombing was a widely-used tactic for destroying ships and dug-in infantry positions, they actually had these planes called "bombers" whose primary purpose was to bomb things. The primary purpose of fighters was to protect the bombers.

There are, I believe, two bomber-escort missions in the game.

And one mission where your objective is to take some pictures with a camera. A camera which, apparently, has its shutter time set for about 2 seconds, based on how long you hold down the button to charge the "camera bar" before the picture is taken.

I don't think most people buying a WWII fighter sim want to either bomb or photograph things. Mainly I think they, as do I, want to engage other fighters in aerial combat. If you'd like me to protect some bombers, I'm down; but, don't make me personally drop more bombs in one mission than that entire bomber wing carried during the war.

Your wingmen are also totally and completely obnoxious. While not quite as useless and feeble as Slippy (they occasionally destroy enemy targets), they talk constantly and only have a couple dozen lines available. This means that you'll be subjected to the same corn-pone bullshit over and over again. I wanted to shoot them down myself.

Each of your wingmen provides a unique ability. One has the ability to draw off any aircraft attacking you. Another will attack your designated target (and its formation) with pretty effective results. And the last one will activate a quicktime event that repairs your plane in mid flight. That's right: you can have half your tail shot off and flame spewing from your fuel tank, and hitting XXOX will instantly put the flames out and mold a new tail out of Bondo while you speed along at 150mph. These abilities have a very long recharge time. A recharge time which seems to interact very badly with the death/checkpoint system--and not in your favor.

I also want to admit that I cheated. I cheated because one level is pretty goddamn fundamentally broken.

As a scripted event, you're hit with a burst of flak. This burst of flak supposedly destroys your controls or the control surfaces. You're instructed to land the airplane on a convenient airstrip and come back up in a new one. That's fine. Kind of a neat idea, even.

However, I don't know of any plane or any accident that makes your airplane buck and shift uncontrollably to the right every three and a half seconds. It's my impression that control failures tend to result in either a complete loss of that axis of control (and stability in that axis), or a steady drag in one direction or another. This was on a timer... every 3.5 seconds, push the aircraft 5 meters to the right and 2 meters down. Combine this with the fact that you can only land on approved "airstrip" material--touching wheels on grass means instant death--and I cheated to get past the agony. It wasn't fun, immersive, interesting, or challenging. It was stupid and frustrating. If the cheats hadn't been available, Blazing Angels would have gotten an even worse review than it's getting now.

Also, there's a mission where you have to fly through a 10 meter wide valley with all manner of stalactites and stalagmites in your path. Because god forbid you follow the valley to Hitler's Secret Weapon Base by climbing up above the valley and following it visually. You can't do that! Don't you know that airplanes will stall if you fly them outside of valleys? Idiot.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that if I'd written Blazing Angels in my third-year games programming course, I would have been totally proud.

As a professional cross-platform title, Blazing Angels is crap. The dogfighting doesn't suck too badly. But, you never get to do any of that.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Armored Core: for Answer

"Who doesn't love giant fighting robots?", I thought as I picked Armored Core: for Answer off the used rack at my local Game Stop. The young, nerdy woman working the counter made a remark to the same effect, even. So, I figured that Armored Core would be like pizza and sex: if it's good, it's great; if it's bad, it's still okay.

And I was right. It's bad, but still okay.

My giant fighting robot franchise of choice is the FASA BattleTech universe, with the MechWarrior games being my preferred digital incarnation. I even played in a NetMech clan back in the day. I've always preferred the BattleTech approach over the Japanese gundam approach simply because it seems more practical: you build a walking robot like a tank, and you only build one in the first place for improved mobility over a tracked vehicle.

Armored Core seems to be the polar opposite. Instead of slow, lumbering bipedal robots with explicitly mounted arm weaponry, Armored Core goes with fast, flying robots with mechanical hands grasping discrete weaponry. Also, your craft has rocket engines.

In fact, if you're ever not running your "booster", you're doing it wrong. The booster allows two primary maneuvers: flight, and sliding. Flight is fairly self-explanatory, with thrust controlled by the oh-so-finicky L2 shoulder button. Sliding, on the other hand, is bizarre. Basically, while on the ground, holding down L2 causes you to slide at 300km/h in the direction held on the left stick.

This means that your primary means of ground transportation is ice skating. Which means that the game feels more to me like hockey than it does giant fighting robots. Well, actually, "giant fighting robots" is a pretty good description of hockey, come to think of it.

After mastering the skating/flying dynamic and giving up any hope that it would be like MechWarrior, I did start to get into the game. The missions are totally unvaried, being almost entirely variations on "kill everything that makes your radar turn red" with a couple defense and escort missions thrown in. Of course, the defense and escort missions are most easily played by aggressively pursuing and killing everything that makes your radar turn red.

But, that's okay. The purpose of a giant fighting robot is to cause destruction. And you get to cause untoward amounts of destruction, unfettered by any strategic or tactical thought. Look for red, and shoot it. Nice and brainless.

The brains come in during the exhaustive robot customization process. Literally every part of your robot can be swapped out, from legs to head. There are a couple dozen different weapons for each hardpoint. There are a dozens of boosters, computers, generators, cores. There are at least a dozen stats to optimize for the robot itself, plus another half dozen for the weapons. You can choose from several different fundamental platforms: bipedal, quadrupedal, or treaded. You can paint your robot. You can add camouflage or a pattern. You can add decals. You can name it.

I should mention, however, that after I found a robot design that worked, I stuck with it. I did occasionally change it up for specific missions where I needed a radically different loadout, but one design carried me beautifully through 80% of the levels. I'm not sure if this is a playstyle thing, and other people will have different preferred loadouts; or, if the machine-gun arms and grenade launchers really are the min/maxed platonic ideal that I suspect them to be.

The in-game detail given to the robot is excellent. The robot textures are high resolution. Missile ports flip open, and shoulder-mounted weaponry flips down into ready position as you activate it. Projectile weapons have moving parts, and cycle when you fire them. Truly otaku fodder.

Unfortunately, all of the detail and care in the game went into the robots, and none of it went into the environment. Cities are populated with copy after copy of the same building. It does destroy nicely, crumbling to dust as your robot heaps cannon fire on it. But literally every building in the game is the identical model.

Most of the missions take place in featureless desert. Some of them take place in featureless valleys. A couple take place at sea, which is even more featureless--although the splash effects as you skate around on the water are pretty nice. There are a few missions that take place in large structures, tunnels, or around unique structures. But, the level geometry is built out of as few polygons as possible. In contrast to the high-fidelity robots, the environment looks like absolute shit.

This sort of thing was acceptable back in 1995 when they released MechWarrior 2. I happily overlooked the featureless environments, since I knew they had to save their triangles for the mechs. But, Armored Core: for Answer was released last year. There's no excuse that can justify having only one goddamn model for every building in the entire game.

The difficulty level is supremely inconsistent. The regular missions are all cakewalks, with even my hamfisted and unenthusiastic playthrough netting me A's and S's on all but a couple of missions. This is mostly because you pit your top-of-the-line NEXT-class robot against their piddly outdated models. And then, out of nowhere, your mission will include battle with another NEXT-class armored core. I had to replay most of these battles several times before I achieved victory--the regular missions certainly aren't training for them.

I'm sure that the story would be meaningful if I'd played any of the other games. But, I haven't, so I just found it boring and meaningless. You play as a mercenary, so you actually advance the goals of several different organizations throughout the game. This doesn't lead to a lot of loyalty to anybody, and I found that I couldn't care less who was winning or what was going on. I just selected missions so that I could go cause some destruction.

While this shouldn't really count against it, Armored Core: for Answer also has one of the stupidest titles I've ever encountered. What the fuck does "for Answer" mean? I didn't find anybody named Answer in the game (although I could have missed it). So, it's probably not a proper noun. So, did they really mean "for an Answer"? Or, "for the Answer"? We need an article, please. But, it's exactly what you'd expect from a developer that calls itself From Software. When I first saw that on the screen, I thought to myself, "Of course it's from software; it's on a blu-ray disk. Why are you telling me this?"

So, name gripes aside, I would say that Armored Core: for Answer would appeal most to the sort of person who collects gundam models. The robot customization is really first-rate, letting you create all manner of unique beasts--some of which are useless in combat, but at least look awesome. And the gameplay is adequate enough that there's some point to building that super-cool robot. But, the boring, low-detail environments, complete lack of a coherent story, and inconsistent difficulty bring the whole experience down to mediocrity. If you're not into the robots themselves, there's nothing to keep you here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

EVE Online: The End

First off, a big ol' fuck you to both CCP and most of the linux users who play EVE Online.

I was really starting to get into this game. Enough that I was about ready to plunk down my $15 a month to become a full-fledged player, even before my trial ran out (I want a bigger class of ship, you see).

But, there's no point. I can't play the game. As I mentioned in my last post, CCP is dropping support for their linux client. They're doing this because, apparently, most of their linux users were ignoring the linux client and using the Windows client in wine/cedega/crossover. Since CCP wasn't seeing a significant spike in subscribers logging in on their linux client, they concluded that it wasn't economically viable to continue to officially support three operating systems. Of course, they're keeping the OSX client, which has basically the same damn programmatic requirements as linux, so I don't really understand how it's more than a little extra work to ensure that it plays on both.

Now, I have no idea why the linux users weren't using the linux client. My only guess is that the linux client doesn't support the "premium" high-res textures or windowed mode. I looked at the high-res textures in Crossover, and they're not really that much better. Certainly not better enough to deal with the difficulty and annoyance of getting EVE to run in wine. Even with the basic graphics, and with a few hours' tinkering, the Windows client is crashing every forty-five minutes in Crossover Games.

So, instead of putting more time into this and getting nothing out of it, I'm going to call a halt to my review.

My final analysis of EVE Online is that it's the only MMORPG to ever catch my attention. It's the only MMORPG nuanced and sophisticated to ever make me want to pony up $15 a month to waste endless hours of my time.

If there's any MMORPG you should play, it's EVE Online. Unless you're on linux, in which case you should be used to developers ignoring you.

EVE Online: Day 3

I tried to trade today. That failed miserably. I kind of figured that the trick to trading was to pick something up from a station that it's cheap, and then sell it at a station where it's expensive.

Of course, all of the sale prices are 5-10 times the buy prices. Which means that the only way to buy low and sell high is to go through the buy-order and sell-order process. Since you set up a standing order for either a purchase or a sale to happen at a specific price, you don't actually get your money until somebody happens by and buys at your asking price. I'm still waiting to see if I'll make any profit at all from my trading run of skillbooks.

As I've heard several times from other players, trade as a primary means of income is probably best left to the experienced players. It seems to require entirely too much knowledge of the game and the universe, not to mention significant startup capital and large merchant ships, for a newbie player to succeed at it.

I've also done a lot more challenging combat at this point. The biggest challenge is definitely in outfitting your ship appropriately. I worked out my load mostly through trial and error, although a calculator or spreadsheet would have been more effective. There's an *awful* lot to balance: weapon damage multiplier, ammunition base damage, weapon rate of fire, energy cost per shot. Likewise, your defensive systems are drawing from the same energy reserve and have similar attributes. Trying to analyze all of these variables required that I shuffle between about a dozen different "Info" windows simultaneously.

Once in combat, I found that my top-of-the-line frigate could easily hold its own against four or five NPC pirate ships, but that larger fleets rapidly depleted my shields and armor. I've since developed the tactic of warping into the encounter space, taking out as many ships as I can before my shields are critical, and then warping back out to lick my wounds. I seriously doubt this works in PvP battles, as there's a piece of equipment that jams warp--and it's apparently fairly popular amongst players.

The most frustrating thing I learned today is that CCP is dropping official linux support. This means that the only way for linux users to play is through either Wine, Cedega, or CrossoverGames. And, of course, there will be bugs and issues with those solutions as well.

I'm not sure why people in the forums were griping about the quality of the official client. So far, it's worked perfectly for me. My only complaint is that it won't run in a windowed mode; but, I can live without that. Unfortunately, CCP will be releasing a major revision in March, which will render the current client incompatible.

I'm currently attempting to install the Windows client in CrossoverGames. But, if that doesn't work and play without annoying the piss out of me, it seems very unlikely that I'll be playing EVE Online past the end of my trial period.

Monday, February 9, 2009

EVE Online: Day 2

I had to move from my Macbook to my linux box. While empty space, and small encounters, work fine on the Macbook, it starts to bog down unacceptably when there's a station plus a few ships nearby. But, then, the Macbook doesn't meet the minsysreqs, so I can't complain too much.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of things.

As folks have pointed out in the comments for my last review, skills are trained during time that you're not logged in. This has to be the best MMORPG feature I've ever met. It means that one can log on, play for a while doing the fun stuff, set up a skill to train, and go to sleep. When you log in the next day, you'll have advanced by 20 (or whatever) hours.

For instance, I started training a skill and then ate supper and took a shower. When I got back, it was done, and I could equip the piece of gear I'd looted. This is excellent. It completely removes the advancement/xp grind found in most MMORPGs.

I've also figured out how to filter the "overview" (as the Proximal Object List is really called). This is still less-than-intuitive with very weird meanings to some of the filter options. For instance, I tried to set up a filter for all ships. So, I selected every one of the different ship types. Imagine my surprise when the pirates I was fighting didn't show up. You see, they're "NPCs" apparently, and not "ships". Or maybe they're NPCs and ships, and both have to be selected. I dunno, but it was aggravating.

I still haven't touched probably 70% of the interface. But, most of that seems related to the economic aspects of the game. So, if you're only really interested in combat, like I am at the moment, you can probably safely ignore it for the most part.

The combat is shaping up to be very interesting, for certain nerdy values of "interesting". I had one battle that went on for literally half an hour because I had a slow ship with weak long-range weapons but powerful defensive systems. Their weapons were no match for my shield regenerators. But, since I couldn't close to within range of my powerful guns, I had to endlessly circle chipping away at my enemies' regenerating shields. On the other hand, combat is mostly automatic once you've designated your target, so I fed the cats and smoked a couple cigarettes between engagements.

The one thing that combat is not is thrilling. The stakes, if they're high enough, may provoke an emotional response, but if you're just killing low-level pirates, your heart won't be pounding. You'll react to changing circumstances... but, for the most part, you'll be letting the computer orbit the enemy while also letting the computer fire your weapons automatically. You should think naval battle, not close-quarters combat.

While I talked extensively about the player-generated aspect of EVE yesterday, I haven't actually gotten involved in it yet--if I get hooked, I will be joining the now-forming metafilter corporation. I've just been playing the "agent missions", which are pretty standard destroy/fetch/courier missions assigned by various NPCs found at stations throughout the galaxy.

At least at the early stages (all I've done so far), they tend not to pay in cash, but rather in items. This is fine, if the item is something you can use. But, since most items require an appropriate skill to equip them to your ship, many of them are going to be either useless or only useful in the future. The cash rewards are pitiful: 20,000 ISK, when a basic gun might cost 120,000 ISK and a small ship might cost 350,000 ISK. The player-ruled economy also means that getting a good price by selling your useless item usually requires venturing to some other station with higher demand.

In a similar vein, items you acquire must be stored either in your ship's cargo hold, or in the "hangar" of a base. Your ship's hold has a limited capacity; very limited in the case of early-game frigates, and extremely limited in the case of combat frigates. This means that most of your stuff lives at a base. Not any base you happen to stop at, but at the particular base at which you offloaded it. This means that even if you're done with the missions assigned by the agents at one base, you'll still be returning there to pick up various junk that's only recently become useful. I imagine that as the game progresses, unless you explicitly go out of your way to maintain a home base somewhere, your possessions will become strewn across the galaxy--some of it probably becoming unreachable as you commit acts hostile to previously friendly corporations.

Progressive Review: EVE Online

I'm doing something different this week. Instead of one review on Thursday, I'll be doing mini reviews on my progression through EVE Online. I'm hoping to post every day, or every couple of days, until the trial period runs out. And then, I'll tell you, my dear readers, whether or not I'm going to pony up the $15/month to keep playing.

I'd heard of EVE years ago, and totally ignored it like I do all MMORPGS. You know, Mentally Malignant Oppressively Redundant Grind Systems. It isn't so much that I find the idea of a MMORPG repulsive. Indeed, I love RPGs of all genres, and only in a multiplayer setting is there any chance for actual role-playing. It's rather that they lack the thing that draws me to RPGs in the first place: the ability to make a difference in the game world.

In WoW, for instance, you're assigned a quest. You go and fulfill the quest, kill the Giant Demon Dragon of Spoogeton, and five minutes later the goddamn thing respawns. It's literally impossible to affect the world, because the quest has to be available for the next player who wanders through. There may be alliances and guilds who play together, and against one another, but there's nothing that's actually owned by those groups... there's no reason to fight, other than the rapidly-tarnishing joy of killing another player by repeatedly clicking on them. I had figured EVE was the same way.

And then I heard about the Band of Brothers vs. GoonSwarm fiasco that made even mainstream internet news. Apparently, in EVE, player-owned corporations can actually hold territory. There's a functional and nuanced economy. There is strategy, and not merely raid-level tactics. There are giant battles between hundreds of ships.

So, after reading a lot on the BoB/GoonSwarm intrigue, I finally decided to give it a go. I checked online and discovered that they have both a linux and a Mac client, which is mandatory since I don't have Windows. It runs flawlessly on my high-end Ubuntu box, and it runs pretty well but with occasional stutter on on my Macbook. This is despite the fact that the minsysreqs claim that I need a discrete graphics processor, while the Macbook has only integrated Intel. I do suspect, however, that the Macbook would flicker along at an unacceptable 5 frames per second if I were involved in a large fleet action.

So, I signed up for my 14-day trial account and logged in.

I created my character based on *gasp* roleplaying choices, since I had not the slightest idea how to minmax a character. Hell, I didn't even know which skill made it easier to shoot somebody. I chose the race that claimed to support democracy; chose some other options to maximize my stats; chose to have a special forces background.

There's lots of information during the character creation process as to how the different attributes and skills interact, but nothing about the high-level actions that they enable. You'd assume that "Gunnery" would be shooting, and I think you'd be right... but, I didn't find anything that explicitly said, "Higher ranks of Gunnery improve your probability to hit an enemy." Already, I was wishing for a manual. One about six inches thick, if you don't mind.

So, after finishing my character creation, I accidentally skipped some intro movie, and was dumped in space. In a ship, mind you, not naked with my blood boiling out of my eye sockets. In EVE, you practically are your ship. Aside from a relatively generic character portrait, the only avatar you'll ever have is whatever ship you're piloting today. You can't get out of your ship and run around the space stations at which you dock.

There's a tutorial that started to guide me through piloting my ship in space. Of course, when it told me to double click on empty space to fly there, I accidentally wound up directing my ship close enough to a training drone for it to aggro. And I had not the slightest clue how to defend myself.

The interface is complex and non-intuitive. The left-hand edge of the screen is a column of buttons with labels such as "Journal", "Wallet", and "People and Places". There's a cluster of GUI elements at the bottom center that's made up entirely of icons and infographics. There's a proximal object list on the right-hand side--essentially a list of every visible object within range.

In a panic as blue plasma death rained down on my poor frigate, I clicked next on the tutorial window until the bitch told me how to shoot back.

I can't figure out if combat is complex or as simplistic as other MMORPG combat. To shoot down that pirate, I had to select it either in the game display or in the proximal objects list (I'll call that the POL from here on in). Right click it. Tell the computer to orbit the pirate at 1500m. Then, I clicked the icon representing the only gun I had mounted. After that, I had nothing to do but watch as the training drone and I circled each other exchanging fire.

My difficulty in determining the complexity of combat comes from the difficulty of selecting a target and navigating the context menus under fire. Since space is three dimensional, it's next to impossible to visually acquire the bad guy and select him directly. This is exacerbated by the fact that the selection/targeting rectangle is tiny. So, right-clicking a fast-moving object and selecting "Orbit at->1500m" before the sucker flies off the screen is damn-near impossible.

The POL makes life easier, but only a little. There's no obvious mechanism that ties a POL entry to a game-display object. If there's more than one baddie attacking you, the only clue you have as to which target to prioritize is a range entry on the list. Depending on the attack pattern, the currently closest ship may or may not be the best target.

Life got a little easier when I noticed the row of tiny buttons at the top of the POL that allow you to quickly select actions without going through the context menus. There is, for instance, an orbit button. And if you right click those buttons, you can select default parameters. So, now it only takes me two clicks to orbit at 1500m instead of three clicks with a very finicky context-menu selection in between--the menu disappears when your mouse leaves the confines, meaning that imprecise mousing results in starting over.

So, I made it through that battle. And the next one. And then I mined some ore.

Ore is part of the economy. And this economy bears no resemblance to that of any other MMORPG I've heard of. Instead of mining ore and then taking it to some shopkeeper who will buy it at a set price from anyone who shows up with the stuff, there's an entire commodities exchange. You can place buy and sell orders in a market, which has fluctuating prices based on demand. That ore you mine can be processed into metals; those metals can be built into ships or guns or cargo pods or whatever. And there're multiple kinds of ore, producing multiple kinds of raw stock, producing LOTS of different manufactured goods.

Almost all of this economy is player driven. Prices fluctuate with the demand of players for manufactured goods, rippling all the way back down the supply chain organically. If there's a big war between two alliances, they'll need more ships. More ships means more metals. More metals means more ore. The prices go up.

The prices are also local, varying with location. I've sold several objects at ludicrously low prices, and bought them at stupidly high prices, simply because that's the price at which they were selling at the station at which I was docked. The game does tell you the best price you could get, and how many hyperspace jumps away it is. But, just like I'll pay an extra fifty cents for a pack of cigarettes at the village general store instead of driving all the way to WalMart, I couldn't be bothered to make the ten minute trip to some less-secure region of space in order to buy ammo.

One thing that I noticed in the fora threads discussing EVE is the level of boredom many people experienced. I can't say that I've felt bored yet, but I do understand what elements of the game would turn them off. It hasn't struck me as the kind of boredom that comes from repetition, but rather the sort of boredom that comes from downtime.

The developers understand that space is really, really big. Huge, even. And so to move around it requires time. You travel at obviously faster-than-light speeds, so you needn't worry about properly briefing your kids to carry on after you've died mid flight. But, you do spend a fair amount of time letting the autopilot guide you between jump gates and through systems.

Likewise, combat seems to be a war of attrition. You designate targets and ranges, and click on the weapons you want to use, and your computer handles the rest of it automatically. When one target is destroyed, designate a new one and repeat. If you have the shields and weapons to destroy them before they destroy you, you'll win; if your shields or weapons are weak, you'll die.

One thing I find interesting is that improving skills requires realworld time. Instead of leveling up and getting points to spend for immediate skill upgrades, you choose a skill to train and go about your business. A progress bar slowly creeps upward until you gain the next skill level. The question I have now is whether or not time counts if you're not logged in. Like, can you select a skill to train, log out, go to sleep, and have finished training when you wake up? We'll see.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I've got nothing

I don't have a review today. I've been pretty busy with other shit this week, and I haven't had the chance to play anything. And I pretty much refuse to do a review based on my memory of a game from months ago.

So, in lieu of a review, here're the games I want to play this year. Mind you, I'm not claiming that they are or will be good, or that you should rush out and buy them. I'm just saying they're what I'm looking forward to.

Alpha Protocol
Heavy Rain
Darksiders: Wrath of War
Bioshock 2

I also think that I'm going to get a membership to GameFly. That should allow me to review more games... especially games I know are going to be mediocre or terrible and that I want to tear apart here, but not spend money on. That said, I'm finding a lot of bad reviews of GameFly online.

I think I'll wait until Caleb has a little more experience with it and see what he thinks. Any readers have experience with GameFly?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Author

My brother has joined me on Hate the Hype. His first review is immediately below this post, a look at Metroid Prime 3. We haven't discussed a schedule for him, and he's got way more shit going on in his life than I do, so I reckon he'll just post when he's got something to post.

We also may wind up each reviewing the same game. If you get bored, feel free to flame us in the comments, and we'll go ahead and ignore you.

But, he has an XBox 360. So, those of you who're possessed by the devil might get some reviews of shit that I wouldn't have been able to do for you.

In other news, it appears that we're the number one google result for "hate the hype". That didn't take long.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Greetings. I am Aubrey's brother, Caleb. He's agreed to allow me to post reviews on his blog as I have somewhat different taste in games and because I have an Xbox 360 and so will be able to play the games that will be released only for the Xbox. I will try to stick to the creed my brother has set forth, but you will probably find my reviews a bit different than his as I find different things about games more important than others. That said, I give you my first review.

Metroid has long been a favorite game series of mine since my brother introduced me to Metroid 2 on the gameboy. So, perhaps it is fitting that the first game that I will be reviewing for his blog is the newest game in the Metroid series: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

One of the things that has impressed me about all of the games in the Metroid Prime series is how they have stuck to their roots despite the change in perspective and yet have provided enough new content that it isn’t entirely like playing a 3D version of the original Metroid.

For example, jumping, like in the platformers of old, is quite important to the game as a whole. If the door out of the room you’re in isn’t directly in front of you or at the end of the hallway, then it’s likely you’re going to have to jump to get to it. Sometimes you will have to solve a puzzle (most of which are fairly simple) or get some sort of additional item to help you navigate your way through the levels. Jumping is also important in battles, as it is one the main ways to avoid damage from attacks.

The morph ball, of course, is there, as well as the Prime version of the spider ball from Metroid 2, which works only on magnetic tracks instead of any surface. If you can’t run, jump, or swing there, then you probably get there by morph ball. There are also quite a few spider ball puzzles sprinkled throughout the game. These can either be fun, or frustratingly annoying. Thankfully, the frustrating ones only seem to be there as a challenge to collect missile expansions. You can easily finish the game without collecting all the power ups and so it’s not necessary to collect all of them (unless you want to unlock the 100% ending.)

The controls are fluid and fairly easy to pick up. The control scheme is similar to a console first person shooter, except the Wiimote takes over for aiming and changing the camera view. The control and sensitivity of the Wiimote is customizable to some extent, however I didn’t play with this very much. I found a setting that fit me almost immediately and used it from then on. If you don’t like the default settings, play around with the settings and I’m sure you will find something that you can at least live with. By the time I finished the game, moving through the world was second nature.

The major hype in Corruption was the “hyper mode” (pun not intended.) Hyper mode has been featured in Super Metroid and the first Metroid Prime, but always at the final boss. In Corruption, you may enter hyper mode at any time, but at a cost. You must spend your health to power your weapons and if you stay in hyper mode for too long you will become corrupted and will have to keep using your weapon to keep your corruption from consuming you.

For a feature that was so talked about during the development of the game, I really didn’t use it all that much. There are certain points in the game where you absolutely must use the hyper mode, and the associated abilities you get for it later on, to get past obstacles. These obstacles are usually structures that may only be destroyed by phazon energy and the occasional enemy that cannot be hurt except by phazon-based attacks.

Oh, and then there are the enemies who can go into hyper mode as well. My first reaction to this was “Why the hell do these enemies have the same ability as I do?” It didn’t make sense in context at first. However, then I realized that the enemies that can go into hyper mode are with the Space Pirates and they obviously reversed engineered the technology (as they have an annoying habit of doing).

Enemies in hyper mode do annoyingly large amounts of damage and are nigh invulnerable to normal weapons fire. They also don’t seem to suffer from the ill effects that you do in hyper mode, so do not expect them to come out of it any time soon. They can be annoying, too, because the only way one can tell if they are in hyper mode is by the blue tendrils of phazon issuing from them. So, there were quite a few instances where I found myself pounding on an enemy only to realize later that they were in hyper. Thankfully, they are quite vulnerable to your hyper mode weapons, so a few blasts from them will usually get rid of the enemy quickly.

You will also find that quite a few bosses are impossible to defeat without entering hyper mode at some point and that some of the bosses even have their own hyper mode. However, except for a couple of times where I was in a battle that was swamped with very tough enemies, I only found myself entering hyper mode when the game forced me to; either by putting one of the above obstacles into my way or by literally forcing me into hyper mode.

However, I did like some of the doodads inspired by the Wii’s unique controls. While the grapple lasso has a really stupid name, it makes up for it in its awesome design and utility. I’m sure that many a Metroid fan has thought about using the grapple beam to rip away debris or grapple enemies. In Corruption, you can do just that, using the grapple beam to rip shield away from space pirates, expose weak points on bosses, or even ripping certain enemies apart. My only disappointment would be that it could not be used on any other enemies besides those that it could specifically be used on.

The buttons, switches, and keypads were another thing that I liked. In the first two Metroid Prime games, all switches that could be activated were activated either by shooting them or using the scan visor. Sure, one of Samus’ arms is inside her gun, but she still has a free hand. So, I liked that we actually had Samus using buttons and pulling levers to operate things rather than just scanning things with the visor all the time.

Another thing that Wii controller inspired were sort of what I would call “shooting gallery” instances. As your gun is not locked in place like it is in the first two Metroid Primes, they have created quite a few “shooting gallery” instances where you can try out your newfound accuracy (or lack thereof) with the Wiimote. One example of this comes in the first couple of levels where a swarm of robots will fly at you, shooting all the while. These robots are lined up in rows across the screen and all are shielded except one. As you destroy one, another one becomes vulnerable and so on until you destroy the swarm.

While most of these do not hurt the game and even make it interesting when you have to aim for a specific part of a boss, there is one instance in particular where it pissed me off to no end. There is a gas giant that you visit called Elysia. You land in a city that floats in the clouds that is appropriately called “Sky Town.” For some reason, possibly to make sure you could not explore the place before you got the grapple beam, there are zip lines throughout the city. The people at Retro Studios thought it would be great to have one of these “shooting galleries” while you are zipping along these zip lines.

So, you have these flying robots going up ahead of you and if you don’t shoot the bombs they lay or if you run into them, then you fall into the bottomless pit below. Thankfully, you don’t automatically get a game over every time you fall into a bottomless pit. If that had happened, I would have proceeded to chuck the disc of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption out of the window. However, you do take a moderate amount of damage and you are placed back at the beginning of the zip line where you have to do the “shooting gallery” over again… and over again… and over again. Until you finally, through pure luck as I doubt this could be completed with any kind of skill, manage to destroy all the bombs/robots and make it safely to the other side. And guess what happens when you want to go back the other way. Yeah. This was quite possibly the most annoying part of the game for me and completely ruined what was otherwise a pretty awesome level.

That annoying bit of gameplay aside, the game, overall, was a good experience. If you have yet to play the first two Metroid Prime games, I would suggest you pick them up before considering playing this game. For one, they were for the Game Cube and are probably quite a bit cheaper and thankfully, the Wii is backwards compatible. For another, they’ll let you gauge whether or not you will like the gameplay as there hasn’t been too much change between games. For those of you who have played the first two but for some reason have yet to play the third, go ahead and at least rent it. It’s definitely my favorite of the three.