Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review - Jolly Blast: Soccer

**Originally posted on levelsave.com **

jolly blast soccer verticalOverall Rating: 3
Educational Value: 6
Age Appropriateness: 2
Enjoyment Factor: 1
I am a great lover of childrens’ literature. I have rows upon rows of picture books intended for an array of age ranges, and I can often be caught with my nose in some beautifully illustrated fairy tale or pop-up books of dinosaurs. My collection of books is steadily growing larger, and they are practically used in my work with small children all the time. There are a few programs that I am enamoured with as well. Good childrens’ interactive fiction (and non-fiction) is useful in educating kids, has replay value, challenges the child, and even remains fun, and that’s exactly what Jolly Blast: Soccer tries to achieve. Unfortunately, this app falls flat in several of these areas.
Jolly Blast: Soccer is well-intentioned and educational, but doesn’t serve to capture the imagination or even hold attention. It’s purpose is to teach it’s users about the basic concepts of soccer, as well as the vocabulary used. It does this aptly with the more interactive pieces of the program. There is a glossary of soccer terms which is quite informative, and one bit where shapes are associated with different parts of the soccer field which goes into more detail about rules. These parts are well-done from an educational perspective, but they have none of the fun involved in capturing and holding the attention of children. These good pieces are more a reference that can be checked for definitions and clarifications.
Where this app falls flat is in the fun and replay value, as well as the lack of attempt to put forth any appropriate challenge to the child. First, the font is too small to be read on my iPhone. I found that both my daughter and I had to squint to read some of the text, and some of the dialogue bubbles were nearly unreadable for their tininess. I would have been happy if there was a font-scaling function, so that if this game is bought on an iPhone 3GS (which does not have as high a resolution as the iPad or iPhone 4) it wouldn’t be nearly impossible to read. There is also the problem of the main story’s length, amount of text on each page, and the complexity of the language being used. It would seem to me that the content within this story is aimed at very young readers, but the sophistication of the actual words on the screen would be more suited to someone with a bit more aptitude in the art of reading. This can lead to either a frustrated younger one or a bored (or worse, insulted!) older child. The saving grace here was the voice-over function, which allowed the user to listen to the story audibly. This will ease some of our child’s frustration, but won’t allow him to practice his reading.
Also, children know how to use iPhones. The controls are as intuitive as shuffling papers around on a desk. Swiping to go to the next page, or to trigger an event on-screen in this kind of app is a no-brainer. Children will utilize their current understanding of how an iPhone works and try these things out first. The problem here is that Jolly Blast: Soccer does not utilize this native control scheme. I found myself tapping nearly everything, even when the item on-screen needed to be dragged across a surface or when I needed to flip pages. The tap-detection boxes are very, very small, as well. I was constantly double- and even triple-tapping one of the sparkling auras which signify an interactive item. This led to more frustration and even anger on the part of my daughter. iOS devices are expensive things, and personally, I wouldn’t want an angry child holding my $500 piece of hardware.
Jolly Blast Tony GonzalezTony Gonzalez, Tight End for the Atlanta Falcons is featured in this game. He has a video that can be navigated to via the main UI in which he details.. something. And here’s the thing, the audio for the video is much, much too quiet to hear. This negates much of what makes having an iconic sports presence in the app a benefit, and is yet another satellite of frustration orbiting this dead rock of an app.
None of this even mentions that there is no part of this game in which either my daughter or I were having any fun. This game is simply no fun at all. Well.. We did make fun of it a little bit, and that was quality father-daughter bonding.
Honestly, I can’t recommend this game less. Not only does it fall flat on it’s face in most respects, it also confuses it’s intended age level. I can’t even tell you which age this app is really intended for, and I have been to school to learn all about child development. Don’t waste the $1.99 required to own this interactive story. Put that money towards either a good, informational book about soccer, or just get your child a real ball.
The Jolly Blast website can be found here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Raven Plays - Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Testing Weekend 8

In which my meditation is rudely interrupted by a.. Huge Pokemon?

Review: Defenders of Ardania

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

Defenders of Ardania is a beautiful tower defence game set in the world of the Majesty series. Paradox Interactive (Magicka, Crusader Kings II,) bring us a TD game with a twist. You play as one of three factions: Human, Nature, and Underworld to defend your sanctum against incoming would-be marauders. The difference here is that you also send forth waves of enemies to crush your opponents, lending some light RTS elements into a saturated and stagnating genre.

This game is presented very well. Colourful, vivid scenery comprises each level. There are three distinct level styles, one for each faction: Humans have their city streets and farmland, Nature has the lush greenery of the jungle, and the Underworld have their dark citadels and dead landscapes to oogle, ensuring you will never get tired of looking at these beautifully rendered environments.
The music is something else, too. An epic soundtrack heightens the feeling of heroicism, especially int he campaign mode, since mid-level battle tends to be a little dry and straight-forward against the AI. The sound effects do their job well, and blend into the music.
Ah, but the voice acting is terrible. I HAVE heard worse acting, but only in Japanese bullet-hell shooters that have been localized for North America on a near-nil budget.
That being said, the dwarves end up being ridiculously funny, giving you quests to secure beer instead of actually helping you investigate the main plot. Their awful, awful Scottish accents only lend to their drunken, uniquely dwarven charm.
The level selection screen is a nicely painted map that is a pleasure to scroll through. There is none of the interactiveness that you find in other Paradox games, (Crusader Kings, Sengoku,) but then the game doesn’t take place on the overworld map. It’s not even a flaw.
Defenders of Ardania is played very much like other tower defence games. Units walk along the shortest route to your citadel along divergent paths, which you can change by putting shooting towers in the way. But there is a slight difference: You are also sending out units to annihilate the opposing sanctums. This kind of game has been done before, but not quite in this upgradable, heroic, RPG-style manner. I say upgradable because there are successively tiered unit levels as in other TD games there are different tower tiers. Sending out ten units of any particular type will upgrade the unit type, making them tougher, hit harder, and cost more resources than their predecessors. This can be done three times, at which point a heroic unit becomes available. All of the heroic units have special capabilities, are much tougher to kill, are incredibly strong, and cost vast amounts of resources to call forth.
The heroic units are not quite as expensive and rare as the spells. Spells which heal and hinder can cost most-to-all of your resources to cast and on top of that have a cooldown time. This ensures that you can’t spam a healing spell if you are being pummelled. I feel Paradox has done this to add balance to the factions and also creates a more thoughtful, strategic game.
The two complaints I have about the gameplay is so niggling, I wondered if I should include them… But of course I will! Basically, you can only upgrade your towers once. Also, you are only allowed to have very limited towers on the map at once. This creates a flat, ceilinged tower strategy in dual-player matches. Once your towers are placed and upgraded, there is no need to change them up unless there is a gaping hole in your defence that needs to be patched. This leaves you with nothing to do but to spend all your time on the unit menu upgrading and spamming soldiers and dwarves onto the map. Though during four-player matches, I am grateful for this limitation. The chaos of having four people all building towers on the same small board and sending out wave after wave of units is more than my poor brain can handle.
The game modes aren’t all that varied, but they tend to be fun anyway. All modes are played on the campaign maps that have been presented in the main story-line with no extra challenge or multiplayer exclusive levels. Trying to find multiplayer matches is difficult, since the servers are devoid of open lobbies looking for players. Make sure you make a date with a friend to experience four-player chaos, it is well worth it.
The single player game modes include:
  • Campaign, which is straightforward Defenders of Ardania against an AI enemy.
  • Limited Resources, which increases starting resources but eliminates any way to gain more over the course of the game. This leaves you with some tough choices to make.
  • Survival, which is pure tower defence. Sending units is disabled and the enemy comes in ever-toughening waves which never end.
The multiplayer game modes include:
  • Full Frontal Assault, which is an every-player-for-themselves, deathmatch style game
  • 2 vs. 2, team deathmatch.
  • Team Survival, as single player but you co-operate with a friend in order to survive tougher and tougher waves.
  • Sudden Death, which can be added on to any of the other multiplayer modes. This function reduces all sanctum’s HP to critically low levels, creating a sense of immediacy and real urgency during the first few seconds of the game.
As tower defence games go, this isn’t the best one on the market, but it makes up for that by being slightly left of centre within a recently saturated genre. I can only givew credit to Paradox Interactive for participating in the evolution of the TD game, when they could have just built on the already perfected defence genre. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d keep an eye out for this game.
Defenders of Ardania is available for PC and iPad, with PSN and XBLA versions coming soon. The PC version was used for review.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Raven Plays - Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Testing Weekend 6

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

In which I justify my actions. What? Moral accountability in my MMORPG? Get out of town!

Paradox Promises King Arthur II Articles

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

With the release of Paradox Interactive’s King Arthur II: The Roleplaying Wargame on the horizon, fans have been promised a series of in-depth articles. Released once per week until the game’s release, these screenshot-laden articles will provide information about the perilous state of Brittania at the beginning of the game, as well as reveal details about gameplay. They will also serve to show off the game’s graphical beauty, and this game is very beautiful.
One such article has been released. Within this article is detailed several facets of the game, including unit descriptions, information about skill trees, as well as the signature Paradox-style map of Brittania.
Excerpt from the first article:
“The Campaign Map of King Arthur II is the eerily beautiful island of mystical Britannia, a fully three dimensional map with rivers, forests, marshlands, towns and legendary places. The area you can explore is twice as big as it was in the first game, now including everything from Cornwall to the northernmost corner of the land. You can venture even beyond Hadrian’s Wall and conquer the territory of the savage Pict hordes.”
So if you’ve got your sword and mouse at the ready and you simply must know more, Paradox has what you’re looking for.
Read the full article HERE.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Raven Plays - Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Testing Weekend 5

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

Sassy aliens in cages are surprisingly easy to kill!

Xenoblade Chronicles Heading for North America

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

After the unpopular move to exclude North America in the release of the highly anticipated Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, fans of the Japanese RPG genre got together and started a campaign to bring Xenoblade to American shores. It is not yet known if the campaign, entitled Project Rainfall, is instrumental in bringing about the change of heart at Nintendo, but we will be seeing the game surface on store shelves in April of 2012.

Proponents of Project Rainfall are also making their voices heard over two other RPGs entitled The Last Story and Pandora's Tower. These two games have no North American release dates as of yet, but the fan campaign is still ongoing. I hope to hear more good news from Japan soon.

Please bring more good RPGs to my dusty old Wii, Nintendo!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

RE: Pathfinder Online

** In response to a post at levelsave.comhttp://levelsave.com/2011/12/pathfinder-online-announced/ **

The complaint with my early experience in 4th Ed D&D isn't necessarily with the system itself, but with the way the particular games at the Living Forgotten Realms nights in which I played were handled. The management team in Toronto for the LFR campaign is great, but some of the DMs are not. There is a policy that encourages players to rotate through DM duties every certain number of games. This leads to very player-driven sessions, a lot of looking up rules, and a ~lot~ of new DMs. This is a failing when trying to run story-driven modules, but not as much when running battle-driven modules.

This isn't an isolated problem, as I've seen the same kind of thing happen in other publisher-produced living campaigns outside of Toronto. I'm getting the impression that it's a living campaign problem more than anything. This may be why all of the modules in Forgotten Realms are so battle-heavy, with a story that ushers the next encounter, rather than explores the universe in which it is set.

That being said, the 4th Ed. D&D ruleset is definitely battle-oriented. The non-combat skills have been simplified so that rolling to tie a knot and rolling to hunt are based on the same skill. Whereas each segment of combat is accounted for, detail is high, there is "flavour text" for abilities that last less that two seconds. DMs and players can change that about their game, by adding complexity or by building highly detailed backgrounds with the DM. Roleplay doesn't need a bunch of attributes attached to it, ideally players should be able to choose to play out the role of their character verbally without any use of statistics whatsoever. Personally, I love that. Having a bare-bones character like you might in the 1st edition: Six statistics, a name, and a class. That's the ideal game for me. Combat in these games is driven in the same way, there is a stat that you are rolling against to "attack" and that's it. It's up to you to say if you are swinging from the chandelier and trying to upset the table that the Bullywug is standing on by throwing daggers at his feet and making him dance. (A lot of DEX tests on that one, yes?) There isn't any "Chandelier Barrage" ability which requires a unique formula to figure out damage for and might stun on a critical hit.

The 3rd edition, which is a medium complexity system, is also not for me. When I say I returned to "older systems," I didn't mean the third, I meant the first. I've been playing Labyrinth Lord for a while now, and I'm really enjoying the open-endedness of it. This game is perfect for me, and it's so simple to play and run that you can group more and more people together at the table. Taking on some of the older modules that required 8-12 characters to complete is an amazing experience. The table-talk around the game with that many players tends to be a lot of fun as well. This can't really happen with the 4th edition since battle tends to take so long that table-talk is discouraged. Making the game less and less social with each passing session.

This returns to the root of the discussion, MMO socialization. It is very true that MMOs don't tend to produce social buterflies, but there is a lot of socialization that happens in EVE Online. Joining a leading faction was actually a little much as far as my social threshold is concerned. I ended up just grouping with small squads to take down some other enemy-faction small squads. It was a lot of fun and a ~lot~ of socializing. This is why I have such high hopes for Pathfinder Online. There is a game developer who is interested in creating a sandbox, open-world MMO coupled with people who have been directly involved in an MMO which succeeded in doing just that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Raven Plays - Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Testing Weekend 4

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

In which I "fix" the graphical issues and have "no idea the enemy I'm making." Remember, it isn't murder without witnesses.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pathfinder Online Announced

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

I have been playing tabletop roleplaying games for a long time, longer than I have actually been playing the video game variety. I was involved in a game of Vampire: The Maquerade when I was a mid-teen, and played in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign made up of almost all the same people. This was back in the mid-90s before I had experienced the crushing reality of life and I entered a sort of personal Dark Age of tabletop gaming. I wouldn’t play another game of D&D for over a decade, totally missing out on the entire third edition of the game. I began again in 2008 when the fourth edition was released, coming back to the table with fresh eyes and a willingness to adapt to all of the changes that had occurred over the course of the last 12 years. I created an elven archer and brought the character to my local Living Forgotten Realms nights, which are held across North America. I met new people and had some good fun, until I realized that I wasn’t playing Dungeons & Dragons. The system that I was playing was nothing like the D&D I knew. The battles were slow tactical affairs with grid-maps to represent the environment and markers or minis for your characters. The story was weak at the best of times, and at the worst of times would be completely skipped to fast-forward to the engagement of steel and mana. I felt like I was playing Final Fantasy Tactics. (Don’t get me wrong, FFT is a great game, it’s just not what I was there for.) So I made the jump back to older editions of the game, bringing a couple of my new-found friends along with me.
Many share my view about the fourth edition of D&D as opposed to older versions, but some maintain that it is the failing of the users to take the reigns and really drive 4E as it should be. I understand that view but would rather play a different game, thank you.
Pathfinder is a kind of spiritual younger sister to D&D. It grew out of the desire for more third edition content after the fourth was released. Since the latest system was changed beyond recognition, it made sense. Also called the “d20 system,” it too has undergone many changes in it’s rules. The errata to the core books that everyone needed to play was so large at one point that they rebooted the entire series and called it the 3.5 edition. There was a lot of grumbling and moaning about having to buy all new books amongst the fans of the game, but it wasn’t necessary. After all, there was the Official Errata, which was free but fairly confusing to use unless you already knew it inside and out. More and more errata was piled onto the system until Paizo, the company who handled publication of the Dragon and Dungeon lines of magazines. Announced that they would be releasing an RPG called Pathfinder. Obviously taken straight from the pages of the 3.5E and errata, they also made it their own. With new monsters, a slew of wonderful adventure modules, and new rules of their own, they released the hefty core rulebook under their own banner.
Now, Paizo has gathered certain figures from Wizards of the Coast (D&D Publisher) and CCP (EVE Online) to create a company called Goblinworks that will handle all aspects of what they promise is going to be a “sandbox/theme park” style MMO. I am assuming they don’t mean that all player characters will have mascot-heads and ride roller coasters for experience points. They are proposing a model of gameplay that revolves around player interaction, rather than collection and mail-runner quests. Paizo has stated that they would like to see players building glittering castles, garner support from neighboring townships to take down larger military powers, and yes, maybe even have a quest or two to kill a bothersome dragon.
This is exiting news for me, and I believe it can be done well. The way Paizo and Goblinworks are talking about this new project feels reminiscent, to me, of the power-struggle and economy inherent within EVE Online. Let’s just hope the project gets off the ground!
For more information about Pathfinder Online, visit http://goblinworks.com. If you’d like to know more about tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, visit www.wizards.com/dnd/.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Session 1, Part 1/3

During the recent Beta Testing weekend, I took to the Academy as a Sith Warrior. These are my first steps into the new LucasArts MMORPG.

Sorry my voice is so quiet. I will endeavor to fix that problem in the future.

Hands-On Preview – Crusader Kings II

** Originally posted on Levelsave.com **
Paradox Interactive is one of those game companies which can really appeal to some gamers. With their often intricate gameplay, rich political worlds, and clean macro- and micro-level strategy, proponents could sink days at a time into Paradox’ titles. Crusader Kings II is no exception.
Having beautiful visuals, epic music, and the most menus I have ever seen in a real-time strategy game, the game invokes a feeling similar to King of Dragon Pass. Loading this up for the first time, I felt like I was being transported back to a time when PC games were very distinctly not console games. Having said that, I stand firmly in the percentage who don’t enjoy their games as much as others could.
Crusader Kings II is a menu-driven, pauseable, real-time strategy game based on the Middle Ages during the time of the first crusade all the way through to the third. Realizing what it was, my eyes immediately glazed over as I began to expect a long lecture in a droning monotone. The game doesn’t quite deliver on that front, but there isn’t any changing that fundamental, titular basis.
I was bored to tears during the first hour of play as I struggled with the steep learning curve of the game, as well as my total lack of knowledge about the subject matter. Selecting only the very easiest historical figure to play with, (a long process in itself, as there are seemingly endless dynasties to start with,) I began my history lesson. There was a lot of guesswork as I tried to marry people off to neighbouring dynasties. My bid for filial bonds between myself and some of the other powerful countries was met with total denial unless I agreed to marry way under my station. I did enjoy having the power to end plots to end my life, which were propagated by my own vassals, by simply demanding that they do and then marrying them off to some low-life courtier who resides halfway around the world, thereby getting rid of them and the problem pretty thoroughly. Getting more into the career of my dynasty, I began to succeed in blending my blood into a rival faction, hoping to gain power in their houses and eventually usurp their leaders, replacing their rule with my own. That didn’t quite work in the way I imagined, and I ended up losing the game very quickly. After three similar dismal failures, I honestly began to hate the basic game.
The visuals are pretty stunning, I must admit. The map is so huge and highly detailed that the game seems more a container for the interactive cartography than a surface upon which the game is played. The mountain ranges and other topographical features serve to texturize and flesh out the look of the game. I have spent a long time just flipping through the county status screens, which are accessed via this beautiful map. The menus themselves are also very pretty. Using retro-style portraits for each individual character is a nice touch, you will never see one used twice for any of the adults, (the children are all standardized male or female “child” avatars though.)
This game’s sound deserves some note. The music is very epic and deserves the highest rating it could possibly be given. Sitting there for hours, clicking through menus without much attachment to what I was doing, the music made the game playable for me. The sound effects seemed jarring and tinny when played alongside the music, and listening to that blend of sound was a little like having braised striploin and Kraft Dinner for supper. Clicking through the character selection screen will play a single harp note, multiple clicks reveal a song being played. I spent a good, long time clicking through this menu rhythmically until I was satisfied that this is one of the best functions in the entire game.
The gameplay was a deep, menu-driven experience. It suits the style of the game, though I was constantly wishing there was more action to be had. The game is paced slowly and can actually be paused to issue commands and react when news of war or plots pops up on screen, enabling you to react instantaneously to anything. The steep learning curve could be off-putting for new players, but may actually appeal to Paradox Interactive’s more dedicated users. The amount of characters, counties, and titles might be daunting for anyone other than a History major or an eidetic memory and a Wikipedia account.
Given how good the music and the visualization of the world are, as well as how little fun I actually had while playing this game. I give it a 6 out of 10.
Big thanks to Gamersgate.com for the pre-release copy of the game.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Video Up!

Raven & Mandy 5 - In which we dig.. Forever

New texture pack! New everything!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Magicka Receives Massive Engine Overhaul

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **
magicka wizards and title

 Paradox Interactive have recently announced that Magicka, their spell-slinging action-adventure title, will be receiving a massive tech update. This free, downloadable patch will eradicate several off-putting annoyances as well as improve how the game actually plays.
Full details for what is featured in the game engine update:
• Fairy familiar added, revives characters after death occurs in solo campaign
• Checkpoints now save progress even if game is quit
• Chapter select added to replay previously played chapters
• Several improvements to the server browser
• Physics and collision detection improved – less falling through the floor
• Frame rate stuttering – should be less noticeable for some users
• Extended particle system with particle lights
• Improved light performance
• Several minor bug fixes, game balance, and tweaks “
-Paradox Interactive
As can be seen, the improvements range from dramatic, (being able to resurrect yourself in the middle of a level,) to very minute, (tiny tweaks which I would never have noticed in my adventures.) All in all, this is going to be the largest update since the game’s release, and it couldn’t come sooner.
This announcement come hot on the heels of a new DLC package entitled The Stars Are Left. This new DLC, satirizing both Lovecraft’s venerable Cthulhu mythos as well as Mojang’s cult beta Minecraft, is something I have been waiting for with bated breath.
The features of The Stars Are Left include:
  • New Adventure levels with the titular theme being featured in each
  • New challenge maps
  • New boss battles and enemies
  • New items and magick sequences

Standard fare as far as Magicka DLC goes, but they haven’t disappointed me yet, this should be amazing. Honestly, if you’re a self-professed armchair wizard and have not picked up this gem, then you are missing out.
All in a day’s work for Paradox Interactive. Thank you for such apt timing!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rise of Immortals Acquires European Servers

** Originally posted on levelsave.com **

In a recently press release, Petroglyph unveiled that they are taking Rise of Immortals to a more global scale.

In response to rising player demand in Europe, Petroglyph recently deployed new server hardware in its London data center, thereby significantly reducing server ping times to the UK, Germany, the Russian Federation, Poland, and other European regions. “

The statement goes on to say that European players will still be able to access North American servers and vice-versa, as no character is bound to any particular server. Rather, players join via an auto-connect function at the beginning of each game which selects the lowest ping time from a list of available servers. This allows for regional populations to play together, trending the likelihood that people close to their local servers will have the lowest ping time, but players will be automatically redirected when a server experiences downtime.

Petroglyph calls Rise of Immortals a Free-to-Play Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game with RPG elements, a F2P MOBARPG if you will. Free-to-Play meaning that the basic game is free of cost to everyone, but Petrogyph draws profit from a series of microtransactions that may occur in-game if the player wishes to expand their experience. MOBA is a style of Realtime Strategy gaming which draws heavily on the success of a particular Warcraft 3 map called Defence of the Ancients. The RPG elements involved include persistent experience earned towards levelling up each Immortal individually and a skill tree.

Features of Rise of Immortals:
• Free-to-play
• 14 unique Immortals, with additional Immortals released on a regular basis
• Persistent per-Immortal level progression and skill trees 
• Persistent artifacts for stat enhancements
• Player versus Environment instances with boss encounters
• Player versus Player instances with up to 5v5 multiplayer
• Player versus Bot instances with up to three-person cooperative play
• Persistent experience and leveling in both PvP and PvE instances
• Account and Immortal statistics tracking
• Player hub instances for socialization

Rise of Immortals can be found on PC.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lazy Impressions: Gears of War

** Originally posted on LevelSave.com **

I’ve gotten Gears of War for the Xbox 360 recently. Not the new one, but the oldest version you can possibly buy on the free market: Gears of War 1. This is a pattern with me, I will overlook a series until it comes full circle and joins the halls of the great trilogies, then I will recognize the series as something worth checking out, and finally begin the descent into whichever universe has captured my attention. I mostly attribute this phenomenon to my general laziness.. Anyway, I’ve gotten Gears of War recently.
I’m honestly not a big fan of the genre, so please take this article with a grain of salt, but this game sticks out for me as one of the better ones. The reasons why I don’t like this kind of game are plentiful: The machismo doesn’t appeal to me; the blind, senseless killing; the facelessness or de-characterization of the enemy; the narrow range of view; the recycled, ineptly written storylines; etc, etc. There are so many ways I could pick the entire genre apart, though instead I’m going to focus on how this particular title rises above the rest.
The Locust are your enemy. They are alien and faceless, but they are interesting. They’ve come from under the ground and don’t fit into any of the archetypes you find in literature about aliens. I suppose they’re not really aliens at all, but they are very, very strange. Seemingly made up partly of clay, mechanical parts, and human bits with an exoskeletal casing. They seem to stagger under their own weight and the weight of their enormous guns. This last point is simply part of the universe though, since the human Gears also look genetically engineered to be able to lift buses.
gears of war box art
The universe in Gears is gritty. Not slick, nor shiny like a few FPS I could name, everything seems crafted for war, even the people. The Locust and the Gears are pock-marked, scarred, seeming to belong to one another, though their conflict is one fuelled by blind hatred and genocide. I can only imagine the heartbreak on Emergence Day (the day that the Locust first sprang from the ground,) when Seran civilization fell. The survivors on this world adapting from life-as-we-know-it to military rule as a means to see another sunrise. Gears of War seems to successfully capture the visceral feel of an invasion of a once beautiful planet.
The environments are beautiful. The crumbling, Roman-esque architecture of Sera, dotted with future detail and symbology, is a pretty playground for the Locust. The levels run through piazzas and overgrown courtyards that naturally compliment the strategy of the Locust. That is until Delta Team goes underground and your environment becomes a drab, grey-brown experience in which the Locust stick out like sore thumbs. The Gears seem to belong more to the underground environment than the Locust do. Up to that point it’s a very attractive looking game.
This kind of game always lends itself well to multiplay, and Gears is no exception. While I don’t play much competitive, firefight-style games, I’m always down for co-op campaign gaming. The co-op campaign is exactly the same as the single-player campaign. Your characters are always in the story, interacting in the same ways even if Dom (read: P2) is controlled by the second player. The fear and panic that two people feel as they come up against insurmountable odds is binding and I wouldn’t change that about Gears. I’m happy that they kept that 2-player format throughout the series, rather than increasing the amount of player characters that can be busting heads at once. This is going to be a bit of fun.
So, having ripped the genre, and putting Gears of War on a pedestal amidst the detritus, I feel it deserves a play-through. If I, a self-professed critic of macho firefight gaming, can get so much enjoyment from this franchise, then I think it should be on everyone’s radar. I hope that Epic Games releases more titles in the franchise and expands on the existing storyline in the future.